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.

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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.

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.

I knew she was going to ask
she talked incessantly, I nodded absently
both of us waiting for the bus
too late at night, too dark
men yelling at each other across the street because god knows why
or doesn’t
she says they have anger management problems
what a sad world, we should call the police
and I know police won’t care or won’t come
or at least just make it worse
and I also know in that moment she is going to ask me
“Have you been blind all your life?”
The seven most invasive words from a stranger
the words I dread
the words I hope to avoid if I just don’t talk to people
even though I want to talk
they might say them, so I don’t
This time I have steeled myself, I am ready, I wish I didn’t have to be ready
“I’d rather not answer that question.”
Six words I can only hope will work.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude.”
“Thank you.”
Hopefully we are done with this.
But no.
“I just know that some people have an accident and some people are born like that.”
“Yup.”
Does she think her incredible knowledge will open me up?
Does she even think of me?
Is there any place in my Midwest Polite where I could tell her that being born “like that” is better than being born unable to take a hint?
Also leave me alone
Also don’t ask any other person you don’t know something like that ever.
Also it is so none of your business and I owe you nothing just because you think you’re being nice to me.
No. There is probably no place for any of that.
Small triumph that I told her no
small triumph that I didn’t feel a need to reassure her with
“I was born like that. Don’t worry, it probably won’t happen to you.”

The first audio described movie I saw was Mary Poppins. I LOVE Mary Poppins, probably more than is warranted. I have never claimed to be a good judge of entertainment. “Let’s go Fly a Kite!”, anyone? Anyone?

Anyway, that movie, (on VHS no less), was a great sick day companion for me from the time I was about 8. I had a few other sporadic opportunities to see audio described movies, mostly at blind summer camp and occasionally when my parents would rent one for me from a far-off national library catering to blind people. I think I saw the first Harry Potter movie with descriptive video about ten times.

Between all the Harry Potter viewings, I sat through movies in theaters and in people’s houses, more or less confused. Rom coms were ok: lots of dialogue, predictable, if mostly forgettable and uninspiring. Musicals at least had singing to break up my monotonous confusion over what might be happening visually. But my friends, being mostly nerd types, wanted to watch sci-fi and superheroes and battle movies. Stuff that often has hugely visual components. The Lord of the Rings score is painfully embedded in my brain, because I saw it ten thousand times and the battle scenes are nothing but sylvan screaming and soaring violins.

Three years ago or so, I began noticing more opportunities to view audio described movies. In particular, my dear Minneapolis friend Teresa, (who never reads this blog, though she knows she should!), started inviting me over with the enticing trio of pierogis, a cat to snuggle, and an audio described Disney movie. I have recently watched several movies from my childhood that now have audio descriptions, and have discovered so many new things I never understood before!

A few years ago, I also attended a puppet show that was audio described by a live human. A puppet show, you all! I never thought I could enjoy something so visual, revel in that particular artistry and movement, wonder and speculate about what it all means or doesn’t. I have this dream that someday blind folks will get to experience all sorts of visual media via spoken word: art exhibits, ballet and other forms of dance, opera, amateur film festivals, all the things!

I have gotten spoiled. I have discovered a new zest for watching movies in theaters, but at this point, I don’t think I would shell out the money for one that isn’t audio described. I want to go back and watch all those battle scenes with a voice in my ear telling me exactly what everyone’s fighting for. And I really want to know if the new Mary Poppins has similar descriptions to the one that got me through decades ago.

The biggest presence in my life right now is snow. This is old news, and uneventful news for most of the country, but it’s been snowing in Seattle for the last couple of weeks. I’ve barely left my apartment except to hunker down in other people’s homes. My neighborhood is a huge shellack of heavy, continuously freezing and thawing slush. I know this sounds extreme, but the truth is, several times I have caught myself confused about where I am in the universe. I feel like I’ve gone back to Minnesota winter in a dizzying swoop. I feel the malaise sink in, the dread of the next several months of trudging through this half-water, half-ice nature dump. I feel the anxiety of life unlived, appointments canceled, obligations unmet, because the minutia of travel is just too difficult. The feeling is low-grade suffocating.

Two very wonderful, snow-related feelings have also surfaced. During the first snow storm of three, (depending on which weather forecast you look at), I experienced overwhelming childlike wonder and peace. I went outside with my dog and tromped around the back parking lot of my building. I baked a cake and made soup. I drank warm things like they were a life line. I conjured snow days of my past. I didn’t feel guilty for doing nothing for two days, and I only felt a bit stir-crazy.

As the stir-craziness became less easy to ignore, the other wonderful realization occurred. I was able to re-remind myself of why I moved from Minneapolis in the first place. Besides simply wanting a new adventure, I moved because I no longer wanted to be inhibited by snow for months on end. There are a lot of ways my life is inhibited, and I was no longer interested in snow and ice and cold being on that list. That particular inhibition was something I could control, and while it pained me to leave behind all the things and people I adore in the Midwest, living in a place with (almost) no snow has been very freeing for me. I know I’ve made a lot of bad decisions in my life, but this is one decision I’ve made that I am happy with, and I was able to see that reenforced during this atypically snowy Seattle February.

Hopefully, this will only be an every-few-years thing, and I can continue having a much improved, more appreciative relationship with snow. As for right now, though, I’m over it. It’s time for Seattle to melt.