Dog Language 101

The utility of language resides in two questions: what’s upwind and what’s the best way to get there?  For all I know dogs may have poetry—sonnets of smell—amusing to think so—but when I took my first solo walk down the subway stairs with guide dog Corky I knew she had a bold and ancient comprehension of our circumstances.  When you feel the language of others, even when its silent, you’re sensing competence.  Some days a silent language is all you need.

Once, riding a train from Helsinki to Tampere, I sat beside three old women.  They knew one another well.  You could see it in their postures, long familiarity.  One was knitting.  One had a book.  The third looked out the window.  Every now and then one of them would say a confirmatory thing—“snowing again” or “coffee?”  It was easy to be in their company.  I was a young man writing poetry and starting to understand the delicacies of language and consciousness.

With a dog you don’t have to be all tricky and wild.  Trouble free words will do.  Heartfelt silence will do.  Walking through the subway with Corky I let her guide me and kept my mouth shut.

Professor Stephen Kuusisto is the author of Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” and the acclaimed memoir Planet of the Blind, a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”. His second collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press, “Letters to Borges has just been released. Listen to Steve read “Letter to Borges in His Parlor” in this fireside reading via YouTube. He is currently working on a book tentatively titled What a Dog Can Do. Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy. www.stephenkuusisto.com, www.planet-of-the-blind.com

The MacDowell Colony: Stephen Kuusisto's Current Home Away from Home

Any writer/artist lucky enough to stay at The MacDowell Colony is indeed very lucky.  Here, Steve Kuusisto and his guide dog, Nira, can do their best thinking.  Nira’s job is to provide inspiration as Steve works on his next book, tentatively titled “What a Dog Can Do”.

Steve Kuusisto and guide dog, Nira

Photo and post submitted by @ConnieKuusisto: Steve, in red sweater, is sitting in a Stickley chair in front of the fireplace in the cabin he’s staying in. His yellow Labrador guide dog, Nira, is lying on the floor by his side.

Dogs are not our whole life…

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.

~ Roger Caras

Harley and guide dog, Nira

Photo taken of our two dogs waiting at the top of the stairs. Harley is a small, black and white Lhasa Apso mix. Nira is a yellow Lab.

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Professor Stephen Kuusisto is the author of Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” and the acclaimed memoir Planet of the Blind, a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”. His second collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press, “Letters to Borges, is scheduled for release in January 2013.  He is currently working on a book tentatively titled What a Dog Can Do.  Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy. www.stephenkuusisto.com, www.planet-of-the-blind.com

On Retiring a Guide Dog…

My friend Peter Altschul will be retiring his guide dog Jules in just a few days; he will return to our mutual alma mater, Guiding Eyes for the Blindto train with his fifth guide dog on Aug. 1. Read his fine tribute to Jules and learn about his recent book! And follow him while he’s at GEB as he posts about his training with a new, as yet, unknown guide dog.

A note from Peter:Thanks for all the support concerning the retirement of my current guide dog. Please check out http://peteraltschul.authorsxpress.com/2012/07/27/for-the-fifth-time/ for more of my take.***************************Professor Stephen Kuusisto is the author of Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” and the acclaimed memoir Planet of the Blind, a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”. His second collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press, “Letters to Borges, is scheduled for release in October 2012.  As director of the Renee Crown University Honors Program and a University Professor at Syracuse University, Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy. www.stephenkuusisto.com, www.planet-of-the-blind.com

Disability and Poetry, Part 145

Thanks to Chris B whose blog, Through Alien Eyes, is a thoughtful and lovely place for disability reflections. He heard me speak recently on disability and poetry at The Ohio State University and has written a kindly analysis of my presentation.

When I am In New York City with my guide dog the happiness of the city is mine. Swiss tourists want to tell me about their Labradors at home. Doormen call out as we walk by. It’s a different city for us, communal, improbably humane even at moments ecstatic. This must go into the living poem of physical difference.

So too the damages and the ugliness. What I like to call the mercenary labeling of ableism. People with disabilities experience the crackling, unspoken diminishing glares of strangers. Until they are spoken. Then the day tilts like a bad amusement park ride. This must also go into the living poem of physical difference.guide dog, Nira

What the guide dog schools won’t tell you, or by turns, tell you imperfectly, is that guide dog teams will encounter public incomprehension and outright discrimination as they walk around. In my case this discovery came 18 years agoin New York City when I tried to get into a cab and the driver began screaming expletives. Despite this I got into the car. His language and mine became an instant study in art for all the ingredients of creativity were present: tension, incomprehension, passion, and spontaneity.

Sitting stern as a tree in the backseat, I told him that the law permits guide dogs for the blind in all taxis–in fact guide dogs are allowed everywhere. Hell, I even had an ID card from the school with my picture and the dog’s picture and all the appropriate legalese. But the driver, my driver, did not believe in the bravery or happiness of others. He began revving his engine and revving up his shouting.

What can you do? My driver hated me and my dog and was refusing to budge. I was reciting the law. Oh the godforsaken wilderness of human rage. When you have a disability every moment of discrimination evokes all the others: you’re again the boy who was told he couldn’t play with others, couldn’t go to school with them, sat alone in a room. This must also go into the living poem of physical difference.

Then again, the shy, unanticipated joy: in Central Park a man says to me, “You can’t tell, but I am the statue of liberty.” “Me too,” I say.

Previously published on Steve’s other blog, Planet of the Blind

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Professor Stephen Kuusisto, blind since birth, is the author of “Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” and the acclaimed memoir “Planet of the Blind”, a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”. He has also published “Only Bread, Only Light“, a collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press. As director of the Renee Crown University Honors Program and a University Professor at Syracuse University, Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy.

Thank you, Guiding Eyes

Back in 1998 a book reviewer at The Boston Globe suggested that I am a shill for the guide dog schools. What he meant is that my first book of nonfiction is richly devoted to sharing the experience of training with my first guide dog “Corky”—a life changing event for me and the glue that holds together my book.
I didn’t mind being called a shill. I’ve been called worse.

Today as I was walking in the Iowa snow with my third dog from Guiding Eyes I remembered that old Steve Martin joke where he says to his audience “I want to thank each and every one of you” Then he proceeds to say over and over: “Thank you thank you thank you thank you” etc.

Occupied in this way it dawned on me that Guiding Eyes for the Blind is worthy of every thank you I could pronounce. Guide dogs are expensive creatures to breed, raise, train, and then pair with a blind person. Despite the fact that each dog and person team costs well over 40,000 dollars to create, Guiding Eyes absorbs all the costs through its non-profit program of charitable donations.

I am a comparatively lucky blind person. I have a good job and a wonderful wife and family. Yet I can assure you that if I had to pony up 40K for my street mobility would be very hard pressed indeed. This in turn gets me to my point. Some will doubtless think of me as being too sentimental. Thanking those who have helped you is perhaps, in the minds of some “too old fashioned” or “too caught up in the charity model of disability”.

I believe that as I walk safely and in most cases euphorically that I have a big team behind me. Donors, puppy raisers, puppy breeders, veterinarians, fund raisers, construction and buildings and grounds personnel, volunteers, guide dog trainers, orientation and mobility specialists, dietitians, nurses, folks who work in the kennels, and the blind men and women who have trained alongside me with their new dogs.

Today, walking in the snow I heard in memory the voice of Steve Martin thanking everybody.

S.K.

My Dynamic Duo

Here they are, Steve and "Nira" –  stepping lively.

Once they’re home, I’ll be jogging behind just to keep up!   ~ Connie

Dynamic_duo_2

P.S.  Thanks to Graham Buck, of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, for the photos.

Photo description: yellow Labrador, Nira, is in harness and guiding Steve down the sidewalk.