Blind: A Memoir with David-Elijah Nahmod and Belo Miguel Cipriani

Hello!

Today we meet David-Elijah Nahmod and we’re talking about the book that saved his life: Blind: A Memoir by Belo Miguel Cipriani. And Belo joins us for the conversation!

David-Elijah is a freelance journalist in San Francisco, who writes for publications all over the country and in Canada.

Belo Miguel Cipriani is a digital inclusion strategist, author, and publisher. Blind: A Memoir is the story of how he became blind as a result of an assault.

In Blind, Belo chronicles the two years immediately following the assault. At the age of 26, Belo found himself learning to walk, cook, and date in the dark. Armed with visual memory and his newly developed senses, Belo shows readers what the blind see. He narrates the little known world of the blind, where microwaves, watches, and computers talk, and where guide dogs guard as well as lead.

The topics we discuss today include interpersonal violence resulting in blindness, brief descriptions of interpersonal violence, as well as conversations on emotional abuse, depression, and anxiety. Please listen with your self-care in mind.

If you feel like you are, or may be, in need of support, don’t go through this alone. There are people ready to help. There is the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color network to find a provider near you. There is Forge, who focuses on supporting trans and non-binary survivors. CenterLink can connect you to your local LGBT center. And there are a number of lifelines that you can call for immediate support: the GLBT National Help Center 1-888—246–7743, the Trans Lifeline 1-877—565-8860, the Black Line, created with an LGBTQ+ Black Femme lens 1-800-604-5841, and the DeQH hotline for South Asian/DESI LGBTQ individuals, family, and friends 908-367-3374.

Connect with David-Elijah and Belo

David-Elijah on Facebook: facebook.com/DavidElijahNahmod
Belo’s website: belocipriani.com
Oleb Books’ website: olebbooks.com
Oleb Media’s website: olebmedia.com

Buy Blind: A Memoir

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To purchase Blind: A Memoir: https://bookshop.org/a/82376/9781732312722

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Credits

Host/Founder: J.P. Der Boghossian
Executive Producer: Jim Pounds
Associate Producers: Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Jonathan Fried, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Olila, Joe Perazzo, Bill Shay, and Sean Smith
Patreon Subscribers: Stephen D., Stephen Flamm, Thomas Michna, and Gary Nygaard.
Permission to use clips from Firsts: Coming of Age Stories by People with Disabilities provided by Oleb Media and Belo Miguel Cipriani.
Permission to use clips from the audiobook, Blind: A Memoir provided by Oleb Media and Belo Miguel Cibriani.
Music and SFX credits: visit thiqueerbook.com/music

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Transcript

J.P. Der Boghossian: On today’s episode, the topics we discuss include interpersonal violence resulting in blindness, brief descriptions of interpersonal violence, as well as conversations on emotional abuse, depression, and anxiety. Please listen with your self-care in mind. We’re including several resources in the show notes, including hotlines, and you can also find these on the web page for this episode on our website, thisqueerbook.com. If you feel like you are or may be in need of support, please call these confidential numbers, some of which you can text. Part of building queer community includes taking care of ourselves and being kind to our bodies, our hearts, and our minds. Thinking of you all and holding you up in our thoughts.

[theme music]

J.P. Der Boghossian: Hey everyone, I’m J.P. Der Boghossian. I’m a Lambda Literary Fellow and an essayist writing about queer life. And you’re listening to the podcast where LGBTQ guests share the queer books that save their lives with the very authors who wrote them. Why? Because with all of the book bans and the don’t say gay bills, I think it is important to share our queer stories and to say gay over and over and over again. I believe that through these life-giving stories, we’re connecting to this exciting and messy and sometimes scary but also loving queer world of ours. Welcome to this Queer Book Saved My Life.

[theme music ends]

Unnamed voice of a narrator: An animated logo of a dozen or so interwoven circles coalescing. Text appears. Oleb Books presents Firsts: The Mini Documentary Series. Episode 1, David-Elijah Nahmod. David is a 62-year-old journalist in San Francisco. David, a man with wavy, life-round hair and glasses, walks into his office. Text reads, he lives with PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

David-Elijah Nahmod: It can be challenging. If I’m feeling a little triggered or anxious and I have a deadline that I have to meet, it can be difficult to start a story to get those first few words out if I’m feeling triggered.

Sometimes it can be difficult if I have to interview somebody. It can be difficult for me to talk to a total stranger.

J.P. Der Boghossian: As you heard, this is an audio clip from the first episode of Firsts: Coming of Age Stories by People with Disabilities. And David-Elijah is our guest today.

David-Elijah Nahmod: My name is David-Elijah Nahmod and I am a freelance journalist in San Francisco, but I write for publications all over the country and in Canada.

J.P. Der Boghossian: And that is how we met David-Elijah. He wrote an article about the podcast that ran in the Bay Area Reporter, as well as in Toronto’s In Magazine. He is an American-Israeli dual national of Syrian descent. To give you a sense of the topics that David-Elijah writes about, you can read an article on the GLBT Historical Society, as well as another piece on the Barrison Street Fair, a cousin of the Folsom Street Fair. Both of these topics appear in this month’s edition of the San Francisco Bay Area Reporter. And it was through this work, as a reporter, that he came across the book that saved his life, Blind: A Memoir, by Belo Miguel Cipriani.

David-Elijah Nahmod: I was assigned to review it for a paper in Chicago. It’s the story of Belo, a gay man who loses his sight and how he rehabilitates himself.

[music]

Belo Miguel Cipriani: My name is Belo Miguel Cipriani and I am a digital inclusion strategist, an author, and a publisher. Blind: A Memoir is the story of how I became blind as a result of an assault. And the first two years after becoming blind, which was really focused on learning to do things the blind way, learning braille, learning to walk with a cane, and later a guide dog, and then really reinventing myself as a blind person.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Belo’s memoir is written in short chapters, sometimes as short as three pages. He does describe the attack in the first chapter. His attackers were friends of his, two brothers. The three of them were all gay, and they had a coming of age together while Belo was in high school, exploring their sexuality throughout the gay bar scene, from San Jose to Sacramento to Salinas. They drifted apart as Belo prepared for and then went to college. And years later working in San Francisco’s financial district, in a random chance meeting, Belo runs into them outside a bar, and shockingly, within minutes, and for no reason, they assault him.

Belo writes his memoir in a much more poignant and eloquent manner than I’m describing here, and in the brevity of each chapter, he makes every word count. What follows are chapters exploring the days after his attack, the surgeries, his history with the two brothers, the San Francisco PD dropping the case, and then to, as he just said, learning Braille, walking with a cane, learning how to use screen readers, and his relationship with Madge, his guide dog. As the memoir progresses, he shares with us about that reinvention of himself, which includes going back to school during the recession, and his relationship with his new boyfriend.

For David-Elijah, the book changed how he was understanding his own experiences living with a disability.

David-Elijah: When I was reading the book, a light bulb went over my head, and I kind of came to realize that I too am disabled just with a different type of disability. I had been having different types of problems for a while and so I went to see a doctor, a mental health practitioner and I found out that I’m bipolar for which I’m now on medication for it. That book inspired me to go and get help and it changed my life.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Here is my conversation with David-Elijah and Belo.

[music ends]

J.P.: As you were going through the memoir, take me through that sense of beginning to understand better your own body, your own sense of self, your own disability.

David-Elijah: He wrote a lot about the limitations that he was struck with when he became blind. And he wrote about how learning how to cook again, learning to date again, you know, learning to walk down the street again. that made me realize that I had limitations, that I was having trouble getting things done. And I knew something was wrong and I didn’t know what. But I kind of knew that my problems were not physical, they were mental, and so I went to see a doctor.

J.P.: What was it like interviewing Belo? That must have been wild having such a visceral reaction to reading the memoir and then immediately having a conversation right afterwards.

David-Elijah: Yeah, and it amazes me. He has no bitterness about what happened to him. He has forgiven his attackers, which is amazing to me. It really says a lot about his brains of character.

J.P.: Walk me through then what happened after. So you have the book, you did the review, you had this amazing conversation with Belo. What happened then afterwards? What was now possible for you to do?

David-Elijah: After I went to the doctor and after I got. the bipolar diagnosis and started taking medication, it became easier for me to work with people and to relate to people. I kind of, you know, calmed down because I was very high strung and very hyperactive before the diagnosis. And now I’m just a regular guy like everybody else, but I have to take my medication every day. But I, and I do, I’m just, I’m just a regular guy now. Just living my life.

J.P.: I guess I’m curious about, and you don’t have to answer this question if you don’t want to, how you tell your story now, if and when you do tell it with other people. Like was that influenced by how Belo told his story?

David-Elijah: Amazingly, for the most part, this is my big coming out. Not coming out as gay, but coming out as bipolar because for the most part, I don’t talk about it with people. I recently joined a support group for people who are bipolar, so I talk about it with them. But other friends, besides Belo, I haven’t told them. I just take my medication and go about my life.

J.P.: Wow, um, thank you. This is very like, I’m feeling very honored to be able to be part of that, telling that narrative. I want to make sure you are included in telling that story because I want to give you all the control over telling your narrative here. So are there things that you absolutely want to make sure that people are taking away from our conversation today?

David-Elijah: Well, the book has turned me into a disability advocate. I’m very passionate now about mental health and about disability rights. I work with Belo and his company. He has a company, Oleb Media, which is a consulting firm and helps companies make their websites more accessible to people who are disabled. And I work with him in that company. And it’s the most meaningful work I’ve ever done.

J.P.: Belo, I probably have so many questions that you’ve already been asked so many different times. And also it’s a memoir. So a lot of these questions, I’m sure you’re like, well, just read the book! But I’m always curious about, and you began to mention this in the beginning, that first chapter, of “the why,” why you wanted to write the book. So can you kind of walk me through why was it a book that you felt you needed to write and get out into the world?

Belo: When I became blind. I was living in San Francisco. I was working in Silicon Valley and, you know, hung out with these techies and people who were building technology and were just doing wonderful things, very smart people. And when people heard that I wouldn’t be getting my eyesight back, I started getting a copy of Helen Keller’s memoir. I ended up with about 25 copies of the book. I had the paperback, the hardcover, the audiobook. someone even got me audio cassettes and audio CDs. And every time I would get it in the mail, it was just a friend reaching out saying, “I’m sorry that you’re going through this. Maybe this might help.”

J.P.: Was it helpful?

Belo: Well, Helen Keller was born in 1880. I was born in 1980. And so her experience was very different. She also came from a very wealthy family, which adds another complex layer to it. So. And she’s also deaf blind. So it’s not the same experience that I’m having. And so there is definitely some, some similarities, some empathy there, but I, I didn’t see, I didn’t feel like this was like a contemporary example of what it’s really like to be blind, right? She jumped on a carriage. I was trying to get on Bart on the train with a guide dog. So very, very different experiences.

But, you know, I saw her book as a, as a motivation to maybe I could pen my own memoir. I just want to help someone else out. Because what motivated me was that I was living in San Francisco and I was meeting blind people through different blindness organizations. I was meeting blind attorneys and blind doctors and blind professors. Someone who really took me under her wing was Professor Susan Krieger from Stanford.

So, I had all these great role models, and I started thinking, if I had known about these people two, three years prior, it would have just been made my experience of losing sight a little bit better. And if I could get people this glimpse into what it’s like to be blind in the contemporary world, it was my motivation. And I felt like I wanted to do that pay-forward.

J.P.: As I’ve talked to authors over the past year for the podcast, there’s a, as I’ve learned, pretty significant difference between like the first few drafts and then dealing with editors and publishers and getting the book like finally done and out into the world. As you were going along, what was that process like for you? Was there a lot of control that you still got to have over your narrative being a memoir?

Belo: What proved to be very challenging is working with editors. And so because I am blind, I use the screen reader, which is software that reads the screen to me, right? And so even working with track changes, you know, people were, for example, editors were highlighting the text in red and I can’t see red. I can’t see any color. Right off the bat, I had to create work around for people to work with me, you know, with their technology, with, you know, with copy editing.

I would say that one of my frustrations was that I was told by people in publishing, oh, you know, just get an agent and the rest is history. And I got one agent and he couldn’t sell the book. And then I got another agent and he couldn’t sell the book either. It was interesting because at that time, this was 2009, I had my first agent say, “You know, Belo, I think it’s the gay thing. I think that if you weren’t gay, this would be a best seller. I think it’s the gayness that’s putting people off.”

J.P.: What?!

Belo: Yeah, you know, and this was a gay agent himself.

J.P.: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Like why did he? Oh my gosh, no.

Belo: Yes, yes, you know. And so I was like, well, then you’re not the right, you know, the right person for me, right? I was navigating people were either put off by the gay part of the memoir, or they wanted me to be a little more gay. Actually, I got that too. When I first read that, I laughed. I didn’t know how to respond to that. So I would say that, yeah, definitely the technology piece teaching people to work with me and then really at the same time navigating these conceptions people have of what a gay man’s voice should look like. were the two big hurdles that I had to be comfortable navigating.

J.P.: Was the first agent, okay, all of this behind the scenes stuff fascinates me because of, you know, I obviously want to promote queer authors and get more queer authors published in the world. So with the gay agent, was it more of a: the publishing world is discriminating and that’s just kind of the reality or was it a literal like, because you are gay, we’re not going to be able to get this published? Does that make sense, the distinction that I’m making?

Belo: Yeah, with the agent, we had some meetings with some publishers and some feedback was the book is a little short. Can you add 100 pages? That’s understandable, right? Lengthening. For me, I didn’t want to lengthen because I really wanted to focus the book on the two years. And I wrote this book really quickly, you know, so I lost my sight in 2007. The manuscript was done by 2009. So for me, this almost reads more like a diary than a memoir. I have a lot of friends who write memoirs and they’re writing memoirs from the perception of 10, 15 years ago. I was actually writing this stuff as it was happening. And so I kind of feel like it’s more of a diary. But the people were pushing me to have a longer book and I was saying, “I’m 27 years old, I don’t think I could have a 400 page memoir.” I’m still young.

And then the perception of me where they said that I either needed to be a little more gay or butch that they couldn’t figure me out. My persona, I didn’t fit into one of the stereotypical gay caricatures, right? If someone’s really butch or is femme, they felt that my narrative kind of flipped between the chapters. And so that’s something that they wanted to address from other gay editors too.

J.P.: How did you process that? Because this was happening in real time. So, I mean, you were living it as you were writing it. How were you processing that?

Belo: It was really hard. It was hard because this was coming from other gay people. I think that it had been coming from someone who’s straight. I would have just rolled my eyes and be done with them. But because this was coming from other, you know, gay people in the publishing space, it was very, I must have like a mini identity crisis where like, well, what am I, butch and my femme, you know, how can I change my language?

And, you know, then I kind of related to being Latino, but being of mixed race Latino backgrounds where, you know, my mom’s, you know, Ashkenazi Jewish and my dad’s, you know, Afro-Brazilian and how I don’t really look like either side of the family. I’m a mixture of both, you know, and they’re both important.

So it wasn’t until I started looking at my gay identity as, you know, I don’t need to fit into one box. I could go between any box depending on how I’m feeling that day. And really then understanding that that’s also my voice as a writer and ended up just going with the smaller publishing house that just let me be. So it ended up being independent publisher who just said, “Hey, you know, just be yourself. As long as you meet your deadlines and you do what we ask, that’s all we want.”

And I’ve really found that for me, that’s one of the reasons why my books tend to be released by independent publishers is because I was able to be given the creative freedom.

J.P.: Absolutely. You wrote your memoir in real time as things were happening. Now looking back on it, are there things that you wish? you might have included? Do you feel like you have a different take on some of the things that were happening to you in that two-year period?

Belo: I am so happy that I wrote it in real time because I look back at it and I can’t look at pictures. So I don’t have the ability to look back at photo albums and reminisce like I used to when I was sighted, but I do that with my own work. You know, I’ve been writing for 17 years now, and so I get excited when I open up an old poem or story or essay that I wrote for 15 years ago. And I see myself, I see my thought process from back then. And sometimes it’s changed from what I think of things now. But I’m happy that I did it in real time, more and more, and that I included things, not when I look back. I have things there that I don’t have any memory for. I don’t remember writing, and I’m glad I wrote it down because it’s a record for myself.

[music]

After the break we’ll hear a clip from the audiobook, talk about the path towards forgiveness, and we’ll chat about Belo’s guide dog, Madge. Plus we’ll get the story of how David-Elijah worked as Belo’s security monitor when Belo was the Grand Marshal of the San Francisco Pride Parade. See you on the flip side.

[music ends]

J.P.: Our indie podcast has an indie bookstore through bookshop.org. We have new releases, current bestsellers, the books we feature on the podcast, and the most anticipated LGBTQ books for the upcoming month. Almost all of our titles are on sale right now. Get started at bookshop.org slash shop slash this queer book. Follow the links in the show notes or on our website.

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[short music interlude]

J.P.: A sound clip from the audiobook, Blind: A Memoir.

Narrator: I was halfway back to the cafe when I heard a childlike voice say, Hey, Belo! I turned my head toward the right and saw Rodrigo leaning on a wall that curved into a parking lot. I walked toward him and quickly embraced his thin body. I anxiously asked, How’s Carlos? He responded, He’s over here, come quick! I smiled, following him toward the back of the building. I saw Carlos and two others I did not know leaning against a dark colored SUV, and I nonchalantly walked up and asked, Hey Carlos, what’s up? He rolled his eyes and said, I’m surprised you’re out and not taking a class. Puzzled, I answered, What the hell does that mean? Rodrigo, who usually didn’t say much, then echoed Carlos, saying, Yeah, we’ve seen you change. You think you’re the shit now. Carlos then walked toward me, saying, You know, I own a real estate company and am making a bunch of money. We make more money than you’ll ever see.” His dark brown eyes looked straight into mine as he pushed me back. Tapping into my martial arts training, I allowed my body to absorb the push and took three steps back. I looked around as if I were taking pictures with my eyes and said, Good for you. I began to shift my body and turn around and felt the first impact in the back of my head.

J.P.: One of the unfortunate and hardest realities of being a queer person on this planet is experiencing, or living with the very real possibility of, violence from either a loved one or a person we have been close with, whether it is physical harm, emotional harm, spiritual harm, or all of the above. There is a lot that goes into healing from that. A number of years ago, as part of my work in LGBTQ health equity, I got my certificate in the Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience Level 1. from the Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute, also known as STAR.

This built on work I had done in my undergraduate program in conflict and peace studies, and it also aligned with my own personal journey, working with therapists on resolving trauma, depression, and anxiety disorders. I’ll be honest, there were certain parts of the work I felt I excelled in and focused on, the work to identify cycles of violence, interventions, and there was a particular stage of that work that was super important to me: Acknowledgment. This was all part of the STAR model. And what makes up the Acknowledgment stage is reflecting on root causes, memorializing, creating spaces for grieving, and for processing loss.

The next stage is called Reconnection. And this one I had a harder time with, let’s say. Its activities involved creating boundaries, navigating accountability and responsibility, and engaging harmful systems to transform conflict. But also, forgiveness and reconciliation. I was very glad and very lucky to be in a community of practice to work through the blocks that I was having. What was at first startling to me and what I now find somewhat reassuring actually is that forgiveness and reconciliation are not givens in the entire model. Forgiveness is something to consider and reconciliation is a possibility. You can work to stop the violence and transform it but forgiveness and reconciliation should not necessarily be expected. There are a lot of things that go into achieving actual and authentic forgiveness and reconciliation.

Belo engages with the themes of forgiveness in his writing, and with his permission, I asked him a few questions about how he processed it, his reflections on the judicial process, and his thoughts on moving through feeling blocked when considering forgiveness.

[music interlude]

J.P.: I think when I first picked up the book, and David-Elijah, you were mentioning this, and I imagine for our listeners, there was a just gut punch of a shock that the people who attacked you, you knew them and not just knew them from like the scene, like you grew up with them. As you’re looking back on that, how do you process that now? How do you, when you look back on that, what is that?

Belo: Every time I talk about the book, I go back to them and I see them in my mind’s eye and I moved on, I’ve forgiven them, which gives me peace. But earlier on, a big part of the shock was the betrayal. These people betrayed me. I brought them into my home. My mom invited me, invited them for sleepovers. We were really enmeshed with each other. And so that’s the betrayal. You know, it was very hard to work through. I think I was in therapy for about, you know, a good two years until I felt like I was starting to let go. I was definitely very angry for the first year, angry at them, you know, and wished them ill things. You know, I was having definitely a very visceral reaction to them. Every time I would think about them, I would just feel my face get hot because I was so angry at them that they had put me in this situation.

Now when I think about them, I actually just feel peace. I know that. I am where I’m supposed to be and I’m happy. I will never, I’ve never been able to ask them why they did this to me. You know, the interactions we had were with attorneys present in the room and they weren’t allowed to engage me in any way. So, you know, I found closure in a different way. You know, for me, I don’t think that they woke up that morning and planned this. Like they’re gonna, they didn’t wake up and says, we’re gonna get Belo, he’s this and that. I really feel that, you know, when they saw me, they were harboring all these feelings and they made a decision without really thinking about the consequences and they have to live with that.

J.P.: I have two follow-ups. One is the judicial process. I’m working with the attorneys. Did you find that to be… I guess, what did you find of that process as you were living through it in terms of healing in any way?

Belo: I didn’t. I was disappointed with the judicial response, right? So in order to accuse somebody of a crime, you need to have a witness. I didn’t have any witnesses, you need video or audio or pictures that places them in the crime. I didn’t have any of those things and so the criminal case was dropped due to lack of evidence, right? I did have a civil lawsuit and I did win that because then they had to prove that they were innocent and they couldn’t. But, you know, it’s one of these things that you can garner wages if their social security numbers are inactive. I didn’t get any real monetary payout.

You know, I actually, my first thoughts when I wake up every morning is gratitude. You know, I’m happy that I, you know, as a blind queer man, I’m able to have a business and own my own home and have a husband. And I’m just really, I’m grateful for what I have.

J.P.: Could you share more about that path to forgiveness?

Belo: So it was, it took a lot of time, right? And forgiveness is a big thing to do. So I actually didn’t start with forgiveness. I started with letting go. And for me, once I got a copy of Blind, a paper copy, you know, when the publisher sent me copies of the book to have, and I remember this little box with like a handful of copies, and I grabbed the book, and it really felt like my past. You know, I was able to literally grab it and put it on a shelf and walk away, and that’s exactly what I did. This is my past. It’s written out, and people will ask me about it, but I don’t have to keep living it, you know?

So I started with letting go, and then eventually I forgave them.

J.P.: That’s such…

David-Elijah: Strength.

J.P.: Yes. I mean, it’s amazing strength. And I think that there’s a lot of folks that come onto the show that are wrestling with the idea of forgiveness and what that looks like for them as queer people. And they’re dealing with a variety of different things, whether that’s, you know, forgiveness of homophobia that comes up in the family or, you know, processing a past abusive relationship either with, you know, a partner or a family member. I guess I have a follow-up related to the idea of forgiveness of if someone is having a block, what would you maybe offer to them in terms of helping to either process that block or get around it towards a feeling of and a sense of forgiveness and peace?

Belo: What really helped me, you know, I did the CBT cognitive behavioral therapy. the therapist got me to letting go and I went from seeing my attackers faces in my mind or hearing their names or their names in other people. Hypothetically, like, you know, one of them is, you know, named, you know, for example, Tom and every time I met a Tom, I’m like, my knees would flinch, right? And so I first started with, I’m going to give you less energy. So how much energy am I giving you this right now? I’m giving it 100%. Let’s start with 95 and 90 and I started giving it less energy and save my energy for things that I really wanted to do like have energy, be present when I was having lunch with a friend or being present for my guide dog who wants to play with me and just started giving it less and less energy.

Eventually with time I was giving it just like, you know, 15% of my energy in a day and eventually started, you know, wearing, wearing down and down and I’m to the point where I do teach meditation courses and I, you know, I got so like, I got so into it that I started, you know, teaching some courses and there is some times where you meditate on different ideas and I do see them in my mind, but it’s not anger, it’s not shock, it’s right now, actually it’s just peace. I just wish them peace.

I cannot imagine, you know, I’ve met a lot of people who’ve made quick decisions and then regret them, you know, anywhere from got into a car after drinking too much and, you know, seriously injured someone else that they loved, right? Lots of that. Scenarios like that people make quick decisions and then you know regret them for the rest of their life I feel like that’s kind of where they’re at, you know They they took my side away. They knew what happened. They knew I never got my sight back. And so they have to live with that. I gave them peace and love whenever they pop in my mind. But it’s very rare and you know for people who have that block. It’s I would say: start in small increments. Maybe think about them less try to whenever you think about them think think of something else to do. When I was thinking of them, what really helped me a lot was actually aroma therapy. Every time I had thoughts of anger, I would spray actually lavender on myself.

And it taught me to be calm whenever I thought of them because the lavender had that effect on me. There’s a lot of tools out there, but I found aroma therapy really helped me. And it’s probably because I’m blind, right? But I have friends who’ve done a lot of visual, meditations, imagery. Chanting was very good for me. I did yoga. I think for me what really was helpful, because I have PTSD as a result of the assault and the traumatic brain injury, but what was really helpful is learning to occupy my mind with other things that make me happy, right? So if I was thinking about my attackers and I was getting restless, I say, hey, you know what? I’m not going to spend 30 minutes feeling like this. I’m going to go take a yoga class or I’m going to go. I soaked myself in lavender spray. You know, I found other ways to just not give them time.

And I’m a very big, anyone who knows me, and David would say this too, they say this about me like, time is very precious to me. You know, I tell people you could get your, you could get your money back, but you can’t get your time back. And this is something where I started timing my sessions, my PTSD sessions and my anger sessions whenever at 30, 40 minutes, I needed to go take a class or something else just because I will not give them any more time than that. And time just became my friend of time, a tool to measure, you know, my mood swings, how I was behaving, how I was feeling. If I was feeling anxious, I would say I’m only going to feel anxious for five or 10 minutes and then I’ll go do something else, keep myself busy.

J.P.: That’s so beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. I think that’ll be really helpful for folks as they’re listening to this episode. I loved the scenes and how you wrote your relationship with Madge. She’s wonderful. Can you share a little bit more about that relationship?

Belo: Yes. So when I was sighted, I was a very fast walker. I was one of those people who when you have workmates or colleagues who you you know, go on walks with like nobody wanted to walk with me because I walked, you know, too fast for most people. And so when I lost my sight, I was walking very slowly with a cane. I felt like a snail. And I wanted to get that ability back. And I discovered that walking with a guide dog would give me my same pace of walking that I had before. And so Madge did many things. Madge was my first guide dog. She was a yellow lab. And if people Google my name online, they may come across some of my pictures with her. And you know, she gave that back to me. She gave me my walking pace back.

But she also helped me, was very pivotal, you know, part of my healing process because she helped me to trust. And so a trust in her navigating the streets of San Francisco, it allowed me to… Trust in my future, trust in myself, trusting the people around me, and it really was a huge part of my healing process.

J.P.: I just love that moment in the last chapter where you’re like, Madge, we’re getting free coffee. They remember our order because of you. And how her demeanor and her cuteness was so special as well. I am also curious about, tell me more about your, David-Elijah and Belo, your working relationship together. I mean, this is so neat to me to have a guest and the author, not just, you know, meeting each other and knowing each other, but getting to work together. So tell me more about that. What’s that like?

David-Elijah: This is the most satisfying work that I’ve ever done. There is no story that I’ve ever written that is more satisfying to me than working with Belo, and being a disability advocate, because I know there’s so many disabled people out there who are not being heard. And I feel like I’m helping to give them a platform. It’s just such a wonderful thing to do.

J.P.: There’s a fun story, so, I want to know more about the Grand Marshall and the security. Could you give me a little bit more about that? How did that come to be and what that experience was like?

David-Elijah: This was in 2015. Belo was chosen to be a grand marshal in the San Francisco Pride Parade, and they told him he needed to get a security monitor. And he asked me to do it. I did it. And it was loads of fun. I had to go to a class before the parade, and just a one-shot class in which I was taught how to handle security issues. And then at the parade, I just marched. diagonally behind his contingent. I heard all the cheering crowds and I felt like they were cheering for me. It was just so much fun.

J.P.: Belo, what was that experience like for you?

Belo: You know, it was very cool because I was actually leading the parade. And that’s not how initially how they wanted it to be. They actually asked me, we know you have a disability. I was actually the first blind grand marshal in the history of the parade. And so they were very accommodating. They wanted to know where I wanted to be placed, if it would be easier for me to be at the end or in the middle. And I said, I want to be at the front. Because there’s this old saying that people say, it’s like the blind leading the blind. And it’s so inaccurate, right? Just because I don’t have sight doesn’t mean I don’t have vision. And I really wanted to show the world, you know, San Francisco Pride is such a global event. I wanted to show the world that blind people can lead. And they went for it. So I actually wasn’t just a grand marshal. I led the parade. I was at the front leading everyone else. And, you know, it was it was a lot of fun that they were able to listen to me and thought that it was a good idea.

David-Elijah: And when he was grand marshal, besides being the security monitor, I also wrote about it; I interviewed him a few more times. That’s just, if I had to pick the five most enjoyable things I’ve ever done, being his security monitor would be on that.

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You can connect with David-Elijah on Facebook. His page is David-Elijah Nahmod Author. Check out The Bay Area Reporter, In Magazine, and Out South Florida for his news articles and reviews. We’re including links in the show notes and on our website.

You can connect with Belo at belocipriani.com. He also owns and runs Oleb Books, which seeks to expand representation of disability in literature. Oleb is Belo, spelled in reverse. His consulting firm is Oleb Media, which you can find at olebmedia.com. And when you’re there, you can check out the Oleb Academy, which launches December 5th, 2023. Oleb Academy provides online courses on how to make your websites and digital properties more accessible. Links in the show notes and on our website.

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That’s our show for today. I’ll see you back here in two weeks for our next new episode. I’ll be talking with the author Scott Bain about the book that saved his life, American Renaissance Art and Expression by F.O. Matheson. And this is a really special conversation because that book actually led Scott on a journey that resulted in him writing a union like ours, the love story of F.O. Matheson and Russell Chaney. Our podcast is executive produced by Jim Pounds. Our associate producers are Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Jonathan Fried, Paul Kafer, Nicole Olilla, Joe Parrazo, Bill Shea, and Sean Smith. Our Patreon subscribers are Steven D, Steven Flam, Thomas Mckna, and Gary Nygaard. Permission to use clips from firsts, coming of age stories by people with disabilities provided by Olip Media and Belo Miguel Cipriani. Permission to use clips from the audiobook, Blind, a memoir provided by Oleb Media and Belo Miguel Cibriani. Our soundtrack and sound effects are provided through royalty-free licenses. Please visit thisgearbook.com slash music for track names and artists. We’re on social media, you can find us on Facebook, or on Instagram, we’re at Thisgearbook, but we’re no longer on Twitter. As always, you can connect with us through our website, thisgearbook.com, and if you fill out the form on the home page. And until our next episode, see you queers and allies in the bookstores.

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