Contributor Nancy Scott – Prison, Prayer, or Proof

For the first time in my 31 writing years, I am in a one-day poetry class of local blind people. And, more importantly, I am invited to bring my writing tool of preference.

I am not young enough to have had computer training in school or through vocational rehab. I am not practiced enough to use a slate and stylus. And parroting speech from a digital recorder’s earphone doesn’t work for me.

My creative courage and equality is old, noisy, and a little bulky. My Perkins pen carves meaning from half-domino cells on thick stock to preserve points.

In other writing workshops, always with sighted people, I hide in blindness excuses. I smile, saying “I’ll just listen and write later.” I have never publicly written and read a first draft longer than a haiku, until this afternoon (I can’t remember more than 3 lines). This writing feels momentous and experimental.

I don’t mention to this class that I’m a published poet. I don’t mention that I cajoled another totally blind friend to bring her Braille Writer so I would not be the only one rattling and risking (Annette’s Brailler is a big help for my chicken-hearted soul).

I compose while the Partials pass print-pages of sample poems. I can pick a phrase, choose a feeling, or just describe the scenes. Like Natalie Goldberg says, “Just keep your hand [hands] moving.”

I fast-touch language. I cross it out and corral it. This must be how all those pen-using writers feel. If people stop using pens, only Braille users will be able to touch language.

I read my 12-line draft for the group. Though much of it isn’t good, the end asks:
“Will this be prison,
or prayer,
or proof?”

Sighted poets often say it’s best to have physical contact with words when writing first drafts. Braille is my preferred contact medium. I shouldn’t have to apologize for that.

But that quiet Braille note-taker with the display is out of my price range. Why isn’t there something like a Bluetooth Braille ‘n Speak? Or a Braille keyboard for Apple products that would at least help with composition, if not reading back? Or even something low-tech and easier to use than a slate?

I pack my Brailler for the trip home in a plastic bag and a sturdy carrier. I’m glad it’s not raining and I’m not taking a bus.

I want to write in Braille in classes with sighted people. I want something reliable and affordable for a quiet bench or beach or library. Until such an invention exists, Braille will not be truly accessible and useful. We need to decide if Braille will be prison or prayer or proof.

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