This past week I spoke on the phone with Susan Robinson, a high-energy New Yorker who spoke at PeaceLove’s Storytellers event this past May. It was amazing to talk with Susan and learn more about her; she’s an incredible wordsmith who tells fascinating stories and has interesting hobbies. We talked about impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, painters like Monet or Van Gogh who were interested in capturing light and movement in new ways. Van Gogh’s Starry Night shows the sky twirling with different hues – Van Gogh didn’t see the sky as just blue, or white, or black, or gray. Van Gogh saw the sky as all of those interwoven.
Susan Robinson has done yoga in India. She’s a world traveler, a tango dancer, and a tandem cyclist. She is a dynamic, high-achieving, shooting star.
She’s also legally blind.
Isn’t it funny that when I mention that now, it pales in comparison to the other components of her identity? Isn’t it kind of like an impressionist painting, the way there are so many intricacies involved in a bigger picture?
In addition to her consulting and advisory work, Susan gives speeches and has even done her own TED Talk. A big theme of Susan’s speeches is the way we as a society look at disabilities. Susan hates the phrase “disability” and I agree. The stigma for those with disabilities is deeply rooted in language; the name itself suggests the individual has limitations. Often, we view disabilities with a lot of stark contrast and clear lines, all dividing what can and cannot be done. Unfortunately, language lacks a perfect phrase for those who need it. But maybe the problem isn’t the title. Maybe it’s not the way we say it but how we say it, how we think about it.
Susan first mentions art to me as an anecdote to explain her sight. She talked to me about her visit to an art museum with a friend where she saw Monet’s Water Lilies. Confused and unable to make out the shape, her friend explained the intentionally soft edges and unconfined nature of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings.
Impressionists worked to capture movement in their art. Susan does not have center vision and views the world through her peripheral. This means she can view movement. To Susan, impressionist paintings are the best way for her to explain what life looks like through her eyes. I’m a romantic, I know, but I think deep in this story there’s something worth ruminating on. This way of seeing is, for her, viewed as a disability; in art, it is deemed beautiful, important, and valuable.
(Above: Susan sharing her inspiring story at our 2018 Peace of Mind Storytellers)
At first, Susan wasn’t sure if she would be the right fit to speak at PeaceLove because she does not work with or speak on mental health or illness. It’s for this very reason I was excited to talk with her. PeaceLove is a diverse space and can speak to so many different populations. PeaceLove is about disregarding our own stigma and shedding the limitations society views in us and being seen for who we really are.
Victoria Rose is a writer and musician from Providence, Rhode Island. firstname.lastname@example.org