Diane talks with James Hohmann, national political correspondent for the Washington Post and author of the "Daily 202" newsletter.
Laurie Rubin was born blind, unable to see anything except white light. But that did not stop her from learning to ski, studying at Yale University, handcrafting jewelry and enjoying a successful career in opera. She is also the author of a new memoir and CD, both titled “Do You Dream In Color?” She answers that question when she joins Diane in studio to discuss how she and her family refused to let her disability define her.
- Laurie Rubin An award-winning mezzo-soprano; a co-founder of Ohana Arts, a performing arts school in Hawaii; and a jewelry designer.
Poem: “Do You Dream in Color?”
Original poetry from “Do You Dream in Color?” by Laurie Rubin. Copyright 2012 by Laurie Rubin. Reprinted here by permission of Seven Stories Press. All rights reserved.
“Do you dream in color?” she asks.
watching me apply my makeup.
Her question gives me pause
as I fumble in my bag
for that perfect shade of silvery purple
that matches the dress I’m about to wear,
the one that fades from a dark plumb to white.
what I experience,” I say simply.
the smell of flowers,
or the taste of chocolate,
or about an argument my subconscious devised between my mom and me,
the kind where you wake up just before you say the perfect thing.
Do I dream in color
or black and white?
I’m not sure
as my eyes have only seen dark and light.”
“Do you dream in color?” he asks,
watching me choose from his wall covered with strands of beads.
There are perfectly smooth round pearls in a midnight blue.
There are raw nuggets of turquoise
whose veins of brown running through each stone
can be detected by my fingers as I feel the beautiful imperfections.
Then my fingers find the stick pearls in an iridescent bronze and green.
“That’s it!” I cry.
“That’s the necklace!”
I seize the beads, and envision how they will fit a woman’s neck.
“How do you know?” he asks.
He really desires to know.
“Because I just dreamed it!” I say,
not knowing how my world of color differs from his.
“Do you dream in color?” asks the little girl,
holding the program she wants me to sign.
I sense her hands in front of my face
and take the glossy book from her.
“I don’t know,” I tell her.
“Why don’t you explain colors to me,
and I’ll tell you if I dream them.”
“Well,” she begins.
is like the ocean in the morning when the sun is out.
is like the trees when it’s spring.
is the color of my hair.
is the color of cotton candy.
is the color of marshmallows.
is the color of fire engines,
I guess I do dream in color
because I dream of all those things.
Just last night, I dreamed I was in a swimming pool
full of pillows the texture of marshmallows,
and once I had a dream
that I was sitting by the ocean,
and the sun was out,
and the waves were making a rhythmic music.”
She seemed satisfied as she watched me print my initials.
I wish that I could have written,
“To the girl who gave the colors of my dreams
their proper names.”
“The question is,
‘Do you have realistic dreams?’”
he asks me.
“I hate to answer your question with another question.
Shouldn’t you be asking me
if I dream in color?”
I sense his unease.
It was hard for him
to do what he felt he must do,
to tell the girl who is more than admirable for getting out of bed in the morning,
endearing to have dreams of singing on stage,
to tell this girl
that she must be
“Dream in color?”
He is confused.
“Yes!” I say.
of the red gown that I’ll wear on stage,
that is striking against my fair skin and dark brown hair.
of my lover’s black hair.
in all the colors of the rainbow.
You didn’t ask me if I dream in color
because you don’t believe I can.
You imagine my world
a dark place.
You are afraid to know
that I walk the streets of New York with purpose.
That I come home to a family I have cultivated,
that my life is full of dreams,
and my dreams are full of colors,
and my dreams are real,
because they come true every day.”
“May I ask you a question?
‘Do you dream in color?’”
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from “Do You Dream in Color?: Insights from a Girl Without Sight” by Laurie Rubin. Copyright 2012 by Laurie Rubin. Reprinted here by permission of Seven Stories Press. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Laurie Rubin was born blind, unable to see anything except white light. But that did not stop her from studying at Yale, handcrafting jewelry and enjoying a successful career in opera. She's the author of a new memoir and has released a CD both titled, "Do You Dream in Color?"
MS. DIANE REHMLaurie Rubin joins me in the studio to talk about how she and her family refused to let her disability define her. I hope you'll join us as well. You are always part of the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850, send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Welcome Laurie, it's good to have you here.
MS. LAURIE RUBINThank you so much. It's great to be here.
REHMI'm glad to see you.
REHMLaurie, talk about where the title of your book and your CD come from.
RUBINOkay. well, the book was written or starting to be written before the CD came to fruition and about maybe a third of the way through my writing process I met a wonderful gentleman named Bruce Adolf and he had me to do a concert with him, with the Chamber of Music Society of Lincoln Center. And a few days after we did the concert he asked me if he could write a song cycle for me.
RUBINAnd of course, when you hear a composer asking that question, it's just such an honor, and I was so excited. And I said, Sure. What kind of poems are you going to set? And he said, Well, actually can you write a poem about your being blind? And it was a daunting process because I wanted something that wasn't going to be hokey, but I also wanted something that was really going to talk about what I wanted the world to hear about my life experience in a nutshell.
RUBINSo when I sat down to write it the question that came to mind, that people ask is, Do you dream in color? Which is such a great question to use as a light motif for the song because it, you can answer it so many different ways. And so it allows me to get into the figurative and the literal meaning of that.
REHMThe question, Laurie, is how do you perceive color?
RUBINWell, I perceive colors in different ways. I think throughout my whole life I've perceived colors from how people have described them. Blue being like the ocean and the sky and things I experience in my own way just from smelling the air around those things. And brown being the color of chocolate, which of course, I taste and green being the color of leaves and mint and all these other things.
RUBINBut I think beyond that, color to me has an aura and mood and I can, even though I can't explain it to people, I sometimes tell people I have, maybe had a past life because I feel like I understand colors and I wouldn't be able to tell you why, but I feel like I have a visual sense of them as well.
REHMYou mentioned chocolate and certainly we heard about chocolate in that song there. One of the chapters in your memoir is called, "The $200 Diagnosis." Tell me about that.
RUBINWell, I think that was a very difficult time for my family because they had no idea, they had never met a blind person before or they maybe had seen them in all these historical anachronisms of blindness but they didn't really know a person live, in the flesh, and so they had no idea what possible for me.
RUBINAnd I'll never forget when my mom told me the story about how she asked these social workers about how I was going to go to college and they turned to her and laughed and said, "Well, let's just watch her crawl first and then we'll deal with college."
REHMHow did they know, how early did they know that you could not see?
RUBINThey knew they started to get a sense of that probably when I was about six weeks old because I wasn't smiling at visual cues. I would certainly smile and reaction auditory cues and of course touch and all of, and smell, but it wasn't when people would smile at me. And they also noticed I wasn't looking around a lot when I would supposedly people watching the way babies mostly do.
REHMAnd what was the diagnosis?
RUBINThe diagnosis is Leber's amaurosis and that is that my retinas never developed. So the cones and rods in the back of the eye are what are missing. It's so interesting because people often come up to me and say, Do you look blind? Are you sure you're blind? And I said to them, Well, you know, it's the back of the eye. So everything in the superficial part of the eye is very much the same.
REHMSo how then did you begin to learn to read and to learn to read music?
RUBINWell, I learned to read at the same time that other elementary school kids my age were reading, so around kindergarten I was learning the alphabet and I was learning the Braille typewriter which looks like a futuristic or, I don't know, some are very, I guess, is now very antiquated looking. But it's a very strange looking machine with six keys on it and then a space bar in the middle and it's very loud and it's a typewriter. And I was learning to type on that while all my friends were learning handwriting.
REHMHow did your friends react to the fact that you were born and using this typewriter?
RUBINThey were fine. I think at a young age kids just are much more sponges, much more easily acclimated to that than as an older person who's never come across it before. So they were just excited by all the things I did differently. I remember they used to want to know how my Braille writer worked and they were also really excited when my computer would talk and they would have me write sentences of their choice, sometimes getting pretty funny and wacky.
REHMAnd what about your parents early on?
RUBINThey were, they were wonderful. I always joke that the way, and they joke too, the way they got proactive and they found out that I was blind was they bought a 1979 Chevy van. And people said, well why would they do that? What does that mean? And it's because they wanted me to go on trips all over the state to basically take in the world with all my other senses.
RUBINSo we would go on camping trips, to Santa Barbara, the El Captain Mount Beach and the Mountains of Sequoia and Big Bear. And even though I have absolutely no recollection of most of those things, it was really early on, I already had a sense of how the world and nature worked and everything with my other senses.
REHMAnd of course, you have a brother.
REHMOlder or younger?
RUBINHe's five years older. He was always a wonderful supporter and mentor to me. I wanted to do everything he did.
REHMAnd did he help in the reading process?
RUBINIn the reading process?
RUBINWell, actually it's interesting, and I talk about this in the book, when I was about four years old I think that I started to understand what it meant about being blind because he was reading a book and I wanted to read his book. And when he showed it to me I couldn't tell anything, it just looked very boring to me. All the pages felt blank and I said, Well, what's so interesting about this book, there's nothing here. He said, Laurie, that's because you can't see it. And then I realized there was something that he could do that I couldn't.
RUBINBut because I wanted to do everything he did I was very excited when we could both settle on the playroom couch, we had this playroom, and read books together and I would read my books in Braille, later on when I learned Braille. And he would read his books in print and, so we both really got a sense of the world because we were avid readers through the eyes of many authors.
REHMSo clearly your parents were in no way wishing to hold you back because you were blind or to treat you any differently?
RUBINExactly, yes, I think they were just very, very cognizant of the fact that I should be treated equally in very way. and, in fact, when I was in public school and the teachers, the resource teachers at this school who dealt with blind students, when they wanted me to learn these machines that were very specific to blindness, there was one that was called the Versa Braille and instead of typing normally like on a computer, you type in the Braille alphabet and my parent, my mom, said, No way, Jose.
RUBINShe's learning how to type. Because you don't use the Versa Braille in the real world, you use a typewriter, at the time. Now it's computers and so everybody, it's so funny, they always joke that, you know, or my mom jokes that they probably thought, uh-oh here comes Lily Rubin. We got to be careful now.
REHMNow, did they call Lily?
RUBINThat was my mother's name.
RUBINSo she was always the one they were afraid.
REHMGotcha. Laurie Rubin, she's an award-winning mezzo soprano with a mastered music degree from Yale. She's co-founder of Ohana Arts. That's a performing arts school in Hawaii. She designs her own line of handmade jewelry which you can see on the web. I went up to your website, looked at the gorgeous jewelry.
REHMYou design and wondered how you chose color?
RUBINWell, I've always loved jewelry and I've always loved clothing and I see myself and as I said earlier, that color to me has auras to it and, so I've always seen myself as a very bright colored person or a very deep colored person, in terms of what I like to wear.
RUBINAnd so when I make jewelry, I'm always aware, of course, that everybody has a different aura and so I wanted to make sure that the pieces I made represented those people and their beautiful qualities and, so for me, I always wear things that, I have this necklace that's five strands of red and silver crystals that sparkle.
REHMShort break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Laurie Rubin is with me. She's an award-winning mezzo soprano. She's written a new book, it's titled "Do You Dream in Color?: Insights from a Girl Without Sight" and she also has a new CD out by the same name, "Do You Dream in Color?" Do join us, 800-433-8850.
REHMOne of our emailers, Arthur in Brunswick, Md. has asked to post the poem for the song, which our guest just sang. So we'll do that with your permission, Laurie?
REHMGood. I'm glad. Now, I want to go back to your own development and knowledge and interest in music. How did that begin?
RUBINWell, when I was really young my parents always played their stereo system, especially my dad. My dad's a gadget person and the best music to really emphasize the wonderful sound, especially in the bass was, at that time, classical music. So I would walk through the house, through this landscape of music that I was hearing in all of our speaker systems. It was so funny.
RUBINBut, so at a very early age, I loved Beethoven's 5th and I loved "Peter and The Wolf" and I had this also wonderful teacher at a school for the blind that I went to for a very short time and she played "Peter and The Wolf" for us. So I got a sense of how all the instruments have different personalities and I also got to hold all the different instruments from the orchestra.
RUBINAnd she had us play them, so I had a sense of, when I watched an orchestra I wasn't just like listening to it, it was actually having the experience of knowing how each musician would play that instrument.
REHMHearing individual sounds of instruments, wonderful. And then somebody named Kenny Loggins came into your life. How did he become one of your mentors?
RUBINWhen I was also, it always seems like the pinnacle year was age four and maybe that's just how I remember it. but when I was around that age my mother went to the supermarket and we lived in the same city as Kenny Loggins and she met Kenny in the butcher aisle and in the meantime, she had been playing Kenny's music for me all the time in the car and I just fell in love with his music for some reason.
RUBINAnd I guess I used to pretend he was my imaginary friend and so my teachers would say when my mom picked me, Well, Laurie had Kenny Loggins with her in the nap today. But, so it was really exciting when she met him at the supermarket and he was really touched that I liked his music as well. So he invited us backstage at his next concert.
RUBINSo it snowballed from there, we went on tour with him a lot. We went to all of his concerts in Lake Tahoe, my dad became his unofficial photographer and I actually learned to water ski because of Kenny, because I was very precocious and wanted to everything that my parents did. So he heard me arguing with them about how I wanted to go water skiing with them and Kenny said, Well, of course. And he got an instructor on the speed boat that we were all on and I skied and Kenny took a picture. It was pretty fun.
REHMWow. Did you have any fear whatsoever on those water skis?
RUBINOf course, but you know, when you're four -- actually at that time I was -- by the time we went skiing, I was probably about nine or 10, but you feel like you're indestructible at that time so even if there's a little bit of fear, that's part of the thrill. Yes, it was fun.
REHMBut even though you loved Kenny Loggins' music, you choose opera, how come?
RUBINYes. How'd I make the switch? Well, I started voice lessons when I was about 10 and a half and, of course, the default was pop music, but then I saw "Phantom of The Opera" a few months later and I just absolutely fell in love with it. And, of course, even though it's a musical, the whole idea of it is about opera.
RUBINAnd so my jump was not to musical theatre, but to opera because I wanted to sing like that and I wanted to be part of these amazing majestic productions. And so my teacher, who was a Julliard alum and an opera singer, was so excited that one of her students of my age was interested in doing opera. So that's what led me into doing it.
REHMAnd you became a mezzo soprano?
RUBINYes, that's right.
REHMDescribe what that means in terms of range, in terms of tone.
RUBINWell, I think chocolate seems to have been the theme because we talked about it, but mezzo voices tend to be deeper. A lot of people describe them as chocolaty and they just sit a tiny bit lower than a soprano. So it wouldn't be as high-pitched and as lightweight, although there are some very nice rich, heavy sopranos also. But it just sits a little bit lower so you would hear more in the middle range than you would in the high range.
REHMYou chose something for this new CD, titled "In The Mountains of Jerusalem." Tell us about this piece.
RUBINWell, it's really special to me because I've always wanted to sing a piece in Hebrew because I'm Jewish and I've done so much Yiddish and Hebrew and this composer wrote this piece for me because we were asked to do it for a music festival. And I said, "Can you please write it in Hebrew?" Because he's Israeli and he said, "Well, I'd love to."
RUBINAnd we've become really good friends and collaborators and we've performed this piece a number of times and it's so haunting. Not only does it have the Hebrew but it has the neshama, which is soul in Hebrew. That Jewish, you know, sullen cry from the Diaspora from so many years.
REHMThe difficulties of learning Hebrew to do that must have been really something.
RUBINWell, when I was younger I learned Hebrew Braille because of course my parents expected and of course I wanted to have a bat mitzvah just as my brother had had a bar mitzvah at our synagogue and consequently became the first blind bat mitzvah at that synagogue. But, you know, it wasn't so bad because, again, when you're so young your brain is like a sponge.
RUBINAnd even though you use the same six dot Braille system and you have to think of certain combinations of dots differently than you do in English, it just becomes second nature. And so I had a tutor who was also blind and she, I used to go to her place and she would teach me all the little, the letters and the vowel markings and things like that. And it just became second nature and when I was at Yale my director expected me to learn, how to learn Cyrillic Braille. So also know Russian Braille also.
RUBINNot as well.
REHMNow, before you got to Yale, though, you had a little bit of difficulty in middle school.
REHMTalk about why.
RUBINWell, you know, one of the things that was so interesting to me is that I have always seen myself as a normal person just because I think we all do and that's just how our lives are. But the other kids had never met a blind student before for the most part so they were scared and it's also, there's the whole thing about pressure about being cool.
RUBINAnd they weren't sure if it would be so cool to hang out with somebody that was different. So I dealt with a lot of isolation and kids, not necessarily always being mean, actively mean to me, but just sort of ignoring me and not expecting me to join their groups of friends. There were times when they were actually flat out mean but that's just the age I think.
RUBINBut it was very isolating at that time and I began to sort of reinvent my identity in a very negative way just because I thought well if this how they see me I must be that way. but of course, I've always been sort of very resilient and I bounced back and so, you know, I think deep down I always knew, no, the way they see me is not necessarily how I have to be.
REHMHow did your parents react to the idea that other older students did not want a babysit you? Did they tell you that?
RUBINMy parents were horrified of all the sort of discrimination that I had to go through. But I think they also knew that, you know, they had gone through it for various reasons on their own in middle school. They remembered what was it like to be in middle school and they just said I would get through it and they were always very supportive of me, always. And they always made me remember who I really was.
REHMDid the students with special needs sort of stick together?
RUBINYou know, not necessarily and I think part of that is because we didn't want to be lumped into a group. But, you know, also when I was at my middle school I was the only blind student. And there weren't that many other students that had disabilities. The ones that did have, were not visible on the surface, and so there was one part that I talk about in the book where I was not supposed to let anybody know, when I was in the back room doing my tests, when I saw another student, it was supposed to be completely anonymous, when I was seeing another student getting tutored.
RUBINBecause it was like the big scarlet letter that nobody wanted to associate with themselves, the D word, the disability. They didn't want to associate it, which was a real shame because I thought, well, if we acknowledge it and we're all okay with it, then we don't have to hide it.
REHMClearly, your parents gave you a very upbeat attitude about yourself. But then a family friend said something that you surely resented, as did your parents.
RUBINYes, goodness. I remember I was on the school trip and it was raining the entire trip. And there was this one time we were supposed to go on this hike, but I wasn't allowed to go and, of course, that upset me already. I was, like, so used to doing things with my family that not to be able to go on a hike was ridiculous to me.
RUBINThen I found out they were using it as a way to blindfold the kids to show them what my life must be like, which was also horrifying to me because that must've been terrifying to them and my life is not terrifying because I've adapted over the years. But during that hike there was a family friend that was on the school trip with me as a chaperone, for just me, which was also another...
REHMFor just you?
RUBINYes, it was very humiliating. But she was a family friend so I thought it would make it better, but she ended up telling me that she can understand why the kids didn't relate to me because I wouldn't be able to relate to them about makeup or romance or movies or anything. And that it would be silly of me to expect to have any kind of romance in my life, to ever think that I would get a job or live away from my parents.
REHMWhat a cruel thing to say.
RUBINIt was awful. But what was worse about it was not so much that she said it, but to know that it was coming from somewhere that maybe everybody felt that way. And then I thought, no, if everybody feels that way, how I am going to succeed?
RUBINBut then, of course, about the identity thing, my family reminded me that, of course, that's not how life is going to be and I just have to stick to who I am and prove myself and it would all be okay and it was. And that's the message I really want to share with other teenagers, too, that everybody who goes through a difficult time during that time will get over it, will get through it, as long as they stay true to themselves.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about going to camp and what Interlochen meant for you?
RUBINThat was, first of all, I went to a camp for the blind when I was in 7th grade. And I resisted it at first because, again, I didn't want to be lumped into a camp situation with other blind kids and be sort of in that stigma. But what had ended up happening was I was very uplifted because I found a lot of other blind students who were like me.
RUBINThey weren't -- there wasn't anything else wrong with them and we all bonded and it made me realize that there's really nothing wrong with being blind and we all have the same hopes, dreams and desires. Then when I went to Tanglewood, this music program for students from high school all over the country, it was really eye-opening because people treated me not like a blind person they had never seen in their life before.
RUBINBut they treated me like a musician and if I could sing and if we could all share in music together, they figured there was no reason to treat me differently. So that was really helpful in my life, in that difficult time.
REHMAnd, but when you got to Overland, what happened?
RUBINWow. When I got to Overland, it was amazing because it was, the chapter's actually in my book about that time was called "Once Upon A Time When Being Blind was Celebrated." And it really was the more different you were at Overland the better.
REHMMy son went to Overland as well so...
RUBINIt's such a great place.
REHMIt is a great place. But how were you treated, how was your musicality treated?
RUBINMy musicality actually was treated really interestingly, I mean, very well in the beginning because I found the Baroque music department, which meant that I got to sing with all sorts of authenticates instruments from the time. So gambas and violins and things like that and that was eye-opening and that led to a lot of my musical career later on. The opera department was a little afraid of me at first.
REHMAfraid of you?
RUBINYes, they just didn't know how I was going to acclimate on stage. But eventually they did give me a chance and I did sing my first lead role in an opera and that was really incredible because it was that complete Cinderella story of proving myself and then actually getting to be on stage.
REHMHow did you manage the stage?
RUBINThe stage was very convoluted because we had this set that was like a rotating set, it changed all the time. And I just got used to it and, you know, I figure if you learn your own house and don't have to walk around looking at it and you can figure it out pretty easily, it's going to be the same way with a set. So I don't walk around my house with a cane and I didn't need to do that with the set.
RUBINBut what actually happened was that our director, he had me walk around the stage with a broom because I would...
REHMTo feel your way?
RUBINTo feel my way, which it worked, it worked. But he also had me wear dark glasses and I said to him, I said, you know, I don't need to wear dark glasses. Blind people don't always wear dark glasses. I don't want the audience to...
REHMWhy did he want you to wear dark glasses? Did he want the audience to know you were blind?
RUBINYes, he really, really wanted to drive it home. He really did and I didn't feel that there was that need to. There's just continuity of interpretation, but he really wanted them to. So, you know, there's always that thin ice that you're treading on. You don't want to, you know, to sacrifice your integrity as an artist, but you also don't want to sacrifice your position as the underling of the boss. So it's difficult.
REHMWhat was the opera?
RUBINIt was "La Cenerentola," "Cinderella" by Rossini.
REHMAnd many other people in the cast then?
RUBINYes, and it was really funny because there was two casts and I was in the short cast and there was a tall cast. And they were both, I mean, the cast that I was in was particularly close and at the end when I'm supposed to hug the stepsisters, I really did mean it because they were, I mean, I never had any ill feelings towards these people. They were all so wonderful and afterwards they said to me, Laurie, you give the best hugs. And, How could you hug us after we were so cruel to you as stepsisters? I said, Because you're awesome people.
REHMI love it. Laurie Rubin and we'll talk more about her career, her music degree at Yale. We'll play more of her music and take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here is an email -- the second part of that email from Arthur in Brunswick who identifies himself as a classical singer. "In concern or in opera how do you, Laurie Ruben, watch the conductor? Is it primarily listening more closely than most of us do or what?"
MS. LAURIE RUBENI actually listen for certain cues that conductors give which are so funny. All conductors, and I can say this very confidently, that I've worked with are very -- they just gesticulate, not only just to the orchestra, but they're very emotionally involved in a piece. So you can hear them grunting a little bit, you can hear them breathing. You can hear them crescendoing because they kind of go, you know, and it's very subtle.
MS. LAURIE RUBENBut I'm with them completely 100 percent because it's kind of like the way you would work with a collaborative pianist and that you're listening, you're paying attention. It's a two-way street in how you create these interpretations together and doing that with the orchestra is really fabulous with this conductor besides you. And the other thing is that -- and not to sound judgmental or on a soapbox at all, but, you know, everybody has always said that you're really supposed to not look so much, but to pay attention to the music. And so I feel like in a way I have a little bit of an advantage with the conductor...
RUBEN...yeah, 'cause I'm not always -- especially when you're on stage and you're doing an opera, you have to check in with the conductor but you have to be paying attention to your staging. And so that is very important to be able to tune in with your ears a lot.
RUBENAnd the other thing is that conductors and I always have had a great relationship being able to be honest with each other about what we're going to do and what they would like -- if they'd like me to move a tempo more, if they' like me to pull back. So it's always just about being straight with the person that you're working with. And -- yeah.
REHMExcellent. Let's go to Ocala, Fla. Good morning, Howard.
HOWARDGood morning. I'm enjoying the show very much.
REHMI'm so glad.
HOWARDI have a lone son with a disability and then recently I had a stroke so I join the ranks of the disabled.
REHMOh, I'm sorry.
RUBENOh, I see, I see.
HOWARDIn fact, my service animal and I are listening to the show together.
HOWARDWe went -- my wife and I went through, and my son went through an awful lot of things that you went through, you know, growing up. He's 27 now, but we have noticed in the last couple years, the battle gets easier every single year.
RUBENOh, that's great.
HOWARDSociety -- we've noticed society gets a little more open. We've got more TV shows with persons with disabilities. I walk my service dog into a store and I hear little kids say, oh, that's a service animal? You can't pet them?
HOWARDI mean, are you seeing this that it's -- that society just seems to get more open and people like yourself and other people with disabilities who aren't afraid to hide in a closet like they did 30 years ago.
RUBENWell, first of all, I have to ask you, what kind of dog do you have?
HOWARDShe's a black lab. Her name is Maggie. She's three years old and she's an alert dog. She will alert me to high stress and hopefully keep me from having another stroke.
RUBENOh, that's awesome. That's great. I ask because I had a black lab poodle cross from the Guide Dog Foundation and he looked like a Muppet. And I miss him terribly but he was a great guide dog. But in answer to your question, I do think things are getting better because, as you say, kids are getting mainstreamed so they see -- the other kids see disabilities as a regular life thing for them.
RUBENI think a lot of times students know more than their parents and they say, no mom, you're not supposed to pet the dog, which is wonderful because these are our future generations at work here. And they're going to be the ones that govern and make rules and legislation. And so I think that things are getting better. I still think that there is the tendency to be gun-shy about hiring people with disabilities. Because we're living in a very fast-paced society where people want productivity and they're so terrified of anything holding them back.
RUBENSo -- and instead of being able to take the time to get educated about the many abilities that people with disabilities have, they tend to go with a package that they feel is more complete when they're looking for an employee. So that's the big one. We still have a 70 percent unemployment rate in the blind community. But I do agree with you that things are getting better. I think socially we're being integrated more. People are asking more questions. They're just -- everything's more visible. So, yeah, and I'm very happy to hear that things are getting better for you and for your son.
REHMHoward, thanks for you call. Just on that point I have recently learned that one of the networks has signed Michael J. Fox to a series focused on an individual with Parkinson's who is played by Michael J. Fox himself.
REHMSo I do agree with you that more and more of that is really coming out. Let's go to Denise in Davenport, Fla. Good morning, to you.
DENISEGood morning, Diane. I need to tell you this story because I have a very, very dear friend who was born almost blind but then her eyes got diseased and she had to have them removed. She was in my choir. She learned the music by rote and she was just wonderful. But one day in our conversation she said oh, that's my favorite color.
DENISEI said, okay. How do you know? And she said, because whenever I'm wearing it people tell me how lovely I look.
RUBENOh, that's wonderful.
REHMYeah, that's a great story.
RUBENThat's wonderful, yeah.
REHMSomeone has asked whether you dream in imagery. Do you see your dreams?
RUBENYou know, I don't because I'm sure that somebody who has lost their sight -- and I know a lot of people who have -- I'm sure they still dream in images because that's in their realm of experience. But for me, my visual cortex never developed with a sense of sight. So I dream -- for example, I might dream that I'm sitting in this chair and with a pair of earphones on and I can see light because that's something that I do. And I would dream that sense of awareness, but I wouldn't actually dream the images like they're on a TV screen.
RUBENAnd I would gather most people dream like their sense of awareness rather than like they're looking at their movie through a -- looking at their dream as if it was a movie.
REHMClearly life for you has been a series of progressions but with dips along the way. You were so excited when you were accepted into Yale and then it turned out to be a big disappointment.
RUBENYeah, and I hate to -- you know, I just feel terrible saying it because in a way they were so -- they kicked my -- they just kicked me vocally. They did such great things for me. They pushed me, that's the word, not kicked. They pushed me vocally and musically and I learned so much there. But, yes, Yale, I was so excited to get into that program because it's so tiny. And most conservatories have big opera -- big voice programs which then you have to audition for the opera. But Yale was already this tiny little program so it really meant that it was for everybody in the program to be featured in some operas for their experience.
RUBENSo when I got into the program and still didn't get into an opera either year it was devastating emotionally for me because I thought, well I'm going to have so much trouble getting opera in the real world if they don't see too much of it under my belt already. And I almost left because I wanted to find a school that would support my wanting to do opera. But I stuck it out because it was such an incredible program.
RUBENAnd they had this policy where they would give you music to learn for opera scenes and two weeks later it had to be completely memorized, completely. No books at all. And it stood me and others in such good stead because now when we're hired for gigs and we have a very short lead time to learn the music we can do it. We have the muscles to do it.
REHMBut what disappointed you about Yale?
RUBENThe -- not getting into the operas for two years just -- it was really devastating because...
REHMAnd why not?
RUBENWell, I had conversations with the director about it many times and she just said, well we're afraid for you to move onstage. It's too dangerous. And I said to her, I said, I move around my own kitchen. I move around a hot stove. I cook. I -- you know, I walk around the streets of New York City for pity sake, you know. I just -- I don't understand why walking around a stage would be -- with so much controlled environment would be so difficult. But it was just -- it was too big of a leap for them. And, you know, it's just people have fears because blindness to them is what it's like to get up in the morning without your glasses on. But that's not how it is for me.
REHMSo eventually did you get any singing role -- starring role at Yale?
RUBENNo, not once. Not a one.
REHMPoor them. Sad for them. But you became very excited about the music of Joaquin Rodrigo. Tell me about that.
RUBENWell, when I was a teenager I used to listen to public radio all the time and they just happened to mention about Rodrigo, who I loved, that he happened to be blind. And I thought wow, I never knew that. And it just goes to show that his blindness did not figure into the beauty of his music. And so I wanted to feature his music on my CD as another blind and very successful musician.
REHMSinging that music must have been just extraordinary for you.
RUBENUm, it was so fun. It really was because his music has a very renaissance medieval kind of sound to it even though he was around in the 20th century. It's just so beautiful and so I love that because I love early music and being able to make your voice almost like an instrument or a bell or something. It's really cool to...
REHMAnd that's how it sounds.
RUBENOh, great. Oh, good.
REHMThat's how it sounds.
REHMTell me, Laurie, how did you come to the conclusion that you were gay?
RUBENOh, well, for me, that happened over time and I started to have dreams about it. And my mom said, well, don't worry about it, Laurie. I mean, everybody has funky dreams like that, you know. And so I just put it out of my mind. But then as I got into high school, I realized that there were a lot of other students who might be questioning also. And then I had more dreams about it.
RUBENAnd when I went to Tanglewood, of course, theater and music is the great place to meet other people who are gay. And I remember meeting this one girl who told me that she had been in a relationship with a girl. And I remember feeling so envious and, like, I wanted to do that as well. When I went to Overland, of course, that's the best place to feel at home as a gay person, and so I had my -- I had actually two relationships at that time and one of them lasting four-and-a-half years.
RUBENAnd then went to Yale, I met my current partner, so we've been together for ten years.
RUBENYes, exactly. Yeah.
REHMI'm glad for you.
RUBENOh, thank you.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So many questions to ask you and our listeners want to get into this program. To Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Ashley.
ASHLEYGood morning. Thank you for taking my call, Diane.
ASHLEYI had a really interesting experience today listening to the show because I have felt blind with Laurie because a vast majority of people, I assume, have no idea what you look like, Diane. But we sit around and listen to the show and enjoy your distinctive but yet beautiful voice. And I wanted to thank you both for that experience.
RUBENOh, wow. Thank you so much.
REHMSo lovely. Thank you very much, Ashley.
ASHLEYHave a good day.
REHMBye. Let's go to Vienna, Va. You're on the air, Victor.
VICTORHi. And I wanted to comment that your guest has so much positive energy, at least so lively. She's lovely and she touched my heart.
RUBENOh, thank you. Goodness.
REHMYou do inspire people I think, Laurie, with your positive sense of your own life despite the drawbacks that others might feel you've been experiencing. Your parents have been so supportive in your life.
REHMNow tell me about this jewelry making and how you got into it?
RUBENI've always loved fashion and it's so funny. People always -- I had an argument with my dad when I was in 9th grade because I was saying, you know, blind people can do everything. They could even be a fashion designer. I was partly kidding. And he said, well, Laurie, there're certain things you just can't do. You can't be a fashion designer. And it's so ironic because now I make jewelry and I love it.
REHMHow did you begin doing that?
RUBENWell, when I was in New York after being there for a couple of years and being frustrated that I wasn't being able to be hired for -- even as a voice teacher. People weren't asking me for second -- even for first interviews when they would see my blindness on my resume. So I was feeling like I have a purpose. I know I have a purpose. I'm not supposed to just be -- just cooking our meals. I'm supposed to be doing something else.
RUBENSo I remember my mother's friend coming to New York and my mom and she were visiting together and I went and had lunch with them. And I noticed my mother's friend had this gorgeous bracelet and I said, I love your bracelet. Where did you get it? She said, you know, I made it. I'm taking a jewelry-making class. And she said, you know, Laurie, I don't use my eyes when I make jewelry. I do it all by feel.
RUBENAnd I was so excited and I called up an instructor from the Jewish Community Center in New York. And I said can you -- would you please teach me privately and she did. And she was very patient. And she taught me all the crimping techniques, all the wire wrapping. And then I just went to town and I was like a kid in a candy store in every bead shop. And even just touching the beads and running my fingers through them and making -- watching them -- listening to them make all the sounds of that -- noise, I just loved it. And so it just became a real passion of mine.
REHMThat's terrific. And clearly singing is a passion. We have as a last selection Foray's Clair de Lune. Tell us about this.
RUBENIt's just such a beautiful song. It's like a painting. And my collaborative pianist and I just -- we loved the idea of doing a French set on this CD because the "Do You Dream in Color" piece has that impressionist sound to it. And I think this song in particular is just so loving and passionate but in such a tender graceful way.
REHMWhat a pleasure it's been to have you here.
RUBENIt's been so fun. Thank you so much.
REHMThank you, Laurie, and congratulations to you on this CD and on your new book...
REHM...titled "Do You Dream in Color? Insights From a Girl Without Sight." And thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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