C’mon, can a person who can’t see really appreciate tomorrow’s eclipse?

August 20, 20178 CommentsPosted in blindness, Blogroll, careers/jobs for people who are blind, radio, technology for people who are blind

A show called The World aired a story on Public Radio International (PRI) last week about an app called eclipse soundscapes made especially for people who are blind or have visual impairments.

I could see fine when I was a kid, and I watched the total eclipse of the sun on March 7, 1970 using a pinhole camera our school teachers taught us to make out of cardboard shoeboxes. I didn’t look at the sun directly, and I didn’t lose my sight back then! My blindness came 15 years later, due to a totally unrelated eye disease called retinopathy.

When I heard the PRI story was titled “Helping the Blind See the Solar Eclipse” I almost turned the radio show off. Hearing things touted as allowing “the blind to see” like that usually leaves me feeling sad. As cool as this new eclipse app might be for people who are blind, I knew it wouldn’t allow us to watch the eclipse.

But something about this thing being created for “NASA’s Heliophysics Education Consortium” and the Smithsonian Astrophysicalogical Observatory with an astrophysicist from Harvard and co-sponsored by the National Park Service, well, gee whiz, it caught my attention!

The PRI story included a link to a web site for more information about the eclipse, and the wording about the soundscapes app< there is just right. It says that for people "who are unable to see the eclipse with their own eyes, the Eclipse Soundscapes Project delivers a multisensory experience of this exciting celestial event.” Not a word about us seeing the eclipse. They acknowledge we can’t see.

I was so taken by the way this site describes what it will do for those of us who are blind that I’m going to give it a try tomorrow. The site explains that the app includes a narration of the eclipse’s progression in real time and a rumble map that will let us use our sense of touch to “geolocate the user and start the narration to align with the planetary movements as they occur.” What does that mean? I sure don’t know. But maybe I’ll be able to tell you tomorrow.

What rules were you supposed to obey as a kid?

August 18, 20176 CommentsPosted in careers/jobs for people who are blind, guest blog, memoir writing

During the presentations I’ve been doing about Writing Out Loud I am often asked where I come up with the prompts I use in our memoir-writing classes. My answer? “All over the place!” Here’s an example. After Sam Shepherd died a few weeks ago I listened to a 1998 interview Terry Gross did with him on Fresh Air. One question she asked the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and actor in that interview was, “What rules were you supposed to obey as a kid?” What a great question to ask the writers in my class!

photo of Melinda Mitchell

Melinda remembers well the rules of her childhood. (Photo courtesy Darlene Schweitzer.)

And so, I did, and today I’m going to share some of the rules Melinda Mitchell read aloud to us in class Wednesday. You might remember Melinda — I wrote about her here back in 2014 in a post called Waking Up in a Strange Room.

Some sixty-plus years ago, the girl who was supposed to be Melinda’s roommate showed up with her mother to meet Melinda at their Kalamazoo College dorm. The girl’s mother took one look at Melinda, stormed off to school authorities and insisted her daughter “not room with a Negress.”

Melinda was moved to a room by herself in the building’s attic. She transferred to Howard University shortly afterwards. Melinda has retired now after a long career teaching in Chicago Public Schools. Her lists of rules are both nostalgic and thought-provoking — let’s start with her early childhood:

  • Don’t come into mama’s kitchen wearing bedclothes.
  • Don’t eat with your fingers, or put your elbows on the table.
  • Don’t walk around barefoot in the kitchen.
  • Don’t talk with food in your mouth.
  • Don’t interrupt when adults are talking.
  • Don’t waste food.
  • Don’t run in the house or run down the hall.
  • Don’t holler out the front window to playmates on the porch below.
  • Don’t play in the street and dodge cars.
  • Don’t go into other kid’s homes without permission.

The list Melinda wrote from her teen years gives readers a hint of how things were changing – and have changed:

  • Don’t watch TV after 8 pm.
  • Don’t leave your room messy.
  • Don’t stay in the bathroom primping all day.
  • Don’t stay on the phone yakking and yakking with girlfriends.
  • Don’t talk back, complain, or whine.
  • Don’t make noise after bedtime bumping and thumping around the place.
  • Don’t sleep late.
  • Don’t let your friends turn the lights out when you have your parties in the living room.
  • Don’t go out, or anywhere, if you’re not properly dressed.

On that last restriction, Melinda asked, “May I offer the quaint guidelines adhered to by the women in the family during the 1950s?”

To go to the Loop on the #3 bus

  • Don’t go barelegged, or without a little girdle.
  • Don’t wear shorts or pants.
  • Do have lunch with the girls at “The Circle,” the only welcoming department store restaurant.
  • Do wear your Easter hat.
  • Do wear your white gloves.
  • Do wear stockings.
  • Do carry a purse with a handle and a hankie.
  • Do bring a coin purse and enough dollars to pay.
  • Do wear a dress with a belt, sleeves and buttons up to the neck.
  • Do remember your manners.
  • Do enjoy yourself, young lady.

When Melinda was finished reading, fellow writer Janie piped up. “I think I know the answer to this, but what did you mean when you said ‘the only welcoming’ department store?”

Melinda shrugged and said, “We were African American.” Others in class knew exactly the restaurant and the department store she was talking about: Charles A. Stevens.

A little research revealed that Stevens was one of several, now defunct, department stores along State Street. I couldn’t find any reference to its forward thinking policies regarding Black people, but I’m glad one store had the good sense to welcome Melinda and her friends.

Mondays with Mike: Here’s to Bobbie

August 14, 201717 CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike

Last week Beth and Whitney and I traveled to South Carolina to attend the church service for Beth’s sister Barbara (we call her Bobbie), who died the week prior at the age of 78.

Photo of Bobbie with Beth and Mike's newborn son.

Bobbie, holding our then newborn Gus, with Bobbie’s granddaughter Jamie.

Bobbie was a lovely woman. She did not want for material things, but she never lost touch with what mattered even more to her—simple day-to-day gestures of kindness, and her spiritual life. She had a superb sense of design and color, which was on display in her home and in her wardrobe—and at our wedding, which she and her husband hosted in their glorious back yard back in 1984. (“Yard” really doesn’t do it justice. It was a small botanical garden.) She had a generosity of spirit that helped keep us afloat when Beth stayed with Bobbie when she was out of the hospital, between eye surgeries, while I went back to work in Urbana during the week. Bobbie was the oldest of the Finke siblings; she and Beth were bookends separated by 20 years, and pals to the end. I’m so lucky to have known her, and I already miss her.

It was good to be together with everyone, and as happens during these things, as conversations played out, everybody learned something new about their siblings and parents—who did what, when, etc. The collective memory is a lot better than one’s own.

And Whitney? Well, let’s just say that we convened at a lakeside house with a pier and a box that held a tennis ball. Whitney helped keep us all entertained.

During our stay in South Carolina, I avoided the news pretty successfully. We got home Friday night, and Saturday I made the mistake of checking the news as I gradually re-entered my routine.

Let’s just say the news didn’t cheer me up. I’m at a kind of loss in every way. There’s no way to reconcile the loss of a beautiful soul like Bobbie’s and that ugliness. Except remember that Bobbie did everything she could to make life a little better, so I’ll try to do what I can do, in my way, in her honor.

I’m going to start by doubling down on support for the Southern Poverty Law Center, and by leaving you with a post I wrote awhile back about hearing SPLC’s Morris Dees and Richard Cohen speak.


Mondays with Mike: Appreciating with age

August 7, 2017CommentsPosted in baseball, Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike

I’ve mentioned The Beachwood Reporter here before—it’s a veteran journalist’s take on current events and how well (or poorly) they are being covered by the news media. The Beachwood also produces podcasts and guest columns; one of those columns has become a favorite. Every Monday, Roger Wallenstein—who used to hang out with Bill Veeck (he did some TV work with Veeck, also)—publishes his take on what’s been going on with the White Sox over the past week.

Roger Wallenstein had the good fortune of spending time on TV–and on barstools–with Bill Veeck.

Even if you aren’t a Sox fan, Roger’s opinions on the overall state of the game he loves are worth the read. This past week, for example, he talked about the obsession with new—and seemingly always more—statistics. In particular, he wondered what the value is of the numbers we see after every home run about exit velocity and launch angle and the like these days. It’s all captured by cameras and radar and other tech. Here’s an excerpt:

Consider this year’s All-Star game played in Miami a few weeks ago, won by the American League 2-1. The game reflected the character of Major League Baseball today in the sense that two of the game’s three runs came via home runs, the second a game-winner off the bat of Robinson Cano in the top of the 10th. Keeping with a current theme, hard-throwing pitchers struck out 23 batters. described Cano’s blast: “Connecting on a 1-1 curveball, Cano’s drive was projected by Statcast at 395 feet with an exit velocity of 105.6.” Not where it landed or whether it was a line drive or towering fly ball. Everything is codified, leaving nothing to the imagination.

Roger and I sometimes exchange emails, and after I wrote him in regard to his latest column, Roger posited that all the stats and technology are baseball’s deliberate effort to attract young people.

And I believe he’s right, much to my chagrin. Not because I don’t want young people to play and like baseball.


No—it’s because I’ve been part of organizations where the internal mantra becomes “we must attract a younger audience.” And that approach always produces a ham-fisted, self-conscious effort that no self-respecting young person would have anything to do with.

I get it—it’s not just a case of tapping that market segment: there is a fear of becoming irrelevant if young people don’t grow up with the game. But that’s what little league is for, it’s what the White Sox ACE program for inner city kids is for, and it’s what promotions like the White Sox Family Sundays is for. (Whomever you root for, I hope you’ll get to a Family Sunday—it’s every Sunday home game. Tickets are cheap. Parking is cheap. Hot dogs are cheap. And it feels like a time machine—it’s wholly reminiscent of going to games when I was in grade school with my family.)

Apart from that, whether it’s fans of classical music, jazz, or baseball, there’s always an existential fear that unless we get young people involved, we’re goners. But I don’t think it works that way. Exposure is important, yes. But some things—what I think are the finest things—simply require a little maturity to fully appreciate and enjoy. I think we tend to age into those things.

As a grade schooler I loved baseball. As an insane hormonal teenager, football caught my fancy and I stuck with that for a good while. But when I moved to take a job in D.C. after college, suddenly the absence of the White Sox and Cubs made my heart grow fonder of the game. I realized what an embarrassment of riches we enjoy in Chicago: Two MLB teams. We can see the entirety of the American and National Leagues.

To compensate, I adopted what then was the nearest MLB team, the Baltimore Orioles. I read the Washington Post’s excellent baseball columnist, Tom Boswell. I read his books. I read Roger Angell.

I’ve loved the game ever since, through labor strife and other disappointments, and it never ceases to surprise me and teach me something.

We just endured another Lollapalooza weekend. Hundreds of thousands of young people doing something I probably might’ve done back then. More power to them.

But soon, I fully expect we’ll see a lot of them at the ballpark, the symphony, and Jazz Showcase.

Guest post by Wanda Bridgeforth: “I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey”

August 6, 20174 CommentsPosted in guest blog, memoir writing, politics, visiting schools

Here’s a piece Ninety-five-year-old Wanda Bridgeforth wrote after her WGN Radio interview last weekend.

Remembering DuSable

by Wanda Bridgeforth

The interview with Dave Hoekstra and Beth Finke brought back more memories of my happy days at DuSable High School. On February 1, 1935, it was a thrill to be entering a Brand-New building at the time my life was changing and I was on the first rung of the ladder of adulthood.

Dave asked about segregation. Yes, we were segregated, but we accepted the status quo, got on with our lives and were better for it. Parents of my generation encouraged us to get an education. They preached that “money and possessions can be taken from you, but learning is yours forever, and education will help you have a better life.”

Photo of DuSable High School.

DuSable still stands.

We knew the new high school at 49th and Wabash was built to keep us “poor colored kids” in our neighborhood and out of their white schools, but we had the last laugh: our new high school had everything needed to make school interesting, educational…and fun!

It offered languages, science, business, fine arts, home economics, vocational shops, physical ed. And some I don’t remember.

I do remember decorating the Boy’s gym for proms, military balls, and formal dances. I remember the Friday Sock Hops and Mrs. T jamming a six-inch ruler between couples dancing too close. I remember watching the ROTC drill as Capt. Dyett rehearsed the Military Band, and I remember rooting at the top of our lungs for our football, basketball, baseball, swim and other athletic teams.

Every department had a student club to enhance classroom learning. Camera, Negro History, Drama, Creative Writing, Rifle, Service Clubs for the Principal and Assistant, Library, First Aid and I’m sure I omitted some. By taking electives, participating in clubs and working on staffs I received an interesting eclectic education.

Hey, I even joined the Rifle Club! No one asked why. They signed me up, handed me a pair of ear muffs, and I was off to the range!

Students came from every elementary school in Bronzeville. Everybody walked to school, and friendships that have lasted a lifetime were made inside as well as on the walks to and from school.

Our high school years were in the midst of the Great Depression. We were poor, but we banded together to get the most out of life. For me, DuSable High School and Hall Public Library at 48th and Michigan were havens that offset some of my undesirable living arrangements.

Through our Coalition for Action I have seen many disheartening changes in the educational system. Technology has shortened study and research time, increased solitary time with texting, mind games and instant answers to ninety-nine percent of their questions. I DO NOT envy their technological life! I am content with the see-saw life I have lived, and agree with Maya Angelou: “I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey.”

Note: Commercial life was driven away from the area near DuSable in the 1960s when part of the neighborhood was flattened to make room for the Robert Taylor Homes public housing project. Wanda helped found the DuSable High School Alumni Coalition for Action when Chicago city leaders first started discussing closing the school, and in 2012 the coalition’s efforts finally convinced the city to designate DuSable as a landmark. Thanks to the Coalition for Action and these personal essays Wanda writes for us, her beloved DuSable High School will not be forgotten.