I was first drawn to this book because of its title. I am an artist and can’t imagine what it would be like to suddenly go blind. My business would fail because I would no longer be able to dye wool and yarn for my customers. Equally as important, I would lose the creative outlet that painting gives me… and with it, maybe part of my sanity. I can’t imagine living in a world of darkness.
But this book surprised me by being about so much more than an artist’s lack of sight and how he dealt with it. It is a memoir about a gay man’s struggles to find himself and his place in this world. It is also about answering the author’s ultimate question, “What good is a blind man?”
Lloyd has had a remarkable and incredibly difficult life. His early years were defined by a cruel and bi-polar father who eventually committed suicide. As an adult, Lloyd became a thriving Broadway and opera stage designer, and eventually went on to become a professor and co-chair of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. And though he was successful, he constantly struggled as a gay man in a “straight” world, forever haunted by the failures of his father.
Lloyd’s inner journey is on full display in this book, as he gives the reader a front row seat to his therapy sessions with Jungian analyst Dr. Edward Edinger. His initial quest is an effort to first (unsuccessfully) rid himself of his gayness, then later learn to accept it. As the years progress, his eyesight begins to deteriorate, and he is left with a deep despair, questioning why this could happen to him and what the point of living is.
At one point, Dr. Edinger says to Lloyd, “Just about every challenge life gives us can be borne if one feels his life has meaning.” This is such a true and powerful statement that Lloyd comes to realize as his journey unfolds.
A Blessing Well Disguised is filled with beautifully rich images of the paintings that Lloyd makes for Dr. Edinger over the years, which illustrate his dreams as they attempt to explore their meaning. These therapy sessions and images later went on to be published in Edinger’s book: The Living Psyche: A Jungian Analysis in Pictures, which feature over a hundred of Lloyd’s paintings, dream narratives, and the doctor’s commentary.
The transformation in Lloyd is the most interesting part of the book. He initially faces his blindness with despair, much like his gayness which he has tried to combat for most of his life. Eventually he learns to live with his failing eyesight, and explores new ways of creating art – by means of textiles and quilt making. These incredible works of art are likely not something he ever would have created had his eyesight not failed him, and they are both a beautiful and abstract look into his world.
Throughout his journey he is faced by his alter-ego, called “Grind”. He has conversations with Grind which acts as sort of a devil’s advocate – first pushing him into his darkest place, then helping him out of it by seeing things that he has longed to push from his mind. He learns to embrace this other side of him – to stand up to it when needed, and to agree with it when it’s right. I think most people have an alter ego to some degree, and I really enjoyed being given an inside look into Lloyd’s.
This was such a brave story to tell, and so deeply raw and personal. I think that Lloyd has not only written a book which may help other blind people deal with their loss, but he has also paved the way to acceptance for other gay men and women out there. I like to believe that there is a reason for every struggle that we endure in our lives. It is sometimes hard to say why we are faced with the hurdles that come at us, but I think that Lloyd’s purpose has been very clearly revealed in the writing of this book. Without ever going blind, this book would never have been written, and I am so glad that it was.
A Blessing Well Disguised was the best memoir I have ever read, and one that I will highly recommend to anyone with an interest in philosophy, psychology, or simply someone looking to find meaning in their lives. It is not always obvious, but it is always there.
Holly has a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and owns a small business with her husband selling fleece and hand-spun yarn. When she is not spinning yarn, she does freelance work as a graphic design artist and is highly involved in animal rescue.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Llloyd Burlingame. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.