An Invitation to Paradox

A guest post by Tasha Chemel.
I am a true fan of her writing (and her leanings toward's listing as a structure and language and way of telling a story.)
I am grateful for the chance to learn from her words, and share them here.

"An Invitation to Paradox"

1. In my daydreams, I’m in an auditorium at the Perkins School, or the Carroll Center for the Blind, or maybe a university. I don’t know most of you, but I do know some of you. Intimately. You’re the ones who told me that I would never amount to more than a route traveler. You’re the ones who implied that if I didn’t learn to hold my cane with pride, I would fail. You’re the ones who tried to convince me that comfort was immaterial. You’re the ones who taught me that independence was about memorizing train schedules, and catching buses at 5:36 in the morning, and struggling to spread jam on my toast in the college cafeteria, because if I asked my friends too many times, their judgment would swamp me. 

I introduce myself with one of my poems. It’s about triumph. It’s about the way I hardened in your hands when you tried to mold me into something I was not. And yes, it’s also about revenge. By the time I am finished talking, all of you are so lost that it’s as if someone has turned the lights off. A couple of you come speak to me. You grovel. You remember all the hurts you’ve caused, and try to undo them in a single second. You promise that none of your future students will have to endure what I have endured. At this moment, I should feel victorious. But instead, I feel redundant, a stale song stuck on an endless loop. 

2. I will never understand the physics of it, but supposedly scientists have nearly sent particles back in time. I don’t have An ATOM SMASHER. I just have a pen. 

3. For twenty years, I was your captive. You carried me, kicking and screaming, down a long, long hallway. With each step you took, the light grew dimmer and dimmer. When I was a child, you had my full obedience. I was innocent, a blank slate. I did not realize that there was another direction; I did not realize that eventually, the light would disappear completely. Then you picked up your pace, and gradually, so did my heart. I wanted to know where we were going, and why no one else I loved had to go there. So I tried to tell you that we were heading the wrong way. I had an urgent appointment with brightness. 

At first, you made a game of it. There were Sticky-Wickys and funny books on tape and Puff Paint, AND clay that felt like marshmallows. I almost relented. But when adolescence set in, my gullibility ended, and so did your patience. You threatened me with gags if I didn’t start smiling. 

4. Peter Levine writes that humans have so much trouble letting go of trauma because our concrete world gives us few opportunities to release it. When a baby lion cub is traumatized, it instinctively takes the time to quiver and shake. When humans are traumatized, we are conditioned to forget as fast as we can so that we can get out of bed and drink coffee and sit in boring meetings and cook dinner. But our tissues and organs and muscles remember and remember and remember. They are so consumed with remembering that the part of our brain that absorbs new information begins to close its gates. Our need to repeat can make us obstinate and unlovable. 

5. Someone very close to me once said that if I want to be an agent of change, if I want to speak authoritatively about blindness and shame, I must, paradoxically, learn to stand beyond the confines of shame. I couldn’t disagree more. I will gladly offer up my scars. They grant me credibility. It is anger that might defeat me. My softening is a work in progress. 

6. In neuroscience, the buzz word these days is plasticity. Every day, a doctoral student in a basement lab somewhere finds yet more evidence that the brain can stretch without breaking. When met with deprivation, it can regroup and reorganize. Yet, it is an odd sort of plastic, for it has brittle patches, places that no amount of hope or determination will move or melt. . Critical periods, they are called. 

When I was in college, I read about Mike May. He was blind from the age of three, and at forty-six, a pioneering treatment became available. he chose to have his sight restored, mostly out of curiosity, he said. For a time, he struggled to learn how to recognize the faces of his wife and children, to track the arc of a soccer ball. He was a world-renowned skier, so he went skiing. But, as he hurtled down the slopes, he closed his eyes. Sight was a distraction. The word “blind” was written in permanent marker on his visual cortex. 

The romantic in me would like to say that his story is not my story. Instead of allowing its parts to be re-purposed, the cells of my own visual cortex are merely idling, like cars on a Los Angeles freeway, waiting for that greened permission to surge them forward. 

Late at night, I write frantic emails to neuroscientists, attempting to entice them with the bizarreness of my case. Those emails read like incantations. As of yet, none of the researchers have taken the bait. Perhaps they are shying away from my witch’s expectation that their tests will name me into being. 

7. I was eight years old when the desire to flee from blindness spoke to me in its raspy, insistent little voice. I was at the Carroll Center, learning how to use a screenreading program. My teacher offered me a hard candy from a bowl. “What colors are there?” I asked. “Can I have a red one?” 

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s the luck of the draw.” 
My teacher had been blind since birth, like me. He had grown accustomed to this sort of uncertainty. “Is this my life?” I found myself wondering. “Is this drab not-knowing-ness what I have to look forward to?” 

8. When you say that color is meaningless to those born without sight, you are limiting yourselves, as well as others. Eastern medicine teaches us that the subtle body contains chakras, or spinning energy centers. Some traditions say there are six, others say there are seven, others say there are more, but they all agree that each chakra has a color. The third eye, for example, is indigo, and whenever I am touched there, I swear I know what indigo is. Color is vibration; our bodies are vibration, this thought and this table and this tree are vibration. 

9. I was a terrible student. I used my cane, not because I cared what it had to say, but because it pleased you. I scorned all of your alternative techniques and bump dots and organizational systems. I read Braille, but only because reading was freedom, and freedom was defiance. Rebellion made my jaws ache. Strangely, I showed little visible interest in the visual. I was a candle burning itself at both ends, scared of its own light. 
It is not unusual for a preteen to come to her mother with a fear that this or that part of her body is abnormal. I must have tried to come to all of you with a similar question, only it was my brain that made me afraid., I lacked the right words, so we must have mistaken my confusion for disdain. 

How would you have changed your teaching, if my condition had had a name? You couldn’t have completely shielded me from my initiation into blindness. That would have been counterproductive and unethical. I owe at least some of my success to your persistence. But perhaps, had you known of my difference, you would have spared me the brunt of your disappointment. 

10. You’ve heard of Schrödinger’s cat. When the box is sealed, the cat is both dead and alive; when the box is opened, it is either one or the other, and reality collapses in on itself. 

I would like to believe that all of you led me down that long corridor so hastily because you were as bewildered as I was. When I pleaded with you to turn around, you refused, not out of hostility, but because neither of us knew that it was possible to walk towards darkness and light at the same time. 

11. In my daydreams, I am standing in the foyer of the school that I have created. There are windows everywhere. There are paintings on the walls, and potted plants from exotic locations, as beautiful to look at as they are to touch. The upsetting of apple carts is encouraged. No one is taken here without her permission. There are no narrow spaces; every office and hallway is wide enough for resonance and discord. Schrödinger and his cat are welcome here, and so are you. 

Will you join me? 

Tasha Chemel is a teacher, poet and potter. She finds list-making soothing, containing and magical. She lives in Winooski, Vermont. 

You can connect with her on facebook