Bugging Out With the Mantis Q40: My Quick Take Review

Hey hey! Comin’ at ya from my new display. I have, after five years of great use with the Brailliant, acquired a Mantis Q40 from the American Printing House for the Blind. After all, technology marches on and this represents the potential fora significant upgrade. This machine has a full-sized laptop keyboard located above the row of Braille cells, which makes typing a lot easier and more intuitive.

I surprisingly received it yesterday. With APH’s ordering information, I had a hard time deducing when the device had actually shipped, and was thus kind of nervous and concerned until it finally arrived. After that, of course the rest of the day was spent playing with my new “toy”

So, first I had to familiarize myself with the display’s functioning by reading much of the user manual. It is relatively straightforward, but getting everything to work was… not. I would say the experience was similar to that when I first got my Brailliant five years ago, which is to say that a new device is going to have some issues. I think many of these are of Apple’s making, and I hope that they will be resolved sooon.

The primary issue I’m having, and just had as I typed this, is keeping the display connected to the phone via Bluetooth. It took four tries to even get some semblance of joining, and with each attempt after that the connection seemed to become more stable. Now, when it freezes periodically, I have only to go into the Bluetooth menu on my iPhone, disconnect and reconnect the display and it usually works. Obviously this would present long term challenges, but well we’ll see.

To find the positive: I love the machine’s size as they still manage to have a thin, very portable device with the full keyboard. The keys have nice spring and are just fun to type on, although the Braille bug that doesn’t let you type too fast, which has existed since iOS 11, is still a big nuisance. What was I saying about hope for a fix to these other problems soon? Yeah.

I also enjoy the crispness of the Braille, and find that I can now read at about 1.5 times the speed. Of what I used to manage. The thumb and panning buttons, while likely he Brailliant’s, are just a bi t smaller and perhaps more responsive in some way. So until the myriad writing stuff is reworked, I will likely most enjoy the reading experience.

So would I, in my short time having this device, recommend it? Well yes, and especially fort he educational//professional audience for whom it is most intended. As I mentioned before, typing is just easier than Braille in many respects, most notably when one must enter email and passwords, which even if I know the correct Braille symbols the translator just gets wrong. I would also recommend it for its charge, which seems lightning fast, and the replaceable batttery. This machine looks like it will hold up for at least another five years, and hopefully at some point I will be able to pound out my great American novel on it as well as to get back up to regular posting. There will be another probably in less than a wee k. Till then, have a good Fourth of July holiday.

On My Dad Mike, A Life

This has been, for my family and me, a tough day, one week before Father’s Day no less. The man who had been my father for 20+ years, Michael David Smith, has succumbed to cancer.

It’s funny, he had been a part of my life for so long that I’m a little fuzzy on when our first encounter occurred. 1995? 1996? I’m inclined to say the latter, because it was Fall and the beginning of football season, and the Panthers had already existed for a year. Mike, a child of the 60s long before North Carolina had a professional football team, was a Dallas Cowboys fan. I never missed a chance to give him grief over this, often saying “I will create a law that says you must pull for the team in your local area.” He sometimes quipped “then I guess we’ll be moving to Dallas.” (I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I had been a closet Cowboys fan before my beloved Cats took the field.

Anyhow, whenever Mike and I first met we immediately bonded. As I’ve written in my post about complex thoughts on fatherhood, I would often linger on the floor as his Atlanta Braves (MLB) played on the tv, and we would talk about anything and nothing for hours. Sometimes while watching basketball, he would tell me to stand up so that he could demonstrate a great play that had just occurred, often to comical and almost dangerous effect.

He would usually ask me to join him for grocery store runs during which he’d impart advice about finding and being with a good woman, at the end of which he would get me either my favorite candy or a can of Pringles, to which I was insanely addicted in those days. Then there were the innumerable Jeopardy shows and our friendly competitions, usually he was far better at pop culture and I knew my geography.

Not only did he embrace me wholeheartedly, but he took my cousins under his wing with ease and clear enjoyment. We had a stretch there from about 1997 to 2001 where our singing group, Off Da Top, fancied itself celebrities and performed in several talent shows. Along with my youngest sister, Mike would work with us on choreography and talk to us about his knowledge of the music business. He called himself our manager, and said we should change our group’s name to the Backseat Boys (long story for that name’s conception which you can read in an old Writing 101 post, but if we’d chosen it can you say lawsuit?)

I revel in these memories, and if anything I regret not having taken the time to make more of them. I hadn’t seen him too often, which is true of the rest of my family as well, in the last ten years. I hope that the rest of us can now start to rectify this, and am eternally grateful for my birthday dinner with him, my mom, and my in-laws that my wife organized, as it was the last time I saw him healthy. I remember the shock and sadness I felt when seeing him in the hospital bed this past November, as this last cruel journey began. I was overcome with depression, but I also prayed and hoped for the best. But as they say, death is a part of life and at some point we must all confront our mortality and that of those whom we love deeply.

To you, Mike: Thanks for letting me be your son and for your unconditional acceptance of me, even with the unusual package I present. I will always be grateful for your coaching and guiding me through my formative years and helping me to learn to be a good man to my wife and, I hope, a good human period. May you rest in peace.

Meanwhile, Back At The Plant: The end of my 72-day quarantine

THE CALL finally came that Tuesday after Memorial Day. No surprise, really, as I expected upon North Carolina’s entry into Phase 2 of Covid recovery (if one can call a record-breaking 1,000 cases a day a recovery. It’s got me terrified, truthfully). Anyhow, I knew my time relaxing and hiding inside would draw to an end soon.

The number originated from the Hazelhurst, Ms. Branch of my employer, so I initially didn’t take the call. “Hello, this is a message from LCI for John Miller about coming to work.” So, I tapped the number, returned the call, and affirmed hat I would return on Monday June 1.

After discussing it with my wife for a time, we decided that at least for the time being it would be easiest if she takes me in and picks me up, when possible, because as noted in a previous entry dealing with public transit or Go Cary Door-to-Door presents a number of challenges in this environment. And honestly it’s working out a lot better for me, as I can wake 40 minutes later and depart the apartment only 20 minutes before my 7 AM shift begins. I could actually wake even later if I wanted, but I like having a little time to quickly check out podcasts and news as I get ready.

So the first week has ended now, and mostly it went well. Monday was long, as I had to re-remember how I get through the day without music or books except on breaks. And without being able to take the random nap, which was a little problematic that first day as my still-recouping gums let me feel not pain really, but a little pressure. The least fun part was wearing that mask for eight hours. My nose was stinging by day’s end, as I had breathed so much air into my own face. I know it is absolutely necessary to wear it though, and washed my hands whenever possible along with sanitizer when too far away from a sink. I certainly do not want the ‘rona, and don’t want to pass it onto my coworkers either, if I can help it.

The only glitch in this week occurred on Wednesday, when I awoke to a non-functioning right-side hearing aid. It started working after an hour or so, sort of, but I knew that it was still time to get both aids retuned. I’m amazed they’d gone a year and a half without requiring service, definitely far better than I got out of my previous aids, but they usually need to be tended to as soon as the heat and humidity arrive.

Covid protocol meant that I had to give the aids to the office receptionist, who came out to the car to collect them, then sit there for 20 minutes in silence while they were repaired. But as usual, when they were returned to me I marveled at how much louder and clearer everything was. The changes in hearing level are so subtle that they can go unnoticed until corrected.

And for the most part, that makes up the news of my return to work. Nothing groundbreaking really, but the week was nice in the sense that I felt great each workday, even managing to get enough sleep to be functional. That time off definitely helped me to get my health back in order, and for that first week at least, I reaped the benefits. Let’s hope this continues, and I sure hope that sometime soon my state, the nation, and the world can begin to find the path to healing that 2020 so badly needs.

To The Max: On HBO’s New App and Accessibility Challenges

Yay, Fresh Prince is finally available through streaming. This was my thought as soon as they rolled out HBO Max this past Wednesday, as I’d heard that this one of already so many streaming services would be the one to cary that show. So I knew I would immediately try to get it and see what, if anything, they have in the way of accessibility.

The short answer, at least at the time of this article’s writing as I know and hope that things can change quickly, is not a whole lot. The challenges began as soon as I downloaded and launched the HBO Max app. Fortunately you can connect the app to Apple TV and find shows that way, but in order to do that you must first subscribe.

At first, I swiped around on the screen and it just kept repeating the immediately viewable icon, until I had the bright idea of touching the screen in different places, a method called Explore by Touch. I eventually encountered a button labeled Subscribe Now and tapped it. I was able to enter my username, email and password, but when I tried to press “done” it wouldn’t take. I later deduced that this was because I had not checked the box accepting their terms, as I could not even find said box except on the HBO Max website. So I was forced to use that to sign up, after which I discovered that the web site worked little on the Mac and I could not actually sign in once the account had been created. So back to the phone, I guess somehow shutting and restarting the app made a usable sign-in button appear that I could press and enter my account info, and finally I was ready to go!

A subscription costs $14.95 a month, but it could be worth it as they have several good movies, documentaries, and series. In addition to the Fresh Prince, which I intend to watch in its entirety over the next few months because of the nostalgia (ah, simpler times, well not really but they always seem so when looking back right?) They have the series From the Earth to the Moon, which chronicles America’s Space race with the Soviets. I also saw The Big Bang Theory, which I didn’t watch when it initially came out but might catch now.

However, if the app does not make accessibility improvements in the coming months, honestly it boggles my mind that they would release it without these in the first place these days, then I probably will no longer fork over my dough. I am glad they have closed captioning for individuals who are deaf. I had hoped that, at least with HBO programming, they would include audio description for those of us who cannot see, but as far as I can tell this is not available. Also, because of the way one must interact with the screen, the app is completely inaccessible with a refreshable Braille display. If one could not connect it to Apple TV, then I would definitely have to hold out for some kind of improvements. Please take a look at your competitors, Amazon, Netflix and the like, and follow some of what they’ve done. After all there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. But we blind folks and others with disabilities want to be able to come along for the ride.

The short answer, at least at the time of this article’s writing as I know and hope that things can change quickly, is not a whole lot. The challenges began as soon as I downloaded and launched the HBO Max app. Fortunately you can connect the app to Apple TV and find shows that way, but in order to do that you must first subscribe.

At first, I swiped around on the screen and it just kept repeating the immediately viewable icon, until I had the bright idea of touching the screen in different places, a method called Explore by Touch. I eventually encountered a button labeled Subscribe Now and tapped it. I was able to enter my username, email and password, but when I tried to press “done” it wouldn’t take. I later deduced that this was because I had not checked the box accepting their terms, as I could not even find said box except on the HBO Max website. So I was forced to use that to sign up, after which I discovered that the web site worked little on the Mac and I could not actually sign in once the account had been created. So back to the phone, I guess somehow shutting and restarting the app made a usable sign-in button appear that I could press and enter my account info, and finally I was ready to go!

A subscription costs $14.95 a month, but it could be worth it as they have several good movies, documentaries, and series. In addition to the Fresh Prince, which I intend to watch in its entirety over the next few months because of the nostalgia (ah, simpler times, well not really but they always seem so when looking back right?) They have the series From the Earth to the Moon, which chronicles America’s Space race with the Soviets. I also saw The Big Bang Theory, which I didn’t watch when it initially came out but might catch now.

However, if the app does not make accessibility improvements in the coming months, honestly it boggles my mind that they would release it without these in the first place these days, then I probably will no longer fork over my dough. I am glad they have closed captioning for individuals who are deaf. I had hoped that, at least with HBO programming, they would include audio description for those of us who cannot see, but as far as I can tell this is not available. Also, because of the way one must interact with the screen, the app is completely inaccessible with a refreshable Braille display. If one could not connect it to Apple TV, then I would definitely have to hold out for some kind of improvements. Please take a look at your competitors, Amazon, Netflix, Apple, and the like, and follow some of what they’ve done. After all there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. But we blind folks and others with disabilities want to be able to come along for the ride.

Trials and Travels: A Comparison of 3 Recent Reads

Isn’t it funny how, without intending to do so, one can end up selecting three books for simultaneous reading that seem to share the same underlying themes? Well truthfully of late, all of my chosen titles are alike in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. Examples are four straight books that featured persons with diabetes, and five (six?) With some kind of painter character.

Given that, I could randomly pick any grouping I wish and make them work as a collection. But the three I’m going with here are Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain; Ghosts of Harvard, by Francesca Serritella; and Three Ways To Disappear, by Katy Yocom. Each of these stories is driven by the crazy things that can happen as a result of a mother’s love and/or her mistakes, mental illness, and big secrets. The secrets I shall not give away, at least to the best of my ability, because they represent big plot twists and might therefore be considered spoilers. I will, however, do a brief summary of each title and then talk about how they compare and contrast.

Chamberlain

This book caught my interest because it is set in North Carolina, as a quick perusal of this author’s catalog shows is common for her. The past meets the present as Anna Dale, born in the late 20s, is hired to paint a mural for the Edenton NC post office. (This is a real town, to which I’ve never been but I have heard of.) Being from the North, she encounters the kinds of racism and even outsider-ness that one would expect in a small Southern town of the day. She works with an African American named Jesse Williams who then becomes a major artist and makes as his last action a wish to have Morgan Christopher help to restore the Dale painting and to be released from the prison where she is held for supposedly causing a drunk driving accident. We are then bounced back and forth in time over alternating chapters until the story’s apex.

Serritella

Whereas Chamberlain’s book takes place in a lesser-known small-town environment, this story is set at Harvard: a place we’ve all heard of but know little about. The amount of insider information Serritella, who went to that school also, provides through her characters’ observations is fascinating. Cadence (Cady) Archer has chosen to attend this university despite, and maybe in some ways because of, her brother Eric’s having taken his life there in the prior semester after a protracted struggle with schizophrenia. This is similar to Chamberlain’s book, in that Anna was driven to follow her artistic dreams after her mother died, perhaps of suicide, while experiencing bipolar disorder. In Serritella’s story, Cady’s mother has a particularly visceral reaction to her daughter’s choosing to attend Harvard, going as far as to withhold assistance on move-in day and skip out on the drive from Pennsylvania where they live. Of course, mom comes to regret this decision later, and its initial upset probably drives Cady to make many questionable decisions throughout. Then Cady’s life and experiences there takes a strange and rather interesting turn. Let’s just say you’ll quickly understanding the meaning of the title.

Yocom

This is also a story built largely on a mother’s regret for hastily made decisions and the depression, disguised as coldness toward her children, that she feels as a result. Opening in 1970s India, twins Sarah and Marcus, along with their older sister Quinn, who will later become something of a painter and raise twins of her own, live a privileged life of big houses, servants, and the like as their father works as a doctor in a local hospital. A tragedy befalls them and the family, minus the father and Marcus, relocate to the US.

Told alternately through Sarah’s and Quinn’s perspective, we see Quinn and her mother especially struggle with the events that occurred over there and the incomplete information they both have on what actually went down. I like how Yocum shows Sarah and Quinn telling the story as they remember it and in so doing demonstrates the fallibility of memory and ways we can so easily reshape it.

Sarah, on the other hand, has difficulties in establishing her own identity. She is ultimately drawn back to India to work in tiger preservation after a long but dangerous career as a journalist. It takes time, but Quinn eventually accepts Sarah’s choice to relocate and their relationship, maintained through email and expensive calls, is strengthened. After all, this book’s “present” is the year 2000, so the technology is not yet as robust.

I hope you enjoy any or all of these three semi-related but also rather different reads as much as I do. They all feature such lush landscapes and travel that they make for good consumption as my Stay-At-Home continues.

It’s Like Pulling Teeth: My unexpected run-in with an Oral Surgeon

If one is me, one asks the question how many different things can one endure in one year. Ah the craziness of 2020 continues.

So first the backstory: for something like the last year, I’ve noticed a slight protuberance in my jaw. It was a minor aggravation, and while I knew I needed to nip it in the bud at some point I just never really took care of it. Well ok, I can admit that it has more to do with a lack of desire to tangle with our medical system, which while it has big problems, especially as relates to how we Americans are expected to finance care, is actually pretty good. I’ve become something of an unwitting veteran in the last few months, as you know.

Anyhow, in the last three weeks or so, this lump seemed to grow at an alarming pace. My wife and I finally concluded that something needed to be done immediately to ensure that nothing more sinister than a tooth infection was going on. With the Covid pandemic, finding a dentist that will see me on short notice is a challenge. After being rejected by the UNC system, I just put the word “Dentist” into Google Maps and called the first place that came up: Zen Triangle Dentistry.We entered on Saturday shortly before 12 PM into a fairly small operation with roaring air purifiers and our masks on. They gave me a couple of quick, complicated X-Rays where I was instructed to hold my head completely still with no head clamp and while biting down on the teeth part in front of me. Do you know how difficult this is?

After palpating the lump and feeling along my neck to see if others existed, the two individuals who were checking me recommended that I go somewhere else to have it thoroughly checked to rule out the possibility of cancer. While I had already been aware of such a possible conclusion, having it spoken aloud made the rest of that weekend fraught with emotion. I just tried to hold it together and survive till Monday when we were finally able to visit an oral surgeon at High House Oral Surgery.

Entering this office early Monday morning after fortunately having been worked in for an emergency visit, I was immediately put at ease with yet another x-ray, this time with a clamp and a bar onto which I could hold, both of which made the process measurably easier to bear. The oral surgeon told us that he believed it to be an abscess that he could drain, despite its having appeared so prominently on the outside of my gum. The catch is that the tooth on that side would need to be pulled, and oh yeah while we’re at it we may as well get the other two bottom teeth on the opposite side that have also grown in wrong. AAAHHH! When compared with what I thought would be the outcome though, suddenly an involved dental surgery didn’t seem so daunting.

So once we got the bill squared away, and it was of course high but not as high as I thought such procedures would be, we were ready to go. I was surprised that they were so quickly able to go ahead with the process. Everyone convinced me that, for various reasons, going under general anesthesia would be the best idea, and after the fact I have to say I am glad this choice was made. “The only real issue,” the surgeon said “is that sometimes you don’t wake up”. Well that’s scary, but it’s a risk you take I guess.

The feeling of getting ready for action was similar to what I had experienced in the Emergency room a little while ago with the heart thing. Cold EKG leads were stuck to various parts of my body, then an IV was inserted. I love my veins, as their easy visibility means a lot less pain for me. Then the automated blood pressure cuff was placed (my BP numbers are still good now which makes me happy), and the pulse monitor placed on my finger. I get nervous hearing the beep beep that indicates my heart beat, but then I also learned how to slow it down with my mind using bio feedback.

I reclined in the chair waiting, waiting, waiting… for things to start… and then I had gauze in my mouth and was being gingerly led to a waiting wheelchair to be rolled out. I, thankfully, have absolutely no memory of anything the was done. My wife says, though I counter that if it wasn’t recorded it didn’t happen, that my “high conversation” was hilarious. I let whatever thoughts popped into my brain slide right between my lips, which frightens me a little. That’s a big reason why I don’t like messing with control substances.

And so far so good. The only incident I almost had occurred Monday evening when, feeling normal while lying in bed, I thought I could head upstairs like normal and slurp down some mashed potatoes. And my body disagreed. I just kind of blacked out for ten seconds or so then headed back downstairs and into bed, where I needed to stay. I will find out tomorrow (Thursday) if all is as well as I hope, but I have been spending the week popping a variety of pills and trying to feel more and more like myself.

Have you ever had any kind of surgical intervention? According to my very unscientific Twitter poll, 58% of respondents say they’ve had more than one, 29% said only one, and the remaining folks said not at all. I guess there is always a first time for everything.

50 Days of Solitude: When and How To Return To Work

And it goes on and on and on and…

Almost eight weeks of mostly poking around the crib, trying to stay awake more than I sleep, and wondering what it all means. As states, including my own, tentatively begin reopening, I know that it is time for me to start contemplating what the “outside” is going to look like. One thing is for sure, it will not be anywhere near what it was for the foreseeable future.

I got a little taste of what to expect this past Saturday. My in-laws, needing supplies not readily available in their rural town and tired of being boxed in, decided to make their way up to oversupplied Cary to collect the gathered items. We paid them a short, appropriately socially-distanced and masked visit, just to say hello and talk to others for a change. Our hands grazed as we met, and I felt my own air pushed back into my face.

Ugh wearing that mask is not going to be comfortable, that much I know. Two good things about it though, I guess: A. You sure know how your own breath smells, and B. Others (hopefully) aren’t able to smell it. My wife did find some that are, well better than many, as they have a slightly cupped middle that gives you at least a little breathing room. I will of course wear them, as I understand that they are more for those who encounter me than for myself, but marbles. The eight-hour workday and transit to and for will be very long.

Speaking of transit, I am now trying to sack the admittedly somewhat involved system I had of taking GoCary’s Door-To-Door vehicle to the Cary train station and boarding the bus in favor of having the former take me all the way in. There are two main reasons why I hadn’t done this a long time ago. The first and most pressing is money: it costs just $2.50 to have them drive me to the station, but $8 to go all the way in. I think though that they have some kind of program that provides low-income individuals with a discount, so I will try and sign up for that and see what happens.

The second reason is more about my own needs I guess? I will feel more isolated, having little to no interaction with the wider community. I had gotten to know the five people I saw on a regular basis pretty well, and always enjoyed talking to them and whomever else I came across while waiting about any and everything. But with all these measures being put into place for who knows how long, I’m sure that such spontaneous encounters will not occur for a long time, and I might find it difficult to get assistance from others who wish to stay socially distanced. (I prefer to think of it more as physically distanced, as the last thing I need is to not socialize with folks in some way).

RELATED: The Cary Characters

I am hesitant about returning to work and will wait for them to call me back in while keeping a metaphorical eye (I’m blind after all) on the Covid numbers in North Carolina. I do hope things can get going soon, but I hope we don’t end up doing things too soon. We shall see.

Hey, Kiddo, by Jarrett Krosoczka

Hey, Kiddo, by Jarrett Krosoczka

I suppose that one might call this a memoir, though it is one of the more unusual memoirs I have ever read. In it, a now-successful artist/author chronicles his difficult journey to this point, with special focus on challenges faced when dealing with his drug-addicted mother and, initially anyway, absent father. He did manage to carve out a fairly decent childhood growing up with his parents and relying on a few friends and relatives to help him get by.

This book is short, but full of things to which most of us can relate in one way or another. I strongly identify with the idea that many of the “characters” needed some kind of therapy, but that it wasn’t widely available or appreciated in those days. This meant that people often found less-than-ideal ways to cope with their struggles, and in my case and others I know have never really conquered some of those childhood difficulties.

For the author, the difficulties were perhaps more profound, and especially in the case of his mother. She keeps trying, but the drugs pull her back, causing what was mostly an irreparable tear in their relationship. And by the time his father decides to re-enter his life… well you’ll see.

I think he spices up the print version with pieces of artwork both taken from those times and created specifically for the book. The audio, which I consumed, is brought to life by voice actors and sound effects. Many of the actors were people he had actually grown up with, some of whom even read difficult parts as themselves. The story is thus funny and poignant all at once, having drawn me well in and causing me to finish in what is a short time for me of two days. But then, the total audio clocks in at less than three hours.

So if you’re looking for something that helps you explore what it is like to be human and the beauty of someone who nurtures instead of tries to snuff out your talent, I would recommend this book. Given what I’ve got going on in my own life of late, this one definitely hit the spot for me.

At Home Post 2: On Finally Discovering My Passion

It’s the last day of April y’all, and by putting in a little elbow grease to end the month I’m still remaining on pace to make my crazy blog goal! Yay. With the world being in a relative state of turmoil, one must take victories where one can get them.

So aside from my extensive book review, the reasons for which I will get into later in this post, I have written an unfolding series of stories about my (our) response to Covid-19. Hey, maybe this kind of stuff will be important for the historical archives someday, when someone in 2050 is unable to imagine what this time and the time before it was like. “Wait, you mean people used to have to get in these things called cars to go to work? Weird.” Well I don’t know if we’ll go quite that far, but…

So I keep alluding to her, but I want to talk in this post more about what it’s been like being around my wonderful wife for the vast majority of these now forty-one (41!) days. I’ll tell you, if you want to discover whether you are compatible with and can enjoy the presence of someone, take away nearly all choice to do anything else but be with them and find out. Actually though, we’ve been having a great time. We sit on the couch and do things that make us laugh a lot, which at least to me is a key part of my survival. We also have read a couple of books together, because there suddenly is nothing else but time.

One of these was Unorthodox, by Deborah Feldman. You may have seen the documentary series on Netflix, but she is a previously Hasidic (don’t know if I spelled that correctly) Jewish woman who felt the need to depart that community after some tough experiences while married to her arranged husband in New York. I am told that the book departs quite significantly from the series, especially as it concerns what happened after they married.

The other of our reads, I said I would not admit allowed because it sounds silly. It’s Playboy Pilots, by Penelope Ward and Vi Keeland. It’s their third in a “series of stand-alones,” and we had read the first of these, Hate Notes. It’s a typical, fairly cheesy, love story with a lot of sex, but it also explores the challenges of forming a new relationship when someone has things in his or her past of which he or she is less proud. Oh and it has a lot of travel, which I can only dream about these days. I ultimately did like the book.

The main thing my wife has helped me with though, using her incredible coaching skills and a willingness to talk deep into the night, is that battle I’ve been fighting for the last 17 years: trying to figure out WHAT DO I WANT TO DO. Every go I have with the different career and life coaches hits basically this same snag, and so I knew that it was time for me to figure out that thing lurking in my brain and wishing to escape. And what have I often said to myself but not really acknowledged? I want to find a career that allows me to center myself around reading. So, the emergence of the book review! I will, over the next few months, be using this space to practice different types of review and styles of writing until I truly find my voice, then I hope to make my way into some freelance outlets. I am excited to finally embark on this journey, and perhaps it will even have a satisfactory ending for me. So if, like me, you are struggling to find your way in this confusing world, just stop and listen to yourself to hear what you’re already saying. Therein might lie the answer.

Book Review: Labyrinth of Ice, by Buddy Levy

In Labyrinth of Ice, Buddy Levy writes about the Greely (1881-1884) Arctic expedition that starts with so much promise, but in the end goes horribly wrong. Commander Greely and his band of mostly military men set out to travel to the “farthest north,”, and while they do make it, the return brings about much peril.

In modern times, it is hard to imagine being so disconnected from civilization that one has to depend on only those around him, but this was of course the case during the Greely expedition. In fact, the only way they could transmit messages between themselves and those that might try to rescue them was by leaving them in cans whenever one of the ships managed to reach a location where it might be retrieved. From there, they had to hope.

The book strikes a very hopeful, excited tone for most of its first half. The men, and they were all men on this trip, enjoy forays into icy waters, play games and celebrate holidays at a fort they have constructed near the coast of Greenland. They have plenty of food and resources to go around, and make judicious use of them. Some wrinkles do appear while they are at base though, most notably rebellions among the leadership.

The real trouble starts once they decide to set off from the fort in the hopes of locating a relief vessel that will sail them back south. Food and tempers are shortened, and, well lives are lost. As in most true disaster stories, the reader gets a sense of the men’s deep despair, and wonders when or if they will be saved.

As the exhibition rolls along, we particularly see a change in Greely’s leadership from a more authoritarian style to one that is more democratic, which has a big positive effect on morale. There are also changes in other characters, for instance an initially discharged lieutenant who shows such great leadership skills in the end, and missed the last ship out when he was to have been sent home, that he is reinstated. In the character portrayals, we experience how many of us might have reacted under such harsh conditions, even as we ponder the wisdom of having placed oneself there.

This is a usual American exploration story, in that it celebrates what some might see as White men’s exploitation of the land and absorption of the locals. The Greenlanders who participate are given what might nowadays be considered offensive nicknames such as “Eskimo Fred,” but in the end they are treated fairly well and become an important part of the overall story. Some of the feelings of exploitation no doubt also arise from the fact that many of these men were of military origin, and relied heavily on their ranks and their desire to establish pride in the USA.

On the whole, Labyrinth is an enthralling story with which the reader, if consuming during this time of Covid, can strongly identify. It actually helps one to ponder how to cope with extreme isolation and the sadness that can result from being out of contact with family and friends for an extended period. Probably the rushed ending, wherein Greely’s other accomplishments are laid out, could have been excluded. But give it a go anyway, and you might come away with a little more appreciation of life’s fragility and why it must be protected.