Published October 15, 2012
Beth Finke , blindness , memoir writing , visiting schools , writing
Tags: Chicago neighborhoods, DePaul University, diversity, Explore Chicago, Lincoln Park, Printers Row, questions from college kids
Every semester Janie Isackson shepherds the DePaul students enrolled in her Explore Chicago: From Halsted to Diversity class onto the Red line in Lincoln Park so they can all come visit me down here in Printers Row. Long Time, No See is required reading for the course, which involves trips to neighborhoods all over Chicago to witness diversity first-hand. Their visit here last Friday gave the students a glimpse of what it’s like to live in Chicago with a disability. They got a chance to ask about my memoir, too, and their questions were so thought-provoking I thought I’d share some with you blog readers:
- The decision to give away things that reminded you of your old life must have been an excruciatingly tough one, but what prompted you to do so besides the difficult task of remembering small details?
- What was it about Mike that didn’t make you second guess telling him about your diabetes? Was it something about what you saw in him, or was it just the fact that you were tired of avoiding the topic?
- You wrote about how during your first time in “Braille Jail” you resisted starting relationships with the other students. Why do you think this is so?
- Was it difficult parenting a child with disabilities who needed so much extra help with daily tasks, or do you think that it would have been the same if you had been able to see throughout his young life?
- Do you have any regrets? And if you do what are they?
- Your story is filled with supportive friends and family who offered you so much assistance, but were there any relationships you saw weaken after you became blind? Did any friends or family members become distanced or less than accommodating to your situation?
- You wrote about difficulties in your marriage, did you stay together because you felt like you needed someone to help you or because you still loved each other? Do you think things would have ended up different if you didn’t have Gus?
- You have written in so many different modalities and to so many different audiences. Which would be your favorite and why?
- Do you ever wish that you had continued to stay in “Braille Jail” after you had technically graduated? Why or why not?
- Did you ever feel a sense of guilt for Mike knowing that he had to work around your schedule/ completely change simple daily gestures due to your disability?
- Why do you refer to your mother by her first name?
Whew! Not exactly the sorts of questions I’m asked when visiting kids in elementary schools, huh? It was flattering to have 20+ students take enough interest in my life — and my book — to come up with such thoughtful questions and then give such quiet attention to my answers: not one single cell phone went off during our time together, and I didn’t hear a single tap on a keyboard all hour, either. We did have a few laughs, too, and That Last question on the list above came as somewhat of a relief — it was easy to answer! With a fabulous name like Flo, how could I refer to her as anything else?!
When Mike, Hanni and I decided to move from Urbana, Illinois to Chicago in 2003 we looked for a neighborhood that would be friendly, safe, and easy for Hanni and me to navigate.
That’s how we found Printers Row.
Printers Row is a tiny neighborhood in Chicago just south of the Loop. The buildings in our neighborhood were originally used by printing and publishing businesses.
Before electricity, printers used natural light to check their work, so the windows in neighborhood buildings are tall and wide. You know, to let light in. The ceilings are high, too, to accommodate old printing presses. Most of the buildings in Printers Row have been converted into residential lofts. There’s always a lot of activity up and down the street, so I feel safe. When I’m walking around with hanni, I feel like people are looking out for me.
Printers Row is close enough to the Loop that Hanni can walk me to my part-time job at Easter Seals and the weekly writing class I teach for senior citizens at the Chicago Cultural Center.
And so, the neighborhood feels safe, it’s easy to navigate. The last requirement: it had to be friendly.
Trust me, it is. In my previous post I told you about the champagne celebration at our local tavern. Now it’s time to tell you about our local bookstore.
Copies of “Hanni and Beth: Safe and Sound” arrived at Sandmeyer’s Bookstore Wednesday. Ulrich
Sandmeyer called me the minute the books arrived. Mike and I ran right down to admire the box load. One book had already sold by the time we got there – a neighbor had seen Ulrich pulling a copy out of the box and insisted on buying it right away.
“There’s not another book like it,” Ulrich said, marveling at the illustrations inside. “It’s going to sell very, very
well.” To that end, Ulrich immediately placed one copy of Safe & Sound in the front display window.
Ulrich owns the store with his wife Ellen — today she pushed that boxload of books on a pushcart to our friends Pat and Carol’s house on Michigan Avenue. Carol and Pat are the couple who watched Hanni while we were in Poland, you might remember my blog about how much Hanni loved her stay with them. Today Carol and Pat showed their generosity once again, hosting an open house to celebrate the publication of Hanni and Beth: Safe & sound. It was only when I sat down to write this blog post that I remembered: Carol and I met on the street! She had seen an article I wrote for the Chicago Tribune Sunday magazine and recognized me from an accompanying photo. She stopped me on the street afterwards to tell me how much she enjoyed the piece I’d written. We’ve been friends ever since.
I sat with Ellen Sandmeyer at the party, signing, Brailling, and rubber stamping Hanni’s pawprint into books for anyone who wanted to buy one. And lots of people wanted to buy one. Or two! or three! A woman from the writing class I teach even bought SEVEN — she’s in the Safe & sound Frequent Flyer Club now.
Neighbors were there, friends from my book club , my writing group, my senior citizen class came. My sister Cheryl surprised me by bringing Flo to the party — what a delight!
The event was wonderful. My neighbors are great. Once again I was reminded: Mike and I made the right decision when we decided to live in Printers Row.