Author, Lecturer, Historian, Graphic Designer, Disability Advocate, Docent!
Mark Carlson is a freelance writer and aviation historian. Past President of Poway-Black Mountain Toastmasters club, he established the FUNspeakable historical entertainment series. He is a former graphic designer who lost his sight through a hereditary disorder in 1998. He worked as a specialist in low-vision assistive technology for seven years. On weekends, he was a docent tour guide at the San Diego Air and Space Museum.
As the author of ‘Confessions of a Guide Dog – The Blonde Leading the Blind’ and ‘Flying on Film – A Century of Aviation in the Movies 1912-2012’ Mark has established himself as a popular author. He writes for several national magazines, including Bark Magazine, San Diego Pets, Dog Fancy, Flight Journal, The Hook, Warbirds, Aviation History, Warbird Digest, The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Journal, Classic Images, Films of the Golden Age, and many others. His essays have won awards in national essay contests.
He is a member of or affiliated with several veteran, history and aviation organizations, and has been made an honorary member of the Distinguished Flying Cross Society. In his work as an aviation writer he has traveled across the country to interview war heroes, pilots, filmmakers, actors and astronauts.
Mark married Jane Vogel in 1995. They live in San Diego, where Jane is actively involved in volunteering for the Braille Institute and other disability-related organizations. She is a talented paper crafter and, as Mark puts it, ‘The real brains of the outfit.’
No one would call Mark ‘the silent type.’ He enjoys nothing better than a deep conversation with intelligent and insightful people, talking about virtually anything.
“What do I find interesting? Pretty much the entire universe. Astronomy, anthropology, archaeology, geology, paleontology, zoology, aeronautics, ships, airplanes, trains, automobiles, rockets, NASA, civil engineering, military history, maritime history, biographies, European and American history, film, radio and television history and a lot more.”
Mark admits that he enjoys the films of Hollywood’s Golden Age most of all. “Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Cagney, James Stewart, Gary Cooper, Montgomery Clift and the other greats are my idols. But I do have a fondness for the works of Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Charles Chaplin, Mel Brooks, Monty Python and even the Three Stooges. I’m a serious Twilight Zone and Star Trek buff and can easily spend hours batting useless trivia back and forth over a few beers.”
Even though he is blind, Mark reads prodigiously. “It used to be that I never went anywhere without a book. People almost never saw my face, just my forehead over the top edge of a book. But when my sight started to fail, it became harder and harder to read. It was a depressing time for me. Then I discovered audio books through my wife, Jane. She showed me the light, so to speak, and since then I have become a voracious, rapacious, avid and eager reader. I read about 120 books a year on all the topics I listed above. Most of my reading is non-fiction, but sometimes I have to break with reality (who doesn’t?) and dive into some novels. My favorite novelists are Nelson De Mille, Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Tom Clancy, Robin Cook, Michael Crichton, Dean Koontz, Harold Coyle, David Halberstam, Michael and Jeff Shaara, Jeffery Archer, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Clive Cussler, Wilbur Smith and a few dozen others. I’ve also read the works of H. G. Wells, Bram Stoker and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, to add a bit of spice.”
As for music, Mark’s tastes are equally eclectic. “I’m a kid of the 1960s, and most of the mucic I love comes from that decade and the two straddling it. From the Kingston Trio to Led Zeppelin, from Sam Cooke to Pink Floyd, and from the Beatles to CSNY, there is little I don’t love to listen to. But you have to add bagpipes, bluegrass, country western, classical and sea shanties to that list.”
“‘Those who fail to remember the lessons of history are doomed to repeat the mistakes,’ is more than a well-worn catch phrase. It should be drilled into every person who aspires to public office or senior military rank. I respect those who study history and can draw parallels between the past and the present. History is the most sublime and important foundation on which to build a future, yet it is all but ignored in most of our public schools. I was very fortunate to have good and conscientious history teachers who instilled in me a love of the past and a zest for learning. I will never stop being a student of history, at least until I’ve seen it all.”
On being a writer:
“I take my role as a writer of history very seriously. I am adding to the historical record, so when my name goes on the byline, I want it to be accurate, informative and compelling. As for why I became a writer, it comes down to one thing: I love to read. What I read has made me what I am. What I write can make a difference. I love writing more than anything in the world. Except my wife, Jane.”
On being blind:
“What’s it like to be blind? A lot of people want to ask, but are too polite or worried that I’ll be offended.
But it’s no big deal. I don’t mind talking about it. I’m more sensitive about my bald spot, which my darling wife Jane takes great pleasure in describing to me, than I am about my lack of sight. It’s part of who I am, like being tall or artistic or hating peanut butter
Blindness can be from birth, caused by sickness or injury or age.
In my case it’s a hereditary disorder known as Retinitis Pigmentosa, or RP. It causes a clouding over of the retina at the back of the eyeball, and closes off my ability to see clearly, resulting in tunnel vision, night blindness, loss of contrast and color perception. I’m legally blind, not total. Total is no sight at all.
Bluntly put, my sight is lousy. I can see shapes, movement, light and dark. I could face a person and see their silhouette but not be able to discern details.
At night it’s totally black to me.
But that’s not all. For the price of the RP I was also given another disability. Yes, you heard me right. Two for the price of one. The type of RP I had was called Usher’s Syndrome II which affected my hearing, so I wear two hearing aids.
If you really want to split hairs, I have one more disability, a sort of bonus. I’m a guy.
That’s a lot harder to deal with than the first two.
Some people tell me I don’t ‘look blind.’ I always smile at that. I probably don’t sound deaf either.
Let’s get one thing cleared up, that being the issue of Political Correctness.
I don’t care what someone calls me. Blind, visually impaired, hearing impaired, hard of hearing, or whatever. It’s not important. The only reason I use the term ‘visually impaired’ is because that is the currently acceptable term. For this week, at any rate. PC has gotten way out of hand.
Being blind has some drawbacks most people might never imagine.
Managing in public, shopping, doing errands or working is simple if handled properly.
The most annoying thing about being blind is misplacing something and not being able to find it.
And God knows I can’t drop a small object and have it land by my feet.
No. It has to end up under a boulder.
Beneath 50 feet of water. Guarded by rabid alligators and personal injury lawyers.
In the next county.
I try not to move fast or reach for something quickly, because I know darned well something delicate and expensive will be in the way and I’ll knock it on the floor. In my own house I’m constantly bumping my shoulders into walls and doorways. That’s because my shoulders are wider than my visual field.
I use my other senses a lot, particularly touch. Identifying objects by feel is learned, not instinctive. Putting away the dishes is easy, but getting my CDs in order is nearly impossible.
Sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell. Those are the usual suspects of sense. But above all the most important sense to have is humor.
Gotta have it to survive in the world today, especially if you have a disability.”
On having a Guide Dog:
“With Musket I was able to go places, experience things, meet people and grow more than I ever could have done with a cane or even a sighted guide. In fact I’ll say without reservation I couldn’t have had such a wonderful life even if I wasn’t blind.
Musket could never be called shy. Just being himself has brought so many rewards to our lives they won’t fit in any single book.”
On the state of the world:
“You don’t want to know.”
On the Meaning of Life:
“Forty-two. No, seriously, why is it so important that we know the meaning of life? Isn’t it enough that we are here, that we exist without having to attribute the fall of every sparrow to the grand plan of some supreme being? Whether by chance or design, life arose on this ball of rock careening through the cosmos and its up to us to make the best of it. The only advantage of knowing ‘The Meaning of Life’ is so that someone can be blamed if we screw it up.
For what its worth, I tend to like everyone I meet. And I think most people are basically good-hearted and honest. I look for the best in everyone. And you know what? Being blind, I see that more than you might think.”
On life in the universe:
“I truly believe there is plenty of life and intelligence in the universe. Not much right here but you can’t have everything. Let me put it this way: If we are the only life in the whole cosmos, it would be a waste of space. All that work just for us? Puh-leeze. Carl Sagan said ‘Either we are the only intelligent life form in the universe or we are not. Either possibility is staggering.’ I agree.”
“America has a lot of problems, but that’s nothing new. We’ve been struggling to be the example of democracy and freedom since 1773, and we’re still trying. I’m proud of what we have done and the great strides this nation has made, but it’s a work in progress. And always will be. If you want perfection, you’ll never be happy. Just take what we have and make it work. And above all, respect our veterans. They’ve earned our love, respect and devotion.”