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A Tribute to Hanni, Seeing Eye Dog Extraordinaire

May 7, 201733 CommentsPosted in blindness, careers/jobs for people who are blind, guide dogs, Hanni, memoir writing, Seeing Eye dogs

My last post shared both sad and happy news. My loveable retired Seeing Eye dog Hanni died Wednesday, and the book I’ve been working on for more than a decade had been released just the day before.

It’s been an emotional week for sure, but in the end, so much good to think about. Hanni lived an amazing 17 years, and she wasn’t suffering much at the end. Those 17 years just caught up with her.

Beth Finke and Seeing Eye dog Hanni

That’s me with Hanni, a back cover photo from Writing Out Loud (Photo courtesy Kaitlin McCall)

Hanni played a major role in my life, and she plays a major role in my new book, too. It’d been a while since I wrote and revised some of the stories about her for Writing Out Loud, and rereading them these past few days made me smile. Publishing an excerpt here that highlights her guide work might be just the right way to honor that brave, funny, smart, cute, fluffy, heroic, tail-wagging retired Seeing Eye dog. Here’s an excerpt from a chapter called “Getting There,” where Hanni guides me to the very first memoir-writing class I led in Chicago back in 2004:

On our way to the first day of class, Hanni looks ahead, makes a split-second decision, and darts left. Holding tight to her harness, I sidestep along with her. My shoulders breeze by something as we needle our way down Michigan Avenue. A tree? A lamppost? A person? Without being able to see, I have no idea what we missed. I’m just glad we missed it.

“That dog isn’t looking where he’s going!” a random voice calls out from behind me. But what does the voice know? That’s just the way Hanni works. She’s quick on her feet. A proud graduate of The Seeing Eye, class of December, 2001, Hanni – her name rhymes with Bonnie – was taught to make quick decisions. She has to. That’s the only way we can avoid collisions with pedestrians. With cars pulling out of parking garages. With taxis turning right on red. With delivery trucks rushing out of blind alleys.

The trip is less than a mile from our apartment. Commuting by foot and paw, we sail down Michigan Avenue. Weaving through the lunch crowd, we are right on time. Until we run into this guy. . .

Aha. A cliff hanger! I won’t leave you hanging there for long, though – you can find out who “this guy” is by clicking on the Look Inside link on Amazon free of charge. “Getting There” is one of the chapters featured.

Hanni guided and kept me safe (and gave Mike some reassurance, too) for eight years, then brought joy to our friends Steven and Nancy for seven more. As one of you commented to my last post, Hanni really did lead an important life.
Thank you, Hanni. Thank you.

Writing Out Loud: now the print version is here, too!

May 5, 201721 CommentsPosted in careers/jobs for people who are blind, Hanni, memoir writing, Seeing Eye dogs, Whitney

 

Book cover: Writing Out Loud by Beth FinkeFor all you patient readers who prefer hard copy to e-books, your wait is over. The print version is here, available for order on Amazon.com, and soon to be at Sandmeyer’s and other fine booksellers.

You Safe & Sound blog readers are going to recognize some of the characters in this new book of mine — many have written guest posts here. Chronicling my time with a remarkable bunch of senior citizens has been a labor of love, and I hope reading Writing Out Loud leaves you loving (and learning from) them as much as I do.

Here’s the link to check it out: http://amzn.to/2pGpQOa

One advantage of books in print? The author can sign them for you. And who knows, Whitney the Seeing Eye dog might give you her paw print signature as well.

It’s been an emotional week here — we got news yesterday that one of Whitney’s predecessors, my retired Seeing Eye dog Hanni, had to be put down this past Wednesday. That loveable ball of fur lived an amazing 17 years. Hanni had her own book, of course, and is a major player in Writing Out Loud as well. Mike and I are still processing all this, and I hope to write a more proper tribute to Hanni here — an excerpt about her from the new book, perhaps — once all of this sinks in.

Photo of Whitney and Hanni.

Photo from our visit with Hanni a few weeks ago. (Photo: Nancy Bolero.)

Writing Out Loud: The e-book is online!

May 3, 201719 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, memoir writing
Image of book cover, link to newsletter signup.

Click on the image, sign up for the newsletter, and be the first to know when the paperback is available, too.

Sound the trumpets! The day has come: Writing Out Loud is here!

Well, the e-book is here.

If you’re an e-reader type of person, you can link here to download Writing Out Loud now on your Kindle, Nook, iPad or whatever contraption it is you use to read books. When my publisher/editor Nancy Sayre at Golden Alley Press gave me the good news late last night, she said even the “Look Inside” feature on the ebook is already working. “That means people can read the first nine chapters and really get a feel for it.”

I just checked, and JAWS (my speech synthesizer) can read everything on that “Look Inside” feature out loud, too, so if you have a visual impairment and use a screen reader, check it out. I’m also working with the Library of Congress Braille and Audio Recording Download (BARD) to get Writing Out Loud on their list of books to produce in Braille and audio, stay tuned on that.

Meantime, if you’re a print person and want to be notified as soon as the paperback is available, sign up for my newsletter here. And hey, I don’t judge. Read Writing Out Loud on an electronic device, in Braille or in print, I just hope this behind-the-scenes look at memoir writing leaves you loving (and learning from) the writers in my classes as much as I do.

Let the celebrations begin!

Sign up and be the first to know!

April 29, 20176 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, careers/jobs for people who are blind, memoir writing, Mike Knezovich, writing

I’ve been immersed in working with my editor at Golden Alley Press, putting on the finishing touches, and proofreading with Mike’s help. So, to be honest, I’m sort of all written out.

Image of book cover, link to newsletter signup.

Click on the image, sign up for the newsletter, and be the first to know when it’s available.

Except to say this: If you’re interested in Writing Out Loud, which chronicles my learning to teach a memoir class for seniors, and learning about their remarkable and rich lives: there’s good news. The e-book will be out any day now.

The print version will take a bit longer, and I’m in contact with the National Library Service to see that it will be produced in audio and Braille editions for people who are blind or visually impaired as well. To be among the first to be notified when it’s available in the e-book version this week , please, please, please sign up for my newsletter today.

Thanks to all of you for your patience. I think you’re going to like what you read.

Mondays with Mike: Guest post on the black dog

April 28, 20179 CommentsPosted in guest blog

How am I doing?
by Mark Hoover

Photo of sad black dog.

Hi, Mike here. I recently checked in with a friend via email to see how he was doing. And he was brave enough to level with me. Like so many others, he’s fighting the black dog of depression. One of the awful things about depression can be a sense of isolation and aloneness—our friend Mark Hoover has generously agreed to post here, in hopes fellow travelers will understand that no, they’re not alone.

Wow, I always thought my first ever post would be about role playing games or comic books. I’m honored that Mike encouraged me to write this and to have a spot on this blog is an appreciated privilege.

Lots of folks have asked me lately how I’m doing. Most are well-meaning acquaintances and to them I usually respond “oh I’m fine, a little down… for obvious reasons.” I’ve recently gotten divorced and so naturally everyone just assumes I’m heartbroken, gives me a pat on the shoulder, tells me to keep my chin up.

My reality is a word that usually invokes a reaction in folks like theater audiences in horror movie trailers from back in the fifties: Depression (cue organ music blast and stampeding crowds).

So I’m outing myself with this post. I’ve only recently been diagnosed, but I suspect this has been settling on me for a few years now, layer by layer. I have never had thoughts of self-harm or harming others, thank goodness, but otherwise I have the classic symptoms: I don’t speak nicely to myself, have let all but the most vital things slide, and respond with a shrugging “why bother” to a lot of the messes and conflicts in my life.

I’m not proud of this way of being. Here and there I have good days, where I can make myself get up and get active. My two daughters have not suffered during my off days, but that doesn’t ease the shame I feel. I don’t feel active in my life or theirs… more like I’m just filling time, reacting whenever absolutely necessary.

During bad days, I feel unloved and unlovable. I tell myself I’m the crazy one; that I’ve broken things beyond repair this time. See this isn’t the first serious setback in my life, but in every other instance I’ve bounced back, stronger for the experience. I know, logically that these negative thoughts are exaggerated by my disease and that I’m capable of coming out of this as before. Knowing a thing and feeling it however are two VERY different things.

My depression is an evil Jimminy Cricket on my shoulder, keeping track of every mistake, every misfortune, then pointing out that these were inevitable; the reward of trying to be remarkable or reach for life’s heights. It’s like living through layers of plastic wrap. I can see out into the world, albeit distorted, but I can’t actually feel it.

The most insidious part of my disease is isolation. It very convincingly suggests that my condition is unique and so, since no one else has ever gone through this no one else can help. One more layer of plastic to fight through.

I say MY depression because I’ve learned that this disease is chimeric and has lots of varieties. More than that, my depression is right in that everyone suffering is dealing with something very personal to them. This seems to lend credence to the isolation it preaches. It is a treadmill of thought that never stops and never lets you off. Every once in a while though, you get water breaks.

Someone recently coined these to me as “routines”; things folks suffering depression do to try and break the cycle of negativity in their head. My own involve writing, planning my games, and experiencing nearly all aspects of 80’s pop culture. Now these are all things which, in the past have centered me, brought me peace. Under the plastic layers of my depression, these activities barely register as anything more than chores. But somewhere in the back of my head, something stirs whenever I force myself to do these things: hope.

Playing golf with my dad for years taught me to respect one primal rule of nature: muscle memory. Long after logic fails you, your body remembers things it’s done and the resulting response to those actions. Hit a long drive enough times with a certain swing and every time you tee up your body will fall into the predictable pattern that gets you three hundred yards.

So the “hope” that’s trying to claw it’s way to the surface is nothing more than my body, my brain remembering that performing these activities are supposed to yield a positive result. Of course, my depression tells me I’m fooling myself. When I write, it points out how terrible I am; when I’m designing my game, it reminds me all the players who’ve quit; when I watch an old movie my depression triumphantly points out how stuck I am in the past.

The cherry on top of this nightmare sundae is that all of my own depression’s commentary mirrors criticisms I’ve heard from external sources. We all make mistakes at our jobs or in our personal relationships, but for me the disease has a way of using this as evidence to prove its point.

So, THAT’S how I’m doing.

What am I doing about it? Well I’m actively in therapy. I’m also forcing myself out into the world around me, even when I don’t want to. I seek out nights with friends, play with my kids, and have joined a writer’s group and other social outlets. I know that in my case the best weapon against my depression is other people. They have to be the RIGHT people, but when I find them I stick to them like glue.

You remember that isolation? Well recently after writing I stayed to have lunch with some of the group. Their stories, their experiences, they were just like mine. From the way they’d been raised and the role we all seemed to take in our families to their own bouts with depression. Yet as I sat there I also recognized these were peers, people I admire: published authors, passionate advocates and local gurus. If we’d all sprung from such similar roots and these successful humans had all triumphed through their plastic prisons, then I can, too.

Hope.