INTERVIEWING THE AUTHOR WITH A NEW VISION: BELO CIPRIANI
Belo Miguel Cipriani is the author of "Blind: A Memoir," his critically acclaimed book detailing the loss of his sight from a brutal assault in 2007, and his subsequent recovery. He has been named a 2015 Best Disability Advocate by San Francisco Weekly, and is a known speaker and freelance journalist. I wanted him to be featured in Brain Karma, as I consider him an authentic renegade, someone who has faced his challenges, turned them upside down, and kept on keeping on.
Suffering from bisected blindness myself, I have always been interested in understanding how others with visual deficits or blindness are able to write.
Regarding my own writing, as I cannot see half the page -- or half the computer screen I should say- I usually write by swiveling the computer monitor around, or my chair. If I still think I haven't gotten it right, I do what I do with all my other creations, like my art. I hold a printed page up to a three-way mirror just to make sure of everything. Old-fashioned, true -- but I'm still fairly incompetent with technology, barely better than Old Rose in Titanic. No tech pro here. I'm a bad Indian, I know.
I sometimes still mess up the left-side and margins, even if I trust in MS Word. Never really was an issue until a really, really evil literary agent (folks in the publishing world will know who he is, so I won't say the name) berated me for not knowing how to type, and that "something must be wrong" with my hand. Which always struck me as odd. If he actually read my memoir, he would know why one side was messed up.
(Sidenote: I know this might be against "the rules" to say, but, as a whole - the stereotype is true: most literary agents ARE evil. Evil, evil, evil. New writers, please do not worry about their constant rejections or bad attitudes. I sold my memoir without using one. I think they feed off of the tears of writers.)
Of course, my vision issue is far less challenging than Belo's. I still have some sight -- although limited -- whereas he is completely blind. He is an inspiration to me, and I consider him a genuine hero. I was happy when he accepted my request for this brief Q & A.
I emailed him the handful of questions, and within a week, received the answers.
AR: Let me start off by saying that I believe you are a true trailblazer. The field of disabled writers, especially those with blindness and visual disabilities, is rather limited. Do you see yourself as a pioneer?
BC: I don’t consider myself a pioneer – especially since I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where there are many disabled writers. However, I do consider myself a disability advocate and work hard to bring disability issues to the attention of the media and to government officials. I think that if the disabled had more visibility in popular culture, there would be more opportunities for us at large.
AR: Can you describe the challenges in writing Blind: A Memoir?
BC: I am completely blind and rely on adaptive tech to write. Blind: A Memoir was written at the beginning in Braille and later I moved to more sophisticated methods as I progressed in my rehabilitation. When I look back at my book, it sort of feels more like a diary than a memoir. Many of the chapters were written as they happened and my responses in some of the essays were more reactive than reflective.
AR: I remember studying the mythological blind prophet Tiresias back in high school. He was known for being clairvoyant and fully ‘sighted’ in a power nobody else could have, due to his blindness. Do you feel that your blindness has allowed you to see greater in a way that you never would have before?
BC: I think that blindness forces people to use their other senses and to be more alert. This is why, during meditation, people are often asked to close their eyes. Vision is very distracting and as people, we don’t always connect with places or ideas with our other senses.
AR: Which authors inspire you?
BC: My memoir writing has been greatly influenced by the 16th century Indian poet, Mirabai and my fiction by writers like Amy Tan and Isabel Allende. Other writers that I enjoy are Felice Picano and Junot Diaz.
BK: Can you describe your work in activism?
BC: Ever since I became the spokesman for Guide Dogs for the Blind, I have been focusing on bringing attention to the rights of people with service dogs. I do a lot of lectures on sensitivity training and help fundraise for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Guide Dogs is the largest guide dog school in the United States; however, they don’t receive any government funding and rely solely on donors.
AR: What do you feel is your karma?
BC: I feel like my life began when I lost my sight. I now have purpose and it feels great to provide audiences with access to accurate information about the disabled.
Before I was blind and a writer, I was just your average Joe working in high tech. My life feels full and I feel very lucky to have the friends and family I have.
. . . . .
When I emailed this handful of questions to Belo, my intention was to understand how he conceived his disability in relation to his writing and activism. But it was his answer to my final question, "What is your karma?" which moved me most.
In addition to feeling grateful to his family and friends, he states that his "life began" after the blindness. This one sentence said it all. I personally believe that my own brain hemorrhage was the end of a former life, and beginning of a new one. (In my memoir I call him "Ashok 1.0 and "Ashok 2.0"). As such, while other brain injury survivors celebrate the day of their strokes as an "anniversary" of their surival, I don't celebrate it that way.
For me, the day my brain exploded -- "March 17, 2000 -- is not just the date of an anniversary, or even "re-birthday" as some survivors call their life-changing events.
No, to me it is a birthday: the birthday of Ashok 2.0. These are two different lives.
Unlike Belo, I absolutely can't say my life feels full -- far from it -- but I can say that, like Belo, my catastrophic health devastation has given my life meaning. I now need to tell my tale, to speak my truth, to give a voice to those whose brain injuries left them voiceless.
Mark Twain had a famous saying:
"The two most mportant days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
Twain was right. "The day you find out why" you were born is the second most important day after your birth. Perhaps, for Belo and myself, it took our deaths -- his loss of sight and the explosion of my brain -- to help us get an answer.
To find out more about Belo, his works, activism, and new vision technology, please go to: