“It was only my art that held me back: it seemed as if I could not quit this earth until I had produced all I felt within me.” — Beethoven

Last weekend I played in two student recitals for my recorder studio: one for solo and duet pieces and one for ensembles. This was my first solo performance in over a decade, and my first time playing with a harpsichord instead of a piano. This was the first time I invited friends to listen to the performances, even though I’ve been playing in this ensemble for almost two years now.

Oh, I had forgotten so many things about why I play music! It’s been so long since I have devoted this much time to music, since I was in college over a decade ago. Back then I played furiously: I sat in several ensembles and doggedly learned solos. In my adult life, I’ve often looked back at my younger self and thought: god, what was I thinking? I was exhausted. I practiced nearly every free minute I had. I still fondly remember which practice room I favored in the music building on my college campus: where I placed my recorders and flute and in what order, which keys on the piano were worn ragged, how the sound in the room changed depending on whether I sat or stood.

I wasn’t a performance major. Or an anything music related major. But I wanted music surrounding me and living within me, from the heady beginnings of learning a new piece to the fragile polish of performance.

And I remember why now. This weekend reminded me. It’s certainly not for fame: if I wanted that I definitely would have picked a different instrument. Recorder’s a niche hobby, and people aren’t exactly breaking down the door to hear a recorder concert, particularly not an amateur one. All told, we probably had an audience of 20 both days combined.

But the size of the audience matters less than its energy, and both days I felt so much warmth, conviviality, and celebration in that space. I couldn’t give a compliment without getting a higher one in return. It was like all of us, audience and players, set an intension of openness and generosity from the outset. I felt that none of it was insincere or patronizing. We just appreciated each other. I often think that people are a bit stingy with their generosity when it comes to art, writing, and music. It’s cool to be bored and unenthused, I guess. I’m glad my recorder community chooses to be generous and to leave world-weariness at home for a few hours.

The act of performing Telemann and Bach and Sieg and Leonarda felt reverent. It’s humbling to play music dreamed and created by another human soul. It feels like being offered a gift. You accept, and offer a gift back. You feel the notes in your own body: in the rhythm of your pulse, the plant of your feet, the gathering of your breath. You feel it in your own soul: as a resonant ache, as a tremulous joy, as a singular certainty that everything you experience in this moment has been felt and understood time and time again, as humans have made music through the centuries.

This may all seem very lofty and precious. And I suppose it is, to an extent. But it also just brings me peace. To know that there is so much music, to play and to create, and that I hunger to rest in this knowledge as often as I can, before I quit this earth.

1. Don’t assume I need help by default. Many times I don’t.
2. Instead of saying, “Do you need help?”, try, “Can I offer you any assistance?” or “Would you like assistance?” When you are assisting, you are making an offer of solidarity, not fulfilling a need.
3. If I politely say, “no thank you”, my refusal is not about my feelings towards you.
4. If you persist because you think you know better than me what I am trying to accomplish, and because of your persistence I not-so-politely refuse you, that is most definitely about you and please knock it off.
5. If you think helping me means yelling at me out of your car window, you are wrong. Don’t yell at me. Don’t honk at me, don’t gun your engine at me. You will make things worse.
6. If you are certain I am going to be squashed or fall off a cliff, you can yell, “Stop!” As an adventurous, often precocious kid, I was trained to hear a decisive “Stop!” I will react accordingly and immediately. Do not attempt to yell more words, I won’t hear or understand. And I might instinctively turn to try to hear you better and possibly make things worse. If you can, approach me to give me further direction.
7. Grabbing me is not helping. Ask before you touch me. I will do the same for you.
8. Don’t attempt assistance by trying to lead my dog. Talk to the human.
9. Don’t thank someone else who is assisting me, or say, “You’re so kind to do that”, or otherwise give them a good samaritan pat on the head. I can’t stop you from thinking it, but it’s patronizing as hell, so keep it to yourself.
10. If you are struggling with something and say to me, “Don’t worry, Lauren, I don’t even know what’s going on and I can see!”, this is not helpful. This is simply ableism.
11. These rules are rules I made up, based on my vast experience, and they do not represent all blind people. To think that they did would not, in a word, be helpful.

Happy Global Accessibility Awareness Day… a day late

Hi friends on the Internet! I’m just popping in before it gets too in the past to say that I was on a podcast for Global Accessibility Awareness Day, which was yesterday, yay! One of the teams I work with at my job is the Microsoft Sharepoint team, and they decided to do a podcast all about accessibility for GAAD, which is super cool, and I was a small part of it!

I’m really happy that we could raise awareness for folks in the corporate world, and I hope I don’t sound too ridiculous because I can’t bear to listen to my segment because ugh, does my voice really sound so weird? But I do believe I quoted both Corey Silverberg and Maya Angelou, so really, my work here is done.

You can read the blog post and listen to the podcast here:

Happy weekend, everyone!

I’ve often been envious of bikers. If I could, I’ve said many times to myself, I would bike everywhere. I would ditch the slowass bus trek from my apartment in Wallingford to my job on the East Side. I would bike to farmer’s markets and grocery stores, to friends’ houses, and just because. I would learn how to put air in the tires, to shift gears, to pedal hard up hills. In a nutshell, I would leave Seattle’s dubious public transit in the dust and go my own way.

I know it’s easy to tell myself these things, since I can’t actually bike anywhere besides maybe an abandoned parking lot, at least not without sighted assistance. And ok, maybe if I could bike everywhere I wouldn’t, because I am prone to sloth and inertia just as much as the next person. But as much as I love riding a tandem when I have a willing partner, I’d like to think that given the chance, I would bike as often as I could.

A few weeks ago, I gathered my fake confidence around me and went to a bike shop in the University District to see about a tandem. This shop makes custom tandems, which appeals to me because it seems like a more secure purchase than trying to buy one off of eBay from a person I’d never see again after the purchase. Also significantly more expensive than eBay. Still, the relationship for shop appeals to me, a shop that knows my bike because someone’s hands and ingenuity made it, right there.

The guy working the floor showed me some bikes, making compelling pitches that validated what I’d already been thinking. I don’t know how sales people do that.

I ended up asking him if they make tandems for blind people often. He assured me they do indeed. And because I was cuddling my fake confidence, I bombastically told him that if I could, I would bike everywhere. It’s not like I necessarily want to ride tandem all the time, I explained, but right now if I want to ride, that’s my only option.

Absolutely!” he said, his enthusiasm making me braver, “you just want to feel the wind in your hair!”

Luckily, I chose not to pedantically tell him that actually, I prefer to wear my helmet when I bike. I knew what he meant and he said it exactly right. I want freedom, agency, the ability to go places and see new things, to go fast or leisurely, to write my own story without the constraints of what society says is possible for me. I want to set my own path and lead others just as much as they may lead me.

And yes, literally, I want to feel the wind in my hair.

Eating Alone

There seems to be lots of contradictory ideas about eating alone.  Every so often, I’ll see some statistic about a high percentage of Americans who now eat dinner solo.  These articles often take the tone that this is a sad 21st century turn: we are all tied to our phones, we aren’t making real connections, we are buying way too much take-out and horfing way too many bagels standing at our kitchen counters.  Too many of us eat our meals alone too often.

 

There’s the counter argument to that, which I can sum up in Daniel Halpern’s “How to Eat Alone”,  a poem I love.  Here, eating alone is a sensual luxury.  An homage to self-love.  He drinks both red and white wine.  You know, I guess if you have the means to justify that, knock yourself out, but to my Midwestern sense of frugality it seems a bit excessive.  But I digress: drink your wine and eat your lamb Daniel.

 

I’ve had lots of experience eating alone, since I’ve lived by myself for nearly a decade.  Cramming bagels into my mouth while scrolling through my phone at the kitchen counter is a scenario I know well.  But I’ve also made attempts to be more intensional about the way I eat, even and especially when I’m by myself.  Rituals like drinking a glass of wine while cooking myself pasta in a walnut cream sauce or making an individual pot pie from crust to finish have become comforts to me in the past several years.  Even setting the intension to sit at my kitchen table, which faces the doors to my balcony where I can look out at the daylight or the darkness, can have a soothing effect.

 

I think of my mother, who cooked for us most nights when I was growing up.  From the time I was about 9 or 10, Sunday evening was the one night she didn’t cook.  Sunday night, you were on your own.  I made chicken-flavored ramen in the microwave, tuna salad heavy with mayonaise and brined with pickles, or buttered popcorn which I washed down with a Coke over ice.  I can’t remember what my mom made for herself, but I do know it wasn’t ever fussy.  I didn’t consider it much then, but now I wonder if that was her small, perhaps unconscious way of eating alone: cooking or not cooking whatever she wanted, just one serving, no need to think about her kids’ opinions, all and only hers.

 

Eating alone has given me the freedom to figure out what I like.  WHAT I like most is strong flavors: vinegar, garlic, spice, and heat, and I can bask in those flavors until I am sated.  I do love cooking with and for others, usually with a little less vinegar and heat.) When I do find myself eating alone, I try to think of it as less of a lonely experience and

more of an experience where I am joined and guided by my palate and my senses.  Not actually alone at all.

 

I heard a robin on my walk to work.
so loud it cut through the NPR drear of morning news in my headphones.
I pulled them off, intending to listen to a few trills.
Robin voices sound like big question marks to me.
“Are you coming home? Will you be there soon? Hello?”
This robin trilled for his life.
So loud it echoed off the buildings, through the trees
I walked for blocks, listening for the reverb
Thinking of the birdfeeder hanging from my balcony
Hoping the birds will come, wanting to feed the world
forgetting the news
remembering early mornings in my bed waking up to birdsong
robins always the loudest, cardinals close behind
Are you coming home? Will you be here soon?

This year I am starting a garden, maybe. Hopefully. I have dreamed of a garden for many years. I have grown cherry tomatoes and herbs in containers scattered around my various apartments. Last year, with access to a tiny rectangle of balcony for the first time in my adult life, I planted gerbera daisies and these huge heavy begonias which constantly tried to jump the container and scamper off to root in a patch of real soil.

This year, Stuart and I are taking a gardening class at Tilth. It’s a class which meets over the course of eight months, one session per month. To say that I am the least knowledgeable person in the class would be a very accurate statement. For context, I finally just learned what a cover crop is and why the hell you would want to plant one.

I’m continually humbled by the knowledge that I don’t have, in so many areas. Often, it’s easy for me to forget that just because I didn’t have certain knowledge until 2 seconds ago doesn’t mean the knowledge hasn’t existed. People have been gardening for ions. I know, I looked it up!

Words are re-entering my lexicon from my childhood: wheelbarrow, compost pile, soil aeration. My parents grew vegetables in our backyard for many summers, and I remember these words batted around as cool spring turned to steamy July. I don’t remember liking any of the vegetables that came from the garden, but I loved the sunflowers and the wispy topsoil I buried my hands under. I was captivated by it: warm where the sun touched down but dark and cool just a few finger presses down.

At our last class two weeks ago, Seattle was experiencing overly sunny, summery weather. Our instructor wasn’t happy because she said the unseasonable weather makes the plants freak out. I tried to sympathize with the plants, but the sun felt so otherworldly on the crown of my head that I found it difficult.

We spent a small amount of time in the classroom, where I learned about cover cropping. The rest of the day we spent outside: picking sorrel and mustard leaves for our lunch salad; eating wraps full of hummus and pickled peppers and greens off of plates propped on our knees; turning over that cover crop in the late afternoon. It sounds idyllic. It was. There was no hurry, no real worry about the harvest. I always want to remember the immense privilege I have as a novice gardener: my life does not depend on it. For many, that is not true. For that afternoon, my life felt good and right.