12 Oct 2014

The Colour of Friendship – International White Cane Day


“Be thou the rainbow to the storms of life,
the evening beam that smiles the clouds away,
and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray!” Byron

When I recently felt shaken by the ‘storms of life’ after two unsuccessful applications to further my writing career, a group of friends rallied to offer words of kindness in such a supportive way that I was able to see beyond the disappointment, and felt carried to clearer skies on the wings of friendship.

These friends are a group of people I have never met yet they were able to lift me above my clouds of doubt to a sunnier outlook, bringing cheer to my heart to not give up my quest. How is this possible?

It is through our shared experience of blindness.

The group of peer advisors I belong to all share our stories, our reflections and advice on an American website called VisionAware. Led by the program manager, Pris Rogers, I was accepted into their group in May of this year – and ever since I feel I have found my tribe!

“From the colour spectrum, any pure hue and colour
can be combined with white, black or grey to produce a tonal family.” Anon

For me, the way in which we support and mentor each other as well as a wider community of readers to the Vision Aware website, and can genuinely understand the ups and downs that being blind or visually-impaired brings to our lives, has been uncanny. Sometimes my friends write articles I can relate to so closely that it is refreshing to hear such insights from the heart and mind of others.

Emails fly back and forth, full of admiration, empathy, understanding, laughter and shared experiences that keep us working together as a ‘merry band of peers’ writing posts that reflect so many of our varied interests and personal skills. The bond of friendship and camaraderie is strengthened through genuine thoughtfulness, carried on the invisible communication lines of the internet!

So in honour of International White Cane Day on October 15 2014, I’m sending out a huge thank you from my corner of the globe, hoping these rays of friendship come beaming towards all the people in the ‘blindness community’ who are helping each other as peers, mentors  and ambassadors working together for a more Vision-Aware world!

Two other friendships that I am enjoying across the web of connectiveness are with Stella de Genova and Jeff Flodin, founders of Vision Through Words. Like me, they both have Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) and actively support a community of blind and visually-impaired writers and poets as we share our stories through the creative arts.

In a recent post by Jeff, his witty portrayal of two elderly friends trying to help each other as their vision declines, is a heart warming story of true friendship. I thank him for allowing me to repost the story here – I’m smiling already!


by Jeff Flodin

They call each other Al and Bert, these old men I know.  Al sold cars, Bert sold insurance. On Wednesday nights, they went bowling; on Saturday mornings, they went fishing.  They bonded, as men will.

Al and Bert were family men before the kids scattered, before Harriet got the cancer and Dottie just dwindled away.

Now Al and Bert live next door at Independence Village. They prowl the aisles at the Kroger store, resolute and clueless.  Al, bent by “Arthur itis,” steers the grocery cart.  Bert, lost in the blind spots of “macular,” pushes and follows.

“You’re pushing too hard, Bert.”
“I didn’t think I was pushing at all, Al.”
“Reach up there, Bert, and grab a box of Cheerios.  No, not there.  Over there.”
”Al, you gotta not say ‘over there.’  I got no clue where ‘over there’ is anymore.  You gotta say ‘up, down, left, right.”

“Left then,” says Al. “No, I mean your other left. A little more. Little more. Up now. There you go.”
“Got it,” says Bert. “Big yellow box.”

“What’s next on your list there, Bert?”
“Here, you read it. I left my glasses at the home.”
“It’s not the glasses you’re needing, Bert. You’re blind as a bat.”
“Am not.”
“Are too,” says Al.  “And this list. You got us back and forth all over the store.”
“I thought a list would help, Al. I was only trying to help.”
“But it’s got to be organized. Like an assembly line. I’m only trying to help here too, Bert.”
“Well, Al, you’re helping too much!”
“And you, Bert, you’re helping too little!”

They shuffle down the breakfast aisle, childish and childlike. “Jeez, Bert, I’ve never seen so damn many cereal boxes.

Used to be Grape Nuts was all you needed to get started in the morning.”

“Times change, Al, so I guess we oughta change too. Seeing as how it’s gonna take two of us, you be the hunter, Al, ‘cuz you can see things, and I’ll be the gatherer ‘cuz I can reach them.”

“You’re on, Bert. What’s next on your list here? Eggs. I’ll find them and you gather them.  Cheese and milk are over with the eggs.”

“And chicken fingers, Al.  Over with the eggs.”

“Chickens got no fingers, Bert. And you’re getting us off track again. We got to follow the system here.”

“I got the system, Al. Ice cream’s gotta be alongside milk.”

“Jeez, Bert, you’re a big help. Now reach over there and gather that carton of eggs. No, not that one, the one over there!”

Originally posted on Jalapeños in the Oatmeal

For further reading

For further reading, you can read many inspiring articles  offering insight on VisionAware.

I highly recommend the personal story from one of the peers, Leanne Gibson,  which is truly moving. In only a few months from being given the diagnosis that she is going blind, she has written to help assure us all that “a negative mind will never provide a positive life.”

Her story, “As I was sleeping” reveals Leanne’s life was about to change.. A war was raging inside my head. My brain had the knowledge of how the world was to look, but my eyes were incapable of sending the information.”

Copyright © Maribel Steel 2014
Photographs Copyright © Harry Williamson 2014

22 Sep 2014

3-Easy-Steps to Hop Scotch into Your Dreams

'Dare to Dream' illustrated by gregory mackay

“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities.
Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.”   Gloria Steinem

Have you noticed how children have the ability to expect anything their hearts desire?

They dream big, persist with requests (which often involves nagging their parents to death), have the unshakeable belief their request is being attended to and sit back and wait for their dream toy, or other grand imaginings, to be delivered – and without too much delay!

They don’t stop for a moment to talk themselves out of their grand desires, even if as a parent, you point out, “Sorry, darling. We can’t afford it.” You can see their eyes glaze over with a defiant stare as thoughts tick louder in their warrior-like minds, and later, you are surprised to overhear them enrolling their grandparents into their plans.

You tell them off for continuing their crazy notions to achieve their impossible scheme.

But it works!

Next birthday and hey presto – their excitement is uncontainable. Not only did they manage to get what they wanted, they experienced something very special, another VICTORY!

Being blind is no different

What would it be like if as a person feeling limited by a lack of eyesight, we could adopt the same child’s innate ability to understand the law of attraction when reaching for our own goals? Well, here’s their secret formula…

Dream + plan = possibility.

Sounds too easy, right?

But as adults, somewhere in our growing up, we experienced the unthinkable – failure.

Our dreams were brought crashing to the ground and we became afraid to think big again, to reach for the stars, to launch another dream. The disappointment was so great, our mind took control of our heart and said, Trust me. You’re not doing that again.

In certain situations, this is great advice from the voice of reasoning, so you don’t make terrible mistakes over and over again. But your mind also likes to hold down your own dreams and has the canny ability to come up with dozens of excuses, in nano-seconds, why your heart’s desire can’t possibly come true. The booming voice of reason does its utmost to drown out your passions, creating an internal disquiet.

This is when the ‘fun’ begins

You have a CHOICE: you can either listen to reason, agree with the practical scenarios of why your desire is not going to happen, or you can be bold and hold on to your true feelings.

In my lifetime, especially as a visually-impaired person, I have seen how manifesting dreams to become a reality can work by following the same formula inherent in the child’s manifesto. It might be child’s-play to them but, boy, can it be hard work!

The three steps children play - try them!


Step 1. Your dream is believable.

Whatever it is you feel brave to dream, let the heart soar with the thought of potential.

Be like the child-warrior, knowing you want this is more real than knowing how to answer the doubting questions coming thick and fast. The warrior (not worry-er) believes with all their heart, and that is it. No asking how or what if; it is the phase of ‘I desire this because it feels right’.

Step 2. With effort, your dream is achievable

You have dared to dream and now it is time to make plans. You go on the quest to seek out those people who might be able to take you one step closer to your grand vision. You don’t need to convince them, you need to inspire them. The danger is taking ‘no’ from someone else as your answer. Keep going, throw the dice again and move forward (even if you feel you’re going no-where).  Remember, it’s child’s-play, they don’t give up easily.

Step 3. Hit and Miss

Your dream will take off and bring you to a place of amazement and uncontainable joy
OR, it may take you in a totally different direction than you had planned.
Either way, trust is your outcome. You played the game, you dared to dream and you learned to trust the warrior-soul.

You didn’t give up the quest. What you have gained is all the excitement and persistence of a brave heart to try again… Go on, you’ve got nothing to lose when you dare to dream….

Matty, Silver and Claire stepping out together

My thanks to Tania at The Shoe Alternative who first published my article online. She is always on the look-out for new articles – why not hop, skip and jump across Cyberspace and pitch your stories –
the shoe alternative

The wonderful surprise you get if your story is accepted is a unique drawing created by one of their talented illustrators. The image at the top of this post is the creation of Gregory Mackay -  I just love it!

Copyright © Maribel Steel 2014

8 Sep 2014

How to Flatter Your Editor

Brian, the thinker

Yes – meet the senior editor of all my blog posts, a man who ponders deeply about life, the universe and everything. A man who is dedicated to the craft of writing and the person who goes out of his way to help me at every stage of my writing career…and the dear man who has been devoted to caring for me and my kids over several decades…meet my father, Brian!

When I was recently invited to present a webinar for Hadley School for the Blind, by the Senior Vice President, Dawn Turco, my co-presenter, Maureen Duffy and I had many tips to share on the topic of blogging.

One of our points was about the importance of proof reading and asking a second editor to look over your work – especially if, like me, you are blind or visually-impaired.

Brian is a well-seasoned author and linguist and now in his semi-retired years, he is also one of the talented team members behind the scenes of this blog and my many writing projects. Being my collaborator, I can’t thank him enough for his impeccable editor’s eye, for his prompt proof reading and his skill in suggesting changes that stay true to my writing voice.

On some weeks, I may have more stories than usual to proof read especially when I am in a creative frenzy to enter writing contests. One day, I wrote him a poem in the desire to interest his curiosity with sweet words of praise to take on the extra work load…

Sweet Design

Hi father dear,
a pithy piece here,
won't take up too long,
you'll be free once it's gone,

and I promise not to send,
any more this weekend,
and if energy fades,
I have croissants and marmalade,

to bring with a smile,
as you toil for a while,
be assured no other man,
works as hard as you can

in polishing my prose,
heavens, it's worth it, you know,
because you can never tell,
who's reading the works of Maribel!

thanks to you, my talented scribe,
who plays his part, in keeping alive,
adjectives and adverbs and all things great,
a keen-eyed  editor, not afraid to fill his plate,

‘another one, Sir?’ I dare to ask,
‘bung it in’, you say, ‘I don't mind the task’
right, then, over to you,
to work your magic…
 as you always do!!

Lv, Poet-bel xxx
His reply?

‘Flattery will get you everywhere!’

Swapping ideas

With my thanks also to Dawn Turco and the web team of Hadley School for the Blind, you can listen to the audio webinar and catch our Ten Blogging Tips with a list of resources sourced by social media expert Maureen Duffy and myself, the link is: Webinar in Audio

You may also like:

Come on the Writing Journey

Being blind is the obstacle and the stepping stone

© 2014 Maribel Steel  -   Photos © Harry Williamson

23 Aug 2014

Tapping rhythm, teaching song. Part 2

 As a teaching artist for the Song Room, my week was consumed by preparing for the next session. It was a job I adored: scouting out new songs for my younger students, writing original lyrics for the older ones. My life was tuned to the sound of music!

 With Harry’s creative flame ignited by my passion to produce exciting repertoires for the two school choirs, he was my collaborative wizard, sprinkling magic into every musical arrangement he recorded in our studio. Dozens of songs with their lyrics soon filled several folders, CDs were piled high beside my desk. I worked with Jaws on my laptop and checked printed sheets with my CCTV.
Wizard Harry

Within a few months, and with the wizardry only Harry
possesses, we produced two lovely song books, complete with lyrics and accompanying CD. I felt so well equipped to teach my choirs that my nerves to find my way independently to the school each Friday was somewhat eased by being so well prepared and lovingly supported.

My briefcase bulged with song books and lyric sheets, CDs and mini-puppets which I knew would have my younger choir dancing around the music room.

The Big Sensation Concert 

One of the highlights for the senior choir (grades 5 and  6) under my choral leadership was an invitation to sing as part of a choir of three hundred children.

The Song Room funded The Big Sensation Concert, where they brought together seven school choirs from around Victoria to share the limelight in one colourful performance.

We had ten weeks to learn a repertoire of six songs chosen by the choir director, Bronwyn Culcutt, a talented musician and choir leader (and the friend who had suggested I contact the Song Room a few months previously).

She arranged the tunes into two-part harmonies, providing all the teaching artists a practice CD to follow when teaching the various choirs our respective parts.

The truly fun part was being given free reign to choose one song we would perform to showcase our choirs, in my case, a highly eager group of thirty-five voices. I presented an upbeat pop song called, Peace by Piece – and my choir was hooked.

We were soon rockin’ and bopping to the lively tune. The lyrics reverberated around my thoughts well after the session, and my white cane tapped in time, bouncing off city pavements and cobblestones, as I grooved all the way home.

 Sparkling eyes and flashing smiles 

 During weekly choir rehearsals, my group and I jived to the swinging melodies, all eyes watching my theatrical hand gestures and body movements. I marvelled at my choir’s ability to follow their visually-impaired choir leader and had to trust they were paying full attention to my ‘solo’ performance.

 I moved around with over-accentuated body gestures while mouthing the lyrics to each song so I could give maximum visual instructions for the group to understand when to sing softly, when to raise their voices, when to all come in together and when to finish on a clear single note, and above all, when to dazzle the audience with their flashing smiles!

 The girls sang their hearts out, being in their element as they imitated their pop idols. Teaching music was a sheer joy. They loved it as much as I did.

Part of me went into a time bubble, floating back to my teenage years when music blared from stereo speakers, little-miss-me, dreaming of becoming the next Olivia Newton-John!

Buzzing with pride 

Performance day arrived and the Melbourne Town Hall was a hive of activity. Over three hundred excited child-proteges were buzzing with anticipation. Supervising teachers from seven schools droned like ‘worker bees’, placing groups of choristers under colourful banners to form one huge hexagonal shape on stage.

 I waited in the foyer until my choir arrived and was grateful to be led by two of my ‘girls’ as we darted through the crowd and took up our spot on stage, avoiding the swarm of teachers and volunteers fussing with last minute preparations.

Lights on – wave those rainbow-coloured flags – we’re on! For the first few songs, I rocked and swayed with my choir, as if at a pop concert, feeling the adrenalin of live musicians pumping from the band to a thrilled audience, the three hundred voice choir trilling above the beat

 Then there was a hush as the audience shifted its gaze when a bright spotlight fell onto our group. I stepped out from the shadows with one of my Grade 6 singers who led me to take centre stage in front of my choir.

Panic struck momentarily – what if I’m not facing the right group? What if I bounce around so much during our performance that I don’t notice I’m going offstage? What if…?

 The band rocked into our tune and I felt a great surge of energy. Arms swung wildly, my face lit up to encourage my girls to perform their best for our début performance.

They gave it all they had and by the end of our pop-rocking song we were almost flying into the air with sheer happiness. Proud parents and teachers applauded their appreciation and the spotlight swivelled around the hall once more to highlight the next choir.

 I moved back to be closer to my group, giggles of delight greeted my ears and a warm touch on my arm from their class teacher tingled with appreciation. As I smiled from my heart, one of the girls tugged gently at my sleeve and said, “Hey, Maribel! We’re famous!”

“Today I shall behave, as if this is the day I will be remembered.” Dr. Seuss

You might also like to read Part One below…and share how music rocks your world…

Listen to and Download some tracks recorded by my quartet, The Lollipops 

 © 2014 Maribel Steel