Dazzling and cruel

In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard writes of a patient who was blind since birth but can now see after cataract surgery. There were significant anomalies in their perceptions of space and time. Someone who was trying to learn how to use his new skill would take off one of his boots and throw it out in front of him across the room. He would then try to guess the distance and take a few steps toward it, trying to grab it but missing entirely.

The new sensations of color and light were dazzling for these people, but at the same time for many of them also oppressive—it was the realization of “the tremendous size of the world,” Dillard suggests, “something they had previously conceived of as touchingly manageable.” 

My friend Tonia just moved into her own apartment after 30 years of living on the streets. It is in this home that she finds herself feeling more alone and depressed then ever. 

She tells me she just doesn’t know what to do now. She keeps finding herself back out on the street, and says she prays everyday that God would take the “like” out of crack and the hustle. I ask her to say more, and, together, we begin unearthing the role of crack in Tonia’s life. 

Because life on the streets is so cruel and unpredictable, typically, the only thing that has offered her a sense of orientation is the purposed nature of transactions—buying drugs, exchanging sex—that she must engage in to survive along Aurora Avenue. 

Now that Tonia is off the streets, in a different neighborhood with no sense of orientation, it’s kind of like she takes her boot off, throws it across her apartment, walks to get it, and misses it all together. It just doesn’t work anymore. Tears roll down her face… 

new sensations of color and light were dazzling 

…but, the possibility embodied in her apartment, she says, is almost more cruel and oppressive than the streets. 

Lisa Etter Carlson is grateful to be able to spend her days in her neighborhood at the Aurora Commons and at home with her husband Andy and two kids, Cedar and Kipling. Lisa is Co-founder of the Aurora Commons in Seattle, WA. Prior to that, she Co-founded the Green Bean Coffeehouse (a non-profit cafe). Most recently, Lisa, in partnership with University of Washington/Harborview Hospital, created and launched the Safe, Healthy, Empowered (SHE) Clinic: an accessible, kind, non-judgmental, quality health care clinic for female identified people who sleep and work along Aurora Avenue. All of these movements were created and are currently curated by a community of folks that, together, long to midwife spaces where precious human beings from all walks of life can live as though we belong to one another. Lisa has been living with intention towards her neighbors who are unhoused, drug dependent, and involved in street based sex work for more than 15 years. She is a member of the City of Seattle Adult Survivor Collaborative (ASC) and is a proponent of harm reduction, safe consumption facilities, and loving absurdly.


  1. En-light-ened is the word that comes to mind. Your introduction to the analogy was so visceral. Perception, needs, wants and where we are in space and time is deeply personal and yet universal. I do believe we all, each and every one of us humans, do the very best with what we have been given at any given time. The pages turn, sometimes with the help of a kind hand. The chapters bring surprising twists and turns. The best books, in my estimation, have robust and sometimes dark stories to tell. Makes for the richest reading and living. OK, I am rambling. What I want to say is Thank you for this well painted, thought provoking post.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s