Archive for the 'radio' Category

Life Itself


A documentary about Roger Ebert called “Life Itself” opens nationwide tomorrow, July4. I just heard the filmmaker interviewed on Fresh Air, and it sure sounds to me like Roger Ebert would give his documentary a thumbs up. Here’s a post I wrote a few years ago, when his memoir by the same name was published.

Originally posted on Safe & Sound blog:

Roger Ebert’s memoir Life Itself comes out today, and I’m eager to read it. From what I’ve heard, he writes a lot about his middle-class Midwestern upbringing in Urbana, Ill., a place Mike and I were proud to call home for many, many years, and the town where our son Gus was born. Ebert was born in Urbana in 1942. Early reviews say he glows about his dad, an electrician at the University of Illinois, in his book.

You might remember me glowing about Roger Ebert in a post I wrote when he was given an award from Access Living, a disability advocacy organization here in Chicago. Access Living’s Lead On award “recognizes national leaders who have helped reframe the understanding of people with disabilities and who have helped to remove the barriers–physical and attitudinal–that exclude people with disabilities from career pursuits and everyday life.”

Roger Ebert represents the…

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Just don’t call me late for dinner

Ten years ago the City of Chicago’s Commissioner on Aging contacted me to lead a memoir class at the Chicago Cultural Center. Soon afterward, Chicago Public Radio asked if I’d write and record an essay about the writers who’d signed up. I used my talking computer to e-mail my rough draft to the WBEZ editor and she emailed back with only one suggestion. “You repeat the word ‘seniors’ too much,” she said, requesting I use a “gentler” word. When I couldn’t come up with one, she wrote back. “How about golden agers?”

That’s writer Hanna Bratman, 94, the matriarch of the memoir classes I lead. Her essays have been compiled in a book called “What’s In My Head.” (Photo by Nora Isabel Bratman)

Golden agers? Was she serious?

She was. My recording of the piece is not available online, but I have a CD of it, and if you listen very closely you can hear me choke every time I call the writers “golden agers.”

Turns out the editor was ahead of her time. Just this week on Morning Edition, NPR’s Ina Jaffe opened a series she is doing about older Americans by explaining how difficult it’s been for her to find the right words to describe people who are over age 65.

“I realized what a minefield this was after I’d been on the beat just a few months,” she said, describing a profile she’d done recently of a 71-year-old midwife who is still up all night delivering babies. The headline on the NPR web site used the word “elderly” to describe the midwife. “Listeners were furious,” Jaffe said. “Maybe once upon a time, ‘elderly’ referred to a particular stage in life, but now people think … it means you’re ailing and you’re frail.” Jaffe said she sometimes uses the words older adults or older Americans but has pretty much given up senior. “I’ve met some older people who don’t like that, either,” she said. “And ‘senior citizen’ really seems to annoy just about everyone now…there really aren’t a lot of widely acceptable terms anymore.”

The piece went on and on, and on and on and on, with all sorts of other ideas:

  • Golden years: Jaffe explained this term came from a sales pitch during the late 1950s, when retirement began to be romanticized as a perpetual vacation.
  • Silver tsunami: I’d never heard of this, but NPR actually referenced a guy named Ashton Applewhite about this one. Applewhite blogs about aging and ageism and argues the metaphor is wrong. The 65-and-over population growth is not a tsunami, he says. “It’s a phenomenon that is washing gently across a flood plain.”
  • Our seniors: A term often used by politicians. Jaffe finds it patronizing. “The only other group we talk about like that is children.”
  • Successful aging: Jaffe is over 65 years old herself and says that although this is considered a progressive term, she doesn’t like it. “I think it just means there’s one more opportunity for me to fail.”

I do not research ageism, and I don’t have a degree in aging. I do lead three memoir-writing classes a week, though, and while a couple of my students are still in their fifties, most are in their seventies. Two students, Wanda and Hanna, are in their nineties and still manage to get to class on their own each week with new essays to share. Listening to all these amazing people read their essays teaches me a lot — far more than any of them will ever learn from me!

So what word do I use to describe the people who sign up for my memoir-writing classes? That’s easy. I just call them writers.

Mim’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated!

Mim's in there somewhere. Click on the link to go to a larger version at SI.

Mim’s in there somewhere. Click on the link to go to a larger version at SI.

My friend Mim Nelson has been on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, she’s been quoted more than once in the New York Times, and she’s been a guest on Oprah. And now, she’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated, too. Continue reading ‘Mim’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated!’

Dad can’t see me

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who’ve been watching hockey, curling and skiing on NBC the past couple of weeks, no doubt you’ve also seen a commercial for a new TV comedy about a father who is blind – a Deadline Hollywood article says 300 promotional spots for the new show will air before the Winter Olympics closing ceremonies this Sunday night.

“Growing up Fisher” has very talented people like Jason Bateman (executive producer) and David Schwimmer (director) behind it, and J.K. Simmons, a fine actor, plays the dad who is blind. It could be good, but if those commercials are any indication, I worry.

That’s Bob Ringwald at the piano.

I’ve run across plenty of people raised by dads who are blind, and they have interesting stories to tell. Let’s start with
Molly Ringwald.. You know, the one in all those John Hughes movies in the 1980s? Her father is blind. My brother Doug is a professional jazz trombonist, and he introduced me to Molly’s father Bob Ringwald, a talented professional jazz pianist, years ago. Molly has written a few novels, and she was asked about her dad during an NPR interview about her books. She told Scott Simon that as a child she enjoyed sitting with him during movies and plays to describe the action. “I actually think that that informed my writing,” she said. “That’s something that I’ve done for so long, that it’s made me, perhaps, observe things in a different way.”

And then there’s Gore Vidal. After the famous writer and critic died in 2012, Bob Edwards Weekend replayed an interview conducted at Vidal’s home in Los Angeles in 2006. Vidal was raised by his grandfather, a U.S. Senator from Oklahoma. Sen. Thomas Gore was blind, and Vidal was ten years old when he started reading to him. “I read grown-up books to him: constitutional law, the Congressional Record, American history, poetry,” Vidal said. ”He was extraordinary, he was my education.” Vidal guided his grandfather to Senate hearings, and he said he didn’t dare fall asleep while sitting in the balcony waiting for the session to be over — at any moment his grandfather might give a hand signal to let young Vidal know to skedaddle down the Senate stairs to guide him to the bathroom.

Growing up with a father who is blind can be interesting, and funny, too, at times. A live performance of This American Life opened with Vancouver writer Ryan Knighton telling a story about a walk in the woods he took alone with his young daughter. Knighton is blind, and when she started screaming about a bear, he panicked. After weighing his options, he realized that her frantic cries of “bear!” were only in reaction to dropping her teddy bear on the sidewalk. Knighton’s most recent book C’mon Papa: Dispatches from a Dad in the Dark is full of funny — and frightening  — stories of his first years as a father. His daughter Tess is seven years old now, and I’m sure she has some very entertaining stories to tell.

My friend Colleen was the first to call and tell me about the ads during the Olympics promoting the new blind dad TV comedy. My husband Mike confirmed that the commercial shows one scene of the father cutting a tree down with a chainsaw, and then another of him driving a car. I’m sure there are plenty of people who are blind who are looking forward to the premiere, I’m just not one of them.

Don’t get me wrong. I do hope Growing Up Fisher  is good, and that the storytelling and substance outweighs the over-the-top driving and chainsaw gimmicks featured in the trailers, but I’m not going to count on it. When I really want to learn about what it’s like to be raised by fathers who can’t see, I’ll turn to the day-to-day stories of the Ringwalds, the Knightons, and the late Gore Vidal.

Now on video! See what it’s like to go blind!

I was tickled to discover my What’s it Like to go Blind segment up on The Good Stuff channel this week.

Check out  "The Good Stuff

Check out “The Good Stuff”

Funny thing, though. I can’t see the video!

I can hear the show on YouTube, though, and, really, all you have to do is listen to know how much fun my Seeing Eye Dog Whitney and I had earlier this month when four guys from The Good Stuff spent an afternoon with us taping this week’s segment. Friends and family members who have seen the finished product on The Good Stuff this week have written me and posted links on Facebook – they all give the What’s it Like to Go Blind segment a hearty thumbs-up.

Craig Benzine, the guy who conducted my interview on The Good Stuff, is very familiar with YouTube: he already has an uber-popular vlog there called Wheezy Waiter that has half a million followers. In a blog post on Wheezy Waiter, he explained why he decided to start The Good Stuff channel now, too:

“There’s this type of entertainment I enjoy that I can only really find in podcast form, specifically from the shows Radiolab and This American Life. They take a topic and delve into it from all sides. That could be short stories, news stories, stand up comedy, interviews, etc. These shows give me a certain feeling when I’m done listening to them that I really don’t find much on YouTube. I guess it’s sort of a feeling that everything’s connected and you can find interesting things and people everywhere you look. With The Good Stuff, we’re attempting to get at that feeling, at least a little, and do it with video.”

The theme for the show I’m on this week is Senses. Before shooting a single frame for my segment, Craig and fellow Good Stuff staff members Sam Grant, Matt Weber and David Wolff spent nearly an hour figuring out the ideal way to film inside our apartment, which angle to shoot from and where the lighting would look best. From what my husband Mike Knezovich says, their fussiness was worth it. “They make our apartment look great!” he marveled. The Good Stuff puts tons of time and scientific research into all its video segments, and this one does not disappoint. A graphic of the inside of an eyeball shows up on screen while I explain retinopathy (the disease that caused my blindness), they got down on Whitney’s level to film shots of her working outside, and they fade to black at appropriate times while I try to explain how I picture things I can’t see.

The video sounds good, too. Mischievous music that sounds like it’s from a Three Stooges episode plays while I take Whitney out to “empty,” and if you listen closely you’ll hear me playing Duke Ellington’s C Jam Blues on the piano for a few seconds, too.

But wait. Why describe all this to you? You all can check out the What It’s Like to Go Blind video yourself. If you like what you see/hear, I hope you’ll consider donating to The Good Stuff. The videos on The Good Stuff are all available free of charge, staff members fund their work with day jobs: waiting tables, doing other film work, and one guy works at a family shoe store. Craig says they feel fortunate and extremely grateful to have received a grant from Google earlier this year, but that money will run out soon, and it sure would be swell to keep The Good Stuff going. Just think. With our help, The Good Stuff can get even better.


My dog got carded last week. Not at Hackney’s, don’t be silly. Everyone there knows Whitney is 21 (in dog years).


My Seeing Eye dog Whitney was carded last week in the lobby at 30 N. Michigan, a Chicago high-rise where my doctor’s office is. Every human who walks in has to show an i.d. card, but this is the first time they’ve asked for an i.d. to prove that the superbly-trained three-year-old Golden Retriever/Labrador Cross who guides me through a revolving door, into their lobby, around their desk and onto the elevator is legit.

The building’s security guard told me they’d all been told to ask for certification when anyone comes into the building claiming the dog at their side is a service dog. “A lot of them fake it,” the guard said with a shrug. I wasn’t surprised. I’ve written posts here about people I’ve run into who pretend to have a disability in order to bring their dogs everywhere, and my husband Mike has written a post about this, too.

Let’s face it. It’s not hard to tie a vest on a dog, and it’s pretty easy to get fake certification for a dog as well. It’s not easy to live with a significant disability, however, and faking that you have one is an insult to everyone who really needs their dog, and to the airlines, hotels, restaurants and stores who are trying to do what’s right.

Last week National Public Radio (NPR) ran a story called Four-legged Impostors Give Service Dog Owners Pause and interviewed Tim Livingood, a man running one of the many,many businesses you can find on line that sells bogus service dog certificates and vests:

For $65, customers can procure papers, patches and vests to make their dogs look official. They can even buy a prescription letter from a psychiatrist after taking an online quiz. The laws are broad enough to allow that, Livingood says. While his business, the National Service Animal Registry, sounds official, he says government-sanctioned registration agencies do not exist — federal law does not actually require registration or identification patches.

It’s true. There is no national registry of service dogs, and therefore no official i.d. to certify that a dog qualifies. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows employees to ask a person if the dog is a service dog, and if the dog is required because of a disability. Documentation of the person’s disability or the dog’s training can NOT be required for entry into a business, but non-disabled amateurs think letters from bogus psychiatrists and dog vests will help them look legit, so they buy them online.

The Seeing Eye gives graduates an i.d. card for our dogs, and while I do carry Whitney’s i.d. card with me, I’ve never had to use it before last week. It wasn’t much trouble to fetch Whitney’s i.d. out of my wallet, I’m just sorry that fakers have brought us to the point where the managers at the building require security guards to ask for such things.

It is a privilege to go through life without a significant disability, and I wouldn’t wish blindness, or any other disability, on my worst enemy. Hearing stories like these, however, start me thinking we should come up with harsher punishments for people who fake or exaggerate disabilities in order to gain privileges from the government.

Buy him some peanuts and Crackerjack

Here’s one last post I prepared before taking off for my residency at the Vermont Studio Center. Baseball season is finally here, and when I asked my friend Bob Ringwald to write a guest post about his love for the game, he willingly agreed.My brother Doug introduced me to Bob Ringwald years ago — they’re both jazz musicians, and they play together from time to time. Bob is blind, and it sounds like he’s looking forward to baseball season as much as – maybe even more than? – I am!

Take me out to the ballgame

by Bob Ringwald

The New York Giants moved to San Francisco In 1958, and that’s when I became a Giants fan. I was at a game at Candlestick park on a day when Willie Mays hit four home runs! But in the 60s and 70s, after Willie Mays left the Giants, I was working 6 and 7-nights a week as a musician. I had no time to follow baseball.

We moved to Los Angeles in 1979. One night I happened to decide to listen to a Giants – Dodgers game on the radio, and that was it: Vince Scully, the amazing Dodger play-by-play announcer, won me over. He is the best I have ever heard, and believe me, I’ve heard a lot of baseball announcers. I became a dyed-in-the wool Dodger fan.

We moved back to Northern California some 18 years ago, but I’m still a Dodger fan. I bleed Dodger Blue. Dodgers games are not heard this far north in Sacramento, but I can listen to the games using my computer on MLB dot com.

That's Bob--Molly's dad--announcing the lineups (reading from a Braille lineup card) at Dodger Stadium.

That’s Bob–Molly’s dad–announcing the lineups (reading from a Braille lineup card) at Dodger Stadium.

When we were still living in Tinsel Town, the Dodgers had a promotion once where you wrote in which baseball job you’d like to do: hang with the grounds crew, drag the base path during the 7th inning, sit with the sports writers and write your own story, hang out with the umpires, that sort of thing. I wrote a letter saying that I wanted to be the Public Address announcer. I knew someone in the P.R. department, so I handed the letter to him. That way it wouldn’t get lost in the thousands of letters I knew might come in.

On July 27, 1991 I used my Braille skills to announce the lineup for a Los Angeles Dodgers – Montreal Expos game. Guess I passed the audition: they invited me to announce the players as they came up to bat in the bottom of the 3rd inning, too, and when I put a little extra English on my announcement of Darrell Strawberry’s name, the 50,000 people in the stands went crazy. What a sense of power!

Later I was invited to go out onto the field at Dodger Stadium to see what the pitcher’s mound, bases, base path and home plate really felt like. I jumped up against the center field wall like a big league outfielder. I picked up the phone they answer in the bullpen when managers call from the dugout. I sat in the Dodger dugout alongside the famous drinking fountain that angry players have been known to destroy with their bats, and, as if that wasn’t enough, I also had the honor to sit in Vince Scully’s chair in the press box. My tour that day ended in the Dodger exercise room. Legendary Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda was on the treadmill, and we had a very interesting chat.

In the early 80s, my daughter, actress and author Molly Ringwald, sang the National Anthem at several Dodger games. Fernando Valenzuela gave her a signed baseball. Another time she was given a baseball signed by all of the 1981 World Series Championship Dodgers. I proudly display those autographed baseballs in my office.

From time to time people ask me, “If you can’t see the action, why would you want to go to the game when you could just as easily be at home listening to it on the radio?” I sometimes answer by saying “Why would you want to go to the game when you can see the action better, close up, at home on TV?” I do take a portable radio to the game to hear the play by play. But there is something more. There is the electricity of the crowd, the sound of the ball hitting the bat and mitt, the P.A. announcer, the venders selling programs, ice-cream, peanuts and other assorted goodies. And of course at Dodger Stadium there are the famous Dodger Dogs. Dodger Dogs are just regular Farmer John hot dogs. But, once you walk through the turn styles of the ball park, they become a gourmet repast.

Care to guess where I’ll be later today? Yes . . . . we’re traveling 400 miles south from Sacramento to Los Angeles to attend the Dodgers vs. Giants opening day game at Dodger Stadium. Care to take a guess which team I’ll be rooting for???

You can check out more photos of Bob’s baseball days on his web site. Play ball!

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