Very. The visual cortex persistently cobbles together a normal-looking
view, filling in the gaps in a blotchy, and sometimes perilous,
way. In a familiar environment, I do rely on memory to infer
the presence of things I may not see at a glance but that I
know by experience must be there. It's a process of mental mapping,
with more details shifting into memory as my view becomes increasingly
patchy. But scanning, to confirm my assumptions or catch sight
of anomalies, is crucial. Like the time I write about when a
kid on a bicycle burst out of nowhere and collided with me as
I strolled down a sidewalk looking only straight
navigating his kitchen
In an unfamiliar place, of course, scanning, ideally augmented
by the descriptions of a sighted companion, is all I have to
build a picture from.
How comfortable are you going out alone these days? Don't you feel
a lot more vulnerable to accidental collisions, not to mention encounters
with mean people?
As long as I'm cautious, I don't trip or bump into anything very often,
and my white cane makes others allow me a comfortable berth. As for
vulnerability, it was ironically when I took up the cane for safety
that I began to worry about this, because the cane announces me as
unaware and most likely defenseless. But I usually keep to my own
quiet part of town, and when I venture into a neighborhood where there's
even a remote possibility that I'll be received in an unfriendly way,
I go with sighted companions who help me vibe out the situation. As
for bus travel, so far, I've never been attacked or even had my pocket
picked. All that said, not being able to see the faces around me in
public is an alienating, stressful deprivation.
Have you ever gotten lost?
When I was 21 and attending classes at The New School, I took the
wrong New York subway train a couple of times. Scary. Years later,
delivering Valentine's Day candygrams, I couldn't find a Daly City
address, and was promptly fired. And after a movie date in Century
City here, I lost my car in the mall's vast underground parking
lot, and lost the girlfriend, too, not long after, though not because
of that. But since being unable to see clearly, I've only had a
few mishaps. Having to ask where a store is now and then and missing
my own street on a walk home in the dark, occasionally. And that's
it. So far.