FTS Bonus – Collin van Uchelen’s Finger Works for Fireworks

In this bonus episode, one of the raw conversations used in Flipping the Script on Audio Description: What We See I speak with Collin van Uchelen. A community psychologist out of Vancouver Canada, Collin talks about his experience with Scintillating Photopsia, his work defining a means of effectively describing fireworks as well as his own journey becoming a Pyrotechnician. Hear the story behind “Burning Tears” & more!

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Transcript

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TR:

Greetings Reid My Mind Radio family.

It’s me, Thomas, this week bringing you another bonus episode as promised.

In case you’re new here, this episode isn’t representative of the way I drop interviews. This is pretty raw, where I usually organize, chop out selected sections I think best support the narrative,
add some thoughts to move it all along and then add some sound design and music for a bit of flavor!

In an earlier episode titled, Flipping the Script on Audio Description: What We See, I used segments from multiple interviews with three individuals; Carmen Papalia, Collin van Uchelen and Andrew Slater.
I thought each of those interviews alone were too valuable to let sit on the cutting room floor or whatever the digital version of that is today.

If you haven’t checked out that episode, please give it a listen. I think you’ll dig it!

For now, enjoy this conversation.

— Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

Collin:
My name is Collin van Uchelen. I am a community psychologist and Pyro technician in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I am white with gray green eyes and light brown hair. He him his

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Tell me a little bit about what you were doing before blindness.

Collin:
My sight loss has been incremental. And while I found out that I was 20, I was in university at the time and I went through university and I entered a program in clinical community psychology, a doctoral program, loved swimming, the outdoors, fireworks, my sight loss was incremental. As I lost eyesight, the kinds of activities that I would do would change gradually over time as well.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
But you were in pursuit of your doctorate and it sounds like you achieve that?

Collin:
That’s right. Yeah, I was in at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign, and it was in a clinical and community psychology training program. And so I was there for quite some time and then came out, returned to British Columbia, I was born here, to pursue my clinical psychology internship at the University Hospital out here in Vancouver, have been here ever since.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
So I want to talk about the visual hallucinations, or I believe you call them scintillating photo Sia. Did I remember that correctly.

Collin:
Yeah, that’s right scintillating Photopsia . (Pronounced Fo-tope-sia) what I was told, it’s an interesting phenomena, it started to occur as my sight loss was decreasing. What it essentially is, is that I see visual phenomena, day and night, and whether my eyes are open or closed. And so they’re somewhat like, hallucinations, I guess. But I really wouldn’t call it a hallucination in that strict sense of the meaning. Let me describe what I see. It is a continual flickering and flashing of light across my whole visual field, it reminds me a little bit of, for those who are sighted, what it looks like when the sun is low on the horizon. And it’s setting over a big lake or the ocean or a body of water with all kinds of little waves. And so you just get this sea of little flashes and flickers of light, it’s a little bit like that not quite as bright as it is with the sunlight. But that’s what I see 24/7 Now in my visual fields, and then on top of that, I have some moving kind of images and shapes that occur. And that vary a little bit from time to time. One of them is a little bit like a slowly rotating propeller blade like a propeller from a ship, or like the old sweep of radar that goes around in a circle and leaves a little trail wave of light that ripples out behind it. And these things rotate about one rotation per second, and I’ll see it rotate 567 times, and then it almost comes flying off its axis as if the propeller has just become dislodged, and then it disappears off in the distance, most of time they’re rotating clockwise. And, and I, I can’t do anything, really to create them or to make them stop. Another effect I have is also something that moves across my visual field. And I describe it a little bit like a gummy worm. It’s a band of light that’s somewhat curved. It’s usually kind of a bright purple, kind of a whitish purple, and it’s very, very bright. And so I have these band, it’s almost like in a couple of arches that that move across my visual field, sometimes left to right, sometimes bottom to top or top to bottom, and it just kind of sweeps across my, my visual field.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Do you think that’s similar to the floaters? I know folks describe floaters. I had that long time ago. floaters.

Collin:
Yes. Yeah, very, very much. Because as I try to focus on one of these things, and and like try to track it, then it keeps moving, you know, outside of my visual field, just just at the edge of what I would be able to see. And it’s interesting because I really see almost nothing. Now, I can tell you know, whether there’s light or dark, a little bit of light perception, but most of my functional eye sight has deteriorated. I think in terms of this, this phenomena one of the most interesting things that I see often occurs early in the morning if I wake up from a dream or wake up in the middle of the night. It’s almost as if I’m looking at how it looks when if you look at a dry bottom of a lake bed or a stream bed where the water has receded in the sun has dried everything out. And then you have these little cracks that separate these little clumps of land, you know, they’re like little islands. And what I see is these kinds of little islands, but they’re all illuminated, and they’re kind of a bright greenish color. And then around them it is just black. And these little greenish islands have all these little scintillating, or they’re flickering, sometimes with these kind of purple sparkles in them. And these islands seem to grow in size, or divide in size and get smaller, and then sometimes clustered together. And sometimes these big clusters will form in kind of a purply. Color in it’s beautiful to look at. And it kind of reminds me a little bit of film, I used to see when I would see lava as a kid on TV, and I would see a lava flow that had sort of a crust of rock on the surface or, you know, hardened lava on the surface. And you would see in the cracks, you know, the bright orange glow below and just had that same kind of movement and, and breaking and coming together and splitting apart.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Wow, that’s cool. Like yours sound like it has a little bit more texture than mine. And what I noticed is the movement, I don’t have movement, like the floating that does not occur for me. So that’s really that’s really interesting.

Collin:
Yeah, yeah, yeah,

TR in Conversation with Collin:
yeah. What do you feel about this phenomenon? Do you think there’s anything to it? Or is it just random? Do you make any connections ever?

Collin:
You know, I think there is a lot to it. But that’s just because I have a from my training in psychology and understand a bit about, you know, how vision works in the brain. And our sensory information is kind of combined in through the photoreceptors of our retina. But I think for me, and in terms of other kinds of meaning that it has, I don’t mind it, in some ways. I describe it a little bit like ringing in the years, you know, if you’ve been to something that’s been quite loud, or you know, for folks who have some hearing loss or whatever, like that, it’s constantly going, it’s difficult to escape from, but it’s not unpleasant. For me, it’s just part of the background of my day to day life. And I find it somewhat interesting, insofar as it also reminds me a little bit of fireworks. As a pyro technician, and training fireworks is an art form that I’ve always loved long before I knew I was losing my eyesight, and I still like it, the flickering of it, the brightness of it, the high contrast of it. And that is an effect that you wouldn’t otherwise see every day. I think in terms of meaning, it’s kind of about that. And sometimes it just makes me smile. If it’s, you know, particularly vivid, like sometimes I’m just like, Wow, it’s amazing that I’m able to see this in the context of not being able to see much of what’s around me anymore due to my sight loss. And then sometimes if if I sneeze, it’s almost like they’re activated, or the intensity or speed or brightness is, is increased. And so I’ll get these earlier, I described these these, like worms that will move, you know, across my visual field, like moving arches, and they will sometimes, you know, repeat one after the other 1 2 3 4. And they’re all rising up in succession, and they’re quite bright. I think there might be something just a reflection of the physical stimulation that’s going on at that moment.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
I didn’t even think about the fact that you were a psychologist, because when I was thinking about these visions, I start to sometimes look at at the shapes and stuff. What is that called the Rorschach, the Rorschach test with the ink blocks,

Collin:
and the Rorschach inkblot.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Yeah. And I started to like, try to figure out okay, what am I, what am I seeing in this shape? And I’m not gonna get into what I see.

Collin:
That’s called a projective test, because you’re projecting into the image you’re looking at, you know, whether their interpretation, and it’s supposedly reveals a lot about your inner work.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Yeah, that’s why I’m not gonna say what I see.

Collin:
Fair enough.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
But it sounds like scientifically that there’s probably no because like you said his project. I mean, you could project on anything. .

Collin:
Sure. Yeah. I don’t think so. It has, you know, particular specific meaning. And so in that regard, I think it is somewhat random kind of activation of, you know, our nervous system to fill in, fill in the space that’s left behind with the degeneration of the photoreceptor cells,

TR in Conversation with Collin:
but it’s kind of fun. I sometimes wonder, is it related to something that I’m feeling is it related to you know, anything about my life? Is this something that I’m not consciously thinking about? I guess scientifically, that’s probably not the case. But, you know, I kind of still like to hold on to it like and wonder.

Collin:
Sounds like a whole line of psychological research that we could get into. Very interesting.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Has your feeling changed about these. The way you feel today? Was that the same way you felt in the beginning?

Collin:
No, I think at the beginning, it was a bit more of an annoyance. It was almost like a see through a screen that was between me and the outer world that I was still able to see at that point, you know, so I could see mountains and trees and faces of people. And then I would have this sort of display in the foreground, over the top of it have this constant shimmering and flicking and whatnot. So it was a little bit more annoying at that point, because it couldn’t shut off. But now as the rest of my visual field, my capacity to see what’s out and around me has diminished. This has become more of okay, well, this is what I have available for me to see now. It’s really not an annoyance. It’s just feel so familiar. It’s always there. There’s really never a moment when it when it stops.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
If you woke up and they were gone. Would you miss them?

Collin:
I would think oh, I’m in trouble. (Laughing) Right? Am I alive? Yeah, like that might not be a good sign. Would I miss them? I don’t know. That’s an interesting question. Because it would be I imagined, like quite dark. Or maybe not. Maybe everything would appear kind of white or light gray or who knows.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
So you mentioned you are a pyrotechnic in training. So let’s talk a little bit of fireworks. What’s your earliest memory of enjoying fireworks?

Collin:
It’s kind of neat. It’s one of my earlier visual memories. I was about four. And I was living in Portland, Oregon at the time, and they had an aerial fireworks display. This was the first time that I remember ever having seen anything like that, where there were all these colored points of light that were gorgeous, red, and green, and silver and in gold. That’s my first experience. And I was hooked. From that moment on Yeah, I didn’t have much occasion to see them frequently based on where I live. But I do remember, you know, having the experience at Disney Land. And then when I came to back to Vancouver here for my internship work. It just so happened that every summer in Vancouver, there was an event where three nights in the end of July and beginning of August, they would have a 20 to 25 minute Pyro techniques display where the fireworks were all synchronized to music. And they are launched from a couple of barges that are anchored out in the English Bay Harbor here in Vancouver, which is a gorgeous location and it’s rimmed with beaches all along and you would get two to 300,000 people come out and sit on the beach, you know, in the evening, watch the sunset and take in the fireworks display. In the center of it, they would even have a big PA system where the music was broadcast out on the beach. And then people who were farther away could tune in using their radios. And this was all simulcast then, and so they could see how the music was represented in the form of light during these displays, and it was just fantastic. And I remember the first one I saw, that’s when I returned here in 92. And I was I was, I was blown away. I’d never seen anything so impactful and so huge and so engaging as that because it’s not just the music. It’s not just the light of fireworks, but it’s also that the sound of the firework and the echo of that sound and how it kind of bounces around you. And the sort of immersive quality of the whole experience was was tremendous.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Have you ever experienced fireworks on television where you don’t hear the actual explosions? You just see the fireworks and the accompanying music. Does that have the same effect on you? Oh, no,

Collin:
no, no, not so much. You know? And it reminds me actually of the little blurb that they had at the end of the you know, the Disney show way way back. Oh, yeah. They’re really young kid, you know, like, yeah, the fireworks going off around the council. It’s pretty to look at that the immersive nature of that multi sensory engagement is something that I really experienced when I’m close, as close as possible both to the firework display and to the music system. Here in Vancouver when these events occur, you know, there’s a one kind of it’s sort of like the quote front and center place, you know, at English Bay where English Bay Beach where You would go down and the crowd is very, very full there. So when the beach is full, you were sitting knee to knee on the beach 10s of 1000s of people all in close proximity, you know, would be very difficult even to walk around on the beach, you know, right prior to the display, because it is so full. People are all there for the same purpose, you know, to kind of experience this particular event. That’s pretty incredible.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Yeah, so you can smell the gunpowder at that point.

Collin:
Sometimes you can, you can smell the smoke. Yeah, it depends on the direction of the wind, you know, and, but it’s really, it’s, it’s kind of that that Sonic engagement. And, and I tell you, there’s another part of this that that I think is really interesting, because it’s it’s a feeling sensation to. And that’s, it’s about what I call resonance. And I think it’s these are these moments when the artistry of what I’m beholding or witnessing touches me in a way that it just gives me goosebumps. If I can tell you just a bit of a story about how this occurred to me once here that just really got me to pay attention. I was at English Bay I was with a close friend and fireworks describer, Brad and you know, with 200,000 people on the beach all around you. You know, there’s a lot of chatter and conversation that goes on during these firework shows. But there was a moment when the music was kind of quiet. And the fireworks are kind of quiet to kind of muffled, sizzling sound and muffled kind of the the sound of the shell breaks as they were breaking in the air. And the crowd grew entirely silent. I had this feeling like that something amazing was going on. And nobody was saying a word. And so I leaned over to my friend Brad and I whisper and I said, Brad , like what’s happening? And he leaned back into me, and he said, it’s burning tears. It’s thousands of burning tears just slowly dripping down from the sky. Ma Yeah. Do you feel that? Yeah, yeah, yeah. So that that feeling I have, and I have it now just saying the story again, of that, that kind of tingles that went cascading through, through my spine, you know, and over the surface of my body. It’s that kind of experience that I love. That’s the kind of experience that I have often in, in the moments of tremendous beauty in like in the presence of art, whether it be music, or a fireworks effects, such as this one, which was these kind of long, orange, reddish tendrils of light that were just dripping down, all through the sky. I call that resonance because I think there’s something out there that is touching something inside of me. And I feel this kind of moment of connection and communion with it. And I think these experiences are heightened when we’re in the presence of other people who are witnessing the same or experiencing the same kind of moment together with us. And I think there’s this kind of transpersonal energy field that’s created by it. For me, I love it. So I will seek out experiences where this is likely to occur, going to performance, so one of my favorite musical, you know, groups or go into the fireworks or whatever, you know, communal shared, singing, you know, choir, that kind of thing. It’s about feeling a, it’s a feeling we, that gets activated in us. And so it’s, it’s not just the what’s happening out there. It’s about sort of our, my own sort of connection to it that I love in so I think that’s one of the big drivers. For me, one of the reasons that I love this art form is I often get that feeling.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Wow. You know, it’s funny, because I think that answers this next question in a way, what led you to believe that you can enjoy fireworks without sight? And so the fact that you can feel it? And you still get that feeling? Sounds like it but yeah, what led you initially, to think that

Collin:
I was involved with an organization here in Vancouver called Vocal Eye Descriptive Arts, and they describe artistic and cultural events usually like performance art, to make it more accessible to people from the blind and low vision community. Primary for them was describing theatrical performances, which would be great because folks with sight loss would be in the audience and have a little headset on and would hear audio description of the action that was occurring on stage that was important, but that they might not be able to see with a describer, you know, near event as the action unfolded. So I approached the executive director, Steph Kirkland, and I said, Hey, Stef, would you be willing to come down and describe the fireworks and she was up to the challenge and she’s, you know, we of course, talked about how this was an unusual thing, but she did a bit of study about it. And by this time in my life, I had also assembled a bit of a vocabulary list and a glossary of terms. And so I would coach describers, who were going to describe for me what the different shapes and names were of specific effect types. There’s one that’s called the chrysanthemum. And that is a spherical effect where you see little trails of light behind the stars, as they move out from the center point, a little bit like a dandelion that’s gone to seed, if you’ve ever seen one of those, there are other effects that are more like a shooting star, you know, with a long trail of sparkling light. And these are called comets, and some are called willows, because they look a little bit like a weeping willow tree, or a palm tree. And so each of these characteristic effects has a unique label and or term that kind of refers to the form or shape that the firework takes in the sky, you know, albeit quite briefly. So coming back to Stef, so she came down to the beach to work with me, and she was describing the effects. And she was using the vocabulary that, you know, we both understood and describing the color and the changes of color, and these things are all very dynamic, right and changing quite quickly over the course of a display. I often use a metaphor, it’s like describing a flower bouquet, where the flowers are constantly changing size and form and shape and color and arrangement. It’s impossibly difficult to do in words, but just even focusing on one flower, or one particular kind of arrangement is is worth it if you’re losing your eyesight. And I think for me, I was yearning to stay connected with this art form that I so appreciated, but was losing touch with just because of the ongoing demise of my eyesight. And so there was this one moment on that that evening that Steph was describing kind of a little cluster or clump of stars that seemed to be slowly drifting down. And I was trying to kind of comprehend well, okay, how quickly is that moving in the sky, and I asked her to trace it out on my skin using her fingers. And so she traced it out on my forearm, the speed of this descent to this cluster of stars. And just her doing that gave me goosebumps at that moment, because I thought, This is how to do it. Because with that tactile gesture, she could convey the movement and the speed and somewhat of the character of the light in ways that words were unable to capture. And we spoke about that. And she too, had a comprehension of that. It’s just through that physical gesture of the movement that there was some potential to explore. And so over the course of the next year, she explored that, you know, in collaboration with me, and that was the genesis of the description technique that subsequently became known as finger works for fireworks. And they would use their fingertips to trace out the trajectory of the fireworks patterns on our back, and then use words to describe the characteristic colors changes and colors, or particularly interesting patterns and shapes, the words would kind of fill in the space between the gestures, between the two of them, hearing the words, feeling the tactile description on my back, and then hearing the effects of the fireworks themselves in the sky. Coupled with the music, the soundtrack for it, it was a really nice way it kind of started to reconnect me with the art form, in ways that were helping to compensate for my sight loss. They didn’t replace vision. Yeah, I would prefer to see it. But it was a way to stay connected. And so that’s become a foundation for my continued exploration in what I call cross sensory translation. It’s like how can we translate something from the visual modality into non visual modality so that we kind of stay connected with it and maybe brings a new perspective on it and new way of engaging with it as someone who’s such as myself, who is now blind,

TR in Conversation with Collin:
with the finger works, would a describer reflect intensity with the weight of their fingers on your hand? Or are you getting intensity from the sound of the explosions,

Collin:
the sound of the explosion doesn’t necessarily map on to the intensity of how bright the effect is, you know, and unless it’s like what’s called a salute, which is just like a big bang, you know, like those are the and those often occur at the finale of the show. But with the intensity of the touch of your fingers. Yes, you can convey that the brilliance, the brightness of it.

I once had a pianist, a classic, coldly trained professional pianist, do this kind of description with me. She was married to one of the pirate technicians who was helped setting up the display at this mall. moment, I didn’t have a describer with me and I said, Hey, Jen, would you be willing to do this? And she said, Well, how and so what let your fingers be the conduit of the energy of the light. And she was great at it. Even without using words, she was able to convey, convey so much of the character and the color and the emotion of that display, based on her touch and the elegance with which he was able to use her fingers in their movement, and that the delicacy of the touch at moments that were really kind of delicate in terms of the the effects, you can convey so much in that way. Yeah, that’s a good question.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
The way you sort of approach this, you tell me, it doesn’t sound like you were ever seeking a replacement. It sounds like you were clear that you were not going to replace that. But there was something that you were looking for to gain from the fireworks.

Collin:
It was reaching for anything to to enable me to stay connected with the art form. And so that that morphed over time, you know, so it just started with friends who are giving sort of the verbal description, you know, and at that time, I was still able to see the colors, but couldn’t really distinguish some of the shapes of the dimmer a fact teaching the vocabulary, and then kind of that description got more and more involved than bringing, you know, Vocal Eye on, the tactile gestures. And then, when Brett had that phrase, burning, tears dripping down, that just really opened up the window to kind of also comprehend what is possible with evocative description, you know, that’s almost like poetic in that way, that can still sort of activate my own sense of my own resonance with the art, it was always sort of reaching for and then doing work to kind of CO create the access tools that were necessary for me to continue my engagement with this artform and I’m continuing to do it to this day.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
How important would you say that is this whole thing was in terms of your adjustment to blindness?

Collin:
Well, it’s, I, I think what it reveals, to me most clearly, is the value in having some agency about developing an approach to do stuff that I want to do that might not be already existing out there in the world. As far as I know, no one was into describing fireworks for the benefit of people who are blind at that moment. And rather than me like wishing and hoping that someone would invent this kind of thing, to say, Hey, this is what I’m imagining, this is what I would like to do, Hey, would you trace that out on on the surface of my skin, and it’s through those kind of moments that are really quite generative. Little did I know, where it would lead that one experience where that could possibly go, and that it would have interest for other people too, in terms of my own adjustment to blindness, I think this is one of the ways that works for me. and blindness is terribly inconvenient. And I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, it slows me down it, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t do and can’t do and I don’t want to spend the time to do. But this is one of the things where you know, I still have that, that desire that I’m going to work at this, you know, and I’m going to do whatever I can to stay connected with this art form.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
I’m hanging on to that word agency. (Overly exaggerated and sarcastic) )What in the world Collin makes you think you can move from being a consumer of fireworks, you know, just enjoying them into actually creating them? What gives you the nerve to do that?

Collin:
(Laughing) That was actually a really nice question. And in what I’m doing is really quite unreasonable. I am a Pyro technician, I am learning about not just like how fireworks look and how they function, but actually how they’re constructed, what the components are, how they are assembled, all that the technical details of the art form, and I’m not doing it because I’m blind or like, Hey, I’m blind, like, you know, like, I’m gonna do something crazy. I’m doing it because it’s just, it’s a natural reflection of my curiosity, in interest in this particular field, and I just keep learning more and it was really at the beginning of the Torah COVID lockdowns that a chunk of time freed up in my life that it was no longer you know, getting dressed and going to the office and with transit and this that and the other thing, you know, it’s like, oh, my gosh, I have a little bit of time. And there was an encounter with a an artist at one of these events at English Bay when fireworks were being described with this technique and Carmen Papalia. He said, calling you you should really do Something with your interest in Fireworks is because he said what you’re doing here is amazing. And he said, it really sort of changes the discourse about accessibility as kind of a quote service or a one size fits all type of thing into a more relational realm where this is kind of negotiated between someone who is not using their eyes to perceive the world, you know, and someone who is able to be a guide or interpret the visual world with us and where we have some agency about how that works. And so I, I do that with my own describers. Now to like, if I’m with fireworks, and they’re giving me too much words, that’s okay, you know, less less words, or slow down on what you’re doing in terms of your tactile gestures, simplified, but just show me one thing, clearly, I want to be a little bit in the driver’s seat about how that description works. And I think it’s that same kind of desire, that is informing my own training within the pyrotechnics, as an art form. So I’m learning and I’m seeking out to work with people who are experienced and who understand way more. And the more I learned, the more I realize how little I actually know about the complexity of this. It’s a combination of physics and mathematics and chemistry. And then there’s a little bit of artistic creativity and in the fall tend, in all this, you know, to be combined in the tablet synchronized to music, and be Arial and all the random factors that affect it, such as the wind and humidity, and, you know, whatever else might be on the go the variability from one shell to the next. It’s just incredible that any of this works, let alone to have it work in such a way that gives the viewer goosebumps is just astounding, and I want to learn how to do that. And I want to learn to be part of that. And I want to co create that. And of course, I can’t do what I can’t do. And I’m not trying to do what’s impossible. But I’m trying to do what’s within my realm of possibility where I do have some agency on designing something. And so that’s my current ambition is to design a pyro musical display, from my standpoint, as someone who has sight loss is ridiculous, but but I’m loving it.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
This might sound like a weird question, but I’ll relate it, who gave you or who can give you permission to do this?

Collin:
Yeah, who gave me permission to do this? I tell you how this came about. First of all, no one gave me permission, per se, I do do the proper certification to understand safety and legal considerations. And that was a chunk of work to make that happen. But in terms of the kind of permission to pursue this as an area of interest. It was a conversation I had with a pyro technician here in British Columbia, Bill Reynolds, it was at this moment that, you know, I spoke with Carmen, he said you want to do something with your interest in pyrotechnics. And I was, you know, looking for somebody who had a bit of a proper Vocabulary List of fireworks effects that went along with, you know, images of what those look like that I could use for training purposes. And I managed to be referred to Bill and I spoke with them. And we had this conversation and I said this is what I’m looking for, you know, for what I’m doing with description of fireworks, you know, to make them more accessible as viewers to people who are blind. And then at the end of the conversation like, oh, by the way, I just thought I should mention, you know that I have this like crazy ambition that one day, I want to design a firework display of my own to a pyro musical to my favorite song. He heard that and I felt like oh, god, he’s gonna hang up on me or laugh or whatever. And he said, Well, do you want to fail at that? And I thought, Well, no, no, no, no, no, I don’t know, I actually kind of think it’d be really cool to do. And he said, Well, Collin, then you have to do it. Because if you don’t do it, you will most certainly fail. And you told me you don’t want to fail. So there’s one option, and that’s to do it. And he said, and I suggest you do it now. And it was one of those moments that just gave me goosebumps, you know, and it just my heart started to panic. And I started to kind of get sweaty and I thought like, and I just knew like, he’s right. You know, like, he’s right. If I’m going to do anything with this crazy dream, which have been floating around my head for years, you know, like, oh, one day wouldn’t it be cool if ya da da da da, in the meantime I’m going blind and it’s this kind of lovely fantasy, kind of a bucket list type of thing but never really, really seriously thought, yeah, I can actually didn’t really believe in myself that I could do this. Yeah. And I think it was him that kind of kick started me into seeing. Okay, well, what would it take to make this happen? And so I wrote some grant proposals with the assistance from people who knew way more about the arts field. And as Carmen told me, he said Collin you’re an artist. And your biggest problem is that you don’t know that, you know, and I kept thinking, Yeah, I thought I was a psychologist. And he said, You need to just embrace your artistic side. And he said, and I think you can go somewhere with this. And so I wrote some grant proposals, and lo and behold, they were funded. And each step of the way that I talk, doing the next kind of unreasonably ambitious thing, the door would open up for me, and step by step, person by person, contact by contact, communication, but communication, I’ve just been led forward, going deeper and deeper into the heart of the very thing that I want to have come together in my life. I’m in the midst of it now. And it’s, it’s just amazing. And it still feels completely unreasonable to be doing what I’m doing. I’m not doing anything unsafe, but it’s just like having that agency about, okay, what can I imagine in terms of translating music into light? And then the challenges? How can I translate that to my sighted coworkers, who will be working with me who are going to help me navigate what specific firework effect would create that kind of a pattern of stars or that kind of feeling or that color of sparkle without, you know, delay and or the length of time it stays visible in the sky? And that’s where I’m relying on on people who have that kind of wisdom of experience and knowledge to work with.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
You mentioned you had to get some sort of certification in terms of safety. Outside of that, is there any other certification any other governing body that’s getting in your way of trying to do what you’re doing?

Collin:
No, no, the reason I did it, it for my own knowledge and credibility.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Right now in audio description. There are people out here who really frown upon, and who doubt the abilities of blind people to participate in audio description, in many ways. But the most obvious and the most thing that gets a lot of conversation is about blind folks who want to write audio discretion. And they question their abilities. And they question the fact that they have accommodations. And part of those accommodations are specifically you need someone to give you some of that initial description. And then they form sentences instruction all that time. But the main point around that is that there’s a big restriction on right now it’s we’re talking about audio description, but this same thing happened for blind folks who, who teach O & M (Orientation & Mobility) instruction, people doubting our abilities.
Collin:
That’s right.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
And that’s what it comes down to. Any thoughts on that?

Collin:
Many, many, because I do think that that doubt, in our own ability and our own agency, to make choices about how we want to engage with the world around us what we want to teach what we want to do how we want to have access to information or experiences in our life. Yeah, I think we’re often looked to as sort of an independent position or role, I still experience it today. If I go somewhere, and I’m with a sighted person, the handler, the ticket taker, the gate agent, whatever, whoever they talk with, they talk with a sighted person, even if it’s about me and my own access needs, I think people just default to talking with an able bodied person, because we’re they’re accustomed to us needing to be managed and handled and taken care of in some way to keep us safe or out of trouble or whatever it might be that they think. I think that’s a large part of the context. And I think some people just aren’t even aware of how much they do that on a day to day basis. And I think they may even believe that they’re being respectful, you know, by talking to the person with eyesight about our needs, you know, so it was not to, quote offend us, or whatever it might be that they’re imagining. For me. I think with the work I’ve done both with the initial description work, and with a subsequent development of my own interest in the pyrotechnical arts, it really was about charging forward and doing something that I thought worked for me fundamentally, and it has the added benefit of networking for some of my peers as well. Even with the description work that I do with Vocal Eye Descriptive Arts here in Vancouver and the Finger Works for Fireworks technique, when there was interest in it from The media, they would always go immediately to Vocal Eye about sort of as the source as the genesis for this word. And I was the one who said, Hey, how about describing fireworks? Hey, how about tracing this out on my arm. And so how quickly we forget about that kind of narrative in the surface of other people helping the blind to see and not to discount the huge benefit and import and and gift that that is that there are people who will describe for me and with my peers and for my peers and, and you know, bend over backwards to open up experiences and possibilities to us that we would otherwise miss. I think it’s lovely. I do. And I think that there are ways that we, ourselves also can have agency in navigating what that can look like. For me. I just started to develop what I was doing. And with fireworks, I started to experiment with how can these things be represented in tactile three dimensional models? And I found volunteer to work with and say, Okay, I have a blocked Styrofoam here, we have a bunch of pipe cleaners and these little sticks and plants and whatever to represent shapes are different fireworks, and what can we do to represent the shape of effects so that they work for me, and that might work for other people in terms of telling people how to recognize one firework from another? I think it comes down to agency, you know? Yeah. And that sometimes we just have to do it and, and people will like, Hey, wait, wait, you can’t go there. Watch me go. Here I go.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Yeah, we go. How can folks watch you go? How can we stay in touch and stay in tune with what you’re doing and learn more and follow along and all of that,

Collin:
while I do a tremendous amount on my own, one of the things I haven’t really well developed, is any kind of a presence on social media or the like, my hope is one day that will come together.

The display I’m working on will be called awaken in light. Awaken is the name of the piece of music. It’s by the progressive rock group, “Yes”, written in 1977 in light comes about because of their representation of this music in the form of light. It’s not going to be your ordinary, short, top 40 piece of music. It’s a long song. It’s complex, has many different movements and many emotions to it. I would say when this is taken shape, it’ll be awakened in light as what you’ll need to look for.

I do have a website which is called Burning tears dot C A

This is a website where we talk about the power of words to describe dynamic art, such as fireworks in my exploration of it and a project that I’ve been working on over the past year and a half

TR:

Thanks for listening!

Remember, there’s lots of episodes in the archive. Personally, I think anyone new to disability, especially blindness or low vision, will really appreciate you letting them know about this podcast. So if you’re a real friend or family, you need to stop everything and let them know how they can follow the show.

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