Helen Keller came up in conversation the other day. It led my friend and I into a discussion about which was more difficult: to be blind or deaf. If given the choice, my friend said he’d prefer to be deaf. Logically, this makes sense. We live in such a sight-dominated world, but a life without music? Without voices? Birds? The sounds of the ocean? Trees rustling? Did I mention music? I couldn’t make a choice. What’s more, I’ve only known one deaf person and no blind people…until last night. In the interest of her privacy, I won’t use her real name, but she had renamed herself after the divine feminine, so I’ll call her Aphrodite in this post.
I met Aphrodite at my first Paint Dancing Meetup in Berkeley. I’ve been wanting to attend for a while, but due to the distance and my lack of car, I’ve postponed going. You may wonder, “What is paint dancing?” Well, much like the ShutUp and Write group I’m now a part of, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. We met at an art studio in the evening, which was lit by low lighting and a few candles. There was a variety of music and tons of blank pages, paint brushes, and opportunities to express whatever came forth.
It was a small group, and I first noticed Aphrodite because she was so into her dancing, clapping away, shouting emphatic “yeah’s” to Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” I sensed that something was different about her, but I never would have guessed she was blind. The best part about that group of people is that anything goes as long as one is respectful of other people. I did a handstand during the same Michael Jackson song, and got a “Wooo!” for it. There’s also a lot of freedom to move around the space and collaborate with other people on artwork or to focus on one’s own thing.
I noticed Aphrodite sitting in the corner painting while I worked on a collaboration to the right side of her.
“This is so cool,” I said.
“Yeah, man. This is where my inner child gets to play!” she said, “This is where I’m like, F*** you, mom, for stifling my creativity!”
I started laughing. “Right on,” I responded, “it’s good to let the kid inside out.”
“My mom wouldn’t let me do anything. The whole blind thing.”
“You’re blind?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s so obvious.”
“I didn’t notice,” I responded.
“Yeah, you did. Everyone does.”
I laughed slightly, “I really didn’t…”
“Why are you laughing? I hate when sighted people laugh, and I can’t tell what they’re laughing about. Close your eyes and see what it’s like to do everything.”
I began to say that I wasn’t laughing at her, but at my own ignorance. Instead I asked, “What are you working on?”
“I have a deal,” she started, “with my inner child. She tells me what to paint, and I listen and then learn from it. But, the deal is, the paintings are only for me. I can’t sell them.”
“That seems like a good deal,” I responded, “kind of brings up the question of what about ourselves we give away or sell out to others…”
“Yeah!” she exclaimed. “Good point. I like you!”
I looked at her painting and it was a deep blue with streaks of green and dripping yellow. “It has a lot of depth and passion to it,” I said.
“Really? I wouldn’t have known that, but you’re right.”
“Yeah, there’s a lot of feeling here.”
The evening continued, and I watched as Aphrodite continued to paint, dance, sing, and live. I was so amazed by how full of life she was and how eager she was to share it, blind or not. I was also struck by what her world must be like. She lives independently and goes to all types of events, but even coming to the paint dancing group required some help from the event organizer, but then again, I had to have help getting there too.
When I was done with my painting, which turned out to be a combination of broad strokes and Pollack-like streaks, I took her hand and let her feel the layers. While holding her hand, I was able to see my painting in a different way—the globs of paint, the swirls, the beading of dried blots.
“I love what you’ve done here,” she smiled. “And the colors! If I get really close, I can see them a little bit.”
“That’s what came out tonight,” I shrugged. “It ended up being about layers, my layers…and seeing them.”
“And the movement, and the dancing. I really like this,” she said.
I guess that’s the interesting thing about colaborating and sharing with other people, whether we’re sighted or not, we can always see and learn something new.