Laurie Rubin: "Do You Dream in Color? Insights From A Girl Without Sight"

MS. DIANE REHM

11:06:56
Thanks 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 REHM

11:07:24
Laurie 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 drshow@wamu.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Welcome Laurie, it's good to have you here.

MS. LAURIE RUBIN

11:07:56
Thank you so much. It's great to be here.

REHM

11:07:57
I'm glad to see you.

RUBIN

11:08:00
Thank you.

REHM

11:08:00
Laurie, talk about where the title of your book and your CD come from.

RUBIN

11:08:08
Okay. 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.

RUBIN

11:08:37
And 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.

RUBIN

11:09:03
So 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.

REHM

11:10:20
The question, Laurie, is how do you perceive color?

RUBIN

11:10:28
Well, 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.

RUBIN

11:10:57
But 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.

REHM

11:11:38
You 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.

RUBIN

11:11:59
Well, 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.

RUBIN

11:12:15
And 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."

REHM

11:12:27
How did they know, how early did they know that you could not see?

RUBIN

11:12:33
They 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.

REHM

11:12:56
And what was the diagnosis?

RUBIN

11:13:00
The 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.

REHM

11:13:25
So how then did you begin to learn to read and to learn to read music?

RUBIN

11:13:34
Well, 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.

REHM

11:14:01
How did your friends react to the fact that you were born and using this typewriter?

RUBIN

11:14:08
They 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.

REHM

11:14:33
And what about your parents early on?

RUBIN

11:14:38
They 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.

RUBIN

11:14:58
So 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.

REHM

11:15:16
And of course, you have a brother.

RUBIN

11:15:18
Yes.

REHM

11:15:19
Older or younger?

RUBIN

11:15:20
He's five years older. He was always a wonderful supporter and mentor to me. I wanted to do everything he did.

REHM

11:15:27
And did he help in the reading process?

RUBIN

11:15:32
In the reading process?

REHM

11:15:33
Yes.

RUBIN

11:15:34
Well, 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.

RUBIN

11:16:00
But 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.

REHM

11:16:19
So clearly your parents were in no way wishing to hold you back because you were blind or to treat you any differently?

RUBIN

11:16:30
Exactly, 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.

RUBIN

11:16:58
She'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.

REHM

11:17:15
Now, did they call Lily?

RUBIN

11:17:18
That was my mother's name.

REHM

11:17:20
I see.

RUBIN

11:17:20
So she was always the one they were afraid.

REHM

11:17:23
Gotcha. 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.

RUBIN

11:17:54
Thank you.

REHM

11:17:54
You design and wondered how you chose color?

RUBIN

11:18:01
Well, 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.

RUBIN

11:18:20
And 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.

REHM

11:18:42
Short break here. We'll be right back.

REHM

11:20:05
And 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.

REHM

11:20:38
One 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?

RUBIN

11:20:56
Of course.

REHM

11:20:57
Good. I'm glad. Now, I want to go back to your own development and knowledge and interest in music. How did that begin?

RUBIN

11:21:10
Well, 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.

RUBIN

11:21:32
But, 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.

RUBIN

11:21:53
And 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.

REHM

11:22:03
Hearing individual sounds of instruments, wonderful. And then somebody named Kenny Loggins came into your life. How did he become one of your mentors?

RUBIN

11:22:18
When 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.

RUBIN

11:22:42
And 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.

RUBIN

11:23:04
So 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.

REHM

11:23:30
Wow. Did you have any fear whatsoever on those water skis?

RUBIN

11:23:35
Of 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.

REHM

11:23:47
But even though you loved Kenny Loggins' music, you choose opera, how come?

RUBIN

11:23:53
Yes. 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.

RUBIN

11:24:12
And 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.

REHM

11:24:30
And you became a mezzo soprano?

RUBIN

11:24:33
Yes, that's right.

REHM

11:24:34
Describe what that means in terms of range, in terms of tone.

RUBIN

11:24:41
Well, 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.

REHM

11:25:08
You chose something for this new CD, titled "In The Mountains of Jerusalem." Tell us about this piece.

RUBIN

11:25:18
Well, 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."

RUBIN

11:25:38
And 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.

REHM

11:27:17
The difficulties of learning Hebrew to do that must have been really something.

RUBIN

11:27:27
Well, 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.

RUBIN

11:27:48
And 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.

REHM

11:28:15
Oh, my.

RUBIN

11:28:16
Not as well.

REHM

11:28:17
Now, before you got to Yale, though, you had a little bit of difficulty in middle school.

RUBIN

11:28:25
That's right.

REHM

11:28:25
Talk about why.

RUBIN

11:28:27
Well, 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.

RUBIN

11:28:48
And 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.

RUBIN

11:29:08
But 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.

REHM

11:29:31
How did your parents react to the idea that other older students did not want a babysit you? Did they tell you that?

RUBIN

11:29:43
My 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.

REHM

11:30:05
Did the students with special needs sort of stick together?

RUBIN

11:30:12
You 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.

RUBIN

11:30:41
Because 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.

REHM

11:30:54
Clearly, 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.

RUBIN

11:31:11
Yes, 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.

RUBIN

11:31:29
Then 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...

REHM

11:31:49
For just you?

RUBIN

11:31:50
Yes, 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.

REHM

11:32:13
What a cruel thing to say.

RUBIN

11:32:15
It 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?

RUBIN

11:32:26
But 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.

REHM

11:32:47
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about going to camp and what Interlochen meant for you?

RUBIN

11:33:00
That 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.

RUBIN

11:33:21
They 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.

RUBIN

11:33:46
But 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.

REHM

11:33:57
And, but when you got to Overland, what happened?

RUBIN

11:34:04
Wow. 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.

REHM

11:34:22
My son went to Overland as well so...

RUBIN

11:34:26
It's such a great place.

REHM

11:34:27
It is a great place. But how were you treated, how was your musicality treated?

RUBIN

11:34:36
My 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.

REHM

11:35:03
Afraid of you?

RUBIN

11:35:04
Yes, 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.

REHM

11:35:21
How did you manage the stage?

RUBIN

11:35:25
The 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.

RUBIN

11:35:48
But what actually happened was that our director, he had me walk around the stage with a broom because I would...

REHM

11:35:55
To feel your way?

RUBIN

11:35:56
To 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...

REHM

11:36:09
Why did he want you to wear dark glasses? Did he want the audience to know you were blind?

RUBIN

11:36:15
Yes, 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.

REHM

11:36:39
What was the opera?

RUBIN

11:36:41
It was "La Cenerentola," "Cinderella" by Rossini.

REHM

11:36:45
And many other people in the cast then?

RUBIN

11:36:50
Yes, 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.

REHM

11:37:18
I 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.

REHM

11:40:05
And 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 RUBEN

11:40:33
I 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 RUBEN

11:40:58
But 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...

REHM

11:41:36
Interesting.

RUBEN

11:41:37
...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.

RUBEN

11:41:52
And 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.

REHM

11:42:09
Excellent. Let's go to Ocala, Fla. Good morning, Howard.

HOWARD

11:42:16
Good morning. I'm enjoying the show very much.

REHM

11:42:18
I'm so glad.

HOWARD

11:42:20
I have a lone son with a disability and then recently I had a stroke so I join the ranks of the disabled.

REHM

11:42:27
Oh, I'm sorry.

RUBEN

11:42:27
Oh, I see, I see.

HOWARD

11:42:29
In fact, my service animal and I are listening to the show together.

REHM

11:42:32
Good.

RUBEN

11:42:32
Oh.

HOWARD

11:42:34
We 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.

RUBEN

11:42:48
Oh, that's great.

HOWARD

11:42:48
Society -- 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?

RUBEN

11:43:02
Yeah.

HOWARD

11:43:03
I 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.

REHM

11:43:15
Indeed.

RUBEN

11:43:17
Well, first of all, I have to ask you, what kind of dog do you have?

HOWARD

11:43:20
She'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.

RUBEN

11:43:30
Oh, 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.

RUBEN

11:43:52
I 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.

RUBEN

11:44:21
So -- 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.

REHM

11:44:51
Howard, 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.

RUBEN

11:45:15
Wow.

REHM

11:45:15
So 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.

DENISE

11:45:29
Good 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.

RUBEN

11:45:54
That's awesome.

DENISE

11:45:55
I said, okay. How do you know? And she said, because whenever I'm wearing it people tell me how lovely I look.

REHM

11:46:06
Oh.

RUBEN

11:46:06
Oh, that's wonderful.

REHM

11:46:08
Yeah, that's a great story.

RUBEN

11:46:10
That's wonderful, yeah.

REHM

11:46:11
Someone has asked whether you dream in imagery. Do you see your dreams?

RUBEN

11:46:21
You 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.

RUBEN

11:46:48
And 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.

REHM

11:46:58
Clearly 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.

RUBEN

11:47:16
Yeah, 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.

RUBEN

11:47:57
So 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.

RUBEN

11:48:21
And 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.

REHM

11:48:40
But what disappointed you about Yale?

RUBEN

11:48:45
The -- not getting into the operas for two years just -- it was really devastating because...

REHM

11:48:52
And why not?

RUBEN

11:48:54
Well, 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.

REHM

11:49:30
So eventually did you get any singing role -- starring role at Yale?

RUBEN

11:49:38
No, not once. Not a one.

REHM

11:49:40
So sad.

RUBEN

11:49:41
I know.

REHM

11:49:41
Poor them. Sad for them. But you became very excited about the music of Joaquin Rodrigo. Tell me about that.

RUBEN

11:49:53
Well, 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.

REHM

11:51:06
Singing that music must have been just extraordinary for you.

RUBEN

11:51:11
Um, 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...

REHM

11:51:27
And that's how it sounds.

RUBEN

11:51:28
Oh, great. Oh, good.

REHM

11:51:29
That's how it sounds.

RUBEN

11:51:31
Thank you.

REHM

11:51:32
Tell me, Laurie, how did you come to the conclusion that you were gay?

RUBEN

11:51:39
Oh, 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.

RUBEN

11:52:04
And 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.

RUBEN

11:52:34
And then went to Yale, I met my current partner, so we've been together for ten years.

REHM

11:52:38
That's Jenny.

RUBEN

11:52:39
Yes, exactly. Yeah.

REHM

11:52:42
I'm glad for you.

RUBEN

11:52:42
Oh, thank you.

REHM

11:52:44
And 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.

ASHLEY

11:52:59
Good morning. Thank you for taking my call, Diane.

REHM

11:53:01
Surely.

ASHLEY

11:53:02
I 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.

RUBEN

11:53:25
Oh, wow. Thank you so much.

REHM

11:53:26
So lovely. Thank you very much, Ashley.

ASHLEY

11:53:30
Have a good day.

REHM

11:53:31
Bye. Let's go to Vienna, Va. You're on the air, Victor.

VICTOR

11:53:39
Hi. 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.

RUBEN

11:53:54
Oh, thank you. Goodness.

REHM

11:53:56
You 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.

RUBEN

11:54:17
Oh, absolutely.

REHM

11:54:19
Now tell me about this jewelry making and how you got into it?

RUBEN

11:54:24
I'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.

REHM

11:54:42
How did you begin doing that?

RUBEN

11:54:44
Well, 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.

RUBEN

11:55:08
So 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.

RUBEN

11:55:31
And 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.

REHM

11:56:03
That's terrific. And clearly singing is a passion. We have as a last selection Foray's Clair de Lune. Tell us about this.

RUBEN

11:56:20
It'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.

REHM

11:57:08
What a pleasure it's been to have you here.

RUBEN

11:57:12
It's been so fun. Thank you so much.

REHM

11:57:13
Thank you, Laurie, and congratulations to you on this CD and on your new book...

RUBEN

11:57:21
Thank you.

REHM

11:57:22
...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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