October 2019.  How did that happen?

I could talk about lots of things.  How I ran around Newcastle and did ‘amazingly’ well with my guide for Retina Uk (and raised £1000).  How I’ve returned to work and find I love teaching again.  How the darker days are affecting my anxiety and it’s like the dusk is drawing in until March.  How I’m having to constantly remind myself to look after my mental health.  How I can’t lose what I’ve learnt about myself.  How I’m worth it for many and many are making my life richer by us holding each others’ hands – being each other’s cheerleaders.

This all said, I want to look back at perceptions. Unfortunately, for all the open minds out there, there are some closed ones too.  This can be through things like ignorance (which is fine if said person is open to learning new things – after all, we are all guilty of ignorance).  However, one laughable trait some share is the ‘snobbery chromosome’ (This is where I count myself lucky).  People who have this inherent self interested belief that they are better, and to some extent, are more entitled to breathe the air we all make.  This one is harder to change, and, as my good friend Karl will tell you…although that woman looked down her posh nose at me (and my carer) recently, what she didn’t know was: I am blind.  I was with my carer (who is highly intelligent).  And, I have a family, home, job and that I was getting drunk on my own hard earn money (at the end of term may I add).  None of these things define me.  What does define me is my spirit.

What she actually needs is my sympathy and understanding (not my annoyance).  After all, maybe we need to be charitable to others less understanding than ourselves?

As humans, we all bring something to the party when we come across a word.  After all, we are all different and our own cognitive thought process is generated through what we know…or think we know.  Each word has a prior knowledge, something we are inherently taught from a young age.  It can be built upon from from outside influences – our own context.  And fed by the who, where and why? Enabling the brain to interpret our understanding.

Example: The word ‘tits’.

If I were to ask the question ‘How are the tits today?’ to a range of people, I would undoubtedly be given various responses:

‘They are itchy and swollen’

‘They’re looking good’

‘You disgust me’

‘I’m just going twitching now so I’ll let you know in a bit’

Or, less articulate responses of a range of facial expressions, offended horror, and snorty pig noises in varying degrees, could also be provided.

And, if in a debate, this does not make ones opinion more intelligent than another’s.  After all, there’s no right or wrong answer for interpretation.  We all have our views on Brexit, Boris, immigration etc. But I’m not right and you’re wrong is not even an option.  Also, we all make mistakes.  We are only human!  My lovelies, It’s not black and white (unlike my inverted keypad).

Interpretation is invariably extended to the world of art.  For the record, I love art.  I used to paint and (apparently) was quite good.  I loved getting lost in the act of creating something visual but with hidden depths.  Baring one’s soul on the canvas, for the world to try and see, was always an interesting experience when people used to offer their insights and opinions (something fun or meaningless for the artist can often provoke a deep reaction from another – and vice versa).

One of the awful side effects of losing my sight has been that I struggle to interpret what I’m seeing.  This makes me feel thick and therefore, makes me paranoid about how people perceive me.  But people, for the benefit of my mental health and your cognitive interpretation, I need to explain something.  It might take me a little longer and I might need some visual clues but I’m not daft (well in some senses I am but that’s another kettle of fish entirely).

Art galleries, big houses and museums, have always been a firm favourite of ours.  (Mostly) free, warm and providing hours of thought provoking entertainment, we can regularly seen musing  around some ‘educationsl’ (as the children eye rollingly call it when being faced with a trip but secretly loving it) place on a wet afternoon.  However, of late, this has become more challenging.   I require a personal guide (Him when he can remember or be bothered) to read signs to me and reassures me that what I’m seeing is actually there and not a figment of my brain’s imagination of trying to make sense of something incomplete.  I also require said guide(s) to help me in the crowds, remind me of stairs and direct me through dark passageways.

How frustrating for a forty-young lady about town eh?

And all that without the perceptions of the Joe Public.  At a recent exhibition, I couldn’t even get near the images.  Yes, it was the artist’s life work but  did half of London have to turn out on the same day as me?  My genetics really did me no favours that day.  Firstly, at 5 ft 4, I could not see over heads.  Secondly, as the eyes wouldn’t work, I needed assisted aides.  People stared at me (I’m either drunk or rude, they think).  Bravely, I opted to grab the large print guide and read my way around.  This led to interesting responses such as: ignorance (people continued to ignore me and push me), disbelief (looked at me like I was mad because I was READING A LARGE PRINT GUIDE FOR BLIND PEOPLE) or, looked scared of me because I had some invisible disease.

So imagine my delight this half term, when we decided to take the Rosie Dog for a walk around the Yorkshire Sculpture Park! Four enormous Damien Hirst sculptures were there for all the world to see!  (Plus other magnificent installations too) No discrimination (wittingly or unwittingly – both which occur in my daily life) was to be found.  Their size meant to could really see them.  The signs were of epic proportions which meant I could read them.  They are situated in a country park, which meant there was no crowding.  Lots of different people of varying ages, shapes and sizes were taking it all in.  For the less able bodied there were footpaths.  Furry friends were allowed too.  And all for a few quid to park in the car park!  The best bit was though that I was really able to interpret and debate the art with my family.  We made an interesting panel: Him, Little E (11), our uncle who is a sixty-something Yorkshire butcher, and me…there were some hot discussions and some insightful and refreshing viewpoints.

One sculpture was called ‘Charity’.  Based upon the 1960’s collection tin for the Spastics (now Scope) Society, the bronze sculpture really makes you question what charity is.  Not only do you remember the word ‘spastics’ and all its negative connotations linked to disability and narrow mindedness, it also makes you think about where that charity goes and what does it mean?  The broken box and the crowbar suggestive of corrupt causes.  The state of the figure alluding to neglect.  The history of the piece showing how the world has apparently changed.      The nature of the subject promoting need of help, sympathy…The very title ‘charity’ suggesting multiple interpretations and opinions…

And this is the thing:  context.  A bronze made in 2003, looking at a charity from the sixties, and now studied in 2019 – 60 years.  However we read it, whatever we understand, we all have something to bring to the party.    But, to truly grow as people, to smudge the black into the white paper, we have to open up our senses to each other’s thoughts and feelings.  Consider the context.  That’s what charity means.  Being kind.

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