Post by P. Nina Livingstone
Growing up, I always enjoyed my sighted life; I saw blue skies, the exquisite ocean and its waves embracing their shores, the colors of the seasons in New England and the colors of my socks, the expressions of others in all conversations… bliss! Now all the visuals, the beauty of nature, people, animals, the earth with its fields and farms, the flowing rivers and printed New York Times, magazines and books – everything remains dormant in my mind’s vault. Everything around me relies on memory, the reels of “film footage” from the past. I lost my sight completely in the year 2000 from a hereditary eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa (RP).
Adjusting to the world sight-lessly entails time and patience – both of which I find irritating, because time is precious and short, and patience – well, I have little patience. Perhaps I am infinitely in denial about my sight loss. My door remains open to the possibility of seeing again – why not?
The word “reality,” for some, sounds like a nasty word. But it isn’t at all! Some relish the pleasure of replacing reality with a host of things – immersing themselves into art, into a movie, into a book, into anything other than a reality of whatever it is that plagues us. Or perhaps, we make movies, write books, compose music, or do whatever we choose, despite what our disabilities or issues may be. We can do anything that’s deemed impossible, regardless of any disability. Technology has been performing a great service in supporting disabilities via communications, but also, the presence of people, of friends, of family, a spouse, a partner– the best support we humans need and can provide is people. No one is alone, disabled or not disabled – it’s really a choice!
A few years ago, I made a choice to live alone, and depend on myself to figure out how to manage things without anyone at home to remind me to pick up the mail or feed the fish. I want to do this in the way that others climb Mt. Everest or travel on a safari alone – to see what’s new and savor the challenge of surviving alone and facing the same demons those explorers do – but without sight. So the way I see it, surviving alone is an exercise of hardcore independence. For me, it’s a big deal.
I could make life easier for myself, as most say, if I had a bunch of products that make cooking accessible: special braille labels here and there along the microwave, cabinets, food packages, and so on. In fact, I am aware that I could label my clothes to know what colors I am wearing. There are so many options and technologies that accommodate those with sight loss and blindness.
I am impatient though. I have no time to label my clothes, nor do I care what colors I am wearing. If I am going to have lunch with someone like Woody Allen or Scarlett Johansson, then I’ll be sure to ask my local letter carrier about the colors of my dresses…or my neighbor next door who I know has bad cataracts, but I trust her. Yes, so I show up at dental appointments thinking I am wearing a black skirt and sleeveless black top only to hear my dentist say that my shoes are caked in mud and my colors are “amazingly bright orange today…”
Sure, there are many things these days that can help us folks with sight loss using technology. I do have an iPhone and well, what blind person does not appreciate Voiceover? I also have an app a friend gave me as a gift called “NFB Reader,” which allows me to scan a grocery list and have it then read to me out loud.
Again, there are just too many things to do in daily life to waste time remembering how much I loved my sighted days–the reality is I cannot see now. And I still pretend I have sight. Why not?
One time I took a bag of organic popcorn and put some of the kernels into a large pan, poured in some olive oil, turned the heat up to medium, and placed the lid on top of the pan. I moved the pan around, jiggling it to help the popping process. Fifteen long minutes, nothing happened. Stove was fine. But nothing seemed to pop. I waited another ten minutes. No results.
“Defective maybe? But I bought the popcorn yesterday,” I thought to myself. I opened another bag, poured the kernels into the pan… no results.
“Wow, what the heck?” I mumbled, shaking my head.
So, I left the pan to remain there and went to a different burner with a new pan, wondering if that would make a difference. I opened a third and last bag of popcorn. It worked – the popcorn popped and jumped everywhere!
The next morning, my volunteer met me at the door, and she looked at the other pan with the remains of what I thought were kernels – turned out that I had wasted two bags of lentil beans…
But hey, the bag of actual popcorn tasted fabulous!
“Oh Nina, you really should label your food items or at least scan them and listen to the readings,” a friend said. Well, true indeed. But, if you have a driver waiting outside, a phone message to read in braille from your colonoscopy doctor, and a piece of dental floss dangling from your purse – what time is there to scan twenty-eight items from a kosher deli list inside your fridge?
“Skip all that. I’ll just find out when I open the containers. I have a good nose and it works well. Why not?” I replied.
Another day, in a rush, I fed my four large fish in their huge fish tank. Then, in the kitchen, I opened a can of sardines. I attempted to place them in a bowl of salad material with lots of arugula, kale, and water cress. The doorbell rang. I rushed down the stairs like a sighted person would. I opened the door.
“I’m from Fed Ex, ma’am,” said a heavy-voiced woman.
Before I could speak, the woman added, “Ma’am, you’ve got a fish on the tip of your shoe…oh my…” she said with a gasp.
“What? Huh? I just fed my fish, I hope it’s not my fish,” I responded rather stunned. Before I could stoop over to investigate, the woman handed me a package and uttered in her robust voice: “Sign this please.” I signed.
“Ma’am, ma’am…” she sounded exasperated. “Over here, ma’am” – now clearly annoyed.
“You didn’t sign the receipt, you signed over my finger,” said the woman in a rushed, irate voice.
“Oh sorry, I can’t see, sorry about that!” I said. My front door closed. I checked my shoe to find out what happened. The “fish” was one of the sardines…
Will I launch a new trend in shoe fashion?
Will I stop wearing odd colors?
Should I continue popping popcorn, or lentil beans?
Why should I? It makes life fascinating, and I love life!
Nina Livingstone is a screenwriter, novelist, and motivational speaker on topics including violence against women, surmounting disabilities, and the joy of life, healing, and light. Nina’s work has recently appeared in Natural Awakening’s Boston Magazine – read her latest two articles here (Dec 2014) and here (April 2015). Contact her at Nina.Livingstone@gmail.com.