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Guest post: How to stay forever young

March 4, 201711 CommentsPosted in blindness, Blogroll, careers/jobs for people who are blind, guest blog, guide dogs, memoir writing, Seeing Eye dogs

I met today’s guest blogger Jeff Flodin when he and his Seeing Eye dog joined our downtown memoir writing class for a few sessions in 2009. Writing has been Jeff’s primary vocation ever since: He is working on a short story collection about vision loss, and a version of this guest post originally appeared on his Jalapeños in the Oatmeal blog.

Jeff Flodin with his Seeing Eye dog.

Jeff Flodin with his Seeing Eye dog.

by Jeff Floddin

My wife and I were high school sweethearts—for half of sophomore year, that is. We attended colleges 427 miles apart. She returned home for high school reunions, I didn’t. We neither saw nor spoke for thirty-two years.

During our decades apart, she had her first bout with breast cancer; I lost the ability to see faces.

When we reconnected, we shared lots of stories and, in the telling, she sounded the same as I remembered. Then and now, when I hear her voice, I see the face of a sixteen year-old girl.

My last trip to the picture show when I could see the picture was The Untouchables. That was around 1989, when the blind spots in my visual field meant I had to look from one face to another to follow the conversation. I saw that Sean Connery was balding. I had noticed that I too was balding. I saw how virile a balding Sean Connery was. I thought the same applied to me. But my algebraic truth that if a=b and b=c, then a=c sadly didn’t apply when a = Sean Connery and c = me. At least, that’s what my friends told me, and, bless them, they broke the news in a Disney way.

At our wedding seven years ago, the friend who introduced us read from my wife’s sophomore yearbook “Hey,” I had written, “it was fun being your boyfriend for four and a half months (132 days). Maybe we should try it again sometime—like in 25 or 30 years.”

Everybody oohed and aahed.

I smiled serenely, like a prophet. I scanned every face, every dear face that had not changed in forty years. And I saw and heard kindness and caring, joy and love. And I became aware of what beauty truly means and where it dwells.

And then I kissed my beautiful bride.

Jeff Flodin and his Seeing Eye dog Randy will make a cameo appearance in my upcoming book. You can get a sneak peek of a short chapter from Writing Out Loud online now, free of charge. Just complete the form here.

I’m writing as fast as I can

March 1, 201715 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, blindness, careers/jobs for people who are blind

Some of you have heard my good news already, but worth repeating: Golden Alley Press, an independent publisher outside of Philadelphia, is publishing my new book!

Writing Out Loud is due out next month, and I’ve been meeting with Nancy Sayre, my Golden Alley Press editor over the phone every week since we signed the contract last year. In addition to helping me with revisions and rewrites, the good folks at Golden Alley Press have been hard at work
revamping all things re: my online image.

Mike’s already posted about the new site and blog design. The book is next, and here’s an excerpt from the publisher’s description–it’s straight from the Books by Beth Finke page:

Writing Out Loud: What a Blind Teacher Learned from Leading a Memoir Class for Seniors is the touching story of Beth’s experience teaching older adults how to capture their stories on paper – and deliver them aloud to their classmates.

In this memoir that reads like a novel, you will come to love the men and women whose poignant memories intertwine with Beth’s. Through telling their stories, the members of her classes come to know each other and connect more deeply with their own families. The experience is rich with life lessons for both students and teacher.

The revisions and rewrites aren’t done yet, but Nancy’s counsel over the phone has been indispensable. She makes me feel like we’ve been friends for years, and it’s astonishing how comfortable she is with my blindness: together we’ve puzzled through ways to include me in decisions on everything from cover design to branding. During last week’s meeting we thought hard about how many photographs to include in Writing Out Loud.

I was flattered when Nancy credited the “clear imagery” my writing creates. She wondered out loud whether it might be better to use very few photographs and let readers imagine what everything in Writing Out Loud looks like.

I heartily concurred with that thought. “That’ll help the readers get right into my head, they’ll have to imagine things the same way I do.”

Nancy continues to help me shape my writing for the better, and you can get a sneak peek of a short chapter online now: Just complete the form here.

And stay tuned, there’s more to come.

 

 

 

Mondays with Mike: Real life comes calling

February 27, 20173 CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, parenting a child with special needs, politics

As many of you know, our son Gus lives in a group home in Wisconsin that is operated by Bethesda Lutheran Communities. Gus is developmentally disabled, and he lives with three other developmentally disabled men in a yellow ranch home in a bucolic little burg called Watertown.

Beth, Gus, and the late, great Flo hanging out in his room.

Some terrific people have cared for Gus and his pals. A lot of them, over time, given that the turnover is pretty high. Which is sort of a problem but also, given how difficult the job is, an understandable one.

And the low pay doesn’t help the case a lot. Still, even though the names and faces change, we always feel like the salt-of-the-earth Packer, Badger, and Brewers fans do right by our Gus.

And we have, since he moved up there, felt lucky and grateful to have found a good place for him. We wish he lived closer, but Illinois—a relatively wealthy state—has always been abysmal when it comes to services for people like Gus. I put that down to a lot of things, including what I’d call the corruption tax. That is, resources that could go toward things like solid safe group homes and services for developmentally disabled people are essentially wasted on corrupt contracts, employing well-connected hacks, etc.

States like Minnesota and Wisconsin have always stood in stark contrast to Illinois in terms of their politics—Illinois hardly shining by comparison. It’s no accident that Gus ended up in Wisconsin in his adulthood.

But we got some bad news the other day—Bethesda is closing four homes in the Milwaukee area. I learned about it from a woman, with whom I served on the parent league board. Her daughter is in one of the homes to be closed. (Gus’ home is not affected by this closing.)

The good news is that Bethesda has worked to find placement for the residents of her daughter’s home—they are moving together to a home operated by a different organization, that’s relatively close by.

Still, it’s sobering. A TV news story on the closings stressed that a shortfall of donations is to blame. I’m doing a little research on that, but meantime, I’m quite sure that’s not the only reason. The state’s reimbursements to operators of group homes are woefully low—they have been for years, and apparently, in Milwaukee, push has come to shove.

The funding issue is pretty complicated, a little too much to try to wrestle with in a blog post.

But, in the meantime, it’s worth remembering that for all the Sturm and Drang in the news and on our Facebook pages, there are real consequences to public policy. I’m pretty sure we all agree that we can do better.

 

A new look at Fifty Couples Over Fifty

February 25, 20175 CommentsPosted in careers/jobs for people who are blind, guest blog, memoir writing

A writer in my Monday memoir class named Hugh wrote an essay about a very cool photography exhibit his wife Bobbe Wolf  put together. Fifty Couples Over Fifty is a series of pictures she took of couples she knew decades ago. An updated version is on exhibit again now — I’ll let Hugh explain the rest:

by Hugh Brodke

Twenty-five years ago Bobbe put together a photo series entitled Fifty Couples Over Fifty. It started out as just a group of photos of our friends and gradually took shape as a well-structured project recording many people who were part of our lives. Some of the couples were long-time friends and some were new. Some of the couples had been together many years and others were fairly recent.

One of Bobbe’s couples: The late, great Bud Lifton and his wife Carol Rosofsky.

A significant feature of the project was that Bobbe also interviewed and recorded the couple, asking them a variety of questions about their relationship and their hopes and expectations for the future. While I wasn’t present for the sittings or the interviews (I would clearly have been a distraction) Bobbe and I listened to the recordings together and picked out a short quote that could be printed on the mat for each picture. Bobbe and I were not yet married then, and we joked that the comments of these couples could be our pre-marital counseling for how to have a successful partnership.

Each photo is 15X15 inches and has a wide white mat so it ends up 20X24 with a uniform simple silver-colored frame. The pictures were first exhibited at The Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College in Chicago and some were shown at The Blank Museum of Art in Michigan City and The Highland Park Museum of Art. The exhibits received a lot of favorable reviews and publicity but then the pictures went into storage…for a long time.

Recently, we were visiting a friend at The Admiral senior residence in Chicago and noticed a long corridor with an art exhibit. Our friend encouraged Bobbe to talk with their Art Committee about rehanging “Fifty Couples.” They liked the concept and the work and the couples came out of storage. Thirty of the fifty couples went up on the walls.

There was a grand opening night with champagne and many people attending, including many of the couples who had posed 25 years before! “Over 50” plus 25 meant that the youngest in the photos was now 75.

What had happened to our friends over the ensuing 25 years? Some appeared just as enthusiastic, just as vital as when they first posed. Some were slowed down by age or illness. Canes and walkers had been added. Several pictures showed a spouse who had since died. In a few cases, both of the smiling, optimistic subjects had died. But Bobbe photographed several of the attending subjects looking at their own old picture. And the response of the crowd to the pictures was just as enthusiastic as it had been 25 years before.

The pictures now are on display at a senior residence in suburban Evanston where there is room for 47 of the original 50 pictures. And now, several of the old pictures have contemporary pictures hanging below. What you see in these is the subjects looking at the older pictures of their younger selves.

Photography is sometimes thought of as just a cold snapshot of how something looked at a particular time at a particular place. But Bobbe’s pictures show how people felt — about themselves and about their relationship with their partners. Bobbe had caught something in the interaction of each couple — laughing or serious — that resonated true and still resonates as true. That’s the difference between a picture-taker and a photographic artist.

Bobbe Wolf’s Fifty Couples Over Fifty exhibition can be viewed at Three Crowns Senior Residence, 2323 McDaniel, Evanston, Illinois (ask the folks at the reception desk for directions to the photograph gallery in the corridor). The exhibition will be coming down Monday, February 27th around 2 p.m., and Bobbe Wolf asks that if anyone knows of a gallery interested in this exhibit or more of her work, to please contact her via her web site.

Just this one Tuesday with Mike: We have liftoff!

February 21, 20173 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, memoir writing, Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike

Thanks to the talent and persistence of Beth’s publisher, Golden Alley Press, the technical glitches have been un-glitched, all the blog posts and you wonderful subscribers have been relocated, and…

YOU ARE HERE!

Next up: Writing Out Loud!

And so am I!

Pretty nice, ain’t it?

We hope you find it easier to find all things Beth—blog, upcoming appearances, etc.—in one place. I’m pretty sure that the sighted among you already find it a lot easier on the eyes, and easier to use. And, the site has been designed and tested for accessibility. Beth, using her speech software, can vouch for the usefulness of the alt tags and other features.

A few things to bear in mind:

  • The old URL for the Safe & Sound blog (www.bethfinke.wordpress.com) will automatically lead you here to the new blog digs for the foreseeable future. But not forever. So while you’re thinking about it, if you’ve bookmarked the old URL, delete it and create a new bookmark for http://bethfinke.com/blog/
  • If you’re subscribed to the blog by email (you entered your email address some time in the past and you receive email notifications with each new post), you don’t need to do a thing. You’re still subscribed, and you shouldn’t miss a beat.
  • If you’re a WordPress.com follower you will see new posts in the Reader View.
  • There are likely to be quirks that we’ll only discover as you all use the site—if you do encounter a problem, please notify us using the contact form. We’ll get on it as soon as we can.

Meantime, welcome to our new home. You’re welcome anytime.