An Introduction

Welcome to my little corner of the internet.

My name is Jennifer, as you may have gathered already, and I am at the time of writing this, a 43 year old blind woman living on the east coast of Canada. Professionally, I am a registered massage therapist and recreationally a writer, though up until recently I haven’t been writing as much as I wanted to, or at all.

Most people are curious about the blind thing. To be precise, I have zero vision in my right eye, and light perception in my left along with the ability to see colour and sometimes motion if the light is just right. Too dark, and obviously I get nothing, but that also happens if it’s too bright. I haven’t always had this level of vision. In fact I have both had much more and much less, running the gamut from 20/80 (almost enough to drive) to utter darkness, though the right eye has been blind since roughly age five or six. I’m of the mindset that I don’t focus on what I’ve lost, but rather what I’ve gained back.

The massage therapy thing is a career I took on in my thirties. I’d wanted to pursue it for a long time, but never did. Right up until I decided that enough was enough. I’ve been doing it for six years now, and absolutely love it. I like people, or at least I like people in one on one or very small group interactions, and this career path lets me help and also get to know a variety of interesting and wonderful folks. Yes, it is hard work, but it’s also almost insanely fulfilling.

As to the writing, I’ve been doing it since I was a child. I’ve always been a bookworm, and my mother encouraged me to write. She insists that I won a lot of writing contests when I was young, though I’m convinced she’s mixing my sister and I up, as she’s also exceedingly skilled with words. The only contest I remember winning was in the summer before I started ninth grade, and involved writing a ghost story which, if I recall correctly, was called The Will and The Orb. Which now seems a bit pretentious, but I was fourteen, so allowances must be made.

I’ve written short stories on and off, more often than not leaving them unfinished as I ran out of steam or got distracted. I’ve always wanted to write a book, but if you think a short story was hard for me to finish, imagine me going for a novel?

Since starting the massage thing, I’ve written a lot less. I get the ideas, but tend to just daydream about them and leave them at that, while simultaneously telling myself that I could write a darned good book some day and of course get it published. The book you never write can safely be thought of as a sure winner. But 100% of the books you never write aren’t going to see the light of day.

Recently, though, I’ve decided that once again enough is enough. To paraphrase a recent Facebook post I made, writing is like a muscle. If you don’t use it, it atrophies. If you want to strengthen it you have to consistently use it.

I set myself a goal. Write something every day. Even if it’s only a paragraph. Even if it’s only a snippet of dialogue for something else. Because I do want to write a book, but a whole book is really, really intimidating. But writing a paragraph isn’t. It is the kind of goal I can meet, and I have. For a week and a half, I have written at least one paragraph a day. More often than not, I write a lot more than that. It’s all been book-related, but it doesn’t need to be.

That’s where this blog comes in. Here, I’ll be writing about a lot of things. About being blind, and the humour that can bring as well as the harder things, though I more often than not see the humour rather than the struggles. About working in my industry. About writing itself. About things that interest me. I’ve decided not to set a certain focus at the outset, though I make no promises that that will always be the case.

So. Deep breath, best foot forward, and let’s see where this goes.

Frozen Moments

Those who know me, and have for awhile, know that my sight hasn’t always been this bad. As a child, I had 20/80 vision, as a teen and young adult, 20/200. And for those who have always wondered what that ratio means, it means that what someone with perfect vision sees at 200 feet, I saw at 20.

Anyway. I have visual memories, I understand visual references, I even dream visual dreams. And there’s some moments that are just frozen in my mind, visually.

Stars

I don’t know how old I was, I would say over eight and under twelve, and for some reason we were all outside at night at our cottage. So. No lights but what we turned on. There may have been a meteor shower that night, as we had binoculars with us. I assume because we didn’t have a telescope. I’d always seen stars, but even then at the height of my vision, only the brightest. At some point, someone handed me the binoculars, I looked up and… there they were, scattered across the night sky. So many points of light. I’d never really comprehended how many there were.

The Most Glorious Sunset

This one happened when I was nineteen. I was leaving for a year in England, and at the time “home” was in Charlottetown, PEI. Now, oh you younger people of the area, there was a time before the bridge. This was that time, though it was being built, and where the bridge now stands there was a ferry. We decided to drive/get the ferry to Halifax and I’d fly from there. It was evening, and I was on the ferry on the deck as the sun went down, and I’ve never seen such a sky. I can see it right now, but how to describe it? So many colours. Pinks, purples, magentas, dark golds, blues. It didn’t look real. But it was, and it was like that sunset was the Maritimes saying goodbye to me.

Cherry Blossoms

Back in 2000, when I was 24 years old, I had the opportunity to go down to Washington, DC for a six month internship at the Library of Congress. It was a fantastic experience that has spawned quite a few treasured memories. During that time, I stayed in a building for women under the age of… I want to say 28, and we were pretty much all interns from all over the world. It was in the heart of Capitol Hill, and had a walled in back area with a porch… and a cherry tree. It was beautiful when it went into bloom, and even more so when the petals began to fall. I remember sitting out there with friends as a breeze caused what looked like a pink snowstorm, the blossoms all dancing and spinning through the air. To this day, I love cherry trees, and it’s due to this.

I could go on, though those three are the ones that stand out the strongest, for one reason or another. Maybe it’s because one was a sudden understanding, one was one of those liminal moments, and one was from what seems now like a sort of golden season of my life, but I can still see each and every one of them if I just close my eyes.

And not to sound like a broken record, but please continue to be kind this week to those you meet and to yourself.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday.

Like What You Like

There’s an expression that I’ve heard a few times that I really like. “Don’t yuck someone’s yum.” Essentially, it means that just because you don’t like a thing that someone else loves, you shouldn’t mock or deride it.

While I would add the caveat “so long as it isn’t hurting anyone”, I wholeheartedly agree. It’s cool to have no interest in what someone else is into, but how about we all just go ahead and let them like it?

For instance, some people think it’s funny to mock those who like pumpkin spice everything at this time of year. It’s apparently so very basic or something. But I love pumpkin spice everything. Well. Almost, anyway. Maybe it is basic. It’s also delicious.

Then there’s a certain series of vampire books for young adults. I, personally, don’t care for this series. I’m also not the target audience as a woman in my mid-40’s, or one who was in her late 30’s when it came out. I may not agree with those who adore them, but I shouldn’t mock them for their taste in literature, just because their taste and mine don’t match.

Now, more than ever, there is a need to find things we love. We all can benefit from a bit of enjoyment. So perhaps it’s also a good idea not to destroy even the tiniest bit of enjoyment of those around us when they find something they like. Instead of laughing about it, why don’t we instead try enjoying their enjoyment?

Just be kind, as I keep on saying, to those around you. And to ourselves… don’t mock what you like, either. I did that just last week. I shouldn’t, and neither should you.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday.

Not Your Angel

This post has the potential to offend some people, so let me start with this: I am not calling out any one individual here. I have seen many, many good people say something along the lines of what I’m about to talk about, and I can tell you for a fact that I, too, have been similarly thoughtless in some way. I am only talking about things like this because the best way to push back against ignorance is to shine a light on it.

That out of the way, let me say this: I, as a disabled person, am not your very own, personal angel whose purpose in life is to teach you a lesson about hope, perseverance, kindness or any other virtue. Neither is anyone else with any kind of physical, mental or cognition based disability.

We were not put on this earth to teach the fully abled folks anything. I realize that you mean well when you try to say this sort of thing, but do you know how it sounds to us? It sounds like our only true value is how it makes people without our challenges feel.

It’s already hard enough for us. We already have to face obstacles that most people don’t even consider. Everything is already more difficult for us to do. Do people really need to come along and make us feel like we’re just vessels to further enrich the lives of those who don’t have the same sort of struggles?

The part about this sentiment that gets me the most irate, however, is that for some who post it, it’s virtue signalling. Not everyone, no, I know some of the people who have said this sort of thing and know that that never even crossed their minds, but for some? It is absolutely a case of “look at how kind I am to say these nice things about that special needs child or that veteran in a wheelchair or that deaf person”. Stop using me, and others like me, to make yourself look good.

I have value on my own. We all do. You do, too. No one needs to try to broadcast their own value by making mine be as a tool for their glorification.

Now, again, let me just say that I am not trying to point a finger at any one person, and if this post has made you uncomfortable I am sorry. Sort of. It’s good that it did, but the best course of action is to take that discomfort and use it to change. You don’t need to wallow in guilt, you don’t need to apologize to me, I only ask that you please try to change. Making people feel guilty about past actions is not why I write about these things, I’m not out to shame people for past deeds. I want to educate. So all I ask is that you think about what I’m saying and try to change if it has hit a nerve.

And that you be kind to everyone, yourself included, regardless of their abilities, ethnicity, sexual preference or gender presentation. Just be kind without qualifiers.

Our Inner Space Stations

Did you know that inside each and every one of us are super-cool structures that, in my mind, behave like a futuristic space station? Because there are.

Of course, I’m talking about the humble cell. Wait, what do you mean that wasn’t obvious? Maybe I should explain.

Picture a multi-structured station floating in space. Surrounding it is a protective forcefield. Now, this forcefield isn’t actually solid like a wall is solid, but instead is made up of a constantly shifting, interlocking series of tiny bits whose design will allow authorized ships to pass through it. That’s your plasma membrane, a selectively permeable membrane that resembles a “fluid mosaic” according to my text books. It only lets a few structures through easily.

But, hey, sometimes you need people that aren’t part of the space station to get in. So the station will send out a shuttle to pick up those passengers, so that they can travel through the forcefield in a safe environment and then get taken to their destination. And if it is discovered that they’re actually enemies of the station, there is an automated defense system that will blast them to bits. Those shuttles are called vessicles, and they do precisely what I just described.

There’s also a third way in for some very important people that the station has already vetted. They are known entities, already proven not to be dangerous, and they get a special wormhole that opens inside the station, tunnels out past the forcefield and lets those folks pass right on through before pinching shut again.

Now. Every station needs one central command center. That’s where decisions get made and in my mind, it’s also probably where specialized programmers who keep the whole station’s computer system going would work. That’s the nucleus.

What about a power station that keeps the lights and holodecks going? That’s the mitochondria. Okay, there’s actually no cellular holodeck, but these little darlings are what produce the energy the cell needs.

Your space station would also need some kind of superstructure that gives the thing its shape and holds it all together. In the cell, we call those microfillaments. Some of them are bigger and form tubes, which would be microtubules.

Heck, there’s even a system for altering things from one state to another. It’s the future, so it can do all sorts of neat stuff. You put raw materials in one end and they travel through a series of rooms and come out the other end altered, then sometimes get loaded into a shuttle and shipped out to other parts of the station. That’s your Golgi Complex.

I could go on. This whole metaphor is one I came up with back when studying to become a massage therapist to help myself learn the structure of the human cell. Or relearn it, I suppose, as high school biology class clearly made no lasting impression. I was reminded of it the other week while taking a review course. I thought it might be a bit of a peek into the honestly strange way my brain works. And, hey, if there’s anyone out there studying high school bio (or any first term massage therapy students), maybe it will help.

Be kind to yourself and others. And me. Though you can laugh at me a little for this one, I fully accept the absurdity of this post.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday.

Why D&D Is Fun

I’m sure you’ve all heard of D&D, and at least a few of you have played it. Mostly, I’m aiming this particular post at those of you who haven’t played and perhaps don’t even understand what it is and why on earth anyone would want to spend time doing this thing.

So, what is it?

D&D stands for “Dungeons & Dragons”. It is a game system involving multiple players with one of them taking on the task of running the game and the rest participating. The leader decides on the setting and the story or adventure and leads the other players through it, while they are each playing a character in that world and react to the situations described.

Each character has a set of traits and skills that decide how good (or how bad) they are at different things, and often dice are used to determine how well the character does at a chosen action. This naturally cuts down on instances of “I win because I said so!” “Nuh-uh!” “Uh-huh!”

Characters come in different classes. This is like saying they have different roles. Some are combat-heavy, like Fighter (does what it says on the tin) or Barbarian, some are magic heavy like a Wizard and some fall between the two. You can also play as different races. This is a magical fantasy world, after all, so you’ll see more than strictly humans. Think elves, dwarves, halflings (picture hobbits from Lord Of The Rings) and the like, plus some things you might not even think of like bird people.

The combination of race and class is great for winding up with a group of very different characters all working together.

Now, that is as basic a description as I could give without getting into stuff like the varying number of sides on a die, magic spells and the difference between a Dragonborn and a Half-orc. I’m pretty sure I’d lose those of you who don’t play if I went that far.

Okay. So that’s what it is. What’s the draw?

In short, it’s fun. But I know that isn’t a very satisfactory answer. D&D is like collaborative storytelling, where you’re all working together to tell a fun and fantastical tale. It’s also like improv theatre where everyone is responding to what everyone else is doing. It involves creativity, puzzle solving, strategizing and occasionally getting absurd.

It’s also about the community of hanging out with some friends and working together while having fun.

And, okay, sometimes it’s about having your Sorcerer just hurl a fireball spell at a problem. Look, it’s cathartic, okay? Don’t judge.

There is a bit of escapism involved, yes. That’s not a bad thing. Honestly, this year when I started playing again after a very long hiatus, escapism is kind of one of the features. My BFF decided to run a game over Zoom and I signed up to play along with one other person I knew from online and two people I didn’t know, but have since discovered how awesome they are.

We’ve been playing most Saturdays since May, and it’s been a godsend. For a few hours each week, I’m not in the midst of a pandemic. I’m Neera, a charismatic half-elven Sorcerer stranded in a world that isn’t her own along with some other folks, just trying to get home.

I get to do cool stuff like disguising myself with magic to look like a feudal lord dude instead of a pointy-eared young woman in order to steal a magical hunk of rock instead of having the group of us fight an entire castle full of guards. Last week, one of my new friends got to cast a spell that let her talk to a mama bear and her cubs so we didn’t have to fight them.

C’mon, doesn’t that sound like fun? It’s totally fun.

I think a lot of people would actually end up absolutely loving it if they just gave it a try.

As always, please do be kind to yourself and others. Talk to that mama bear first.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday.

Let’s Talk About You

The process of blog writing kind of means I talk about myself a lot. Pretty much all the time, really, barring a few posts where I’m talking about something like how to massage the face. Even if it’s just my opinion on something, it’s kind of written into how blogging works.

But this week, I want to talk about you. By you, I mean you, the one currently reading this. Whether you read this the day I post it or a few years down the road (in which case… hi, there, how’s the future?)

First of all, I want you to know that you are appreciated. This is a solid, incontrovertible fact. While I can say that I’m certain others appreciate you, I can absolutely tell you that I do. I appreciate every second that you spend reading my work. I appreciate every time you’ve ever clicked the “Like” button, whether you did that on the actual blog or on the Facebook post. I appreciate any time you’ve taken to comment on a post. All of that stuff genuinely helps me, and I appreciate it. Even if this is the first time you’ve read one of my blogs, thank you.

Secondly, you are important. You matter. Right now, our world is more than a bit crazy, and it can be all too easy to feel insignificant. You are not. You matter, the things you do matter, and you can make a difference. Even if it’s just improving one person’s day, you have the power to do that. That’s a pretty awesome power, use it responsibly, as this one goes both ways.

You are loved. Someone out there loves you. You probably know who most of the people who love and appreciate you are, but I’m willing to bet that there’s at least one person out there who thinks the world of you and you don’t know it. If you find yourself wishing that they would tell you, then maybe consider doing that yourself for someone you hold in high regard that you’ve never told. They may not know, they may also wish someone would just tell them that.

You have your own unique talent. If you’re lucky, you know what you’re good at already. Some of you may not. That’s why it’s good to try new things. But I believe that everyone has the potential to be quite amazing at something. I can’t promise that you’ll discover that you’re a violen virtuoso, but maybe you make the most amazing blueberry muffins. Maybe you have the knack of growing perfect carrots every time.

Finally, you are worthy of all of this. You deserve to be appreciated, you deserve to be loved, you deserve to not only be good at something but to have that talent recognized and celebrated. You may not always feel that worthy of these things, but you absolutely are.

As always, be kind to yourself and be kind to those around you. You deserve it and so do they.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday.

The Hiding Of Chronic Pain

I want to talk a bit about chronic pain this week.

I, personally, have chronic migraines. On top of this, as part of my career as a massage therapist, I have treated and gotten to know myriad people who suffer from some degree of chronic pain. And what I have learned is that, first and foremost, it’s really hard to tell that they’re in pain.

The thing is, when hurting is a regular part of your life, you wind up having to make a choice. Either you spend your life acting miserable, constantly complaining about how you feel and letting it show, or you learn to hide it.

And the problem with the first choice is that most people, no matter how good-natured, no matter how kind-hearted, tend to have only so much patience or listening capacity for that sort of thing. They mean well. They do actually care. But being there for someone does cost emotional energy, and people only have so much of that. I don’t blame them for this, even the deepest well can run dry.

Most of us know this. We know that we do really need to pick and choose how much of our pain we allow others to see and know about. We have to decide, even if the process is entirely subconscious, how much of our pain we are willing to just endure quietly. Is it fair? Perhaps not, but neither is burdening our loved ones to the point of exhaustion. Math isn’t fair. It just is.

Why am I telling you this? Because sometimes, we come up with excuses for why we’re not doing something. We say we’re tired. We say we have other plans. We say something gentle like “Oh, I just don’t feel like going out this weekend”. Because we think that it may be less burdensome then “look, I hurt a whole lot so I don’t want to go out, but I still want you to go out and have fun and not feel bad about me not being there”. Unfortunately, sometimes that means that whomever we’re making our excuses to will sometimes stop asking us to do things. Or they may even think that we’re avoiding them.

We’re not. So, if you know that your friend, family member or romantic partner has chronic pain, do try to keep that in mind. You don’t need to constantly shower them in sympathy, but it’s still important to remember that it really isn’t you, it’s them.

Furthermore, keep this in mind: they may look perfectly fine, they may sound perfectly fine, they may act perfectly fine. That doesn’t mean they’re not hurting. Personally, by the time my own pain has reached the point where you can notice it, it’s actually reached the point of agony, and I know from all those clients I’ve talked to that I’m not alone. If you know we’re in pain, we’re probably in a lot of it.

So just try to be patient, and try to be understanding. We’d rather be spending time with you, trust me.

And, of course, be kind. Always that.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday.

Things That Won’t Surprise Me In 2020

It’s been a crazy year so far. I mean, yes, the pandemic, but all the other things, too. Murder hornets. The government releasing and confirming UFO sighting videos (note: i mean the acronym literally, I’m not trying to tell you that aliens came a-calling, just that there were flying objects that could not be identified). Dust storms from the Sahara hitting the US. As I write this, there is not one but two potential hurricanes brewing in the Gulf of Mexico.

I think I’ve reached a point where my suspension of disbelief is at an all time high. So here’s a few things that, if they come across my news feed, might not make me do much more than shrug and continue on with my day.

Big Foot comes down out of the hills and wanders into Los Angeles. Just make sure the guy has a super sized mask and keeps six bigfeet away from everyone else, okay?

Psychotic Beavers on the rampage. Well. We already have murder hornets, what’s one more creature with a scary name? Watch out for the big teeth.

Atlantis rises from the sea. Someone should probably tell them to go back down for a few more years, though, until they don’t have to worry about quarantine.

First contact with aliens. Just because I told you that I wasn’t claiming this had already happened doesn’t mean that I’d be surprised if it did. Well. I might question their poor timing, but other than that, not so much.

Snowstorms in September. Actually. This one isn’t so far out there when you live in Nova Scotia. I’ve never seen it, but I think I’ve seen snow in June once. Either that, or I’m remembering a dream. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised, we’ve had some bizarre weather this year.

Tropical Christmas in Canada. Oh, wait, never mind, that one happened just a few years ago. AC and open windows and everything.

Lizard People take over world governments. I’m not naming names, but I can think of a few places where that sounds like an improvement.

My phone develops independant artificial intelligence. So long as it doesn’t try to tell me about 5G, scamdemics or other conspiracy theories, I’m okay with this.

Obviously, I’m kidding. Sort of. Mostly. Still, I have absolutely reached a point where news that might normally have struck me as being really noteworthy is just another thing on the pile. And I don’t even read the news religiously. What strange happenings would you fail to blink at? Let me know in the comments.

(Note: my mother told me to write this one after I made a wisecrack comment along the lines of the Bigfoot one. I was also instructed to inform you all that she told me to do it. This week is her birthday, so she’s getting what she wants.)

Be kind to yourselves, and be kind to those you encounter, even if they’re aliens, lizard people, psychotic beavers, Atlantians or a very confused sasquatch. And especially if they are your suddenly intelligent phone.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday.

What It’s Like: Guide Dog Training

I will never forget how I got my guide dog. Including filling out the application form. Mostly, though, that’s because I was, at the time, living with a roommate and her two kids and Hurricane Juan had just ransacked our city. We had been without power for four days, and couldn’t get anything done while the kids were awake, so we sat down one night and filled it out by candlelight. And almost as soon as we finished, the power came back on. Because of course it did.

Basically, it was just a form with questions about my eyesight, mobility, living situation, etc. Nothing weird.

Not too long after I sent that off, a trainer came to Halifax to assess me. This involved watching me walk with my cane, guiding me to see if I was any good at picking up on cues that way and taking a look at my living situation to ensure that it was a safe environment for a dog. And that was it. I was then assigned a class in March of the following year, and flew out there.

The school itself was pretty cool. It housed the kennels for all the dogs in training, offices for staff, dorms for the students, kitchen facilities, dining room, recreation area and enclosed area for the dogs to run around. We each got our own room, and they were surprisingly spacious and comfy.

On our first day, we met the dogs, but weren’t assigned one specific dog. We were a class of seven, and there were ten dogs assigned to us. That first day, we met them, got to spend time with all ten, play with them, have them sit with us and learn how to put the harness on.

The next day we started actually working with the dogs. They had sort of matched us up with a few dogs, and we cycled between them. I mostly worked with Aggie, an extremely hyper but very pretty golden lab with this sort of white gold fur and an exceedingly chill and sweet black lab named Bandit.

I liked them both, but I’ll be honest with you, Bandit stole my heart. They warned us not to do that, but I sort of did.

After a few days, they had made their decision on who would get paired up with who, and brought our dogs to us, one by one, while we waited in our rooms. It was almost like a ceremony, they did make the moment seem very serious. They brought me Aggie.

I was disappointed, but it was just a small degree of disappointment, as I did really like her, too. Aggie was a sweet girl, and fun, but hyper and a bit stubborn. Training with her was challenging, but I persevered.

Right up until the first day they had us walk around the block solo. Or, well, solo with two trainers about fifteen feet behind us. Aggie took it into her head to ignore me and wander off in some random direction on her own, and it was the last straw for the trainers. They sat me down and explained that this wasn’t my fault, that they had paired me with Aggie because they thought I was the only one in my class who had the chance to actually make her listen. They told me that they planned to try her once more with the next class, and if that didn’t work she’d be retired and go be a pet. I suspect that’s probably what happened. She’d make a really great pet, but not a guide dog.

I thought at this point that they’d surely pair me with Bandit. He was the other dog that I had worked with the most. However, the day prior one member of our class had decided that this just wasn’t working for him and left the program. He had been paired with Wilson, an adorable chocolate lab that I’d worked with myself once or twice before they shunted him to this other person, and it was Wilson that I was paired with.

Again, I was disappointed, but it didn’t last long. Wilson had this endless capacity to just love everyone and everything he met. The first night I had him with me, he tried to climb into my lap as I sat in my room watching television. He was, at that point, about sixty pounds. That didn’t matter, he wanted snuggles. It pretty much sealed the deal for me.

Working with Wilson was much, much easier. He actually listened and took me where I wanted to go. Wilson had an endless desire to please, and to be glued to my side.

Now, to back track a little bit, when you start learning how to work with your canine companion, it starts off simple: they lead you down a straight hallway, turn around and lead you back. Next, the trainers put up barriers in the hallway that the dog has to weave its way through, with you learning both to follow its lead and actually trust. It’s harder than it sounds. Then, they add a short flight of stairs into the mix so you learn to read the signals.

At that point, you’re ready to go outside. It starts off with you just walking up and down the sidewalk outside the school, then to the end of the block, then around the block with the trainer by your side, then around the block alone, and then you start going on full routes with turns and crosswalks and traffic lights.

Finally, they pile you and your doggo into a van, take you on a wee drive and drop you off somewhere. They don’t tell you where. You need to first find out (by asking) where you are, and then find your way back to school on your own. I know that sounds horrifying, but the van is trailing after you the whole way, so you’re not really on your own. It does feel that way, though.

All the while this training is going on, there’s plenty of time to socialize with your fellow classmates and to take your dog outside to the courtyard and play with them. The month is just as much about forming a bond with your dog as it is about learning how to work with them. There’s also lessons on dog grooming, dog relieving, dog feeding, talks about our rights with the dog… lots of things.

And finally, graduation. Which is an actual ceremony, where the foster families of the graduating dogs are invited, those students with family in the area (or in my case, a mother who just decided to make a road trip to see me graduate from guide dog school), speeches and everything. And a video montage of our training to a Hillary Duff song.

And then… well. Then, I flew back home and started my life with Wilson, my sweet boy. Who grew to 80 lbs, was eternally sweet but not perfect, loved to show off his toys to anyone who would listen, and literally guided me through several big changes in my life. I had him for eight years until he retired, which is fairly standard.

And that is how you get a guide dog.

As always, please be kind to yourself and those you encounter. This year continues to be challenging, and we could all use some kindness. Just don’t forget that that includes yourselves.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday.

hat It’s Like: Guide Dog TrainingWhat It’s Like: Guide Dog Training

The Altered Ballad, a short story

Narissa stepped up onto the small stage set up in the great hall, clutching her lute nervously as she looked out upon the throng.

Nervousness wasn’t generally an issue when the time came for her to perform. But this night was different.

She had but one set, allotted to her to prove herself worthy of a court position, and she knew which song the crowd wanted. She also knew to make them wait. So she performed a smattering of older classics everyone knew with a few of her lesser known compositions until she had used up almost all her time.

Then, she looked up, as if just realizing something. “Oh! My Lords and Ladies, I suppose upon reflection that there’s one more song you wish to hear. Or am I wrong? I could always close with Amongst The daisies.”

This, naturally, got a roar of negation and she flashed a quick grin, her face concealing how nervous she was. Training would do that. “Alright, alright.”

Then, she held up a hand. “This is a serious song, gentles all. A solemn song. A lament.” Her hand lowered, strumming at her lute. “As you know, I was blessed to travel with the late Sir Henry, Champion of His Royal Majesty, as his bard, making record of his many exploits. I was there the day he died, and indeed, the days leading up to it. This is his last song.”

Her fingers guided the melody of the lute into a minor, mournful chord, and Narissa began to sing.

“Twas ten years or more ago
when last he rode away.
And none have seen his brave face
since that sad gloomy day.

“Bright was his hair, blue his eyes,
his countenance so fair
He left broken hearts in his wake
a fate that I do share.

“On that day, Sir Henry rode
to avenge his murdered wife,
He rode away to Capartan
and there he lost his life.”

Narissa let her gaze sweep the crowd of nobles, taking in their rapt faces. Even the serving men and women had ceased, spellbound. Finally, she saw him. The one she needed to be there. Rage burned in her heart, but she kept it from her face and voice.

“He did not ride alone that day,
I, his Bard was at his side.
I witnessed full that fateful duel
and held him as he died.

“Twas Sir Robert that he fought,
brother of his love,
twas Sir Robert cut him down,
and sent him up above.”

So far so good. This was the song that had become famous throughout the land in the wake of the most popular knight the kingdom’s death.

But the court was about to hear the debut of Narissa’s new, altered ballad, and she let some of the anger bleed into her voice.

“And yet, where does fault lie?
In he who swung the sword?
Or in the villain, foul and bent,
who wispered deceitful words.

“Sir Robert loved his sister fair,
and approved of whom she wed,
it was with grief that Robert swung,
and struck Sir Henry dead.”

It was a pity that Sir Robert wasn’t here, but the events of that duel had left him as a social outcast. Perhaps she would play it for him one day.

“A jealous knight had told him false,
and sought to bring him low.
He sits and drinks here, even now,
his name is Sir Mardow.”

Mardow, shocked, leapt to his feet amidst gasps and a muttering of the crowd, and Narissa strengthened her voice.

“Sir Mardow wanted what was not his,
he wanted Henry’s wife.
He wanted Henry’s place in court,
he wanted Henry’s life.

And so, he killed the fair Eileen,
in fits of jealous rage,
and told Sir Henry falsehoods vile,
so to set the stage.”

Mardow was pushing through the crowd, making for the hallway that would lead him to the castle courtyard.

“Rise up, ye listeners all,
bar the passage out.
Bring down the vile, vile snake,
bring down the evil lout.”

Narissa all but shouted the final line, and as her lute fell into silence, the crowd surged forward. Hands reached for Mardow. Others reached for daggers. Mardow tried to run, and that sealed his fate. And Narissa watched, face impassive.

It was true, then. A Bard really did have the power to shape the opinions and actions of those who heard her song. So long as she got her court position, why, she could shape the very fate of the kingdom.

Sir Robert would be pleased.

(The above was one of the short stories I wrote during June. Yes, the poetry of the ballad is atrocious. I never said it was my best work, but I kind of like this one. Be kind to me. 😛 And, you know, yourself and those you encounter.)

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday.