Cockeyedby Ryan Knighton
On his 18th birthday, Ryan Knighton was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a congenital, progressive disease marked by night-blindness, tunnel vision and, eventually, total blindness. In this penetrating, nervy memoir, which ricochets between meditation and black comedy, Knighton tells the story of his fifteen-year descent into blindness while incidentally revealing the world of the sighted in all its phenomenal peculiarity. Knighton learns to drive while unseeing; has his first significant relationshipwith a deaf woman; navigates the punk rock scene and men's washrooms; learns to use a cane; and tries to pass for seeing while teaching English to children in Korea. Stumbling literally and emotionally into darkness, into love, into couch-shopping at Ikea, into adulthood, and into truce if not acceptance of his identity as a blind man, his writerly self uses his disability to provide a window onto the human condition. His experience of blindness offers unexpected insights into sight and the other senses, culture, identity, language, our fears and fantasies. Cockeyed is not a conventional confessional. Knighton is powerful and irreverent in words and thought and impatient with the preciousness we've come to expect from books on disability. Readers will find it hard to put down this wild ride around their everyday world with a wicked, smart, blind guide at the wheel.
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Read an Excerpt
You might think an appetite for something called a night club would be an bad idea for someone called night blind. You would be right. Equally wise would be me joining a gun club. Nevertheless, to this day I owe a debt to punk rock. Its culture helped me become as blind as I was, but couldn't admit. My apprenticeship into the club scene had numerous dangers and disadvantages, although most were silly. In my time I have argued with empty bar stools, talked to pillars, knocked down waitresses, bounced off bouncers, pissed between urinals, drunk other people's beers and hit on shadows.
Even though I routinely tumbled down stairs, and plummeted off stages, never, not once, did it convince me to perhaps take up a white cane. Bullshit, I thought. I'm not that night blind. I'm just drunk. When the colored strobes and spotlights did their job, pulsing and spinning with the music, then I was more or less able to see enough. Step off the dance floor into the murky bar, that was a bit of a problem. Slow songs, too. They always dropped the lights for slow songs, and left me paralyzed wherever I happened to be. For a moment, anyway. Then like a gimpy Sid Vicious I'd careen off the dance floor, knocking people over instead of scooting around them politely. Sure I was a poser, not nearly close to hardcore, but blindness gave an authenticity to my recklessness when I ignored every social propriety our eyes manage. That was the best thing about the scene.
The culture camouflaged my inability to cooperate with bodies around me. In growing blindness I became, oddly enough, safer and more like the scenesters around me than I was like my peers out on the street or at school. Booze helped. Everybody was loaded, knackered, legless, gassed, goofed and every other word for blind drunk. Bumping into people was acceptable, even expected, and I was practiced at bashing into folks on a regular basis, whether I was in my cups or just spilling them. Confusion and disorientation ruled the room, too, and that pretty much described my sober state. Above all, though, I blended with ease and advantage on the dance floor. I loved to slam. What blind person doesn't?
Meet the Author
Ryan Knighton teaches contemporary literature and creative writing at Capilano College in Vancouver, British Columbia, and served for two years as editor of the literary magazine The Capilano Review. The author of a book of poetry and co-author of a collection of short fiction, Knighton has also published widely as a journalist and essayist. He has also produced, written and performed radio monologues and documentaries about blindness for the CBC.
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