Matt is a good friend of mine. He writes amazing poetry. Be sure to enter the giveaway and follow Matt on social media. 🙂
Let’s start with the basics…
- What is your name? My name is Matt Harris, and I’m a fifty-nine-year-old poet—and author of Seeing Through Blindness. I live just outside of Baltimore, MD. Before we begin, I would like first to say hello to your readers and to thank you, Amanda, for giving me this opportunity to share a little bit about myself and my work.
- What is your college major/Minor? I am currently enrolled as an English Major, with a specialization in Creative Writing, at the University of Baltimore. Several years ago, my marriage broke up; and a year later, I was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome (US). US is a genetic disease that robs a person of both eyesight and hearing. At that time, as a former drug and alcohol abuser, who had been sober for 20 years, I feared that I might fall back into that lifestyle again, because I so desperately wanted to numb the pain from my marital breakup and Usher Syndrome diagnosis. The words Go buy a six-pack, one won’t hurt kept echoing through my mind. But I knew that was a lie. I knew from my past substance abuse that this old saying applied to me: one drink was too many and ten were not enough. So, I pushed those lies aside and decided to lean on my faith in Jesus. He has kept me sober and has given me the strength and comfort that I needed to cope with the pain. And shortly thereafter, I enrolled in the University of Baltimore at age 55, with a 99% vision loss and a 60% hearing loss. If everything goes as expected, I will be graduating in the spring of 2020. I plan to write a memoir based on this experience. I hope it will make a nice bookend to my poetic memoir, Seeing Through Blindness, which tells about my experiences with blindness and drugs as a teenager and young adult.
Let’s talk about writing/YouTube/Blogs…
- Who has inspired you the most in life and your blogging and or YouTube channel? My mother, who passed away last year, was a great inspiration for me. She grew up in Baltimore with 6 brothers and a sister. And although they lived in poverty, my mom chose to work hard and fight her way out of her circumstances. What inspired me initially about blogging, however, was that I wanted to try to get out information about my book—and to share its message of hope. I also wanted to blog about other poets’, or writers’, work as well. I think it’s important for writers to support one another, as you do, Amanda. But my blog turned into a rather eclectic assortment of topics—everything from an article about a blind man from Scripture named Bartimaeus to a friend whose rock band once opened for Led Zeppelin in Baltimore. But since starting college, I have largely neglected my blog because my studies have taken top priority. I hope to focus more on blogging after I graduate. As for YouTube, other than a few poetry recitations, I haven’t utilized my channel to its fullest potential. But after having watched some of your YouTube videos, Amanda, you have inspired me to take another look at how I could use my channel to help people and, at the same time, support other writers and promote my own work.
- Besides writing or making YouTube videos, what do you like to do in your spare time? I love to read. I’m a HUGE Stephan King fan, currently reading Doctor Sleep. I also love reading Scripture. In addition to reading, I like walking, going to the beach, attending plays, poetry readings, going to the movies, engaging in good conversations, and eating at restaurants. During football season, I love listening to Baltimore Ravens’ games. The team was named after one of my favorite poems: “The Raven,” by Edgar Allan Poe.
- What is the title of your blog or YouTube channel? My blog, along with information about my book, can be found at my website: seeingthroughblindness.com.
- Have you ever written a book? If so tell me about it? My latest book, as I mentioned earlier, is called Seeing Through Blindness. It tells about my battles with visual impairment, drugs, and God during my teenage years and young adult life. It speaks not only to the issues of people with disabilities but also to issues concerning addiction and marginalization in society. Since I’m a poet, I wrote the book as a narrative poem in a free-verse style. I like this style because it allowed me to use a ton of imagery to tell my story by showing it. The poetic structure also enabled me to say what needed to be said in 100 pages—instead of probably 300 pages if I had written it in prose. A show called This Is Baltimore, Too produced a documentary about my book, which aired on a local cable television channel. Here’s a link to the show if any of your readers would like to take a look at it. This Is Baltimore, Too — Seeing Through Blindness with Matt Harris
- Where can people buy your books?
My book is available on Amazon—in both paperback and Kindle versions.
Let’s get to know more about you and your disability…
- Name a bad habit that you have? I have a tendency to rock back and forth sometimes when I’m standing up. I developed this habit when my oldest daughter was a baby. Sometimes the only way for her to fall asleep was for me to stand up and rock back and forth with her in my arms.
- Name your best quality? I’m a good listener.
- If you could interview anyone living or dead who would it be and why? I would love to interview John Milton, the British poet who wrote the epic poem Paradise Lost. Milton was blind when he wrote this masterpiece in the 1600s. I would ask him how he, as a blind person, wrote and edited this voluminous piece using only seventeenth-century technology.
- Where do you see yourself in five years? I would hope to have published my next memoir and several more books of poetry by then. I would also hope to be traveling the country to recite my poetry at various venues.
- What is the name/cause of your visual impairment (or other disability that you may have)? As I mentioned earlier, I have a genetic disease called Usher Syndrome (US), which causes both blindness and deafness. At age 21, I was first diagnosed with a genetic eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). RP causes severe visual impairment and can lead to total blindness. At the time of my RP diagnosis, I was declared legally blind and could still hear perfectly. By age 45, I started to experience hearing loss. About 10 years later, after my hearing further deteriorated, and since RP and US are genetically related, I was tested for US, and the results came back positive.
- How does your visual impairment (or other disability that you may have) effect you on a daily basis? Having a dual sensory loss can be challenging. It often feels like I’m in a foreign country trying to decipher language and the lay of the land. It sometimes feels as if I’m fading away. But, fortunately, the technologies available today help me maneuver through some of the foreign territory that I face each day. Also, as I mentioned earlier, my faith in Jesus helps to anchor me in peace while I’m trying to figure out how to navigate this new world in which I find myself.
- What do other people feel about your visual impairment (or other disability that you may have)? I feel that my condition is very misunderstood and that people have a lot of misconceptions about it. For example, there is a misconception that blind people have bionic hearing. This myth trips me up at times when people think that about me, not realizing that I actually have a profound hearing loss. This misconception can create misunderstandings when people speak to me and then misinterpret my lack of response as rudeness. I try to dispel these misconceptions whenever I can. On the other hand, some people, even though they still might think that we have superior hearing, still insist on speaking loudly to us. Although this irritates many blind people, it actually helps me with my hearing loss. All in all, however, I do believe that for the most part people in general mean well. I think that the people I meet in my everyday travels just simply do not know how to respond to me because they haven’t been around people in my situation. These are just a few of the many obstacles I face each day. I’ll save the rest for my future memoir.
- If you had to give one piece of advice to others about having a visual impairment (or other disability that you may have) what would it be? I would say to try and develop a good sense of humor about visual impairment and smile a lot and try to put people at ease. Also, if you are losing your sight gradually, I think it’s very important to be aware of–and grieve–the emotional and psychological trauma that can occur in each stage of sight loss. These continual losses over a course of a lifetime can be harmful if not dealt with properly.
- Where can other people find you on Social media (Please list and provide links)
I mostly hang out on Facebook. Here’s a link to my Home Page: Matt’s Facebook page
Let’s talk about the holidays…
- What holidays do you celebrate during the winter season?
I celebrate Christmas and New Year’s.
- What is one of your favorite memories of the holiday? I liked when my daughters opened their presents on Christmas Day when they were little. They would get so excited. I also enjoyed the warmth and the scent of seasoned oak logs that crackled in our wood stove that we always burned on Christmas Day. These were very fond memories.
- Best gift you ever received?
The Gift of Eternal life through Jesus Christ my Lord!
- What does the holidays mean to you?
In recent years, the holidays have become a time of reflection for me. But, of course, they also represent a time of giving. And with that thought in mind, I would like to conclude by giving a free copy of my book, Seeing Through Blindness, to the first five readers who comment on your blog using a quotation from your article. (Unfortunately, I can only send copies in the United States.) Just PM the location to Amanda to where you would like me to send the book.* Thanks again, Amanda, for inviting me to your blog. Happy Holidays!
*Amanda’s email is: Amanda@amandagene.com
If you would like to be interviewed on my blog please email me at: Amanda@amandagene.com