I admit being very surprised by something I’ve noticed in all the reviews posted at Amazon and Goodreads. Some astute folks have pointed out the depth of the books comes from all the social and cultural issues addressed in one way or another—race, class, religion, sex, politics. But little is said about disability. I sense a reluctance out there facing disabilities which I can’t explain.
Which leads to the question—how much of author Wesley Britton is in the character of Malcolm Renbourn? In a way, I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask. I’m certain there’s much about him that must reflect who I am. For me, I know there are incidents and experiences from my own life I used in the first three chapters of The Blind Alien. However, from the moment Malcolm escapes across the border into Rhasvi, I’ve always felt he had become his own man, always surprising me thereafter. Perhaps you’ve heard TV actors talk about how they started playing a role before a switch goes off inside them and the actor steps into their character, becomes that character, and goes deeper than reading lines and hitting the marks. Well, that moment happened for Malcolm, in my mind, when Bar sends him north into freedom.
What has this to do with disability? Well, when blindness becomes a central attribute of your being, especially when you’re on a strange planet and absolutely nothing is familiar, what doesn’t blindness impact? I think of one scene where Malcolm meets the blind prophetess, Lorei Caul. While Malcolm became sightless at the age of 35, she was blind from birth. These are very different experiences resulting in very different responses from people. One person has memories of what they once saw, what they lost; the other has no such memories—being blind was all they ever knew. So the individual who became blind later in life has the added confusion of trying to mix and match what they feel and hear with things they remember. From personal experience, I can say those of us who went blind later in life have to go through a process of grief and loss. I drew on this truth quite a bit in The Blind Alien.
For another observation, in book two I had a priestess reveal Malcolm’s eyes perceive blackness. Lorei’s eyes perceive nothing at all. There’s a difference. Malcolm has the awareness of darkness, of something impenetrable filling his visual screens. Lorei has no such awareness and senses nothing missing. Here’s something to ponder—the difference between blackness and nothingness.
What has blindness meant to me, a man who started losing his sight in his mid-twenties? A complex question with a complex answer. Let me try this. Some twenty years or so ago, when being a poet of some small renown was my creative identity, I had a friend who was a Lakota-Sioux Shaman. He looked at me one day and commanded, “Write me a poem about the joys of blindness.” Talk about a writing prompt!
The result was “The Veil.” Reading it again so many years later, I can think of many revisions and changes I could and probably should make. But I think it more honest to present it just as it appeared in Talus & Scree, one of my favorite print magazines of the small-press era.
When the blindness came, so did the veil
& few look in & those that do
I cannot tell for certain
what I am perceiving. Not light, not dark,
not the common colors shared by most.
I see no body language so speak it poorly.
I see neither smile nor frown so ignore both.
Cannot tell friend from stranger, so the veil
swells like a smoke or fog
around me in protection, confusion,
interdependency grows just as thick and wide
regulated by the whims and schedules of others
living around the cracks of others' good will,
hearing more intentions and promises than fulfillment
or commitment or truth
and grasp the limitations after
the embers of rage finally subside
and accept the moment, what is,
what can be patiently done,
ah, patience against my worse nature,
finally accepting calm Now after the
Disappointment Series and feel the
Ying of happy quiet aloneness without
the being with anyone not just to be alone
the Yang of the female other who
may be illusion, fantasy, nightmare
while I casually, cautiously, distantly
touch others veiled not to be hurt
veiled to expect assault
veiled to be comfortable within
and always aware of the separateness
that lives against my belief in
expecting more than is offered
expecting more than can be given
so I create little footnotes in books
and minds and groups and drums and
the image of the invisible man walking
thru the town that did not see him before
and is not looking for him now
as I await the next step
whether shin-cracking or
softer, whether pain or the touch
of my dogs & toys
so I have not answered your question. You wonder what are
The joys of blindness?
Well, the joy of music, but I had that before.
The joy of touch, but that has a powerful yang.
The joy of surprising connections, the nuggets
amongst the dross,
and the surprise of occasionally remembering a color,
a face, place, a possible poem
but mostly I find the happiness in thinking of Buddha,
of little accomplishments, small adventures, never minding
the great promise of youth
and knowing how much I've improved--hell,
I've had so far to go--and how different
I do things now so I must call the happiness
acceptance, letting go of illusions
becoming aware of illusions
putting illusions into perspective
knowing my past is my own illusion
shared delusionally with others
whose place in the Now is never certain
and uncertainty has its place, especially in
a cocky man
who came to belief and conviction very slowly,
from the Bible to the nothing to the nothing with
who expects all to be transitory
as is All
and to cease craving, the source
of suffering, and emphasize service and
gifts, even gifts not wanted or expected,
and see what seeds grow.
Follow Wes Britton at his Goodreads blog where he posts twice-weekly insights into the Beta-Earth Chronicles!
The Blind Alien is still on sale for 99 cents while it still lasts!