[Missouri-l] Vision Beyond Sight
paltschul at centurytel.net
Tue Jul 21 08:16:02 CDT 2009
Visions beyond sight
Two Columbia artists share their writing and their lives in the
"Blindness isn't Black" anthology of artists with disabilities.
Photo by Parker Eshelman
DeAnna Quietwater Noriega with Olsen at her farm outside
Fulton. She's one of two Columbia artists share their writing
and their lives in the 8Blness isn't Black" anthology of artists
By Lindsey Howald Sunday, March 29, 2009
Standing in the doorway of her farmhouse in Fulton with Olsen,
a German shepherd seeing-eye dog, at her side, DeAnna Quietwater
Noriega squints just slightly against the bright early-morning
Photo by Nick King
Gretchen Maune is a visually impaired poet whose work was
published in a recent anthology. Maune, 26, lost her sight more
than two years ago due to a hereditary and very rare degenerative
disease. Both of her eyes are, of course, prosthetics. The
right one was removed before she reached age 10, the left, just
six years ago when it hemorrhaged. Born with glaucoma, Noriega
has been unable to see a thing since the age of 8. But, as she
writes in one of her poems, blindness isn't black. Although it's
different for everyone, Noriega sees a bright shimmer.
Sometimes, movement. Other times, she says, her brain will kick
in an image of its own, and she'll glimpse a shape -- just like a
person with a phantom limb.
"Blindness Isn't Black"
What: An anthology of work by Missouri writers and artists who
have disabilities (VSA arts of Missouri, 2009)
That's only half of the meaning of the poem, which was recently
published in "Blindness isn't Black," an anthology of work by
Missouri artists and writers with disabilities. Not only does
Noriega not walk in literal darkness, but she also has never
given in to depression or despair. An 8-year-old's rebound rate
from misfortune is about a week, she says with a laugh, and after
that, Noriega was back to riding ponies, helping her mother
around the house and climbing trees on the American Indian
reservation where she lived.
"Blindness is a characteristic, like the color of my hair or
the shape of my hand," she says. "It isn't the sum total of who
When Noriega speaks, it's with a light, sweet tone that belies
not at all her 60 years. The lyrical poems and rhythmic,
anecdotal essays this half-Chippewa, half-Apache social worker,
advocate and poet writes are part of her heritage and a cherished
hobby. Born the eldest in a poor military family that moved
every few years, Noriega learned not only to care for her
siblings, but also entertain them with stories. She has never
felt disabled or broken -- at least no more than a short person
having to use a ladder to reach a high shelf, she says. Her
great-grandmother gave her Quietwater, her Chippewa name, as a
nod to her peace. "What it meant to her was" that "a quiet water
day is a day when it's beautiful, and calm, and serene, and you
can take a birch bark canoe out on the Great Lakes and not
drown," Noriega says. "So in essence, she was telling me that I
was perfect just as I was. That there's nothing wrong with me.
And that's a great gift for a disabled child to be given."
Blindness from the Inside Looking Out
After the pain was gone, The vision of the mind still remained.
Now I walk through my world, Beautiful big brown eyes looking
out, Non seeing prosthetics. I know where you and the doorway
are, The room is long and narrow. I don't live in darkness. I
don't require eyes to see you. My blindness isn't black. My
eyes still tear up at the brightness. They don't see like
plastic. They still watch the dancing color show.
Excerpt from "Blindness from the Inside Looking Out" by DeAnna
Quietwater Noriega (from "Blindness Isn't Black")
That same gift is something Noriega, in turn, strives to impart
to others. There are her children and grandchildren to be
encouraged. There are other disabled writers and poets with whom
Noriega communicates through online and teleconference workshops.
There are others, too, like the 70-year-old former lobsterman
Noriega met at church, who prayed to God to heal his sight and
was disappointed when he didn't. She pointedly told him, "He
has. You're here. ... You're ready to pick up and move on from
where you are, trusting that God has his reasons. He didn't need
another lobsterman. So now your job is to find out what he does
need from you."
GRETCHEN THE GREAT Twenty-six-year-old Gretchen Maune's poem
"The Birth of an Idea" is separated by one of Noriega's by a mere
four pages in "Blindness Isn't Black." The two met at an outreach
meeting for the visually impaired in September in Columbia, and
since then Noriega has acted as Maune's mentor. When she was
very young, Maune drew herself into a series of hardcover --
cardboard, that is -- superhero comic books. These were the
adventures of Gretchen the Great, depicted entirely in red
crayon. The superhero version of Gretchen could fly; the real
one had perfect eyesight. It was a point of pride that she could
always read the vision chart right down to the bottom line.
The Birth of an Idea
Softly huddled in a fine scent, Wrapped for beauty and for
wonderment, the comely petals curl on cue, unveiled vivid violet
of new. An infant aroma floats on a word, sweetly inhaled, while
seldom heard the velvet scraps caress sun-beams, the wood is
brighter, mightier it seems. The thought, the magic, happened so
soon, But of course, its nature is to bloom.
"The Birth of an Idea," by Gretchen Maune (from "Blindness
So for Maune, the months leading up to her loss of sight are
crystallized powerfully in her memory. Two and a half years ago,
while applying eyeliner in her boyfriend Kyle's mirror before
going for sushi at Osaka, she noticed that when she closed her
right eye, she could hardly see. For the next month, Maune
endured glaucoma tests, blood tests, MRI's and more. When
doctors covered her right eye and asked her to read the vision
chart, all she could make out now was that one gigantic "E."
Finally, two days before her 24th birthday, she was given her
diagnosis: a very rare, degenerative disease called Leber's
hereditary optic neuropathy. Only one in 30,000 to 50,000 have
it, and of that number, a tiny percentage of those are women.
"So, basically, I won the lottery, so to speak," Maune says with
a rueful smile. Her right eye followed quickly, and within two
months, she was legally blind, although her sight continued to
deteriorate throughout the year. It would be an understatement
to say that much changed in Maune's life, and quickly. "I was
totally mad at the world. And still am, sometimes," says Maune,
whose blindness, rather than being black, is a fuzzy, nondescript
color that she says reminds her of a really thick photo filter.
"Angry at the way people treat me; angry at the way the world is
not made for a non-sighted person; angry that cell phones aren't
made for visually impaired people; angry that video games aren't
made for visually impaired people; angry that my options are so
limited now; angry that sidewalks are broken and I twist my
ankle; angry that cars pull up over crosswalks and I bump into
them. and Angry at so many things, you know? But less than
before. It does suck, but I deal with it a lot better now."
USE YOUR GIFTS
Like Noriega, poetry has always been a part of Maune's life,
beginning when her mother would read to her from "A Children's
Book of Verse." She won her first poetry contest at the age of
10. When she lost her sight, however, Maune's writing stalled as
she struggled to adapt. So when Noriega sent her a small nudge
-- the VSA arts of Missouri call for entries by Missouri writers
and artists with disabilities -- she ignored it. "Anything that
was hard or made me remember anything about before, I didn't want
to do," Maune said. Then, Noriega talked me into it. She said,
"Look. Just open your poetry folder on your computer. And just
find something, anything." and It was the first time I had looked
at my poetry in a really long time, and it changed a lot for me
because I'm writing again. and I feel like a good writer again."
Before losing her sight, she planned to graduate with her
English degree from the University of Missouri and then go on to
pursue master's and doctorate degrees in poetry. Lately,
however, even as she works to complete her undergraduate degree,
her interests have shifted toward the political. In part
inspired by Noriega, who is the legislative liaison for Services
for Independent Living, Maune has already begun to work toward
incremental changes. One mark she's already made can be seen in
Lowry Hall on the MU campus, where Braille numbers are being
installed in the elevator in response to her request. "I want to
be able to do everything that I used to be able to do," Maune
says firmly. It was, in large part, thanks to Noriega's
encouragement that Maune stopped hiding in her apartment and
began to thread back together the strands of her former life.
"You get out of life what you put into it," Noriega says. You
c"ment bfeel sorry for yourself because you don't have it all
because nobody does. Nobody gets everything. We'd all love to
be beautiful and brilliant and talented, but each of us is given
a set of gifts, and part of life is to try and figure out what to
do with those. And to make the world a little better place for
your having been born into it."
Reach Lindsey Howald at 573-815-1731 or e-mail
lhowald at columbiatribune.com.
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