Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Watching the World GO By

Here I am again, dear readers.  It hasn't been quite as long since last time around, and I hope to be back on a semi-regular schedule finally.  Today was a wonderful day, both weather-wise and in other senses of the word.  I believe I've a handle on how I want to approach these last few weeks of the term, which is a great burden off my shoulders.

So, with the weather being as wonderful as it was this evening I thought I would take a little stroll outside after dinner.  I didn't have anywhere in particular in mind, but ended up outside Weatherford Hall, one of the dorms on campus close to mine.  There's a nice wooden bench there, which I decided might get some sunshine.  As it turns out, it didn't, but I sat there anyway.

The title of this post pretty much sums up what I did, I watched, or listened, to the world go by around me.  This was a profoundly relaxing experience.  I could hear birds of several kinds, people walking by, and eventually the wind blowing the leaves on the trees about.  There were also plenty of cars, skateboards, and at least one airplane.

A part of me was hoping that someone might stop by and say hello while I was doing this.  I had nowhere in particular to go and was determined to stay around for a good length of time.  Nobody did.  I'd like to think that if I'd been doing this in, say, Georgia, someone might have.

There's a tendency in our modern society to hurry.  We think that if we don't get things done as soon as possible, the world will fall apart around us.  We don't really talk to one another as much as we used to, before the advent of cell phones.  I can imagine with curious nostalgia, for I was never there, what it might have been like in the time when the phone was a giant thing sitting on a hall table.  I'd hope we talked more with one another then, and maybe took things just a little slower.

Of course, all this might also have something to do with the age old problem I face.  I'm blind, people know that, and because they don't know how to approach me or are afraid of offending me they simply don't bother.  I hope it was perhaps a combination of those two factors, ideally more the latter than the former.

I am a profoundly old-fashioned person.  I have deep misgivings about our current dependence on technology and what it is doing to the world around us.  This is at least ironic, since I depend so much on it for my every day existence.  I would not have been able to thrive in the hypothetical world I described.

It is because I depend so much on this modernity that I intend to try and spend at least a little of every day outside, doing nothing in particular.  I imagine it'll be good for my health, and who knows, I might meet someone.  My request for you all this time is to try and do the same.  I think it will benefit everybody, blind or otherwise.  Remember also that just because I'm blind doesn't mean I'm unapproachable or easily offended.  I look forward to many pleasant encounters with you all.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Speaker for the Blind

It has been a while, dear readers.  I'm sorry I've not been better at keeping this blog up to date.  Last week in particular was chock full of personal drama I didn't care for in the least, and I really couldn't summon the energy to write.  This week, so far, seems to be going much better, and so here we are.  I'm just sitting here on a Monday evening waiting for my laundry to finish.  No, I haven't read the whole Ender series.

Something happened this afternoon in one of my classes which I thought I should write about.  A girl came up to me and asked me a question--it was about whether or not I'd always been blind.  I told her that yes, I have, and we had a pleasant chat for a few minutes afterwards until she and I both had to leave.  Why is this meaningful?  I've been seeing this girl in class twice a week for five weeks now.  She didn't ask me until today, for any number of possible reasons.  I suspect, however, that a lot of it was fear of offending me.  I don't offend easily, and I like to think I'm an open book, within reason.  I want people to engage with me and ask questions if they have them, because I imagine most people haven't met many blind people before, and don't have any idea what it's all about.  More generally, I just want people to spend time with me the same way they do sighted people.

I say "engage with me," because in general it is up to you to initiate a conversation.  I have absolutely no way of reading your visual body language to tell me that you're interested or curious or bored out of your mind.  If you take the first step, we can go on from there.  I wish more people would.  The title of this post came to me when I realized I was playing the role of an ambassador of sorts for the blind community at large, which is a little paradoxical considering my somewhat strained relationship with it.  Look for a future post on exactly why that is.  My point, dear reader, is that I want social interaction and friendship and even romance as much as the next guy, but you might need to take the first step.  So that's what I want to invite anybody who feels up to it to do.  Comment here, email me, say hi in class or on the street or whatever.  You might be surprised, and I'd sure appreciate it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Wonderful World of Hollywood

Hi, everybody.  It's been a few days, so I thought I'd give all my readers something new to chew on.  I've a confession to make.  Those of you who are over a certain age may already have caught the egregious movie reference in the title of my previous post.  If you didn't, go out right now and rent yourself a copy of the classic Dr. Strangelove.  It's a ridiculous piece of black comedy, and besides, where else would you get to see someone riding an atomic bomb?  After you've watched that, come back here.  Back already?  Great.

The previous paragraph may have lead to some questions in your mind.  How exactly does a blind guy watch movies, you might ask?  Why does he do it?  Wouldn't audio books or radio dramas be more his style?  The answer to the last question is yes, they are, and you can expect a future post all about either or both of those.  This is about movies, though, and yes, I do watch them.  I can't really explain why.

How is a bit easier.  I can listen to the dialog and action in a movie just fine, thank you.  I'm not def.  What I am is sometimes very confused about exactly what's going on, depending on the nature of the movie.  That's why describers exist: people who will sit there with me and tell me what's happening on screen as it happens.  This is probably annoying to fellow patrons in a theatre, but I still do it.  So there.  Some people are better at the whole description thing than others, and it takes practice, so why not get payed for it?

As a matter of fact, some people do.  Regrettably, there's no assurance that a movie today will come with description, though that seems to slowly be changing.  What there is are services run by companies like WGBH in Boston, which spend hundreds of hours writing descriptions of many new releases and classics.  There's even a web site, www.blindmicemart.com, which devotes a good deal of space to hosting downloadable MP3s of these described movies.  Ironically, Dr. Strangelove wasn't among them, last I checked.

So do I have favorites?  Yes, of course I do.  They vary wildly: Gone with the Wind, Pretty Woman, A Fish Called Wanda, anything by Monty Python.  I'm not immune to the classics either: Casablanca is wonderful.  The point to all this is that I can enjoy all the same movies you do, just in a different way.

So, we come to the end of another round.  I have a challenge for you sighted people out there.  Go to the site I mentioned previously, click into the Movie Vault, and download a movie, preferably one you haven't seen before.  Watch it.  Come back here and give me your impressions.  Make it fun for the whole family.  Don't cheat and get the video, now.  That's not the point.  I can't show you my world if you don't want to see it, but I can try.  Let me know how it goes.  Are your favorite actresses as sexy if you can't see them?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

How I learned to Stop Worying and Love Being Lost

It’s a fact of life, folks. As a blind person I find myself lost more often than your average sighted person. I don’t mean just not sure which street to take, I mean confused and majorly disoriented about exactly what buildings are nearby or even where I am in a specific building. It’s generally fine if I’m following a known root, but throw that off, even a little, and things get fun. Consider the issue of a building with multiple entrances. THis is not really a problem for sighted people, but I can’t count the number of people who very helpfully lead me out of a building only to find that I’m on some unfamiliar street, or something. I have no way to guess that from visual cues, you see. It boils down to a bunch of blind groping in the dark, no pun intended.
Now, is the situation totally hopeless, you may ask? Hardly. THere are a number of things you and I can both do to make this less of a problem. The first is something I’ve harped on for years. Braille signage in buildings is sorely lacking at Oregon State. Some dorms and newer buildings have it, but even there it isn’t very consistent. Strangely, few to none of the actual classroom buildings have it. So I run into another situation which can be avoided: having to stand in the lobby of a building and ask for directions to room 305, or whatever. It’s different if I’m talking to a girl and would just like some company for a bit, but this needing to ask for basic information from random strangers is just silly in most cases.
Something you can do yourselves is pay attention. SO many people walk around these days with iPods or their music player of choice blasting into their eardrums. I have no way of knowing this, unless the music is loud enough to carry to my ears, in which case you have a serious medical problem. The point to all this is that someone walking around with headphones on is useless when it comes to providing directions or indeed almost anything else to blind people--I can’t exactly point meaningfully at what I want, can I?
So my final requests this time are aimed at my local readers. Number one, please support the addition of Braille signage to classroom buildings. Number two, please stop walking around with music blasting at a hundred decibels. The first of these is simple enough: write to the university, march in the streets, create interesting and psychedelic posters which I won’t be able to read, just get your point across by all the wonderful methods of civil disobedience the 60’s left us. The second is harder, but not impossible: learn to unplug a little. Talk to friends, not cell phones. Live the way people did before the mass media infected us all. It might be fun.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Introducing Myself

Hi, everybody. I’m Zack, a 22-year-old student at Oregon State University who happens to be totally blind. As far as I know, I’m unique on the OSU campus,which never ceases to amaze me.
I’ve been thinking for some time now about starting a blog, nothing too formal, just a place to express myself a bit and serve as an ambassador of sorts for blind people everywhere, or at least this blind person. So here I am. A wonderful friend finally convinced me over dinner last night to take the plunge. Don’t expect any consistent subject here, I’ll write stream of consciousness as ideas strike me. I do hope to engage with anybody who might take the time to read this, so please feel free to comment and I’ll do my best to answer.
So, it’s a lovely Spring day out here, and I’m waiting for my laundry to finish in the dryer. You can expect a future post on all the hilarity surrounding clothes and me, but suffice to say I can put them in a machine much easier than I can fold them. I have no classes on Fridays this term, so will probably spend the afternoon doing homework or putting that off while I enjoy the sunshine outside--it’s only week two, after all. I’ll close for now with a question aimed at my future sighted readers. Can you describe the color chartreuse to me in a meaningful way? It came up recently somehow and has been nagging ever since. I eagerly await any answers.