S1: Episode 5 - Burns Taylor

Portrait of Burns

Episode Information

[Intro Music]

Narrator:          Welcome to My Heart is Not Blind. Narrative histories about blindness and perception. A traveling exhibition and book published by Trinity University Press, supported by Gronkowski Charitable Foundation, edited and hosted by Michael Nye. Every person. Every place is a map to somewhere else. Episode five Burns Taylor.

Burns:              My name is Burns Taylor. I’m 74 years old and I live in El Paso, Texas with my wife. I’m a former college English instructor and Im a freelance writer. I’ve published widely, just published a book this year called Hands Like Eyes. My life as a blind person began when I was three years old in January of 1944. It was a Saturday morning. My mother had left a group of children at home just for a minute while she ran to the store. There were about four or five cousins, my brother and I. My brother he was at the time, a little past 11, I was three, but he picked up a rifle and I think it was partly for show I, I don’t know. I remember my brother asked me if I wanted to play cowboys, and I said no. And that was just before the gun went off. Now I have two prosthesis, artificial eyes.

I was very hostile following the shooting. I was destructive. I broke things. I chopped up clay soldiers on my mother’s hardwood floor. And then I guess as time went by, my brother, he’s tooling around in his Thunderbird. I’m standing out here in the rain waiting for a bus. That sort of created, uh, anger, hostility.

I think the central question for me of, uh, existence, and that is how can I live peacefully with something that no one else would ever wanna be? How do you learn to live with something that society makes you feel you should be ashamed of that you’re not whole like everybody else. I’d be walking down the street, come to a corner, knew exactly where I was, and some guy would come up to me and say, Okay, let’s see here. You’re at the corner of Third Street in Vermont. Uh, you’re facing Vermont. I would say “Asshole I know where I am at. Get outta my face.”

Come up like they thought I had just dropped out of outer space. Right? And, and people ask you, you know, strangers on the bus, they’d sit out next to you, say, Uh, do you mind me asking a personal question? Usually I’d say, I Go ahead. Uh, how’d you go blind? You know, when I was young, my mother one time caught me masturbating and she said, “Son, you know, that can make you go blind?” Well, here I am, blind is a bat <laugh>. I mean, the whole thing, it seems like, who the hell are you a stranger to be asking me a question like that. I got a secret. Just follow me around and you’ll see, you’ll see what it is that I am competent. And on any given day, I’ll kick your ass. I, I’ve learned to compensate for most things. I taught college, I’ve written books and a lot more than people with all their senses and sight and everything else haven’t done.

I discovered echolocation almost by accident. I was sitting in a car and I stuck my head out the window and I made the sound like you make when you’re shaming a kid, you know? And I got back an echo. I said, Wait, wow. I hear something over there. I could tell where things were. I could tell how far away they were. I could read textures of walls. I could tell whether it was a fence or a wall that I was passing by, at that point, then I wanted a bicycle, and the echolocation enabled me to ride the bicycle around.

Sight is the most superficial of all senses. It measures surfaces only skin color. It doesn’t touch the inside of anything. Whereas touch, of course, to me, is much more real. And with braille, of course, you’re feeling the dots. Dang man, it’s a sexy thing almost. You know, you’re like, you’re touching those words.

My mother always referred to the shooting as your accident, as if I were the author <laugh> of the shooting. And I’m thinking my accident, Hell, I guess the bottom line of this whole story is about forgiveness, because I went through years of being hostile, angry toward my brother, and I didn’t really work through that one until a few years ago. My brother suffered the loss of both of his sons. And when he lost the second son, he called me up to tell me. I could tell he was very choked up. This was the second son that he had lost. And he, at that point, after he told me, he said, Man, I’m so sorry. I said, For what? He said, for everything. I thought, Okay, <laugh>, okay. I finally got something out of this guy, you know? And from that point on, uh, I forgave, my brother said, Okay. He, he included me in that, in that everything.

[Outro Music]

Host:                This is Michael Nye, and you have been listening to a podcast of narrative histories. Burns Taylor is a teacher, poet, and essayist. He received his B.A. in English and Master’s in literature from the University of Southern California. He said, “I started brill when I was in the first grade and fell in love with reading. Burns said, Oh my God. John Steinbeck’s books, Tortilla Flats and of Mice and Men are life changing stories.” His latest book, Hands Like Eyes, is a book of poems, songs and fantasies.

Join me next week. Two new episodes will be released. Please subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can also go to my website, michaelnye.org/podcast for transcripts and other information. There are so many ways. Different ways to experience moments to their fullest. Thank you for listening.