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LIVING WITH LOW VISION

Taking Your Dreams Out of the Closet

by Amy L. Bovaird, Girard, Pennsylvania

Thunk! Huh? I moved my long white cane sideways.

Thunk! In the opposite direction.

Thunk! Backwards.

Thunk! I could barely move, but I stepped forward.

Bam! My head smacked into something flat and hard.

Out of habit, I reached up to feel for blood. As I did that, I knocked something else over. It sounded like a tin can. I turned a full circle in place--terribly cramped quarters. My hand brushed something bristly.

I bumped into another object--a plastic spray bottle? I found the nozzle and took a whiff. Ammonia! When I stepped on something soft and squishy, I found a long, thin and smooth object projected out of a curved base. I followed it to the floor. It felt suspiciously like Ö a mop and bucket.

Wait a minute. This is not where I want to go. This is a walk-in janitorís closet!

You might think it odd I found myself feeling my way around an assortment of custodial supplies in a dark closet, but for me, a woman losing her vision from retinitis pigmentosa, these occasional side adventures are a regular part of life when Iím outside my familiar environment. Normally, I donít mind.

This time, I happened to be at a writers' conference. Just outside this closet stood a well-known speaker in the Christian publishing field giving a workshop. Conference attendees were gleaning all they could to embark on their own writing careers. I could hear the rise and fall of his voice and people laughing on the other side of the door. I certainly hoped they werenít laughing at me!

How did I wander into the closet in the first place? I signed up to speak to a literary agent and took a wrong door. One of the perks to attendees at these conferences is speaking to editors, agents and publishers. Writers looking to match their talents to industry needs quietly slipped in and out of the scheduled presentations to pitch their ideas.

The key word was "quietly." I didnít do much quietly. And now, I had a dilemma. I could stay put until the session ended so I wouldnít further embarrass myself. But then Iíd miss the appointment with the agent. Worse, the group might pity me.

I could burst out of the closet and say, "Wrong room. The agent is not here," and exit through the other door. Or I could say, "Surprise! Avon calling!" How would I handle this situation with dignity?

A minute later, I found my courage and stepped back into the room. The speaker halted, and a sea of eyes riveted on me. I directed my loveliest smile at everyone and waved good-bye. "Thank you," I mouthed to the speaker, giving him a thumbs-up for his talk and exited.

I took a deep breath and made my way to the main forum. A conference organizer scuttled over. "May I help you?"

"The Seymour Agency, please?"

She guided me to the table herself. I held out my hand to greet the agent. She had a brisk, firm grip. After sitting down, I launched into my one-minute elevator speech about FADING LIGHT, the memoir I dared hope to peddle.

The frequent mishaps my retinitis pigmentosa caused stirred up laughter and plopped me into the lives of other aspiring writers. Friendships developed rapidly. Standing in line for our meal that first day, I accidentally hit the legs of the woman ahead of me with my cane. She wasn't angry, though, and one thing led to another. She asked me how long Iíd been writing.

"Professionally, a couple of months. This is a career change," I declared.

"Me, too. Welcome to the club."

That night, I faced the winter coat fiasco. Exhausted, I made my way to the coat rack, found my coat and slung it over my shoulder--too tired to put it on. A new friend drove me across town to my hotel room.

The next morning, I got ready to leave and slipped into my coat. I stepped over to the dresser to pick up my purse--and almost tripped. The coat hung down to my ankles. The color also seemed darker and the texture, smoother. It must be inside out. I reversed it and flipped the hood up; the tip came to my nose. I ducked over to the mirror. A dwarf looked back at me. This is not my coat! Later I discovered that the woman it belonged to towered a foot higher and was fifty pounds heavier than I am.

I finished off the conference with a flood--literally--of monumental proportions. At the refreshment table, I placed my plastic cup under the nozzle of a large iced tea container and flipped the lever forward. Unbeknownst to me, my cup had a hole in the bottom. A cascade of sweet tea shot through the cup and gushed with the unchecked power of Niagara Falls over the edge of the table. Soon, several blurry bodies speeded over to organize a lined flood patrol, passing down paper towels.

I had the time of my life cleaning up the mess. While we worked, we shared common hopes for our writing, putting the bounce in our words, finding markets, and encouragement in our similar walks of life--although mine would be with a cane.

The last morning, I tapped the shoulder of a woman from one of my sessions. She stood out to me because she talked about her hearing disability, yet had participated in a lively discussion. After we introduced ourselves, she snapped her fingers. "I know who you are." She giggled. "You pranced out of the closet, gave us that dazzling smile and left the room. It took us all by surprise, but we had a good laugh."

"Yep, thatís me all right."

We talked a little about our goals and the challenges we faced. She mused, "Confidence has little to do with what you can see or hear. It has everything to do with how you feel about who you are."

I agree. Confidence means believing in your talents, picking up your two feet and taking your dreams out of the closet.

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