Awhile ago Nori Mizukami asked me to write about how I feel about blindness. Here is my response...
Blindness. Its personal, inhabiting both body and mind. My own eyes like buried doors, full of promising sights once, now entombed under dark dirt that covers and smothers their vistas, obliterating comfort and potential. There's no more refuge from blindness, than from ones own
The absence of sight forces you into different ways. Of nessecity, your awareness extends... now to locate, navigate, disentangle, compare, re-arrange and rate the scraps of sight left. This is all rather desperate, speaking personally, defensive. I struggle not to hand over my pleasure and skill in seeing. Its all desperate and raw, desperate and famished for light, like an emaciated, starving dog will lick and chew the very air off an alley. Any scrap, any photon of light will do.
Time is scarce - the time left before the lights are shut off. Its sad, to have vision drain away. pressing "pause" isn't working.
One afternoon I was talking with a European filmmaker, an accomplished cinematographer, who was exploring blindness and photography.
It might be worthwhile for you, I said, to shoot part of your film blindfolded. He made a sudden, panicked face, and there you have it. Extend that brief uncomfortable thought into a lifetime and you will get the pervasive, inescapable truth of the matter.The emotional reality of it washed over him for a few seconds, until he composed himself, and the prospect retreated back into the abstract, from where such matters are best left for creative visual artists to theorize over.
I can, at certain times, think of the process optimistically and somewhat accurately. Imagine a detailed wall mural, an ancient composition. Parts have fallen off ,over time, more and more details fade, cracks splinter off whole areas, speckles grow until the whole work falls away in broken plaster fragments, but revealing under that mural, an odd, unknown, colorless support.
Little remains of the art work, and its irrecoverable loss and absence is like that of a lost Vermeer, vanished, hypothetical, it's non -existence sustained by rumours and sighs, leaving it's luminous and exqiusite aspect to our imagination.
But under that crumbled, faded mural lies another substantial reality, still unexplored, but pulsing with a strange, vital rhythm, still foreegn, like a foriegn city's subway system and incomprehensible words and signs. A structure of my future as a blind person.
Setting up a light painitng one night recently, I heard a commercial on the radio about an Optical chain. " Take care of your eyes. After all...” the actor intoned softly “your eyes are your soul." I winced, re-arranged, disregarded and opened the shutter.
I didn’t think I'd get lost. I shouldn’t have. It was just a shorter, but familiar way home. Night would be hard, no, what's the word challenging? But do - able.
At night, there are two parts of this walk.
The first is manageable. A long series of waist -high lights guide one along, like runway lights descibe the lift- off. Departing their safety, I flew into darkness, smiling, wingless, but over- confident.
Instead of turning right, I just stayed straight, sure I’d remember where to go. The white cane swung wider and wilder the further I progressed into nothingness.
I lost the sidewalk. A wrong turn. Even helpful traffic sounds deserted me.Unfamiliar emptiness spread out before me deviod of navigation or sense. The happy confident sounds of commuters and kids on skateboards wizzed about. I tripped down some stairs. I grabbed the rail ,the only tangible thing, and had to choose, left or right without the faintest clue to where I was. I needed help, and began politely calling out to people for assistance.
That wasn't working out, so I continued alone, shaking . I wound up on the grass of one of the many big lawns and parks around here, its strange to use a cane on the grass. I wanted to give up. Another failuire, another reminder I was different.
Soft curses and humming calming songs- all distractions- stopped. Utter concentration was my only option.
I fixated solely on finding a sidewalk, any path, to get off the grass. I stopped again. I might have circled round, I've no idea, so completely and so thoroughly blind, as to pull the air from my body. abondened by the simplest functioning, fighting for inches.
Eventually my cane found some sidewalk that led me into some trash cans, but I heard people there.
I asked passers by for help again, all ignored me until finally a bicyclist lent me his arm, and guided me to who knows where, I just couldn't get any sense of location and the man had to leave. He was nice but had kids also, riding bikes behind us ringing their bells.
I listened, re-orienting, finding no light to help, and continued by following the voices of those walking ahead, disoriented, crashing hard into a call box, regained myself, and slowly tapped to where the pace hinted at where the cross walk might be.
Again and again I fell off the curb into the busy street, guessing wrongly at the place that I had to find. Being on the street wasn't good, I shuddered. Cars zoomed uncomfortably close, headlight flashed too near.
A car screeched to a halt, a door slammed and a man screamed “ Hey! I saw that, you cut him off - Hey -You!” Another door slammed- closer though. I listened as he ran over, shouting back, indignant.
I listened carefully and still."That man is blind- what on earth did you do that for, you moron? You could have killed him.”
I just wanted to cross and walked back and forth, back and forth, attempting to find the crosswalk denied me.
"Apologize to that man….right now” he scolded, and the driver ran back and did, very sincerely,breathing hard and gulping. He just must have been in a hurry.
A woman led me safely across. “Its ok” I called out, but the two continued their furious exchange, scolding and defending. I left them, finally regaining a little illumination and confidence. A wailing police car sped by.
I watched it, wondering, still rubbing my forehead after colliding with a metal scaffold. It pulled up down the street, back there at the commotion, and I sighed, breathing again, groping demurely for the door, scarless and sufficient.
If theres a lesson in it all of this, its a hard one. I want for there to be a lesson, to wring value from dealing with blindness. Pitiless mirthless, unyielding blindness. I've nothing left. Or little.
Sometimes I'll bargain with blindness, offering it a nice backrub, trying to convince it to ...just slow down a little.I felt very open, to any insight any help any reassurance.
Blindness, its, aspect, paid a visit - in an accesable and friendly kind of way. Not really, but sort of.
He slipped in that night.
Blindness - Quite a scene back there. Seems things are getting serious lately aren't they? Falling into the traffic again. I saw it all, and I'll refrain from clueing you in on the worst of it.
Steve - My house is your house come in. If your name is Blindness how can you see anything?
Blindness - I'm just symbolic. Unlike you - who isn't of course. No, you get the brunt of my effects. Don't think I see in the physical sense. We Personifications roam around and see the way people do when they dream. Even pilots, those incarnations of effortless wonder, have to close their eyes...Got it?
So, you’ve not been too great. Its my fault I know. That walk was tough.
Steve - A guilty disease - oh too much.
Blindness - Can I have some water?
Steve - Here you go. You drink?
Blindness - Well I'm just a Personiafication who is trying to fit in. Ohh. Its broke, this glass has a sharp break on the lip, you didin't know, I know.
Steve - What? Oh I'm so sorry, really, you could have cut yourself.
Blindness - If anyone understands I do, you know it.
I guess this is odd, and it wasn't me you had wanted to show up, but we have to talk, its time. I'm not simply, quote-Blindness -unquote, I'm your own Blindness, it's essence. So here I am, you asked for help, I'm a good listener. I'll remind you of some nice guys. Trying to make it easier for you.
Steve - I can't talk with a disease, even my own personal version of blindness, forget it. No. Ethically - you fail. I am a victim...of you. And you just don’t ever go away.
I cant. What do you think this is anyway?
Bastard- you unspeakable monster.
Blindness - You'll get used to it- probably. It’s not fatal.
Steve - Want to trade places? Go spend a few hours not seeing out there, come back and tell me about it, The balance of power, are you serious? You’re here to comfort me? I resent your words, as though it was all fair. Sorry.
Blindness -You've really got to learn to control your emotions.
Steve - And you? And you've really got to vanish forever. Do some self evaluation, Disease or Blindness, or whatever you want to call yourself. Considering you represent such devastation. And what do you get out of being a disease anyway? It somehow fulfills you?
I've always wanted to ask, I mean, what’s your point of being here, and if you can answer, do you have any conscience about what you inflict, the accidnets, the broken bones, the premature deaths, the abject nightmare you represent.
Blindness - Wish I could light a candle for you, but well, you know, its sort of not the right symbolic
gesture. I'd advise you to get it all out of your system.
Steve- Advice from a disease, an irony impaired Personification I guess. that’s like a serial killer giving advice about kindness. Blindness, have you deluded your metaphoric self into believing you can advise me on anything whatsoever?
Blindness - Steve! I think ...ah, sights overrated, do you really want to see the rats in the subway station dragging around the greasy Cheetos bags? the grime and bad wigs? I'm doing you a favor so often, but I get no thanks for that part.
What's the turmoil about anyway? I thought you were doing what you're supposed to do...adjusting. Just last week you stepped on a homeless guy's legs, and knocked over his change cup. But he said he understood, remember? You always manage.
Steve - So far.
I can see something of you, some sliver, shadows and a certin height. Thanks for your voice by the way, you understand how much that means to me, really nice, a deep voice.
So, you dealt this out, like a thief you steal what I should have, I understand. But ...Ok, I never imagined how ugly it would become - these remains. You could have made it less messy. Why not just darkness, simple darkness would have been preferable than...this... than burning sunflowers that you give me, the flame, my very own, never - ending flame - thanks for my fireworks show. Very inventive.You deserve a special effects award.
Blindness - Sorry, but maybe it can inspire you, maybe you can write a poem about it. Oh, I know you use retinal fireworks in your painting too, don't forget please.
Steve - I can’t take it. This part surprised me really. It was a little familar though, because I remember seeing a movie long ago about a man, who for some reason, some medical operation or other had his eyes altered and he would always see, even when his eyes were closed, even if he put his hands in front of his eyes and closed his eyes, always the images came through, and he was driven insane and wound up screaming on a beach and a group of fanatics came along and heard his pleas for an end to this visual agony, and they closed around him chanting something like “If your eyes offend you pull them out! "Or was that just some conflation?
I'm surprised you're here, although I may have been expecting you or some similar thing like you, to come along. I've invited you without knowing it, without understanding who or what, but just needing help.
Funny I asked for a path, an answer, a guide through this fear, this imobility and darkness, and you come along? You? Thats interesting. Wow... Interesting. My irony center is buzzing.
Blindness -Thats why I like you- you pick it up quickly -go with your gut as they say.
Steve - You like me? Give me a moment...how dare you try to placate me - monstrous scurge. How does it feel to know that people hope every day - wait everyday - eager for your semise. In fact, where is that?
Blindness- What are you looking for?
Steve - The Fighting Blindness Newletter, I can't find it, but people are donating vast sums of money for your extinction, people are working ... how is that for you, to know that you are so hated?
Blindness - Ah it just is. I have no choice. I'm a fact. Hate away its good for you really, you need to do more of it. People who don’t hate their blindnes make me sick. That’s part of why Im paying you a visit, come on. Deal with me thats all.
I know how much you like guys to hang around here so just tell me when I'm not welcome.
Steve, there's something funny on the front of your shirt, look under the light there.
Steve- Oh no....a strand of toohpaste. I was walking around all day like this, no wonder I kept getting those looks.
Blindness - No comment. Well ...and a couple of smiles too you didin't see. I'll be right back, where's the bathroom light?
Steve - Oh come on. Your too insubstantial, just a shadow.
Blindness - What ? I'm all down to earth guy too. I've got uncanny aim, unlike someone I know.
Maybe… I’m really the fruit seller from Azerbaijan who picked the unbruised fruit for you that spring? I thought you enjoyed unusual beings... are you smilng?
Blindness- I am a tall Blindness too ...tall -want to feel? Want me to whisper the word ...tall ..many times?
Steve - Don't do that, don't even joke like that. Not only are you a Personification of blindness -your also crazy too ...great. And I'm not falling into your trap forget it. Ok so your funny. What do you want?
Blindness - Just listen. I'm trying to help you, but your...
Steve - What the hell... help? Help?
Blindness - Its strange, I'm remembering, well ...I mean, cats, night hunters, even cats can be blind.
Steve - Yes, and they die in agony. Cats, even in death, won't close their eyes ,no, even in death thier eyes stay wide open, not relinquish vision until their last moment.
Blindness - Well you remember how Laura tapped, and her blind cat followed her sound, fascinating, yes?
Steve - Only because you see this, the cat is indiferent to your judgement of it's suffering, it's attempt to survive it's environment unseeing. You speak from privilege. You assess from the heights of ability. Congratulations. Bravo, you flit around effortlessly .Hop in you car whenever you want.
blindness- Relax Steve.
Steve -l'll relax when you affirm your immense privalage.
Blindness – Look, just last month didn't you squirm when you re-read your journal from 20 years ago, the part when you were thinking about killing yourself because you couldn't endure going blind?
Steve - It was something I'd forgotten. True. That was painful to re- read and premature, and just stupid speculation. Blindness just felt so imminent then, so near.
Blindness - So thats good. Your friend says it is your own will to see that slows down your retinal disintegration. True, It is strong opponent I have with you, you fight. I agree him.
Steve - With him.
Blindness - Steve! I'm over here now, at the bookshelf. Ahh "Mysterious Fayum Portraits"... "The Hermitage", "Form and Color in Greek Painting", "Cezanne" ...sorry.
You've folded some pages here in ..." Psychology and Alchemy" by Jung. These old woodcuts from medevial time, of transformation, hmmm very surreal, very potent imagery though a bit antique... like ..."Progeney", "Yin and Yang", "The Boat of the Sun" . Keep working on those ideas, what did your teachers tell you, develop them fully. What’s so funny ?
Steve - That word..." working", my friend asked me how can I be working , when I m not getting a payheck? Well, I know his own Blindness. definatly a more functional pairing – a blind accountant, sweet guy,- what can I say?
Blindness - Don't get put off, but you really need to show your work more, I don’t want to see you ending up living in a cardboard box sucking french -fry crumbs.
Steve – Those themes, they're looming in importance, They’ll be symbolic echoes of you, portriats, in a way, of you, Blindness.
Blindness - Thanks. Its rare that I,or any of my fellow Blind Personifications, get attention from visual artists, I'm too harrowing, they'd rather look the other way of course.
A Sculpture. There are alternatives to painting. Why you always make that face when sculpture is mentioned. I liked the sculpture you did of the Etruscan looking man with the shirt of molded eyes festooned in patterns, but you destroyed it.
Steve - Yeah but i took a good artistic photo of it before it was trashed.
Blindness - Steve! Be careful you might re -think that. Its very unfortunate you never were enchanted with 3-D.
Steve - I think I can understand why your attempting to behave so ... alluringly, so cozy, it’s just because your days are numbered, and in five years you'll be a memory . Its your last, ifutile grasp, and im not grasping back, I'm all ears ok?, but forget it. We're enemies, you heartless monster. All those blind people... they hoped to be cured too, but they all died blind.
Blindness- And you might too, you understand that?
Steve - I have good odds. Cyber implants and all.
Blindness - I wouldn't be so fanatically repulsed by me if I were you. You've got a lot of filmmakers knocking at your door. Do you really...
Steve - Yes, our photo group has been out there in the art world and getting some attention.
But I doubt many have our work as the vital theme. Some do though. Many don't, they mainly just view us as some oddity, some unusual draw, or exercise in insipration.
Blindness - Well you didn’t seem to hate me too much when the spot light was on you, hm ? You sure learned how to hook yourself up to a clip-microphone quickly. In truth, I hate to break to you...but where would you be without me hm? Your nemesis? We're in this together.
Think about it, can you imagine your life minus my part? I wasnt around much in your early work. But of course now you cant pry us apart really. Your the type who needs a challange and well...
Steve - Interesting point thats true.
Blindness - Take some deep breaths and settle into all of it. Can you see your silhoutee there on the blinds?
Steve - No
Blindness - Its not important. But from outside, looking in, all is simplified, reduced. The volume, the solidness is translated. My silhouette isn't there, I don't show up with shadow, special quality.
So,whats there? A transformation from one solid world to another, of raw shapes and simple outlines reduced to two simple dimensions, reduced to the essence. Anyone outside views whats here as shadows, but not so here- two different realms.
It seems as though your now at this point, not firmly in one or another, but balancing both.
Maybe it’s too complex, maybe I should tell crazy joke now?
Steve – Cut it out your making me like you. I have an idea about it though.
Blindness - You see now? keep working.Despite me. In spite of there being thin light, despite reaching futiley for cures which hover darkly, dangling, but drop away, floating off.
Steve - Please just dont pull me all the way down.
Blindness - Look I wasn't going to do this, there’s one thing about this...no two things. You know it already, and its enough already, but I'm going to anyway. Come over here, put your hands on the Buddha sculpture. Whats he siting on hm? Come on!
Steve- A lotus.
Blindness - And what's the lotus?
Steve - A flower that floats in a pond with roots into the mud.
Blindness - What's in the pond? Mud. Slime. From that dirt, from darknees and the slime from all that...rises the lotus uf transformation and awareness.And dear Steve, I'm that slime, I am that mud from where you transform, Ok, yes? Get it through your head.
Steve - I can't.
Blindness -You can choose. You have a problem because you’re too focused so often. Everything you see is important... too important... like a last breath.
I understand completely. His smile, at the breakfast table, spooning honey. If you threw a tantrum loosing that, who wouldn't empathize? Not Whitney Bianneal material, but don't unclutch all that, sunstruck azure flags, grey eyed men, ad infinitum.
Even an Art Forum editor would give you a pass on some level I'm sure. Well, on second thought, maybe not.
You can touch me its ok.
Steve - A solid Blindness. Your coat is so interesting. Tactile patterns...stars?
Blindness - Black ones. Yessss. I make these just for you, a nice touch I think. See, you can feel the black hole, I added that, its an interpretation, of course. That, near my shoulders, is dark energy ...I have a special fondness for such things. even as decorative symbols on my sweater.
Steve, you've finally found the braille!
Steve - What does it say?
Blindness – Its Braille, but just to throw more road block to exercise your life, its Braille of different language, but can be translated as something like "Distant Things within Reach".
Hmm you should have paid more attention in braille class.
Steve – I quit, didn't like the people there who were enormoured of Jimmy Swaggert. Some of them didin't want to sign the agreement saying they couldn’t be homophobic at that place. They objected.
I feel nauseous Blindness, recalling that. Like I'm spiraling down. I wont be able to pull myself out of that trajectory.
Yes, I'm in two very different realms with iron clamps sucking out the life of my eyes. Such things. Leave it. Leave the visual? this love for seeing and painting? I guess I have to.
Blindness – My apologies because i have to be so difficult and tortuous. There's no alternative for us
Steve - Now...reality - to go into the subway and put money on my Metro- card when i can’t see anything.
Blindness - My visit is over, I'll be around more often.
Steve - Wait. before you leave, I want to give you sonmething.
Blindness - No, really....what are you looking for?
Steve - Its here somewhere -a portfolio.
Blindness - Left left.
Oh , a drawing, a flashlight wrapped in a blindfold.
Steve - Maybe its a going away gift, who knows?
So, Blindness...Ah your arms in this coat of starry wool, faceless, dark authority, I accept you. No, I understand you. Just, just, please don’t let me. I won’t survive it.
Blindness - Who's that outside coming down the hallway?
Steve - She’s Susan, she’s in a wheelchair now.
Susan - Ohhhh Momma Momma!
Steve - She’s very ill.
Susan - Momma Mommma Oh my God! Mommma I'm dying! Im dying Momma. I cant see Mommma!... Momma I cant see! I'm blind I'm blindd Oh God I'm blind.
Steve - Please
Blindness - We'll see.
Copyright Steven Erra 2015. All rights reserved.