Joel: 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

Joel navigating his kitchen

ahead. 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.
Michael: 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?
Joel: 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.
Michael: Have you ever gotten lost?

Joel: 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.