Writing Into an Identity

Flowergirlink

Susan’s story is an inspiration. When I discovered her blog, I was immediately struck by her poetry that is beautiful and moving. While I never considered myself a huge poetry fan, I’ve long admired poets because they paint pictures and elicit emotions with an economy of words that is impressive. I was also intrigued, amazed actually, by the presumption that she was totally blind, and could craft such wonderful art. I soon learned that Susan in not completely sightless, but that that doesn’t make what she does any less impressive. I admire her perseverance and tenacity.

If you enjoy poetry, please visit https://floweringink.wordpress.com 

And if you don’t, visit the site anyway. If you’re like me you will be instantly converted.

Thank you Susan.

I discovered Steve’s blog through another blogger, and when I began to read Steve’s posts, I felt through his words a succinct determination, gentle honesty and a real desire to help others.  I find all of this incredibly admirable, and as I read more, I found his humor and strength and an atmosphere of camaraderie.  It was an incredible honor to me when he started to read my blog and then invited me to write a guest post for his.

I can’t deny I am a bit nervous to be a guest here, but more than that I am excited to have been asked.

I am a poet and a writer.  I am married to an Irishman, and we have 2 pugs and 2 cats.  We live in Hollywood, surrounded by an array of interesting characters that often appear in my poems and stories.  I also have a degenerative retinal disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa.  I am going blind.

I grappled with what to write about for this post.  RP seemed an obvious thing, but it doesn’t stand alone.  It isn’t something I hold at arms-length and look at objectively.  It doesn’t define me, but it is part of me. It has become a constant pattern in the fabric of my life, one I didn’t choose and never would have chosen, but one that is indelibly tattooed on my existence.

On the day of my diagnosis, my life changed. RP crept beneath my skin. I couldn’t deny it or shrug it off; it was here to stay and I had a choice to either let it destroy me, or to accept the reality of it and figure out how blindness was going to mesh with my life. It was to be a long and harrowing path littered with obstacles, both literal and figurative.  I felt like my identity had been shattered and I was tasked with finding the pieces and creating something new from them.  I began the journey of learning to become a blind person. Or at least that’s what I thought at the time.

The first 7 years after my diagnosis, I continued to work as a Human Resources Manager, struggling to cope with my disease, while keeping it a secret.  During those 7 years, I came home almost every day, exhausted from over use of my eyes and unable to do anything but lie on the couch, in the dark, because I was in so much pain.  At the time of my diagnosis, I had 50 degrees of peripheral vision (This diagram is a good example of the human visual field), at the end of those 7 years, I had 25 degrees; I had lost half of my remaining vision.  I decided to stop working.

At the time of my retirement (as my husband calls it), I had the grandiose idea that I was going to write full time.  From a very early age, I had a dream of being a writer.  I had always felt like a writer, even declared myself a writer, but the writing itself was inconsistent, at best. I had a few poems published in my early 20’s, but life pulled me under its wheels and my writing voice turned into a whisper. I was a writer who didn’t write. That would remain the case for some years.

When I stopped working, it became clear that I hadn’t really dealt with my RP.  I hadn’t allowed myself the time, and suddenly, I had nothing but time.  I decided I was going to write a book, that writing would be the best way to figure out how to piece together the identity of a visually impaired woman.  Day after day, I sat down at the computer and nothing happened.  I couldn’t feel my voice.  I had no idea who I was.   It was as if everything I had been before RP had gotten demolished by the looming presence of a disease I couldn’t face.

In an attempt to get motivated about the book, I started my blog.  My posts were few and very far between.  I wasn’t looking at myself from a writer’s perspective, I was looking at myself from a blind perspective. I was no longer a writer, I was a blind woman trying to write because I felt I had no purpose; I became weighed down by feeling empty and lost myself in the process. I felt like a failure and a fraud. Then, an old friend of mine made a suggestion that changed my life.  She told me to step away from the blog and go back to what first made me fall in love with writing.  I followed her advice and fell back into the arms of poetry.

I felt my voice return and my passion for language resurface.  I remembered why I had always dreamed of a writing life, why I had fallen in love with words.  I felt my pulse flow onto the page.  I was able to write about RP, to face the reality of it with what felt like a brutally beautiful honesty. I wrote about blindness.  I wrote about my family and my neighborhood and the world around me.  In the return to writing poetry, I rediscovered my passion and it made me feel braver.  I returned to the blog and started posting regularly. I found a writing community that is generous and inspiring. I started sending my poems to journals and magazines and I started getting published again.  It was a true awakening.

It turned out the journey wasn’t one of becoming a blind person, it was one of becoming myself, but I can’t deny that RP played a significant role in leading me back to writing and helping me write into an identity that had been lost.  RP isn’t something that I have and it isn’t something that has me.  Like being a writer, it is simply a part of who I am.