Cheering the Snowplows

24 February 2001

Timprov and I passed a snowplow on the way to Santa Cruz to see Tim. We cheered and waved. It was one of those Minnesotan moments. We also laughed at it. There was nothing for it to plow. But there it was, a little taste of home.

I may not make seven stories in seven days. We'll see. It'll be close. I spent most of the day trying to figure out what the heck I should write. Timprov looked at my list of possible stories and said, "I think you should write about the blind pianist." I said, "Well, I'd kind of rather write about producing false memories, or else the olfactory hallucination thing, or maybe the Winter Carnival." Then I spent a few hours banging my head against an internal brick wall over these things. We started to head back to Hayward, and we were not on our way for five minutes when I said, "Oh! I need to write about the blind pianist!"

I really hope he's not gloating, reading this.

I think the problem - and bear in mind that I may be totally making this up - is that I needed to do a story with a different focus than everything else I'd done this week. The problem is that the stories I've written so far don't have much in common. I've done hard science fiction. I've done the squooshiest fantasy. I've ranged among themes. My characters have had all sorts of professions. But all of them have been between about twelve and about thirty-five. Those aren't the only people who are interesting! I think some of our choices change as we get older. This is not a bad thing. It keeps life interesting. It's just different. The blind pianist, however, is in her late sixties. Her life has different limitations, different opportunities. And so it's easier for me to get into it tonight, because it's such a different life than the characters I've had so far.

Or else I just felt like it. Whatever.

I'm kind of glad I got to use a little of what I learned about the blind in Oregon. When I did research at Oregon State in their summer REU program, my advisor, John Gardner, taught me quite a bit about overcoming challenges for blind people who wanted to learn science. John is blind himself, and he's quite willing to talk about it. He tells great blind jokes. (Evidently not all the blind people he encounters are willing to find these funny at all.) Anyway, there are little things that I learned from dealing with John that make it easier to write about a blind character. Tips like, "Let the blind person take your arm instead of taking theirs or holding hands." Also, I realized that the Braille they have to indicate room number on the little plaques in many academic buildings (and some businesses) is nearly totally useless, as wall signs are not at any standard height, so the blind people don't know where to "look" for it. Ever think of that before? I hadn't. Another case where "being helpful" has outweighed any actual help. Silly society.

Okay. Enough blithering about the blind. I'm going to go back to my story, and (I hope) finish it before I get too tired. I think it's going to be cool, but there's only one way to find out.

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