Monthly Archives: May 2014

My problem with internet dating?

No, it’s not the stigma connected. But I have been hiding behind that excuse for a long time.

It’s not the array of weirdoes either. They are there, but I know from friends’ experiences that the internet dating world is also inhabited by normal, handsome and perfectly respectable men.

I have two essential problems when it comes to internet dating and they are both linked to blindness.

The first problem is probably all in my head. The revelation. Let’s say I’ve somehow managed to find a likeable man in the ocean of less likeable men. We’re talking, the conversation is going great and we’re about to meet. And that’s when I have to tell him. “I’m visually impaired. Actually I’m blind.” He needs to know this, because he is the one who needs to find me in the public place we’ll be meeting. But revealing such a fact to me, feels equal to committing social suicide, or at least romantic suicide.

Because in truth, most people wouldn’t know anything about blindness and blind people unless they have experienced it. And not everybody have positive experiences with blindness. So when I reveal my lack of sight, the man in question will perhaps imagine a helpless, badly dressed woman who needs help with everything from cutting her food to wiping her backside. And he might get cold feet and cancel the date.

Yes. You’re telling me that I’m not losing out and that a man like this isn’t worth it. And I’d hope a man I took a liking to would be a bit more open minded and ask questions he may have. But like everyone else in this world, I’m a little scared of being judged on something I haven’t chosen to be before I’ve been able to show them the full deal.

So what do I do? Do I say “I’m blind, which means you’ll have to find me in the café, bar, or whatever. But just in case you’re wondering, I take great care of my appearance, have a profession and I can cook and get around quite independently.”

This could also push him away, because by saying something like that, I’m showing low self-esteem. And men love women who are confident in who they are. Something I am face to face.

A more basic and pressing problem with internet dating, is accessing the dating sites. These sites are full of pictures, adverts and graphics and thus very hard to navigate with a screen reader. The easiest dating sites to use are those catering to the disabled and I’d refuse to sign up to one of them.

So there you have it. I need to identify a website I can use, and I need to stop thinking that people would turn me down because I’m blind. That’s why I prefer meeting men face to face. There’s no moment of revelation and they immediately see that although I can’t see, I’m just a regular woman.

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Sex toys are on the government- Turning the wellfare system on its head

We are going to continue on the topic of *not a single story. And today, we are addressing the problems of living in a rich country with a good welfare system.

If you’re sick long term, you get sick pay. If you’re pregnant, you get a year off after the baby is born. Can’t get a place for your child in a kindergarten? No problem. You get a support if your child stays at home. Having more kids? You get more money, because you get child support anyway. Need some aid like Braille displays, hearing aids, and a wheel chair? Just send in an application to the government. Need a free sex toy? Find the government application form online. Welcome to Norway!

No, that sex toy thing is real. I know you thought I was joking. So did I when I saw the application form for it as I was looking for an application form for a Victor Reader Stream, which, in case you don’t know, is a talking book and text book player which can record. Very handy for studying.

It all sounds great and it is. I certainly couldn’t afford a Braille display. And what about scree reader licenses? Unlimited secretarial support?So expensive! With regards to vibrators, I’d say they are in the affordable price range. So I don’t know what the government is playing at.

I’m grateful to live in a place where this type of support is available. But there is a flipside to living in this great welfare system. And it’s ugly.

I am due to finish my masters degree in November of this year. After that, the idea is that I’ll be working. I’m young, fit and have no excuse whatsoever not to work. I want to work! I was casually talking about this with another blind friend of mine. A girl who is doing her PHD and who has been through several rounds of getting a job. Like me, she is highly qualified and able to work.

“If I were you, I would apply to NAV for a placement,” she said. NAV being the state body responsible for all the good help Norwegians receive. The advice was well meant, but it made me reflect on the sorry attitude of this rich country I’m born in.

The idea of such a placement is that NAV gets you a job, hopefully in the field of your qualification, and pay for your salary. In my case, this could for instance mean that I got a job in a national newspaper or with the NRK, the Norwegian Broadcasting Company. And instead of them paying my salary, they would be paid to have me working for them by NAV, who would also pay me.

You can choose to see this situation from many different angles. You could choose to see it as a positive way to prove yourself to a mainstream employer, who may, when your placement is over, employ you. Or a way to not be unemployed. But to me, the placement arrangement has more negative than positive aspects to it.

Firstly, I think it places the disabled person looking for work in a position of charity and gratitude. I’d be grateful to be taken on by a national newspaper, as would any self-respecting journalist, but being employed on the terms that it’s not really them employing me, but NAV placing me there is a different thing entirely.

Then, there is the proof aspect. I’ve written before about feeling that I, as a blind person, constantly need to prove myself to be as good and better than sighted journalists. If I was taken on as a placement employee, I would feel twice the pressure to prove myself so that the newspaper would take me off the placement and start paying me themselves, making me equal to the other employees. Journalism is a tough field where one constantly has to stay on top of the game to get the good jobs and gigs. And the added pressure would probably have me cracking at some point. It also doesn’t help that certain Norwegian editors have come out and said that disabled people can’t be journalists.

The placement arrangement could help change bad attitudes to disabled peoples by employers, but it’s easy for an employer not to take you seriously if they know you’re just there for a time and that you’re not even paid by them. Accepting a placement on those terms for me at least, would be equal to shitting on my professional reputation and qualification. Pardon my French.

I am not the only one sharing the above mentioned sentiments. I was discussing this with my fully sighted cousin yesterday who has been looking for a job for a long time. She finally found one, but it has taken her long, and she has not received the help needed by NAV in the form of job seekers allowance. She’s lived abroad for a few years and has worked. She’s even worked in Norway and paid taxes, but to no avail.
Acquiring the job she has now, was also not easy. Her employer wouldn’t employ her until she felt she could trust her because her previous employees had worked there for a short while, only to start claiming sick pay from NAV. They did not, according to this employer, seem sick.

I myself know people who are receiving sick pay and who’re not sick. I have also heard of people pretending to have lots of children to receive more money. And it has gone so far, that a term (å nave) translated as to NAV, has made it into the dictionary. This means to simply claim benefits for a time while enjoying life.

So there you have it. The welfare system that does help those in needs sometimes refuses to help others in need and fork out for some who doesn’t need help. The welfare system that give employers excuses not to employ disabled people who would be a great boost to the economy, and could as such, improve the welfare system so that the type of help needed, would be more widely available.

I for one, is adamant to try and make it a freelance writer and set up my own business. I want to keep my integrity as far as I can. Something I feel the Norwegian welfare system is not able to help me keep at present.

I do hope that one day, the system bwill be reformed so that those who have life long disabilities don’t have to prove every so often that they still have a missing legg (also a real example). That employment support, such as secretarial and assistive grants are being more focused on rather than placements for people who can and want to work and making it just that little harder for every Tom, Dick and Harry to claim to be sick without rigorous proof from a qualified doctor. But then, the doctors are writing out those sick notes, so perhaps they too need to be sanctioned if they can be proved to do favours for people who just need time off because they want it. I don’t know. And I’m not a politician for a reason.

Gringo VS Supercrip

The writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a very good lecture on the danger of a single story. In essence, she talks about how skewed someone’s view of a certain country, people, issue can be if you just see the one side of it. I agree very much with her assessment. Take the issue of being privileged for instance. It can be that somebody is rich, belong to fortunate ethnic groups, or that somebody is simply being blessed with enough good confidence to take their life in their own hands and shape it to fit their dreams.

The flipside of being privileged however is to be envied. And from the point of view of the so-called privileged, that is not nice. Because proper envy is far from admiration. We all have, at times, wished we were a little richer, smarter, more creative etc. And that’s healthy, because it gets us working towards improving ourselves. Envy however, is just consuming like hate. And being in a position of privilege when being envied gets you into an unprivileged position.

I am currently experiencing being a target for unhealthy envy. My privilege, at least as a blind person, is that my blindness is very uncomplicated. I was born with a detached optic nerve. And the only part of my brain that’s affected, is only the parts where my optic nerves should have been connected, meaning it has had no domino effect on other brain functions. Because of this, and also because I’ve had the right support growing up, I enjoy a very independent life. I need a very minimal amount of help.

Not all blind people are as lucky as I am, not necessarily because of bad support, but because their blindness affects their brain in such a way that certain things are hard to comprehend. I know many blind people who are born prematurely, and just like everyone else who are blind, their levels of independence vary. I know prems who function just as well as I do, and I know prems who freak out when you try to explain simple concepts like ‘twice as much’ or ‘half as big’.

I have a friend who is a prem, and who is in between the high functioning and the lower functioning, although she actually manages very well. She’s fun to hang out with and I value our friendship. However, she has of late, told me that she’s envious with my total independence and I feel that when I have a bad day, I cannot tell her because she’ll point out that “But its ok for you who is so independent”. Another problem is that she is trying to explain things I find difficult away with my blindness to try make us as similar as possible in her own head. However the truth is that although we both of us, along with the rest of humanity, have problems, hers are much more directly related to her disability than mine. The bottom line here is, we are very different and are faced with different challenges. She is putting me up on a pedestal because to her, I may seem perfect and always self-sufficient. And this envy will soon destroy our friendship unless she realizes how well she is doing in her own rights and how much she actually manages.

This friend is not the first and only blind person, differently affected by their blindness that has put me in the supercrip category. And even though I feel privileged to live the way I do, being classified as a superblindy and being envied is not something I cherish.

Another, perhaps more relatable example to some, is that of my friend who, because of her interest in salsa, was declared a gringa by one of her salsa mates. ‘Mates’ is perhaps not the right word to use here, because from the two of them met, she felt that he didn’t like her and the fact that he constantly was minding her moves and steps, made her feel bad – and nervous for messing up the dance classes. Then he started spreading rumors about her. Consequently, she started avoiding him and all direct contact with him. Then SHE – mind not he! – was advised to reconcile with HIM.

The reply she got back was shocking. I can’t recall it word for word, but to sum it all up, he said that “You have no respect for people from poor countries with no money and no education.”

I am personally convinced, as is she, that his problem is himself and just being a difficult person. Had he been a “gringo”, he probably would have found something else to complain about regarding her.
But the “gringo card” is so easy to play for somebody who has grown up in poverty, or relative poverty.

Mine and my friend’s stories are virtually one and the same. Being verbally attacked for who we are by somebody who is envious. It doesn’t matter how much or little you can see, or how wealthy you may be. Life is not without problems and we should all think twice before shouting gringo, supercrip and alike. There is, after all, never a single story.

Reflections on my decision to become a full time writer

I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer. But never have I felt it so strongly as I’ve done of late. I got two fictional short stories published in the magazine Magnets and ladders. This was awesome for me, because it was the first attempt at publishing my fiction and I was successful.

Some of you may also know that I right for the UK based magazine StyleAble which aims to make fashion, beauty and lifestyle accessible to everybody. And a few days ago, I had a phone meeting with the editor, who is looking to leave her day job and become a full time freelance writer. And the two of us, are currently the only regular contributors and maintainers of StyleAble, and we have some great ideas to make it really grow now we’ll both be able to devote more time to it. But we are also looking at other gigs, such as various magazines, Huffington Post etc.

Establishing a writing career, like we’re planning on doing, is not easy. The writing opportunities may be plenty, but unfortunately most work, at least in the beginning, is unpaid. Now, I’d love to write for everybody and anybody who like my ideas and I’m not in it for the money, but money is a necessity. And getting paid for my work, also serves as encouragement and confirmation that my work is valued so much that someone would pay for me to produce it.

I would say to any buddying writers out there who want to build a freelance career, that at first it is important to take every opportunity that comes along. Free gigs, low-paid gigs and higher paid ones if you can get them. But there comes a time, and I have certainly reached that point, where it’s important to be assertive, strategic and make sure you get paid a fair or good rate for the content your produce.

I’m not saying I’ll never do anything for free again. But I may soon find myself in the difficult situation of turning down good and free opportunities for better paid ones. It’s just hard to know where to draw the lines sometimes.

I am grateful to be working so closely with StyleAble editor Kiesha, who is both more experienced and have more contacts than me. Writing is very much about who you know and I’m glad not to be starting out completely by myself.

StyleAble can be found at http://www.styleable.co.uk
My short story Crossing over at: http://www.magnetsandladders.org/#crossing-over-fictionwzxhzdk28by-linn-martinussen
And my short story The break-up, three perspectives at: http://www.magnetsandladders.org/#the-break-up-three-perspectives-fictionwzxhzdk29by-linn-martinussen