Over the past few months I’ve become used to the strange things happening around me. I’m okay with mom wearing a face mask when we walk, even if the voice commands she gives me sound a bit muffled. I’m used to mom and me not going out to different places. I can accept that mom needs to spend most of the day working at the computer. I’m even used to dad being around all the time. But the one thing I just can’t figure out is social distancing.
Most of the reason I’m perplexed is that my guide dog training didn’t include a class on social distancing. Mom’s tried to explain it to me but I just don’t get it.
As a guide dog, I know I shouldn’t walk up to people and distract them. So that’s not the problem. But it doesn’t mean I’m trained to walk a specific distance away from them. Or that I’m comfortable walking far into the road if mom and I need to pass slower walkers – first and foremost I’m trained to keep mom out of danger, and I don’t think it’s safe walking into the road like that.
I’m really glad mom and I haven’t had to go to the shops, because I think it would be hard for me to remember to stop at the painted lines on the floor that keep people a safe distance from each other. But then, I’ve never been able to figure out why people stand in queues. Or how to do so – I’m trained to go straight to the counter. So shopping would be doubly stressful for me now.
At least mom is able to hear where other people are when we walk and take evasive action. Because it would be very confusing if my training told me to do one thing and social distancing told me to do something else. But, you know, even though I trust mom’s judgement, I’d still like to do something to help. Because I’m a guide dog. And that’s what I do.
If you have any clever suggestions on how I could help mom maintain social distancing when we’re out and about, I’d love to hear them.
Here’s another song from my archives – this one is complete but I can’t remember if I ever put it to music. If I did, it’s probably a keyboard song… it just feels that way to me.
It’s a song about the way I experience the process of writing. though it may appear a little whimsical. Especially when I think of the times I sit at a blank computer screen waiting – sometimes for what feels like an eternity – to find words to express what I want to say.
Anyway, here it is:
Seas of Time.
Waves of Words spiral round
A blank page lying on the ground.
Unwritten thoughts catch at my mind,
Washed ashore on seas of time.
Thoughts are tossed through time and space.
Trapped in the mists of this ancient place.
Pictures form as words collide,
And then are lost as waves subside.
As rhythm, structure, form and rhyme
Come sailing in on seas of time.
My ship lies at the harbour wall.
A refugee from the rising storm.
The page lies anchored line by line,
A product of the seas of time.
After almost six weeks of being confined to home during the Level 5 lockdown, I wasn’t sure how my guide dog would react to once again wearing her harness and working with me. Okay, I knew she’d pull like crazy, because that’s what she does after a few days without working. So I had no illusions about how much pulling a six-week break was going to warrant!
After working together for over four years I was fairly certain that the break wouldn’t impact on her ability to work. Or her enthusiasm for guiding. By now Fiji and I know each other pretty well. What did concern me slightly was whether her excitement would override her excellent training – would she remember what she’d been trained to do?
I decided to have back-up with me the first time we walked, just in case. So my husband joined us for our first time out. As did our youngest dog, Allie, who walked with Craig. At least, that was the plan.
What a bad mistake it turned out to be!
Allie is used to running with Fiji. And I really mean with her – they run side by side flawlessly. So, poor Allie didn’t understand why she and dad were walking behind Fiji and mom. She whined, and she pulled, and she did doggy star-jumps to try and catch up with Fiji and me. Which totally put Fiji off her game.
Fiji kept trying to see what was bothering her sister. At first, she tried turning around to see what was going on. When that didn’t work, because I kept her moving forward, she tried to walk into the middle of the road to try and catch sight of Allie out of the corner of her eye. In desperation we tried allowing Craig and Allie to walk ahead. Only then Fiji was the one pulling like a steam train to get back out front.
So we figured we’d just have to deal with two slightly crazy dogs. But at least Fiji and I got to be out front.
Apart from that, Fiji did well on her walk.
The second time we walked, Craig hopped on his bicycle and cycled round the neighbourhood, checking in on us every now and then as we walked.
Which was fine. Except that every time he cycled past us, Fiji wanted to dash off after him. When he was going in the same direction as us it wasn’t so bad – we simply walked a little faster until he was out of sight. But whenever he appeared in front of us and rode past, Fiji immediately tried to turn round and run after him. I didn’t know whether to laugh at her enthusiasm, or growl at her naughtiness.
Since then Fiji and I have been going it alone. And she’s working brilliantly. Maybe she’s burned off the initial excitement and she’s once again used to walking her routes. Maybe she was just distracted by Craig’s presence… and Allie’s. Regardless, Fiji and I have slipped back into the easy rhythm of working as a team. And I totally love the experience.
I’m grateful that Craig was willing to help me manage my anxiety on our first two walks. But it is immensely liberating to be able to walk on my own with my beautiful Fiji.
Like most South Africans, I was excited when we were allowed to exercise at the start of Level 4 lockdown. To be honest, the ability to get out and walk with my highly frustrated guide dog was wonderful. I didn’t even mind having to wear a face mask. Yet, when it came to our first walk, I encountered an unexpected problem
As I stepped outside my garden for the first time in six weeks, with a deliriously happy guide dog at my side, I realized the mask I was wearing was restricting my hearing. Not too much, but enough that I was aware of it and it made me a little anxious about walking.
I use my hearing as an important tool to help me navigate the world around me. Usually, I use it to listen for approaching traffic. Now, when we need to be aware of social distancing, hearing also helps when that traffic is made up of other people. Particularly with more people around due to the limitation on the hours we’re allowed to exercise.
Obviously, the most important criteria for a mask is that it must be as effective as possible in preventing me from potentially catching the virus. What’s the point, otherwise? It must cover my nose and my mouth adequately and be secure enough that it’s not going to slip off my face. Beyond that, I’ve learned that some designs work better for me than others.
If I can, I’ll prefer not to wear a mask with loops that hook behind my ears to keep them in place. Because that’s what affects my hearing. Rather, a mask that ties behind my head allows my ears to be free and my hearing is unobstructed. Although I need to be sure the mask is tied tightly enough that it won’t come undone when Fiji and I are out and about.
My favourite mask so far is the one I’m wearing in the image – not just because the bright colours make it beautiful to look at – yes, masks can be fashion accessories these days – but mostly because it is held in place by two pieces of elastic that I pull over the back of my head. It is secure and my hearing is unobstructed. So that’s the first mask I reach for when leaving the house.
Make no mistake, I’ll use a mask that is held in place by other means when that particular one is in the wash. After all, it’s more about managing risk than being comfortable. But it’s definitely my preferred mask.
I am grateful that I am able to have a selection of masks to choose from. I know many of our people are not so lucky. If I only had a mask that restricted my hearing, I would wear it. But I’ll admit I’m grateful to have masks that not only work well, but are also safer for me when I walk.
I think I’m the happiest guide dog in the world right now… I might even be the happiest dog in the whole wide world. Even though I know there are lots and lots of happy dogs out there.
The reason I’m so ecstatic is that mom and dad have both got over their fear of the gate to outside! I’m overjoyed that everything is better. It looks like I won’t have to approach anyone to come and retrain them.
I don’t know what changed to make them less scared but, to be honest, I don’t need to know. All I need to know is that we can go outside and do what we love.
On Friday and Saturday, dad took me and my sister Allie for a run. And on Sunday he took Allie for a run and then took my other sister Emily for a walk. I could have gone with them, but was feeling a little stiff – two runs after forever of no exercise is tiring, you know. So I stayed behind and looked after mom.
I was a very happy dog by the end of the weekend.
And then, joy of all joys, mom picked up my harness and took me for a walk yesterday morning. It was such a wonderful experience! Okay, it wasn’t exactly my most proficient walk. But that was because dad and Allie were walking behind us, and Allie kept on whining. Mom had to keep reminding me to focus and walk straight, instead of walking into the middle of the road so I could catch sight of what was bothering Allie. It looked like she was really giving dad a hard time, pulling, and doing vertical lift-off jumps. Turns out that she was trying to catch up to me and mom. When I realized that was what was bothering her, I stopped worrying about it and just walked like I ought to.
So now I’m not only a very happy dog, I’m an incredibly happy guide dog. And that’s how it’s meant to be.
I know I should probably keep an eye on mom and dad to make sure they don’t slip back into their bad habit of avoiding the gate. But, for now, everything is just about perfect, and I’ll deal with that if it happens again.
Over the past month or so, it feels like every time I hop onto social media or download my e-mail, I’m overwhelmed by the most amazing offers, urging me to sign up for an online event (now discounted), a webinar (also discounted), or an online course (ditto).
And I’ll admit I’ve been sorely tempted to take advantage of more than one of these fantastic offers.
But here’s the thing. Even though, like much of the world, I’m working from home, I’m struggling to find all this free time that the mails and posts tell me I ought to have. Because I can’t seem to find it.
I’m spending as much time at my computer as I was before the lockdowns came into place. And regularly find myself standing up at the end of the day wondering where the time went.
Admittedly, I’ve been taking advantage of the time to finish things that have been languishing on my “to do list” forever – things I really want to get round to but never seem to have the time. I’ve also picked up playing music again and am having vast amounts of fun sharing songs with friends and family on Facebook Live every week or so. And I’m finally starting to catch up on all the podcasts that have slowly been accumulating on my feed. Apart from the French language tutorial podcasts, which seem to have fallen by the wayside a little since lockdown started.
And then, of course, there’s my usual work developing my writing and speaking businesses – radio interviews, my regular blog articles, the international magazine I write for every second month, the travel podcast I host, and the ongoing work to update my book and convert it into an audio format.
Not to mention housework. And being a captive slave to the whims of my dogs, who are overly full of vim and vigour because they aren’t able to go for walks and runs like they usually would. I know Fiji’s frustrated that we haven’t been out and about as usual, though she’s hiding it well.
So, I’m perplexed about where to find all this spare time I keep hearing about. Any idea where I should look? I’ve searched around the house, checked in case it’s hiding in the back of a little used closet, and even looked under the bed (much to the confusion of Fiji, who was sleeping there at the time, but to no avail.
But I’m going to keep hunting, because I’d really love to take up some of those (very discounted) offers that keep coming my way!
One of the things I love most about being an author is the amazing sense of community I discovered in the writing and publishing worlds. I’m constantly amazed at the generosity of authors and writing coaches who are willing to share their platforms to showcase others in the industry.
Many of those I’ve met in the publishing industry have come through my involvement with the Write| Publish| Sell community on Facebook, and the fantastic annual Women in Publishing Summit, where I’ve been a speaker for the past two years.
Today I’d like to share an interview I did with one of the authors I’ve met, Erin Casey. I so enjoyed sharing a little of my story with Erin’s community, and in reading the stories shared by others she’s interviewed.
Please also take a few minutes to read about some of the other people Erin’s interviewed – I’m sure you’ll find it fascinating!
The past few weeks have been very strange for me and my doggy sisters. We’re all feeling a little uncertain and confused.
For one thing, mom and dad are around all the time. In many ways, that’s a good thing. Because they’re our people and we love having them with us at home. Especially since they’re always happy to pat us if we walk up to them such bliss!
On the other paw, mom and dad aren’t taking advantage of the time very well. I mean, I can’t even remember when mom and I last got to walk. And dad is only running up and down the wall in the garden, which isn’t half as much fun for us as going on longer runs. It almost seems like mom and dad have become scared of the gate out to the rest of the world, which is really weird.
Mom has even started giving me daily lessons on how to find the front door and a lounge chair, which she’s been able to find on her own for years. So I’ve no idea why she seems to have forgotten. She’s also started refreshing herself on some of my most basic commands like down and stay. And I’m pretty sure she mastered those ages ago.
I know it’s for a good reason. I mean, mom and dad usually have logical reasons for what they do… apart from when they go somewhere without me. And I’m not really complaining – life is still wonderful, and I have lots of fun playing with my sisters and running around the garden. It’s just not the same.
If mom and dad are actually scared of the gate, I might eventually have to ask the trainers from the South African Guide-Dog Association to come and retrain them. But I’ll wait a few weeks before taking that drastic step and maybe everything will go back to normal if me and my sisters are patient.
At least, I hope so. It’s just all a little confusing for us right now…
In my archives I have a stack of files with fragments of stories, poems and songs. No-one else has had the chance of digging through those fragments, but I decided to share one with you today.
It’s the opening paragraphs of a fiction story. And, interestingly, it’s the only one that has a basic plot outline. I had the idea for this story back in June 2014 and wrote the opening paragraphs. Then I drew up a very basic outline for most of the story… except for the very end.
My question for you is this – what do you think is going to happen next, and what genre of book do you think this will land up being?
PS Please remember this is a first draft… and first drafts always need lots of work. At least, mine do.
“Hey, Laura! Aren’t you supposed to be meeting people for lunch?”
Laura Michaels looked up from her computer where she was frantically trying to get the month end figures to balance.
Most people, on meeting Laura for the first time, would dismiss her as being “average”. Laura was 28, though she looked younger than her age. Her youthful looks were accentuated by her diminutive size- at five foot, four inches she was the shortest of her female friends, a fact which she had never reconciled herself to. She had a serious face that was quietly attractive until she smiled, when people around her would be amazed that they had not seen her beauty before. Her short ash-blonde hair was at present tucked behind her ears, a habit which she had tried for years to break, but which she always resorted to when she was stressed.
The slight frown that was another mark of her current tension softened into a quick smile as Laura looked across the partition at her colleague.
“Sorry Kathrine, I didn’t quite get that. What did you say?”
“I was just reminding you about your lunch date today, Laura. You are going out to lunch today, aren’t you?”
“Yup, I’m meeting some old friends in town at 12:30. Why?”
“Because it’s getting pretty late. It’s almost quarter past already.”
Laura glanced up at the clock on the office wall, and her smile faded. Briefly her face reflected shock as she registered that it was already 12:15. The shock turned to dismay as she quickly calculated the logistics of time and travel.
“Shit!” she said with feeling, “I’m going to be late!”
It was almost one o’clock before Laura got to the neighbourhood of the restaurant where she was due to meet her friends. She turned off the main road into the sheltered street where the restaurant was, and started looking for parking. For once Laura’s luck seemed to be with her and she found a parking space almost immediately. Sighing with relief, Laura parked and climbed out of her Golf GTi. Locking the car, she slammed the door and set the alarm before tossing her keys into her oversized bag and setting off down the alley towards the restaurant.
How many books can YOU think of with a disabled character? I’d love for you to drop me a message or a comment listing the characters and books you know of. I think it would be an interesting exercise for us all.
You see, if it’s true that art mirrors reality, then for every eight characters in the books we read, we should find one with a disability. Because that’s what the statistics from the World Health Organisation website tell us– 15% of the global population lives with a disability – https://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/report/en/#content
I understand some of the reason’s writers may not include us.
- They don’t see us out there in the world
- They don’t want to offend us
- They don’t want to misrepresent us.
Sure, I recognise that it doesn’t appear that every eighth person we pass in the street has a disability so writers may not be aware of how many of us there truly are. Also, many disabilities are invisible – psycho-social, cognitive, reading, some hearing impairments, to list but a few – so perhaps it appears we are a smaller group than we are. Then, because unemployment figures for persons with disabilities are so high, people don’t see us in the workplace. And sadly, sometimes when people do see us, they see the disability first and ignore the person as an individual. Finally, if you don’t have contact with a person with a specific disability, it may be hard to know what we can do.
I also understand the other concerns I listed. People have often told me they are nervous about approaching someone with a disability in case they cause offense by saying or doing the wrong thing. That’s due largely to a general lack of awareness of how we accomplish the tasks we do, the technology that enables us to live mostly “normal” lives, and the tools and techniques we have at our disposal. And yes, we are often scathing in our responses when we see a fictional character with a disability who is poorly represented. Or when disability is represented as being an unendurable catastrophe that cannot be overcome.
I want to challenge my fellow authors to be more inclusive when creating characters. Here are a few guidelines:
- Your lead protagonist doesn’t have to be the one with a disability; it could be a supporting character – but let us be included in the world you’re creating.
- Do your research – There is so much information out there about the way we live our lives as persons
with disabilities, so research this as you would other aspects of your book. Or reach out to someone with the specific disability you’re trying to represent.
- Don’t be scared to ask for input – just as you have beta readers to give you feedback on your book, ask someone with a disability to do the same, preferably someone with the disability your character has; most of us are willing to help, I promise.
Books are by no means the only medium where we are under-represented. Movies and TV are much the same. I’m excited to notice an increase in the number of characters with disabilities over the past few years. But we’ve still a long way to go.
We’re by no means the only minority that face this situation – Recently I’ve seen articles from other minority groups and, in some cases, majority groups, who are not well represented in the publishing world and other media. It’s starting to shift, but I believe we need far greater diversity of voices amongst those writing books. Having said that, a note for other authors with a disability – don’t feel obliged to write only about disability issues – you should feel free to create whatever you want.
So, there it is: my challenge to authors writing fiction – help us feel more included and less invisible in the world you’re creating. Help us see the world we inhabit in the books we read. And help us feel that we’re part of society as we experience it in all ways.
Now, who’s going to start the list of books with characters with disabilities? I’d love to see how many I’ve already read and how many I still have to discover…