Live Virtual Group Session: 7pm EST April 1st 2020

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session!

Forty-nine people from around the world (Bahrain, United Kingdom, Qatar, other places typed into the chat?) gathered for an hour in Narrative Medicine’s Zoom Room to read the prologue to Planet of the Blind, Stephen Kuusito’s memoir of living with retinopathy, the result of his being placed in an over- oxygenated incubator soon after his premature birth.   

In the prologue (text posted below), readers meet Kuusito  with his dog Corky navigating Grand Central Station “a temple for Hermes…with no idea …how to find our train.” One Zoom participant responded to the renderings of a man, who is able to see “colors and shapes that seem windblown” and guides the sighted with words and images of “hemlock darknesses and sudden pools of rose-colored electric light.” A close reader drew our attention to a single word in the sentence, “There is something about us…” and considered the possible use of “aboutto reference subjects (in this case a man and his dog) or to point to what surrounds or is “about” them. Another participant noticed the many images, which the narrator conjured from nature: not only animals and hemlocks but also a gibbous moon as he walks through the vaulted railway station. One person liked that he invoked his dog’s name four times. Another mentioned the narrator’s reference to himself and Corky as two slow moving sea lions. She noted that those creatures are awkward on land but, in their element, are graceful and strong. For one reader this text evoked another text. She drew a parallel between Virgil guiding Dante and the railway employee offering to guide the memoirist.

On Zoom we had two senses: vision and hearing, yet, guided in words through the scene, we were able to feel “a breeze from Jerusalem” and a gentle touch when Kuusito decides to trust a stranger, take his elbow, and welcome readers “to the planet of the blind.”

After twenty minutes of discussion, we wrote to the prompt: “Write about your planet.”

Before inviting people to read, the facilitators asked people to respond to each other’s work as they had to the published work, not interviewing the writer or asking more of a piece than what it can furnish in four minutes of writing.

Three people read aloud and a dozen responded to their renderings of “our”planet (as one person wrote) with children playing and flowers blooming; a grocery store aisle where the narrator is afraid of the virus and afraid to talk to another shopper; and a backyard with deer and giant birds (related to dinosaurs), a planet preserved for wildlife.  

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below, to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Please join us for our next session: Friday April 3rd at 6pm EST, with more times to be announced shortly.

As before, due to the wonderful turnout for these sessions, we encourage you to join as promptly as possible: After a ten minute grace period, we will be closing the Zoom session to preserve the integrity of the session for those joined. If you try to join past that time and are unable, we encourage you to join the next session! More times and opportunities will be announced soon.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

I’ve entered Grand Central Station with guide dog Corky, my yellow Labrador. We stand uncertain, man   and dog collecting our wits while thousands of five o’clock commuters jostle around us. Beside them,   Corky and I are in slow motion, like two sea lions. We’ve suddenly found ourselves in the ocean, and   here in this railway terminal, where pickpockets and knife artists roam the crowds, we’re moving in a   different tempo. There is something about us, the perfect poise of the dog, the uprightness of the man, I   don’t know, a spirit maybe, fresh as the gibbous moon, the moon we’ve waited for, the one with the new  light.

So this is our railway station, a temple for Hermes. We wash through the immense vault with   no idea about how to find our train or the information kiosk. And just now it doesn’t matter. None of the   turmoil or anxiety of being lost will reach us because moving is holy, the very motion is a breeze from Jerusalem.

 This blindness of mine still allows me to see colors and shapes that seem windblown; the great   terminal is supremely lovely in its swaying hemlock darknesses and sudden pools of rose-colored electric   light. We don’t know where we are, and though the world is dangerous, it’s also haunting in its beauty.   Even to a lost man with a speck of something like seeing, this minute here, just standing, taking in the air   as a living circus, this is what tears of joy are for.

 A railway employee has offered to guide me to my train. I hold his elbow gently, Corky heeling   beside us, and we descend through the tunnels under the building. I’ve decided to trust a stranger.

 Welcome to the planet of the blind.      

Kuusito, Stephen. Planet of the Blind (1998) New York: Dial Press.

9 thoughts on “Live Virtual Group Session: 7pm EST April 1st 2020

  1. J. D.

    Old, worn, weary, but still some left, for now. Like the 100-year-old marathon runner. Still got it, but bones are brittle, skin sagging, and organs weary. It’s been such a long go. But the soul is still strong, motivation stronger than the body; running the race and finishing with a smile, still strong, pulling the body along, holding the parts together. The parts know what to do, they fight against but the strong willed soul keep them together, keeps moving forward despite everything…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Andre Lijoi

      I like the “still strong”, the soul, smile and will that hold the piece together along with all the parts of the worn, weary, bones, skin and organs. Nice. Andre

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Andre Lijoi

    Prompt: Write about your planet…

    My planet has so many spaces
    Spaces for love
    Spaces for my work, a labor of love
    Spaces to reflect on my faith, a journey of love
    Spaces to relax, wide spaces, with my love
    in nature where
    breaths are deep and rich and expansive and
    send me off from one horizon to the next
    immersing me in those around me who
    bring such joy and grace into my life.

    The challenge is to remain undaunted
    By this danger
    Embrace what life brings as an opportunity to
    Give glory to God

    [That is what I wrote under the pressure of the prompt. I added this epilogue after the session because it was so remarkable and
    gives a picture of the breaths about which I wrote. I learned about Axolotls in the Creative Writing Course.]

    On an early summer eve last June
    My love and I saw an Axolotl on the I 70 horizon as
    we chased a sunset of ever evolving colors,
    some never seen before, the moon rising in the east behind us,
    at seventy miles per hour for an hour
    until the dark of night prevailed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for our virtual meeting last night all, esp Craig for bringing it together. I was a bit unsure how this all was supposed to work…I was touched by the text we were provided and everyone’s responses to it. This is what came out of my head unedited in our 4-minute interval, not making much sense, but a good exercise:

    “My planet is a lot like the land of the blind. The setting is so familiar. The vulnerability of the blind man is his strength. Now we have greater awareness of everything we do, heightened mindfulness as we make choices and big decisions guided by forces beyond our control. We make necessary connections and must learn to trust a stranger to guide is through uncharted waters. We are the blind man in very familiar surroundings. Our anxiety borders on the thrill of danger and the unknown – potential joy at the border of our fear.”

    I’m glad we can share here – pls put in your’s as well since we are too many to share during our one hour together. We were given a beautiful text and I’m surprised at how it offers insight on my current situation – GC being so familiar to me but now perceiving things in a very different way – scary but exciting and on the brink of something…good to take time for reflection with colleagues around the world as I am on my way back to NY to join the healthcare battle. Stay well everyone and looking forward to future texts to reflect on and to ground us…. -Tracy

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My planet, my gigantic home that is larger than I could even imagine. I give it a diagnosis of pain, of anguish, of abuse, of illness, of depression.

    But what do I know of planets? Perhaps it is just a common cold, a mild headache, and the planet just continues its daily routine. It moves around itself. It dances with its partners. Sometimes it checks on its companion, the moon.

    Maybe it just feels a little itch from its inhabitants’ illness. It is probably confident in its healing.

    Thank you to all of the facilitators and fellow attendees. This is a well-needed peaceful, creative, and thoughtful place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Maybe it just feels a little itch from its inhabitants’ illness. It is probably confident in its healing.” Just a little itch, yes. I like this–adds a different perspective. I often think about how the planet will be just fine without us, how it will go on, regroup, evolution will continue. Thank you for this … indeed, “perhaps it is just a common cold.” Humans have often been quite cruel to this one, but it was here long before we were and will continue long after. I find solace in this. Thanks for sharing this!


  5. Thank you for the session last night. Yesterday was such a low day for me in (on?) the COVID roller coaster we find ourselves currently inhabiting in all our shared and different ways. I didn’t know what the sessions would be like, but loved it. So appreciated that the space felt kind enough to read and share in–even though I was nervous and feared I would read wobbly, emotionally, or might even cry. Thanks for listening and for the comments. I also loved all the comments on the passage from _Planet of the Blind_. Each one illuminated the text in a different way, and that was so cool. Anyway … My bit from last night. I’m transcribing while simultaneous resisting any and all urges to change it:

    My planet is spinning wild stars strewn spinning like my brain, my do-nothing exhausted brain. I’m so exhausted. But I opened my windows today. The need to see trees, branches–black, mottled, brown arms crisscrossed blue sky and bits of green coming out now. On my planet virus is everywhere. My planet is not mine. It’s ours.

    My planet is filled overflowing with strangers. I’m afraid of the store. If the store is a planet, it’s a suddenly almost impossible one. I’m waking through the aisles, and I don’t make eye contact. I don’t want anyone to stand too close. Saying hi is a risk. My planet is falling out–collapsed, shattered–from under my feet.


  6. Andre Lijoi

    There is something so lovely about the light lime green of new leaves that emerge in spring from those black, mottled, brown arms of the branches. They are cool and delicate when touched. There is comfort in those images and spaces. I sense tension in the spinning stars and the stranger virus everywhere overflowing onto overflowing strangers. The view from the opened window give me comfort. Thank you. Andre


  7. Prompt reply “My Planet”

    My planet is a natural world — sandhill cranes my latest delight, my backyard an oasis for wildlife.
    I kept it for that reason. People told me to sell, it’s worth money, but where would the animals go?
    The deer? Even the one whose back whose back right leg looked torn off, a bone sticking out through the upper haunch.
    I love them — the geese, the ducks, the deer.
    And now these giant birds, recently arrived. They strangely frightened me in a way. They seemed anachronistic, like dinosaurs — birds are related to dinosaurs.
    Their trumpet calls — loud, musical — reverberating through the winter woods.
    A pair.
    I cannot save the planet but I do my part — my backyard and my woods is my part.


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