Michael: You seem to lead a pretty solitary life these days. I mean, you're no hermit, but you don't get out and about as much, and have a smaller circle of friends than you used to. Some of this might have to do with getting older, but I'm guessing it's partly related to your vision loss.

Joel: You know I've always been a borderline introvert, spending considerable time in solitude or with just a small circle of close friends. But the solitary time has expanded, and the circle of friends contracted, both radically. Before, when I felt the need to be among strangers, I would do typical urban things like loiter at a coffeehouse with a good book, visit an art museum, or attend events--a play, a music recital or jazz gig, a literary program--where I could expect to see and maybe mix with reasonably like-minded people. In the first couple of years after my divorce, I even volunteered on the pledge drives of KCRW, my NPR station, whence

Joel on solitude

came my next three love relationships. But then, sight loss either completely terminated such options, as in the case of the pledge drives and art museums, or effectively neutralized them as social opportunities.
Michael: Can you say more about how sight loss limits social opportunities? Is it the mechanics of trying to catch the eye of someone you can hardly see, or are there other, more psychological barriers?

Joel: The whole idea of catching someone's eye disappears when you can't see faces. For me, heads are featureless shadows or completely invisible, depending on my angle of view and the light. I can catch a glimpse of hair and facial flesh tone by looking to one side. But neither view reveals a mouth, nose, ears or, yes, eyes. It's surreal, radically alienating, like being the only living thing in a tableau of decapitated George Segal sculptures. A totally blind person might think he was alone, if people made no sound. Myself, I "see" them but can' t, in the customary sense, make out who they may be, and have no idea if they even are aware of me. To be in a crowd is to be alone. So I need introductions, context, conversation, and some description and interpretation from a trusted companion, just to negotiate a cocktail party.