Musings on Another Life

The image shows a dark-haired woman looking at the camera
 
You’d be amazed how often people ask me what I think my life would have looked like if I hadn’t become blind. I usually shrug and tell them I have no idea. But for  some reason, I’ve been thinking about it recently. To be honest, when I do think about it, I tend to have more questions than answers. So, here are a few whimsical musings on my (possible) alternative life…
 
I was in my final year of my Bachelor of Arts degree when I lost my sight, studying English literature, ancient history and law. I had a vague idea that I might become an archeologist. Considering that I’m not  an overly outdoorsy person, I guess it is more likely that I would have landed up in academia, or perhaps working at a museum of some kind. But maybe not. Because who knows what might have happened…  
 
Would music have played such a major role in my life if I hadn’t become blind? Well, in some ways yes, because I almost certainly would still have loved listening to music. But it’s unlikely that I would have joined a band as a singer, keyboardist, and guitarist. Because it was only after I lost my sight that I had the courage to follow that particular  dream. I struggle to believe that would have happened if I  had remained sighted. But perhaps it would have. Who can tell…
 
The same is true about writing. The idea of becoming a writer had never even crossed my mind. I probably would have laughed if anyone had told me I would publish even a single book, let alone the six I have authored so far. Besides, since all my books relate to blindness and disability, I would have had nothing to write about. AT least, I don’t think I would have. But you never know…
 
And what about my professional speaking? Again, until I became blind I wasn’t interested in standing in front of an audience and sharing my story, or training, or facilitating workshops, or coaching, or any of the work that I do now. In fact, though I might have had other life stories to share as a speaker, depending on where my life had taken me, those stories would have been totally different. Somehow I think it’s unlikely that I would have become a speaker. Which means I probably wouldn’t have become part of Toastmasters, the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa, or the Global Woman Speaker Mastermind that have all been such fundamental parts  of my life. But, you never know…
 
And of course it’s unlikely that I would have got to meet the wonderful friends and colleagues I’ve had the privilege to work with over the years. I would almost certainly have had a totally different circle of people in my life. With the exception of my family, because I’m almost certain they would still have been part of my life regardless. Well, almost certainly. One never can tell.
 
One thing that’s for sure, I wouldn’t have been partnered with my three gorgeous, wonderful, beloved guide dogs, Leila, Eccles and Fiji. And my heart hurts just a little even thinking that I might not have had them in my life, walking beside me.
 
I would almost certainly still have been a voracious reader.  It’s one thing that has been constant in my life. Apart from the first two years after I became blind, when I didn’t know how to access books. I felt that loss,  until I learned how to find accessible audio and digital books. So I would certainly have still been a bookworm.
 
It’s also hard to know if I would have landed up living in Cape Town. Who knows where my life and my work would have taken me? It’s a question I have absolutely no way of answering.
 
I know I can’t answer any of these questions. But it’s been fun speculating. 
Which isn’t all that strange, since alternative history and speculative fiction are amongst  my favourite genres of book. 
 
But now it’s time for me to reel in my wandering imagination and come back to reality… because Fiji has just nudged me to remind me it’s time for her and her doggy siblings to have supper.

Paws for Thought on Helping Mom Out

The image shows a yellow Labrador lying on the ground with her head on the floor.

 
Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji!
 
I know I don’t usually write for Mom’s blog in the middle of the month, but Mom has been so busy recently that I thought I would help her out by blogging for her. After all, I am  a guide dog, and my task is to help her where I can.
 
I’m not overly worried about how busy Mom is,  except when it gets in the way of the things she needs to do to look after me and my doggy siblings. I mean, last week Dad had to feed us supper twice because Mom was in meetings. Usually supper time is 5:00 PM, so I did begin to worry when it got to 5:15 PM and we still hadn’t had supper. Till Dad came to the rescue and everything was fine again. 
 
So, while I’m not overly worried about how busy Mom has been, I am curious about what is taking up so much of her time. I decided to put my nose to the ground and sniff out what’s been going on.
 
One of the projects Mom’s working on has something to do with blind photography. She’s working with a professional photographer who is visually impaired. Her name is Karren Visser and you can find out more about her at www.karrenvisser.com or on her new Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/KarrenMVisser/
 
Mom is also busy creating content to update her website. It seems to be taking a long time, but I hope she will manage to find the right words for everything she wants to say. I overheard her talking to Dad and it sounds like the new site will be launched in October, so that’s something to look forward to. I wonder if they’ll have a party for the launch like they did for my book? Because that would be fun!
 
Mom is also planning a workshop for writers who want to turn their books into audio books and sell them through the major audio book retailers. She did that with her own book recently and wants to share her experience to help others. I guess that makes Mom a bit like a guide dog, too – because she is happy to show other people the way to go.  And maybe I can ask her if we can make my book an audio book, too, if I wag nicely.
 
Those are the main tasks that are keeping  Mom tied to her laptop, but she’s also busy with other things as well.
 
She’s been looking after my doggy sister Allie, who has had a soft tissue injury in her paw and has been hopping around on three legs. Mom is trying  to limit the amount Allie runs around and it seems to be working. But I think Allie feels a bit silly only being allowed to go outside if she’s wearing her new super long leash so Mom can control her movement.
 
Allie almost pulled Mom over a few days ago when she suddenly leapt away. Mom was busy on her phone and was taken totally by surprise. Of course, the phone went flying and, though I tried to show Mom that it was under the table, she insisted on looking on the ground and everywhere else first.
 
Anyway, I thought I would help Mom out by writing her blog for her for this week. Hopefully her life will be a bit quieter and she’ll be able to update you herself next time. In the meantime, I’ve  been watching her draw up her To Do List for today and it’s exhausted me so I’m going to take a nap.  
 
Wags from me and my doggy siblings, Allie, Emily and Onyx.

Paws for Thought on Freedom and Independence

Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji.

Freedom and independence are very important to us guide dogs. After all, our purpose is to give our humans a greater degree of freedom and independence to do the things they want.

So I wagged when I saw that the theme of the latest ad campaign from the South African Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind is all about freedom. If you haven’t seen the advert yet, here it is – you really ought to watch it!

Mom and I attended the campaign launch in Cape Town last week. It was lots of fun, especially since I spent the morning surrounded by some of my bestest friends who are guide dogs and pups-in-training. In total there were 16 dogs there, so I won’t bore you with a long list. But I did have a chance for a catch up with pup-in-training Yale, because she and her mom gave us a lift to the event. And I also got to chat to guide dogs Billy, Gladys and Ronnie to share notes on some of the strange things our humans had been doing recently. I also got to meet Oslo, who is a service dog, so his job is a bit different from mine, but is still really important to give freedom to his human Andrew.

A few people have asked Mom if she and I are in the video. We’re not, but my nephew Obie is, together with his mom, Anel. I’m very proud of Obie for his acting skills – he looks fabulous! And I can now tell everyone that I’m related to a movie star, can’t I?

Anyhow, I really think you should watch the advert and see how important we guide dogs are in helping our humans. Just so you don’t have to scroll back to find the link, here it is again: https://youtu.be/7RQ7vspyLLc

Audio Book is Finally Here

The image shows the cover of the book, A Different Way of Seeing: A Blind Woman’s Journey of Living an “Ordinary” Life in an Extraordinary Way, with a dark-haired woman hugging a pale yellow Labrador.
 
It is finally here! The audio version of my memoir, A Different Way of Seeing: A Blind Woman’s Journey of Living an “Ordinary” Life in an Extraordinary Way has finally been released.
 
You can get hold of a copy of the book on a number of different audio book outlets, including Audible.
 
Audible: https://www.audible.com/pd/A-Different-Way-of-Seeing-Second-Edition-Audiobook/B0B3BVSTNL
 
Here’s a little about the book:
 
“Have you ever wondered how a blind person pours a cup of coffee? Or how they and their guide dog know when it’s safe to cross a busy road? When Lois Strachan lost her sight at the age of 21 years she had to learn the answers to these and countless other questions of how to live as a blind person in a sighted world. In this delightfully quirky and entertaining book Lois shares some of the secrets she discovered about how to live an “ordinary” life in an extraordinary way despite her blindness”
 
You can listen to a sample of the book here: https://www.audible.com/pd/A-Different-Way-of-Seeing-Second-Edition-Audiobook/B0B3BVSTNL
 
 
Every time I listen to the book I am blown away by the amazing narrator, Julie Norman. She did an excellent job of bringing my words to life in the audio book. And I’m sure you’ll agree when you hear her!
 
It would be great if you could write a quick one or two line review once you’ve listened to the book – reviews help new readers find the book. Thank you in advance for taking the time to do that for me – it really does help!

Up, Up and Away!

The image shows a dark-haired woman standing on the wing of a small airplane as she climbs into the cockpit of the plane
 
Last week Guide Dog Fiji told you how we found ourselves at a remote part of Cape Town International airport, and how I subsequently upset her by climbing into a small airplane and flying away. Of course, there’s more to the story, because lots happened between the time I flew away and when I returned to have a frantically relieved guide dog leap into my arms.
 
The whole story started a few weeks earlier. When we were asked if Fiji was interested in being in the photo shoot, I was invited to go for a spin in the plane afterwards. Which I naturally accepted – I mean, who wouldn’t?
 
A few days before the shoot, the photographer asked how I felt about experiencing aerial acrobatics, or aerobatics. Now, you might not know this, but I’m not really an adventurous person. So my instinctive response was “Absolutely no chance!” But then I asked myself whether I might regret not taking up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And cautiously  replied that I’d decide on the day…
 
Which is how I found myself sitting in a two-seater airplane, feeling like my body was being squashed as I experienced double the earth’s normal gravitational pull (2G). Then I felt the plane turn to the left and suddenly my body became weightless – it was like I was being stretched. Which, of course, was because I was upside down as the plane rolled.
 
What struck me most was how smoothly the plane rolled. I didn’t actually feel like the plane was flipping over, possibly because I had no visual cues and could only judge from what I was sensing through my body.
 
We did a few more rolls, pausing at various stages of the spin so I could see how I experienced flying sideways, and upside down. At first I felt somewhat detached. I was focusing on what I was feeling, rather than living the experience. It was only after the pilot and I chatted about how the rolls had felt to me that I began to assimilate what I was sensing with what was happening. Which brought me back into the  reality of what was going on.
 
It was only in the final roll, where the pilot paused at each 90 degree position that my body and brain engaged totally. And, while it was breathtakingly amazing, the realisation that I had pushed my boundaries far enough for one day began to sneak up on me.
 
So, when the pilot asked if I’d like to experience a loop – going into a roll nose first rather than wing first – I shook my head and politely declined. Part of me regrets turning down the offer. Because I am curious what it would feel like for my body to be at  3.5G and how I would interpret a loop  without the sense of sight. But there’s also part of me that is relieved that I didn’t give it a try.
 
A friend of mine joked that I wouldn’t have been as thrilled had I been able to see the ground in the place where the sky should be. And I suspect she’s correct. Even thinking about the world being upside down visually  makes me a little anxious. But I didn’t feel that way at all when it happened, so it is probably because of my blindness.
 
Would I try aerobatics again? Absolutely yes! And I might even be brave enough to try a loop this time!
 
Oh, I forgot to mention that I also briefly flew the plane. I was amazed at how responsive the controls were – if I so much as touched the stick the plane would change direction or altitude. It was as exciting and nerve-wracking as the time I drove a car independently as a blind person, only magnified by about a million.
 
I’m busy editing a podcast episode where I talk about my experience of flight with friend and colleague Jeremy Opperman. So, if you’d like to find out more about my experience, watch out for that episode.
 
The episode, plus my entire library of more than 65 episodes of the podcast can be found anywhere you usually listen to podcasts – simply search for A Different Way of Seeing and you’re bound to find my show.
XXX

Paws for Thought on Wet Ground, Little Airplanes and Photographs

Plane
 
Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji.
 
I’ve told you before that I sometimes think humans do strange things. I found myself thinking that again recently when me, Mom and my friends from the South African Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind went on an adventure together.
 
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying it was strange that we went on an adventure together. After all, that happens fairly often. But the actual adventure was peculiar. At least to me it was.
 
You see, we went to a quiet part of Cape Town International airport and walked up to a little airplane. Then Aunty Cheryl and Aunty Tania made me stand and sit on the wet ground while they took photographs. Aunty Cheryl gave me treats every now and then, especially when I looked at the camera and gave my bestest doggy smile.  
 
What was strange was that I had to sit beside the little plane on my own, while Mom just stood behind Aunty Tania and her camera. It was strange because my job is to be with Mom and guide her. And because I take my job as a guide dog seriously, I felt I ought to run to Mom every few minutes to check that she was still okay. Then I would run back and sit down on the wet ground again so Aunty Tania could take more photographs.
 
At least I understood why Aunty Cheryl had insisted on giving me a thorough brushing at the training centre. I don’t really enjoy being brushed so I tried to hide behind my mom, but Aunty Cheryl didn’t give me a choice. And at least I knew I was looking my beautifulest for the photographs.
 
Then the morning  got even weirder – Mom climbed into the little plane and flew away. Without me. Without even asking me if I wanted to go with her, which of course I did. At least Aunty Cheryl and Aunty Tania also got left behind, so I wasn’t on my own. But still, Mom flew away, which was extremely naughty of her.
 
Eventually the plane brought Mom back and I ran up to her and jumped up and down while remonstrating with her. Mom simply laughed and patted me. Which was nice, but didn’t actually answer any of the questions I had about where she had gone and why she hadn’t taken me with her.
 
So, like I said, it was all very weird.
 
Afterwards Mom explained that the photographs were going to be used in the 2023 calendar that the South African Guide-Dogs Association  for the Blind brings out each year. Which means there will be a photo of me hanging on people’s walls for a whole month next year! Along with lots of other photographs of beautiful guide dogs and guide dogs in training. I promise I’ll let you know when the calendar comes out so you can also have a picture of me hanging on your wall.
 
Mom asked me to tell you that she’ll let you know all about her flight in the little airplane next time. Because she’s still wagging about  it. Well, she would be wagging if she had a tail. So, watch out for her next article.

Trying Adaptive Golf

The image shows a woman with shoulder-length dark hair holding an oversized golf club and preparing to hit a furry tennis ball off a mat
 
I’ve never been a particularly sporty person. Even from the time I was very young I was usually the one with my head buried in a book while my friends were running around, or hitting a tennis ball against a wall to practise their shots. Nonetheless, since losing my sight I have tried a few activities and sports – 10-pin bowling, tandem cycling, pool, mini-golf and scuba diving, which I wrote about last year.
 
So it wasn’t really a huge surprise when I signed up for an adaptive golf day being run by the Raising Hope South Africa team. Their advert said they could accommodate people with a range of disabilities and would adapt to each person’s particular needs.
 
I was by no means the only person at the open day with a visual condition. Even more fun, I already knew two of the other participants, both of whom are partially sighted, and there was much laughter at our first attempts to aim the balls at our allocated  targets. Well, at least at my first attempts to aim the balls at my allocated target, which was definitely a bit hit and miss. More miss than hit, if I’m honest.   
 
My first challenge was to learn how to find where the ball was located. Even with sighted assistance helping me to position myself correctly, I still had to take the swing and try to hit the ball on my own. After showing a decided talent for hitting the ground near the ball I eventually learned to lift the head of the golf club a few centimetres off the ground before taking my swing, and that improved my chances of actually hitting the ball.
 
I also discovered that my skills with a putter far exceeded my abilities with a driver. I don’t know whether the shape of the driver affected the balance of the club which left me striking the ball in the most unpredictable directions.  Certainly I hit the targets a whole lot more often when I was putting
 
There are a couple of videos of me taking shots on my Facebook, but please bear in mind that these were taken once I had started figuring golf out a little. So they probably make me look more in control than I felt.
 
Honestly, I’m not about to give up my day job and spend all my time improving my golf game. But I certainly had a lot of fun exploring adaptive golf and would recommend it to any of my friends with disabilities when Raising Hope SA has their next open day.
 
Thank you to Mary and Ashlyn of Raising Hope South Africa and Shane of Hazendal Golf Course for giving me the opportunity to try adaptive golf.
 
To find out more, you can contact [email protected]
 
Hmm, I wonder what my next adaptive adventure will be?

Professional Speakers Association Recognises Speakers with Disabilities

Two professional speakers with disabilities were recognised at last month’s annual conference of the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa.
 
Motivational speaker Nicky Abdinor, who has spoken at events globally, was recognised with the  prestigious   Speaker Hall of Fame award for 2022. This award is presented to professional members of the association who have delivered excellence over a period of years speaking to diverse audiences as a keynote presenter. And Nicky certainly has done that in her many local, national and global speaking appearances.
 
As an aside, Nicky was the first person I knew of who presented internationally online, way back in the 2010’s.
 
Nicky Abdinor  Media Profile Photo

Disability advocate Nick Smit was awarded first place in the annual Speaker Factor contest, where he competed against the top associate level speakers from the PSASA chapters across South Africa. Nick’s speech, called D.A.N.C.E Your Destiny was well received by both judges and audience.
 
Nick, also known as the Rebel Ninja, is a passionate disability advocate and teacher and his company Smergos is active in promoting disability awareness and inclusion.
 
Another link between Nicky and Nick is that they have both been guests on my A Different Way of Seeing podcast, back  when I was focusing primarily on accessible travel.
 
N Smit PSASA SF win

I featured Nicky Abdinor back in January 2019, on episode 05 of the podcast, and Nick and his wife were my guests on episode 50.
 
You can find those episodes, as well as my full library of past shows, at https://iono.fm/rss/chan/3715
 
If you’re looking for a fantastic speaker for your next event, you can’t go wrong with either Nicky Abdinor or Nick Smit. Here’s where you can find out more.
Nicky Abdinor: https://nickyabdinor.com/
Nick Smit: www.therebelninja.com

A Conversation on How Disability is Depicted in Literature

Book cover

Over the past few years I have noticed that more characters with disabilities have been appearing in works of fiction. In many ways this is wonderful to see, as we have been a largely under-represented group when it comes to fictional characters. But, as with so many other facets of life, there is also a shadow side – I seldom feel that the characters with disabilities are accurately drawn. Instead, they tend to be depicted as either inspirational or tragic figures. Which, like most other polarities, results in a highly simplistic view of what life with a disability is like.
 
On a recent episode of my A Different Way of Seeing podcast, I raised the topic with fellow author and advocate, Elizabeth Sammons. Together we explored the way blindness is represented in fiction and the often harmful consequences it has for us as persons living with a visual impairment. It was a fascinating conversation and I’d encourage you to take a listen and think about some of the points raised by Elizabeth.
 
Here’s where you can find the conversation: http://iono.fm/e/1173132
 
I also loved the advice that Elizabeth offers to authors wanting to create believable characters with disabilities. Her suggestions on how to research and test the accuracy of the depiction of the disability are great and can be used by writers with and without disabilities.
 
Here are the books mentioned by Elizabeth, as well as the speech she referenced during our conversation, in case you feel inclined to dig a little deeper into the subject.

“Blindness: Is Literature Against Us?”
By Kenneth Jernigan, 
July 3, 1974
https://nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/convent/banque74.htm
 
“Being Seen:  One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism”
By Elsa Sjunneson  
“There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness”
By M. Leona Godin.
 
You can learn more about Elizabeth’s own writing at https://www.dldbooks.com/elizabethsammons/
 
And, if you haven’t already done so, please subscribe to receive these newsletters as soon as they come out – they will drop straight into your mailbox! It’s the best way to stay in touch with my news and events.

Paws for Thought  – When Guide Dog Billy Came to Stay

The image shows a black Labrador.
 
Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji.
 
The most amazing thing happened to me last weekend – I had a visit from one of my cousin guide dogs, whose Dad had human stuff to do and couldn’t take his guide dog with him.
 
Guide dog Billy is great. He is a black Labrador, and is lots bigger than me. In fact, he’s even bigger than my oldest doggy sister, Emily. Billy is only 3 years old and still loves to play. Billy, my sister Allie and I turned the garden into a high speed racetrack and spent much of the weekend chasing one another around.
 
Billy came with us when Mom and I went to try adaptive golf, which Mom will tell you about soon. In fact, I think Billy had most fun trying to catch the balls that the humans were playing with. It certainly kept him busy while I sat and whined encouragement at my mom.
 
Unfortunately, my doggy brother Onyx didn’t like Billy and Mom and Dad had to be creative in finding ways to keep them separated so Onyx wouldn’t snarl at Billy. All of us girl dogs thought Onyx was being silly because Billy is such fun.
 
Okay, I have to admit that I also barked at Billy when he first arrive. I wanted to make it clear that Mom is mine and I’m not sharing her with another guide dog. But as soon as Billy told me that he already has a fulltime job guiding his dad, I was okay with him coming to stay.
 
So, if Onyx wanted to sulk and not get to play with Billy, well, that was his problem.
 
Now that Billy has gone home, life at our house has gone back to normal. Which is why I’m writing this post rather than chasing other dogs round the garden. But maybe I will go out and play now that I’m done here.

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