Downtowner Joey Vanas subjected himself to an interesting sensory experiment. Vanas started the Minus-Eyes project on December 1 after celebrating his birthday with The Blind Cafe, a non-profit that hosts pop-up dinner and concert events in complete darkness, and the Blind Center of Nevada, a community organization that helps people who are visually impaired.
Vanas decided to take that idea of living in the dark for a few hours a step further. For the month of December Vanas has been living without sight, blindfolded to raise awareness for the Blind Center of Nevada, which is currently in the middle of a campaign to fund program expansion. Vanas is splitting the funds raised on a GoFundMe account with the center and to document his experience. Since getting involved with the Blind Center, he has participated in group shopping trips, learned how to move with a cane and became the manager for The Broken Spectacles, an all-blind band that is preparing for a January 19 America’s Got Talent audition. He has even begun taking some music lessons himself. We spoke to Vanas about the unsuspected challenges and benefits of living without sight.
What initially got you started on this project?
Initially, just a long-standing desire to help the visually impaired community. That was my previous path in life. That combined with this place, The Blind Center, and the Broken Spectacles. [I] started getting more involved with them, helping out with some management stuff for the band.
This idea of sensory deprivation was something I’ve been interested in for awhile… It’s a different perspective when you understand what people go through versus just feeling sorry for them without understanding what they go through.
You’ve been learning how to play the bass and piano over the past three weeks. Do you think being blind for this time helped you learn better, or is it stifling?
I think it’s helped for sure. My piano teacher seems to think it’s really helped. He is kind of fascinated by it. He is a real energetic guy in general but he is very excited about it. He says I’ve done more in five lessons than in months of teaching [other] people. I don’t know how much it has to do with seeing or not seeing but I probably wouldn’t have done it if I were seeing because the reason I’ve never [learned an instrument] before is sitting down long enough and putting in the hours. Sitting still hasn’t been a forte of mine. I’m a bit ADD so I move around a lot. But I’m just not wanting to move around anymore. When you can’t see you don’t want to move. Moving is scary so sitting still becomes a much more comfortable situation. I think just sitting still and not having the visual distraction of other things, I’ve been able to focus a lot more on the lesson and the stuff I’m trying to learn.
Other than what you’d assume, like getting around and these everyday tasks that you knew would be difficult for you, what was an unexpected challenge?
The most unexpected and biggest challenge in the whole thing is learning how to ask for and accept help.
Are you starting to get more comfortable not being able to see, or is it just as difficult as Day 1?
Some ways yes, some ways no. The first few days were still a lot of adrenaline and excitement and everything was new so it didn’t seem as bad or as hard as I anticipated in the first three or four days. Then it started to wear off and it was sinking in, oh shit this is going to be a long time. It’s only been three days and it feels like three weeks …The next week was more getting into a groove, getting more comfortable, getting into some new routines. Then next episode was trying new stuff and pushing boundaries and taking full advantage of the time in the dark by doing as many things as possible…Then the most recent, probably as of three or four days ago, the feeling is I just want it to be over. I’ve got almost non-stop case of the spins. It’s pretty much all the time so now it’s just trying to get through and trying to stay positive and enjoy everything I can out of it and do what I can to make the world stop spinning.
I’m meeting new people and I come into it with zero pretenses of what I think they are going to be about…
What has been an unexpected benefit?
Learning how to listen. How to actually listen. My awareness overall has been greatly enhanced. Learning to sit still on the value and the power and being where your feet are, like truly being there has been a huge one. Asking for help and receiving help like I said—thats a big one. Relationships—we enter into relationships and what we take out of them and what we put into them has been really interesting. Some existing relationships and seeing how they’ve changed or developed due to this new state of vulnerability has definitely been an interesting topic. It’s made some relationships much more intimate very quickly because you’re depending on people and feel vulnerable, which is something I think we typically don’t [do]. It forces you into that in a big way.
Meeting people in a new way is another huge benefit. I’m meeting new people and I come into it with zero pretenses of what I think they are going to be about based on how old they are, what color they are, what kind of T-shirt they’re wearing and etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. So meeting people without judgment, that’s a huge one. That’s been very apparent. And you know their names. I’ve remembered everybody’s names in the last three weeks. It’s crazy.
When are you taking the blindfold off?
My plan is New Year’s Eve. I want to see fireworks.
So like right before midnight?
Maybe a little bit before that to give my eyes a little time.