As everyone settles in, Jim makes a few introductory remarks, and then hands the floor over to me. I take a deep breath and look around the room, as my speaking instructor said to. The experts say to look into someone's eyes, and I am pretty good about that. I pick the person standing at the edge of the room, as that way I can seem to look at everyone, without being overwhelmed by everyone's patterns, everyone's movements. When I first got my sight, I could not talk to more than one person. Two people do not move in tandem, their eyes, their bodies, their clothing distracts from everything else. Then I got better at focusing. I still can't talk to anyone in a patterned shirt, as my eyes sink into the details of the cloth and the warp and weft andI forget that I am supposed to be looking at the eye, the oval with the white and clear color. Then I get lost in black lines of eyelashes, but this doesn't seem to bother people as much as getting lost in the details of their tweed patterns.
I shake off my nervousness and plunge into my explanation of the cumulative effects analyses. These are analyses of other actions as well as your proposed ones and your alternatives. I relate it as patterns overlaid on patterns--you take the picture generated from a lot of little activities and show the overall effect from these actions on the resources, (physical, biological, and human environment). Then you overlay your project, like throwing another color of ribbons into a rushing maypole dance of multihued exuberance--and see how your project changes the picture. But I used more precise language than this to convey my points and my analyses.
I keep talking slowly, waiting for someone to interrupt, but no one does. Jim, the team leader, puts his hand on my arm to stop me after about 10 minutes. "Sorry, Jane, but Ken had a question on an earlier point. Could we revisit that?" I nod, and then remember again that people here make small gestures that I should be watching for when they want to interrupt. I hope no one can see the warmth rising in cheeks and up through the back of my ears, but fear they can.
Ken wants to know about the approach to analyzing the effects of urban development in the downstream reaches. I look around for Brian to explain his analysis, but I still don't see him. I don't want to embarrass either of us by asking if he is here. I work with him every day; I am expected to recognize him by sight. I try to answer as Brian would, explaining his hydrological analyses as best I understand them. Ken asks about the hydrological graph, pointing out the inconsistencies, and I stammer out that there are a few errors on it and we will work on it.
"Excuse me, Jane!" It's Brian's voice, shaking with rage. "Let me talk for myself, thank you very much." The person in the back of the room stands up, and it must be Brian. I have been looking at him all this time. I cringe inwardly. Brian launches into a tirade and makes his points. He stabs his finger at me when he goes over the offending hydrographs. Ken turns toward Brian and then toward me. His mouth is shaped in a line, pursed inward and the color of his irises turns like a bruised cloud and drifts closer to the horizon of his nose.
I remember this means angry, because I have pictures of people on my wall in various emotional states. I have used a ruler and compass to chart the angles of happy, sad, angry, and surprised on special pictures of about 30 faces that Dr. Smits gave me to practice on. After 6 months of intense effort (I stared at these and marked them up for about an hour a night), I have a general idea of what the lines on the lips and the angles of the eyes mean to convey the emotions inside. I am nowhere near as skilled at reading this as others fluent in vision, and I still make mistakes. Still, in this context, a mistake would be hard to make.
Jim steps in and tries to smooth things over, but Ken interrupts him. "It is obvious that your own team cannot agree on a coherent or cohesive approach. I see that you are not willing to examine these issues objectively, and I am afraid I have no choice but to advise the state to sue over this action rather than to partner with you. Good day."
Ken walks out, and Brian storms over to me, shaking his sheaf of papers.