Archive | July, 2012

Optical Illusions

31 Jul

by Mel Finefrock

I walk on an endless plane where ground and sky are one.

People are characterized by articles of clothing:

Floating T-shirts and pairs of shorts

Contrasting against a non-descript, grayscale world.

Color does come to me sometimes like smatterings of paint—

A blue sky here, a golden sun there, a green cloud of foliage—

Especially red, like the girl in the red sweatshirt from Schindler’s List.

The eye doctor waves hello, but I see her white sleeve, not her tawny hand.

I’ve been known to think a small tree was a person.

I’ve flinched at unknown shadows, even my own.

I turn like a sunflower toward any emission of light.

I have personal firework shows in my head every night

That find their way even into my dreams.

Cones and rods fall away, and I see ghostly yellow and purple ripples.

Blood vessels burst, and my world bleeds red.

If I stare at something long enough, I can make it disappear.

Sometimes, I can find it in me to laugh at these optical illusions…


Mel Finefrock is a senior at the University of North Texas, majoring in literature, minoring in Spanish, and pursuing a twelve-hour certificate in rehabilitation studies. She has Cone/Rod Dystrophy, similar to Retinitis Pigmentosa, and is among the eleventh generation in her family to inherit this condition.  Her  boyfriend Jordan encouraged her to write this poem when she was describing to him what things looked like after a bad bout of vision loss her sophomore year. Though it’s a bit on the darker side, Mel is hoping that upon reading her words, those of you with progressive (and eventually total) vision loss will feel less alone. You can visit Mel’s YouTube channel, where you can hear her reading this piece aloud: .

Creative Person of the Week

28 Jul

John Newton (July 24, 1725 – Dec. 1807) was an Anglican clergyman and hymn writer. His father was a ship’s captain, and his pious mother died when he was seven years old, so he accompanied his father to sea. He once tried to desert the Royal Navy, and was publicly flogged and demoted. Later, another ship traded him as cargo, and he became the servant of an African slave dealer. He ended up a captain and carried slaves between Europe, the sugar plantations of the West Indies, and Africa’s slave coast.

In 1748, he had a spiritual conversion on a journey back to England. He almost drowned in a terrible storm. It is said that he prayed to God, and the ship did not sink. After that, he stopped gambling and drinking, and he married a girl he had loved for many years.

Newton was ordained as a minister. He gave up the slave trade entirely, and later in his life he became an outspoken abolitionist. In his best-selling pamphlet Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade (1788), he described the awful conditions of the slave ships he had captained. By this time, Newton was a well-known preacher and writer of hymns, and the public listened to him. In 1805, the 80-year-old Newton went completely blind, but he didn’t stop working. The slave trade was abolished in the British Empire in March of 1807; Newton died that December.

He is best remembered for his hymns, which include “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken,” “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds,” and most well known “Amazing Grace.”

(Excerpt from the Writer’s Almanac)

Diminished Expectations

24 Jul

by Jeff Flodin

Ancient, unenlightened cultures tortured, then killed, their blind.Ancient, enlightened cultures merely killed them.  Praise the gods for enlightenment.

The Renaissance heralded a royal showcase for talented blind.  Granted, court jester wasa degrading freak show, but at least royal freaks kept their heads.

Industrialization brought opportunity.  When chair caners and piano tuners reached full employment, blind entrepreneurs could always venture into pencil sales on Wall Street’s prime corners.

There are exceptions.  Creative and  determined individuals regularly eclipse societal expectations. For the rest of us, society remains that amorphous mass we point our middle fingers at.  While legislation like the ADA formalizes social conscience, Joe Six-Pack still views the disabled as inhabiting a strange, substandard, yet somehow entitled world. Following every declaration that, “She’ll go far,” comes, “for a blind girl.”

Still, the tragedy here is my own complicity in diminishing expectations.Take my first defiant act of adult-onset blindness: selling my cameras, golf clubs and the rest of my visual life to the lowest bidder. Self-immolation was preferable — at least death came on my terms.

Faced with new and frightening reality, I opted for familiar poison. Resisting white cane use protected my charade but left me at the back of the pack.  Withdrawing kept me safe but out of the loop.  Isolating prevented rejection but insured that opportunity never knocked.  Venturing nothing minimized risk but attracted even less.

Diminishing my own expectations came naturally, in lock step with oppressive fear and loathing.  Golfing became intolerable.  Photography verged on impossible.  Dining out featured pratfalls and slapstick.  Interacting morphed into bad acting.  Decades after the fact, I realize I could have adapted in subtle ways and stayed in the game longer. Back then, I saw the world in more absolute terms.  If I could not be the perfect, sighted self, I’d be no self at all.  I adopted the absurd, self-destructive slogan, “You can’t fire me! I quit!”

My strategy for feeling out of control was to exert control.  Rather than adapt, I clung to life’s lost elements.  I diminished what remained  as undesirable leftovers.  Blindness is not my biggest problem.  What is more problematic is the set of character defects I brought to the blindness experience.  Defects like perfectionism, which prevented me from accepting myself as worthy in all my physical manifestations; perfectionism, which rendered me incapable of accepting that I can and do make mistakes.  And my personal specialty: self-pity.  Victims are insufferable, even more so because they are the last to realize their offense.

I disserved myself by buying into the social stereotype that a blind life is less than equal.  I compounded this mistake by defining myself by my limitations.  Call becoming sick and tired of being sick and tired an epiphany if you wish.  All I know is that things have gradually changed.  I now see my blind life as different — a hell of a lot different to be sure— but not diminished.  I find new ways of mastery.  I feel less a victim of circumstance.  I grow comfortable in my own skin.  I seek success.Success breeds the belief that I can set my own expectations.  Sure, I’ll neither cruise past Danika Patrick on the straightaway nor dislodge Peyton Manning as Pro Bowl quarterback, but I will surpass any parameters society might arbitrarily impose.  I play a part in all life’s transactions.  Whatever damage has been inflicted from without, I need not add damage from within.  The next time I point that finger at society, I pray for the strength to turn it around, accept my role and give myself an even break.

Jeff Flodin is a writer.  He has been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa for 30 years.  Jeff’s bi-weekly blog, “Jalapenos in the Oatmeal: Digesting Vision Loss,” is posted at Second Sense – beyond vision loss’s (f/k/a The Guild for the Blind) website (  Read more about Jeff on the Statement page of this site.

Creative Person of the Week: Maribel Steel

20 Jul

Maribel Steel is a writer, blogger, mother and singer who  lives in Melbourne, Australia. As a person with Retinitis Pigmentosa,  she believes her life is about learning to trust her other senses: to hear, to touch, to smell, to intuit, to love and to laugh.

Maribel was first diagnosed with RP at age fifteen and up until then, it seemed that she was only shortsighted and required nothing more than glasses. Her family had not suspected anything was radically wrong with her vision at that point, even though she could not see stars in the night sky, a symptom of RP.

The following is an excerpt of an interview with Maribel Steel by writer, Amy Bovaird. Full details are given at the end of this article

Can you describe a little bit about what the doctor said, how he broke the news?

As my parents took me to seventeen specialists to confirm the diagnosis that I was going blind, the news filtered into our lives over a period of time. My parents were devastated with the final diagnosis and I personally felt confused. On one hand, I was still the same person, yet on the other, I had been cast into a different mould by the specialists and was to accept the new label, ‘legally blind’ – even though in my own way of thinking, I was not blind at all.

Can you talk about some of your biggest challenges, and any that you’ve overcome?

I think challenges are a part of everyone’s life, big or small, whether you are blind or sighted. The real challenge is not so much the situation that can completely halt you in your tracks, but choosing a positive outlook to find an alternative route when it might be easier to give up. Sometimes life requires determined action and at other times, it requires a gentle grace to accept one’s limitations. I try to find humour in the frustrating moments but this often occurs after the event.

Being a vision-impaired mother when my four children were growing up was a major challenge. I often felt inadequate and held back tears of deep frustration not to be able to guide my children like sighted parents can: to point out letters on signs, to read bedtime stories from a book, to drive them to parties, to watch out for their safety in the park or at the beach, to tell them when it was safe to cross the road. Instead, it became a natural routine for my children to be their mummy’s eyes.

How does your community provide support for you?

Melbourne is a vibrant city which I am pleased to say has made a huge effort to include people of all disabilities by providing good access to public places. Also I am often pleasantly surprised by the kindness of strangers who go out of their way to help me locate the right building or the right door or the right tram. My magic wand (white cane) attracts generous people almost every time I venture out of our front door!

What advice would you give someone who has been newly diagnosed with RP?

“To anyone who may be diagnosed with RP, it is natural to expect that you will grieve for the loss of sight. Share this grief with a close friend or partner who can truly listen to what you are going through. You may initially feel your dreams and aspirations have all been taken from you and it will take time to adjust to a different way of being. The key in dealing with such a daunting future, regardless of age, is in accepting the limitations and reaching out to others so you can feel really supported on the challenging road ahead.

Be proactive in seeking out technology and other aids that can help you maintain a sense of independence – you might be surprised at the amount of helpful gadgets out there. Approach agencies that specialise in helping people with vision loss, because they are there to offer support and valuable information – my little motto is ‘the squeaky wheel gets the oil’ and believe me, it really does!

Finally, be kind to yourself because you will most probably be your hardest critic. Trust your ability to be resourceful, even triumphant, as you face the challenges to see your life in a different light. And as my son, at the ripe old age of four, once advised me, “Don’t ever give up.””

For the full 3-part inhterview go to Amy’s blog:

To learn more about Maribel Steel visit her website:

To read her regular blog posts go to:

Morning Meeting

17 Jul

by Sarah Martin

“Are you in trouble?” he asks me, and I look up as the first light of day emerges behind his body.

“No.”  I reply, puzzled by this strange mans question

“You are writing madly in your notebook.”  He says

“Oh” I am still puzzled.

“Are you in trouble?  Are you writing home to your family?” He asks again.

“No” I wonder why he thinks this “just my thoughts” I tell him.  I smile, and he returns the smile, his dark eyes sparkling from under his beanie.

“Poetry.” I add

“Oh you are a poet?”

“Hopefully.  Trying.”

The tram approaches.

“I am a night shift worker, and I dream of things like poetry.”  He begins to walk toward the tram.  Just as he is about to board the tram he turns back towards me.

“Good luck” looking me directly in the eye.  A connection with a stranger I had never felt before, like for this moment he understood everything about me.  “I might read about you one day.” He adds as he steps up onto the tram.

I am left with my thoughts.


Sarah Martin is in her 30’s and lives in Melbourne Australia.  She was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa at age 16.  Since that time, she has been on a journey of light and dark.  The one thing that has become clear over the past few years is Sarah’s passion and joy in poetry and exploring her world through words.

Need Your Input!

13 Jul

Hello all.  As you know, this blog posts poetry and essays written by visually impaired authors.  And those authors are you or someone you know!  We are putting out a call for submissions.  Tell us what’s on your mind or share an experience that you think is unique to blind folks.  Be poetic or tell us a story.  We need your input and want to hear what you have to say.  Click or press enter on the Submissions tab to find out where to send your writings.

Thank you!


9 Jul

by Nancy Scott

          My neighbor’s cat would not long for July off to listen to the gap in the sky.  The face in the full moon would not start her yearning. 

           She would purr and be held, play and sleep soundly, leap to the top of the refrigerator in one bound as if she’d never had to plan balance.  She knows July is a month for wanting the air to move and wishing to be somewhere else.      

          Surely you have seen cats like this.  Perhaps you envy them.  I know I do.  They do not need a long trip.  They may look lazy, but they win contentment with their days,  and risk and race with their nights, knowing they could speak of places we thought they’d never been.

           But this magic will end in August when the days go to the dogs.

 Nancy Scott, Easton, PA, is a blind essayist and poet.  Her over-500 bylines have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies and newspapers, and as audio commentaries.  Her third chapbook, co-authored with artist Maryann Riker, is entitled “The Nature of Beyond.


Braille and Poetry

2 Jul

by Mani G. Iyer

It isn’t like scotch and soda
or, pumpkin pie and vanilla ice cream
or, for that matter, burger and fries.
It just so happens
that my braille teacher is a fine poet too.
The big braille book lies between us,
I amble the trail of irregular bumps,
nimbly with the tip of my index finger.
He rides the same trail
with his eyes, and waits for me
to tell him what I discovered, at every clearing.
When I put my index finger to rest,
on the next milestone, lest I not lose the trail
or revisit the trodden path,
we discuss line breaks in poetry,
when to do them, and when not to.
He recites Stopping by woods on a snowy evening,
shows me the sentence patterns.
I visualize Frost on an evening trot,
his horse being more intimate with
the ground beneath them.
When I am done with assembling the bumps
into words and relate the final sentence,
he tells me, I am on the right track.
For the next lesson, he types up
the Frost poem in braille
for me to feel the poetry.


Mani G. Iyer was born and raised in Bombay, India and has lived in the United States since 1985.  He is deaf-blind due to Usher Syndrome.  He became deaf by the age of 4, night-blind by the age of 12, and now has very little usable vision.