The Winds of Change: On My Birthday and Florence’s Arrival

O how they blow, the mighty winds of change. Isn’t there some sort of poem that starts that way? I don’t know, but the idea of wind changing physical and personal landscapes goes way back, I’m sure.

Three years ago this time, I stood along the shores at North Carolina’s Wrightsville Beach, listening to the waves’ roar for the first time in 13 years and marveling at how tiny I felt. As you read this, I hope that beautiful beach is avoiding total destruction by what had been one of the largest hurricanes ever to take a shot at us. (NOTE: I’m writing this on Wednesday night and setting it to run at the time of my birth, and thus I am not exactly sure what this mammoth storm has in fact done). While it does seem to be weakening some, its size and hurricane-force winds are increasing. I am sure there will be property damage as a result, but I pray that is all that is lost. Stuff can be replaced, lives can’t. Of course I understand there are myriad reasons why some folks were not able to evacuate, and I just hope the best for them.

When thinking about it, I am actually surprised that, at least according to my fallible memory, I’ve never experienced a hurricane on my birthday. It lies smack dab in the middle of peak season, which our WRAL newscasters say is September 10. Hurricanes have, however, followed my trips to the beach. There was of course the infamous Hugo in 1989, which happened right after my family’s first trip to Myrtle Beach, really the first such family trip that I’m aware of at all. I’ve written about that some in my post about our last most recent hurricane, Matthew.

Floyd struck in 99, right after a trip I and others took to Ocean Isle Beach wherein we were given nice rooms in two condos overlooking the sea. Fortunately though, I was too far inland to feel much of anything from that storm though, other than a nice breeze on an otherwise sunny day.

The combination of potentially life-altering storms and a birthday create a situation rife for reflection. While I would much prefer that the physical winds of change have little to no lasting mark, I do hope my figurative winds are about to change things to something I can barely imagine. The push for new employment is at an all-time high, as I’m working with the DSB counselor I mentioned a couple of entries ago. Ideas simmer and calcify, but as of yet the finished product has not emerged. It’s challenging, as it is for most of us adults these days. As I enter my 40th year (turn 39 years old, because we say that wrong) I find myself pondering what “society” would say I should have accomplished at this point.

  • Get married, Checked, though later than most
  • Have 2.5 children, Unchecked, and not likely to be. I don’t know about the poor child who’d have me as a parent
  • Have that house in a cul-d-sac, with said kids and a cute yapping dog, mostly unchecked, but the little dog is present. Homeownership may or may not happen
  • Have figured out what to do with life!, unchecked, This was easier in previous generations as people took whatever they could find and stay for 35 years. I guess now though it means entering a career path and finding how many ways to play that out.

So happy birthday to me! I guess I’ll enjoy whatever’s left of the sun, then hunker down with a good book or five and hope we manage not to float away. If you are anywhere near Florence, please stay safe and seek shelter if you need it.

Bend But Don’t Break: On the Joys of Navigation

You’re at work. The place is teeming with people, like yourself, who are totally or partially blind. Lunchtime arrives, and the mad dash for the break room begins, so that you and everyone else might take advantage of the narrow 30-minute window for eating that really ends up being like 15 if you do any kine of preparation (hand-washing, bladder relief, a snack machine visit).

As you round the most congested corner, with visions of peanut butter crackers dancing in your head, you hear a frightening sound. The person bounces off and keeps going, with a perfunctory apology, but the more worrying thing is the alarming noise your cane, which admittedly is already over two years of age, makes. *wobble, wobble* it goes as you tentatively step forward and try to continue. “Oh, great” you think.

This was the scenario that confronted me this past fine Friday. Similar have happened in much more challenging places, like at street crossings where motorists moved so slowly that I was unable to pick up the automobile until its tires rolled over the cane (and thankfully not my toe!). But still, I was annoyed.

The first thing that occurred to me is that if someone managed to bend it so easily with only their leg/shoe/whichever met the cane, I could probably at least make it serviceable but levering it against a chair in front of me with it stuck under the caster and pulling as hard as possible. This did work, reducing the bend such that I could safely navigate outside at the end of the day. But it still feels very tenuous, at best.

So my second idea was to bring up the trusty Amazon app and type “Folding Cane” into the search. After sifting through all of the walking sticks, I located one made specifically for blind people. Distributed, I think, by a seller called Visionu, it only cost me $22. And because my wife is a Prime member and I’ve been included in the household, I could get it delivered to me by today, Sunday.

“Great,” I thought. “I could have my new cane before I even need to go back to work.” This all worked as advertised.

And what you might ask, do I make of the new cane? Well, it’s pretty much the right length, if a little long. But where canes are concerned it’s generally better to have longer than shorter anyway. The other small issue with it is that the pieces don’t fit as snuggly as I might like. This means that, especially if I’m tapping it as they want me to do in the workshop, the cane will slide a little apart at each joint. Not a huge deal, but it could be annoying when walking over bumpy areas, though I suppose its rolling tip should mitigate some of this.

While my little experiment maybe didn’t go as well as I would have liked it is still cool to have such technology available that makes it possible to, in a pinch, quickly replace very important hardware. This stuff has of course been great for us blind folk, from easy ride-hailing services to much-expanded grocery delivery, the latter of which I especially wish had existed to a greater extent when I lived alone. They had a local delivery company called Raleigh-Durham Deliveries, but they charged a $15 fee, and the prices for products were significantly higher as well. They were unfortunately not able to scale as well as they might have liked, and so went out of business. This was in 2010, before the smartphone revolution that has really brought everyone onboard with a more delivery-based shopping system really took off.

Ultimately I am still glad I got this cane in that manner, and will make use of it if I find it possible to do so.

#Norrie2018 Part 2: Personal Development

And I finally arrive with the much-delayed second entry covering our Fourth International Norrie Conference. The primary reason for its lateness is a yucky cold I developed that Tuesday for which I blame the airplane, or rather, the passenger who, I have no doubt, said “I paid $200 for this ticket so I’m going even though I’m hacking up a lung!” The consequences for that when one is sealed in a tube are great. But alas, I have recovered. The second reason for my not having written yet will likely be discussed in future posts.

If this works, I think you should be able to hear a YouTube playlist of the conference’s first day by clicking that link. I suppose that should at least take you to the page where the files are housed.

That Friday, ok what I can remember of it, begins at the bright and early time of 6:30 AM. I take the first position in getting ready, and hey it’s always hardest to drag oneself out of bed when the other is still lying there. Cleansed, I slip into my new, presidential! outfit of a button-down shirt and slacks. Then, as my wife makes her way through the morning routine, I make a couple of passes through my prepared remarks once more to try and feel a little more comfortable with them.

This all done, we make our way towards the conference venue, which for the first time is in a different location: the O’Kefe Auditorium in the main Massachusetts General Hospital. This takes some finding and more walking than our usual facility, a room on the 3rd floor of the Simches Building, but after a slightly unnerving walk through revolving doors, (I’m not the only one who gets a bit claustrophobic in there right? I mean what if they get stuck or someth9ing!) and a maze of hallways, we come across familiar faces. They have a continental breakfast available, and I opt for a blueberry muffin and orange juice. Knowing my constitution, I defer coffee until the break after I have spoken.

People slowly, sleepily file in, including two more of my family members: my Aunt and cousin. I think there were about 50 of us in total, a normal-sized audience for our small but growing conferences. At approximately 9 AM, I head to the front of the room and begin. After some fiddling with the microphone, I kind of wonder if I was too close to it after all as it kind of sounds like I’m eating it on the Youtube link (ah well), I start with my silliness.

“Fellow officers, board members, family and friends I hereby welcome you to the State of the NDA. Oh wait, I’m… not that kind of president.”

This gets the anticipated laughs. Yes we will be discussing serious topics but I always believe that starting things off with a little humor helps people feel more at ease, loosened if you will. And that is a good thing. I continue by introducing each board member and giving a remark about them: Kasey, our tireless secretary who was so much more, Allison the treasurer and speaker organizer, Nate the technology potential guy, Mark the magic webmaster, Ramsey the out-of-the-box thinker when out comes to place, Wendy the International outreach person, and Jan, the last original and now former board member. I am happy to have worked with these folks for as long as I have. Then I discussed the good of the Norrie Disease Support Group on Facebook and talked about what I learned from my Capstone, which was a strategic Communication plan for the Norrie Disease Association. And, I was done, and could relax!

Next, we have what I’m starting to find is the most exciting part of the conference, our keynote speaker. We usually find someone with Norrie who is doing great things, and this year Michael Forzano, creator of RS games and worker at Amazon, spoke for nearly an hour on how he got to where he is. Of special note his participation in boyscoutsl My cousin and I did cub scouts at least, and we were fortunate to find that people didn’t really treat us any differently either. I remember three highlighted of my experience as such: riding an old train, attending a Nascar race, and creating paper airplanes. As Forzano points out, it is very important for blind kids to be teased normally and exposed to as much as possible so that we can function in the big, real world. I appreciate that Forzano keeps it real with us noting that there were some pretty significant struggles along that road too independence. I think this lets people know that it’s ok if one experiences these, but that one can keep going and go much farther than thought possible.

Most of the rest of Friday is given to more Norrie-Related talks. We hear about gene therapy advancements in hearing and balance with Dr. Cory, introduction to Ocular Prosthetics by Kurt Jarhling, and behavioral supports for students by Matt Edwards. I know that Dr. florian Eichler spoke as well, but I am unsure of what as I cannot find it on the YouTube link. I believe it was on continuing the research on Norrie that Dr. Katherine Simms had been doing before him. Again, check out the playlist to hear more as it would take me ages to fully delineate each of those talks. They were great, though.

Coffee is had at the first break, nearly 10 AM, then a boxed lunch of a Caesar Chicken Wrap is consumed at 12. After lunch, we get up and stroll around the facilities, with my wife noting in particular the beauty of the hospital’s chapel. I am mostly just glad to be moving.

Once this long day of conferencing concludes around 4, we decide to go ahead and get our Boston stroll in before retiring to the room for the night. At my previous suggestion, we head over to historic Quincy Market to have dinner. At first, I choose to do something else, because the place is absolutely packed and quite hot. But on walking further, she discovers that there are few other good choices in that immediate vicinity so we venture back into the madness. I get a delicious chili cheese burger and fries from what my bank statement says is a place called Aris BBQ, and while I’m sitting at the table awaiting her return from the long line therein, I record this audio snippet that gives some sense of what it sounds like in there. It’s an amazing place.

And that is the substance of day 2. On this day, I am dog-tired after getting aback, and so after trying to read for a bit I clock out shortly after 9:30. More in Saturday’s post, upcoming.

#Norrie2018: Part I, The Good of qSocializing

A task attempted every time I go to these things, I am daring to try and capture at least some of what I felt at my fourth Norrie Conference in Boston. These have, somewhat through happenstance, occurred try-annually (Triennially)? I don’t know, every three years! starting in 2009. The only year I no longer have documented in any way is 2012, because that blog had long since been disassembled. In the 2015 post, probably the most interesting of those was the first that I made.

In the most current iteration of this conference, much was the same, but also much was different. So, let’s take a look.

The “Fun” of Getting There

Because she loved their service and comfort so much, and I had been told that if I notified them via social media we would be given seats in the front of the aircraft again, I chose to book us on JetBlue Airways. This time, I managed to get nonstop roundtrip flights, with the only drawback. being that they were both super early. On the outbound to BOS, we were placed in row 4. Inbound to RDU, we got row two. Nice. Only, the first flight didn’t actually depart as early as it was supposed to. The scheduled time was 5:45, but they ended up needing to swap planes as the AC unit on one of them was not functioning entirely properly and could thus not be deployed on an international journey. They wanted to fly it to their hub in Boston for repairs, and still transport passengers on that flight. This meant towing jets, changing gates, and general head-achiness when one’s brain is barely working. Fortunately the delayed exit (we ended up leaving shortly after 7:10) caused us not much more than some annoyance as we had no early morning conference plans and nothing but time. I do appreciate the folks at JetBlue for their candor there; we as passengers had no real reason to know the reason for the delay, but telling us shows a respect for our time. And as my wife pointed out, it gives me a little more story. Because nothing in my life occurs without some kind of unexpected twist.

Boston, for the Seventh Time

The flight was largely uneventful, with me chatting some with her and reading a log. I acquired a bag of somewhat stale chocolate chip cookies, but I suppose they did what they were supposed to do and gave me a little bit of a sugar rush. Once on the ground at Logan Airport, we opted to summon a Lyft ride. I knew I had a small promotion through them, thus making the nearly 20-minute trip to the Wyndham Boston Beacon Hills a little more affordable. The Lyft app told us where we were to stand, and she identified the correct vehicle after the 7 minutes it took to arrive. The thing I like about these services, of course, is that we can just slide in and be off as the destination is already programmed into the driver’s GPS. I can also watch the time till arrival as it ticks down. I know taxi drivers have issues with ride-hailing, but what they give blind folks in terms of ease of navigation is not matched in any other sector.

After plowing through insanely thick traffic and making friendly conversation with this man who is originally from Haiti but has resided in Boston for 33 years, we pulled up at our hotel. I’ll ignore my bank account and associated cards for the next little while, as it’s so expensive to stay in there! Fortunately though, the Norrie Disease Association did knock off nearly $100 as compared to what I paid for our 2015 visit. Once checked in and having dropped off luggage and complimentary goodie bags in the room, we headed to Au Bon Pain for some sustenance. She wanted a blueberry muffin and a Latte, but I needed only a good, hot cup of coffee. This did its job in helping me to stay alert during our first gathering of the day.

The River Picnic

Then came my favorite innovation of this whole conference; a picnic of boxed lunches by the Charles River. Located fairly close to the Perkins School for the Blind, this walk also has a Braille Trail that would allow for independent navigation by blind folks if they wish, and, I assume, plaques that describe what one can feel. Unfortunately, well sort of just as we were about to set off on this trail the ice cream truck showed up. I mean, of course I was happy for that treat, but it meant we did not have time to take advantage of that walk. Ah well. I’d done something like that before in the North Carolina mountains, walked a Braille Trail following a long rope that showed us many of the plants and such that grew on that level.

But this all occurred after we had eaten. I believe the food, rather large sandwiches of varying kinds, had come from a place called Luna Cafe. I think I had a turkey sandwich of some kind, oh yes with little apple flecks and vegetables in it. It was good, but I could barely eat it all! They also gave a big chocolate chip cookie and some chips. We enjoyed sitting on the blankets which we were then able to keep as they too had been provided by the NDA, and chattering with so many different parents and family members. We were also breathing a sigh of relief that the rains had decided to hold off long enough for us to enjoy our gathering.

Tokens had been distributed to allow us to get one free offering from the ice cream truck and I settled on lemon Italian ice. That was my first of that, but I liked it It was mostly like a snow cone, but better flavored. I also managed to consume it with very little mess.

There were morning and afternoon tours of the Perkins school as well, but given that we had done this in 2015, I opted to just partake of the picnic. So when the return shuttle bus came at about 1:35, we barely made it onboard and back to the hotel before crashing for the next three hours. These conferences are always exhausting for me, though also quite enjoyable.

More Networking Under the Lights

The next social began at approximately 6:30. Held in a room in the Simches building at Massachusetts General Hospital, this experience was generally better for those of us with limited hearing than the previous one had been. The room was large enough to allow us to spread out, and my cousin, a board member with Norrie and I stood at a standing table wolfing down finger food and Sam Adams (because you should drink Sam Adams if you’re in Boston) and discussing any and everything for nearly two hours. The funniest part of the evening though was that my wife and I, as well as my cousin and his wife, were the only ones other than those who were organizing things, to show up at exactly 6:30. Hey, we don’t play when food is being offered!

And with that, a fun day wrapped up. Because of the nap we had already taken, I was not at that point totally wiped. Even so, I read a little more of a book called The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat, which I chose because it is partially set in Boston, and called it a night.

Not Your Grandma’s Hearing Test

the day is fast rushing toward me now where I must get my current hearing aids replaced, given preparations for my new employment that might demand the ability to function in a team setting, or on the phone. These aids have served me well for seven years, but there is no question that the technology therein is beginning its inexorable decline, and the technology without has just gotten much better. I want to try and take advantage of these improvements, especially as they relate to background noise.

To that end, I scheduled what my audiologists call a “functional communication assessment,” at the core of which is another, shall we say slightly stressful, hearing test. You can check out my post on the previous most recent hearing test experience from November of 2016, for a bit of comparison, because this iteration was different from any I’ve had before. I suppose it will also be more useful in the end.

Ah, well some things were the same. There’s entry into the soundproof booth, wherein my heart rate increased and stomach dropped, and I immediately muted my cell for fear that some random, badly timed notification might throw me off. Then the audiologist’s assistant, a grad student whom I had met a few weeks ago when last I was there, placed the inserts into my ears in lieu of the aids, adjusted the volume until I could hear her voice, and the fun began.

Playground. Baseball. Airplane. Oatmeal. That familiar list of words was read off, first by her and then by a recording, I suppose the latter having been done to standardize the process a bit. I’ve always thought that some of the variance in how well I hear has to do with a person’s particular voice. The recording they used almost sounded synthetic though, and there were a couple of times where, though I felt I could hear? it, I was not able to process it. I know there is an element of processing difficulty present in my sound interpretation challenges as well.

Then the second part, also relatively familiar, where you have to hear and distinguish when the little beeps occur. First she just played these through the inserts, but then she placed a bigger headset on my head. The thing is, and I think I mentioned this last time, that set vibrates if a particularly loud, low-frequency beep is played. I was to say “yes” whenever I “heard” it, and sometimes I responded just because I had felt the vibration, a small smile of relief tickling my lips. But she was not so easily convinced!

On that last, did you hear that, or just feel it?” I confessed, because if you ask I will tell you. This did provide me with a bit of amusement when I could use it, though.

I was slightly less amused when the third and final portion of testing began. This was the new part. I was to repeat a sentence that had been read aloud to me, or at least as many words as I could recall. With each sentence, the background noise, which sounded like a bunch of people talking at the same time but not quite in the same way that one might hear in a restaurant, was turned up a notch. I spoke the first couple of sentences ok, but by the time we got to the full background noise I pretty much just sat there. I know that this is the biggest challenge I face in my hearing loss journey, and really always has been. I like to believe that I am making strides in this area though, because it is mandatory in order to fully fit in with my new set of marital relatives. One of their hallmarks is eating out in restaurants, and so I adapt as best I can.

And after some fine-tuning, in which she had me rank the comfort level of beeps she played in each ear from 1 to 7 to establish parameters for my future aids, we discussed possible options. First, she said my results were relatively stable in comparison to November of 2016. It is a good thing to hear that the loss is not currently progressing in significant fashion. This, I believe, means that I can indeed put off the cochlear implants for a little longer. My two main aid choices are to go with ones that work especially well with the iPhone, having some bluetooth capacity; or to get a pair that should do a better job handling background noise. The former are made by a company called ReSound, while the latter are Phonak, my current brand. If I stick with my current brand, not only do I get those potential improvements, but the quality of sound should also be mostly the same. This would mean less adjustment when I put the new ones in for the first time. While I did kind of want to get my hands on the bluetooth model, I am fairly tempted to just get the new Phonak and handle phone calls and streaming audio from my iPhone as I always have.

I won’t be handling anything for a while though, as those things are expensive and not covered at all by my insurance. This means I will attempt to reinitiate my case with the North Carolina Division of Services for the Blind, and hope that they will be willing to help me with this important acquisition. The mid-level are around $4,000, while top of the line come in at about $5,500. The latter would be most preferred, but I think I could function with the mid-range ones if necessary. She said the lowest end would kind of work, but I would see little in the way of noise reduction with them.

So that’s what I’m up against. I will get the wheels churning immediately and see what can be drawn up. But as always, I appreciate the fine audiologists I have at the UNC Hearing and Communication Center, and feel that I benefit from being under this university’s umbrella. Next entry? Probably from Boston as we get ready to head to the Fourth International Norrie Conference on August 9! Look for those posts soon. Till then.

Two Miles Per Hour: On Book Writing and Other Summer Pursuits

My title comes from and old Will Smith, (Fresh Prince?) song called Summer Time, and it referred to the desire to move at a snail’s pace in order to show off your newly cleaned car. I’m primarily using it in reference to the idea that I am writing a book! Well ok it’s only at 6 pages so far but! but! I am starting to see where it might be going. Here’s the premise, as it occurred to me while doing the day job, because that’s when I have ages to sit and think.

Two brothers, from a large family consisting mostly of girls, both have Norrie Disease and that, among other things, means that they are very close. One brother decides he wishes to head off to college in the hopes of changing his life, while the other remains at the sheltered workshop that has employed them for years. A sense of resentment emerges between them, resulting in a series of actions that permanently change both of their lives.

Yeah yeah, it of course has pieces of my own story. But it’s also a work of fiction, so the occurrences will be a lot more dramatic than anything I’ve ever experienced. I suppose that most “real” writers would not divulge their idea until they are a lot farther into the project, but no one ever said I was disciplined. Can I even make this works? That remains to be seen, but I hope to keep pumping out a page a day for close to a year. The launch date was July 4th.

Speaking of things that I hope will launch soon, we are coming down the stretch to what will be my big summer event, attendance of the fourth International Conference of the Norrie Disease Association. This is my second as president, which basically means I was supposed to have a basic idea of what has gone into planning, and am to give a speech once there. I can’t say that I’ve done a stellar job at the former, but I am trying to rectify this to some degree as we come down the stretch. And on the speech, one thing I learned from grad school is that it will be better for me to write the entire script than to try and use an outline. Then I only have to think about “how to say it” and not “what to say”. So we’ll see if I can cobble together something decent by August 10, or in reality a whole lot sooner. Like this weekend?

And to get back to my writing for a second, I often her it told that a good writer should also be a prolific reader. To that end, I am aiming for sixty books completed this year. I only made 29 by the halfway mark, sadly, but I have three in progress now and if I can wrap them all up by the 14th I may have a shot at 35 by the end of the month. More important than quantity though is to learn from the structure of people’s stories. I definitely think I’m getting that part down.

And that’s abut the meat of my excitement. Even the day job may be getting interesting soon, with possibilities of training for new and better positions, but I will write about that if it actually happens.

With My Father

I went to Dictionary.com to see how they define “Father,” and here’s what it says.

  1. a male parent.
  2. a father-in-law, stepfather, or adoptive father.
  3. any male ancestor, especially the founder of a family or line; progenitor.

So we start with a fairly narrow definition, and continue to broaden it to take in more of how father’s are perceived. And of course, they often factor into religious contexts, especially within Christianity, both as those who head churches or catholic organizations and to God himself. I know little of other religious faiths in this vein, but assume they may have similar ideas.

Anyway, the main takeaway is that fatherhood is a complicated concept to wrap one’s head around. And ever since my wedding, well really since the middle of last year, I have been re-expanding my views of what a father is and could be.

Do you remember the Luther Vandross song entitled Dance With My Father? How he talked about being lifted high and skimming just below the ceiling, and the feelings of fun and fear mingling in your belly. I experienced that too, often while Michael Jackson blared from speakers in the living room, on the days when both my parents were in a good mood. I would usually find it difficult to sleep after such nights.

While I do have such nice memories with my “biological” father, I spent the bulk of my formative years with a father figure who really showed me the ropes. He helped me fully get into and appreciate sporting events; spent hours with me on the road talking about girls, school, and the like; and was just generally there. Even now, as a so-called adult, I miss sprawling on the floor, snickers in one hand, cold drink by my face as we watched the Atlanta Braves game while awaiting dinner’s preparation. Ah, what I would do to return to those days of innocence.

The thing that amazes me though is that, after nearly 20 years of inactivity, my “biological” father and I are finally starting to re-form some kind of relationship. Prior to marriage, I had hung out with him three times while residing in Charlotte, going to get a haircut twice and spending a day over in his double wide to watch the Panthers and have pizza. (You’ll note that most of my interactions with either of these men involve sports). Then just this past weekend, I’d hopped the Amtrak to Charlotte to have another nice time with him, enjoying some good food and a drink that, well made me feel good if you get my drift. We also watched the final game of the Warriors Cavs series (oh Cleveland, y’all could have done so much more) and had one of the most meaningful conversations in a really long time, well what I could hear of it over the pulsating Earth, Wind, and Fire Music he blasted through the sound system. That audio was so clear that I could easily make out the lyrics, a rarity for me in my state of near-deafness.

Here’s the thing, father’s aren’t perfect. But, I’m not perfect either, far from it. In between the messiness though, there are chances to forgive, to discover our bonds, to learn of what interests us both. To, in short, reconnect. I am glad that this is happening while we are still in this short life, and will always remember not to take such relationships for granted and to be willing to engage in them.

As the above definition indicates, my idea of fatherhood continues to expand. Today, I will venture to Fayetteville to visit my father-in-law at the restaurant where our wedding rehearsal dinner was held, a place that will thus have special memories (and good food!) for me. The place is called Grandson’s and located on Fayetteville’s Ramsey Street. MMM, I can already taste the meat loaf, fried chicken, and of course mac and cheese. Both he and my new mother have made me feel welcome in my enlarged family, and I felt especially grateful to them for making the trip to Queens University to attend my graduation a few weeks ago.

On this Father’s Day, I am happy to discover that my heart has enough room to accept several versions of “father,” all of whom fill some key part of my life. I will continue to appreciate each of them for as long as I am able to do so. Wishing any dads who read this a happy day themselves.

CHANGING STATIONS: On My Full-scale Job Search

As I briefly alluded to in my prior post, already written more than a month ago (really? I’ve gotta get back on that!), at the same time I prepared to celebrate graduation, I also launched the most intensive job search attempt ever tried. It has been five windy weeks of hopefully something that will pan out into at least the start of my dream.

The Irony

My wife and I were having one of our late night discussions, the kind that make sleep maybe less likely, maybe more so, it’s honestly hard to say. Of course, as we both are standing at the precipice of change, our main subject matter is and has been career choice.

“I think you should get a job coach,” she said. “I mean I can help and try to whenever possible, but it may be good to have someone who is knowledgeable of the ins and outs of figuring this out.”

I had tried this before with a Life Coach, and really felt like my confidence and willingness to grow and try new things had benefitted. So, I was open to the idea of giving coaching a shot. “Ok, I’ll google that tomorrow,” I replied.

Only, LinkedIn decided to bring it to me that next day instead. Was this an incident of “Big Brother” listening in? Or just a sign. We often playfully discuss this. Anyhow, that career site sent me a link to some company with whom they had just linked that allowed me to write what I needed in a coach and have people give me pries for their services and explain what they could offer. I received seven quotes, but ultimately settled on the first respondent because she was close by and her prices were reasonable. She is Dr. Lori Nero Ghosal of Inner Quest Coaching, and she is located right in the Raleigh-Cary area. I had three sessions with her, each an hour long and spread over two weeks, and each covering different, very useful material.

In the first, she had me draw up my “elevator pitch”. This is supposed to help me gain some focus, and also to address the possibility that “you meet the company CEO in the elevator on the way to your interview. She asks you what you want to do. How would you reply?”

After thought and input by her and by myself, here is what I came up with. Perhaps a bit cheesy, but it’s a start right?

I am a communicator wit excellent written and oral skills, with an interest in writing on opinion and advocacy on disability-related issues, social justice, and media. My main focus will be on ability, rather than disability, to demonstrate how simple accommodations can vastly improve quality of life for everyone. Through writing about my experience and applying lessons learned to others with disabilities and able bodied, I hope to demonstrate how individuals from varying backgrounds can achieve independence in work and play, thus enhancing outcomes for society at large.

Well I would not likely remember that word for word anyhow, of course, but I can use it to prepare me for such an encounter. I also managed to apply for a Braillist position in Wake County Schools, as well as an Accessibility position at my current employer, using cover letter skills she helped me fine-tune.

In our second meeting, We really began to draw up a road map for my deciding where to focus my efforts. She created three spreadsheets: Types of Positions, Types of Organizations, and Organizations to Help Me. On the first, we put Writing, Blogging, receptionist, call center, and Braillist. In the next column I am to place corresponding companies, then to note to which I have applied and the result. I’m… kind of getting started? It’s hard to do after work, but this week I will make it priority one now that our sessions are completed.

On the second sheet, Types of Organizations, we put Oxford University Press, YMCA, nonprofit, educational institutions (I’ve put UNC Hospital there as I may have something there), and the Governor Morehead School for the Blind. As you can probably imagine, the difficulty here is finding openings for which I qualify. Any of these types of organizations would be wonderful to work for though, and so I just keep checking availability as things constantly change.

And finally, she created a list of disability-friendly organizations that help us find work, or just large-scale entities, such as the State of North Carolina Jobs Board, where productive searches could be had. Getting Hired, Jobs.com, and the Workforce Recruitment Program are a few of the others she mentioned. These are indeed good options to pursue.

In our last session, we talked about bolder steps I might consider taking. The main one is to sell myself as a freelance editor who could help students with their undergraduate or Master’s theses. This may be the best idea of all, but it will require me to learn to speak of and think about my abilities with a confidence I’m still working to scaffold. I may also join temporary research pools at either of the major local universities in this area, and it seems that since she proposed that idea, Indeed.com has started showing me such positions as well.

And that is the crux of what she and I did. I was pleased with her work, and willingness to occasionally go overtime if she thought it would help me get all of the information I needed to take the actions being considered. I would recommend giving career coaching of some kind a shot if you are having a time figuring what you wish to do, and post my own experiences to give others insight into what the process might be like. Good luck to us all!

Not To Be Served, But To Serve: My Queens Graduation

Graduation. An advancement from one level to the next, most often in academic settings. In this case, I wondered about whether I would gain anything from attending my third such ceremony, from Queens University with a Master of Arts in Communication, given that the brunt of study had concluded in December and I’d already had the degree in hand. But as others pointed out, and I definitely found to be the case, this celebration allowed my family members and friends to join me in embracing my accomplishments, and have a little fun around a generally positive event. So I decided what the hey, I would go ahead and attend.

The biggest challenge of going to this graduation was simply getting there. The university is located in Charlotte, North Carolina, and so my wife and I hit the road for the Queen City on Friday right after work, both tired but also kind of excited. Arriving at my cousin’s place where I had stayed for seven months as last year wrapped up, we made quick work of a fast-food meal and bedded down for the 6:15 wake up on Saturday (who gets up that early, on a Saturday!) We had to do that though, because this institution had scheduled the festivities for 9 AM, and we needed to collect her parents from their hotel and grab a bite to eat. All of this went smoothly, and we arrived on campus around 8 AM, where I met the woman who would assist me on my glorious walk across that stage. She’s the assistant director of Diversity and Inclusion at that school, and I found her to be quite nice, and clearly popular. Fortunately for all of our sanity, she was sitting at the check-in table waiting for me as soon as we entered, calling my name out immediately.

The next twenty minutes were spent trying to stay awake amid the ever-swelling crowds and pondering what I had achieved. I finally felt a sense of satisfaction at being there, and over the fact that things were a lot less chaotic than the habitually worried I feared. And then the fun began.

First, we took group photos at 8:30. To do this, we had to descend some unnervingly rickety stairs into the university’s gym that had her contemplating more than once if we should just find an elevator. I had to convince her that I would be ok going down, though all those strange turns did have me wondering a little bit. It was all good though, and I suppose I could be seen amongst the masses of Master’s students who were also involved. (Queens has no doctoral programs, small as it is).

Next came the processional, where the Charlotte Band, a group of largely volunteer players, played at least four marching songs, of course including Pomp and Circumstance as we filed in. The ceremony was held outside, and so I was delighted that the weather was partly cloudy with low 80’s. We neither cooked nor soaked, always a gamble in early May. The band was loud though for those of us who were right near it, namely the graduates.

A fellow MA Comm student led the invocation, which made me proud. Then we listened to the university president, senior class president, and the Chair of Queens Board of Trustees regale us with silly stories and serious bits of encouragement. This portion wrapped up with Doctor Kevin Washington, the first African-American president of the YMCA, speaking to us and drawing on a Martin Luther King Jr. speech made to his South Philadelphia high school seven months before that great reverend was assassinated. He connected it to the Queens Motto, from which my subject line was gleaned: Not To Be Served, but to Serve. The three main points were these: believe in your values and worth, seek that about which you are passionate, and find ways to translate that into helping others. It was a short but rousing address. Left me thinking about how I can more effectively continue to serve and hopefully mentor to those with disabilities, as well as people from other backgrounds with whom I can relate.

And then the part for which we had all been waiting: the conferring of degrees. Some honorary doctorates were handed out, the most stirring of these being to a popular “dreamer” on campus who had worked with seemingly everyone there in some capacity. And finally, the endless list of names were called. We Master’s folk went first, with the Knight School of Communication being third or fourth on the list. I was instructed to rise shortly before our list was called, and we made our way up a ramp and around toward the makeshift stage. As she said “John Alexander Miller,” my foot made dangerous contact with the podium. The presenter said “watch out for that,” causing my guide to feel a little embarrassed. I told her it was ok though, and was mostly just glad I had managed not to knock it down. They then hooded me, draping the Master’s hood over my neck where it hung alongside my crimson robe representing communication students. A picture was taken, and then I sat and listened to the rest of the names. Of course the undergrads had the most fun, with a couple of them dancing as they made their way across. One even caused the presenter to laugh as she attempted to read the next name. We also had a 65-year-old walk, and he received the loudest ovation from the fairly sizable crowd.

And that was pretty much it. They sang the school hymn, which I could hardly hear over the again pulsating tones from the band, and we recessed. Relocating me was a little challenging for my family, as the crowds near our designated meeting place were largely stagnant. I did get time to converse with a member of my cohort in person, which was interesting as we had shared an online space for two years. After some attempts to find the building we had indicated, my wife finally gave up and called to speak with my guide so they could create another rendezvous point. And with that, we departed to head for the food and fun planned at my cousin’s place.

So all in all, it was an uplifting experience, and one that I hope propels me into my next life phase: finding new work! Some interesting developments are on the horizon for that, but I will go into those in a future post. Till then, as graduate season rolls in, I congratulate all of you who have or will also walk the many high school and university stages. Let’s all continue to remember the Queens motto, as taking such an orientation will benefit society as a whole.

A Tweet and an Interview

So I’ve been interviewed by the BBC. How did that come about, you ask? Well, it results from a tweet I posted on Twitter after learning that Barbara Bush had died, recounting an encounter I had with her and their family when I visited DC. The tweet read:

“John Miller – @blindtravel: I once met Barbara Bush in person. Wrote a letter to George HW after being encouraged by my Orientation and Mobility teacher, and got me and 2 other blind folks a free trip to DC for a behind-the-scenes White House Tour. Drank in the Oval Office, met her, and their dog Milly.”

This little snippet actually drew the attention of many in the media, and definitely demonstrated to me, if I needed such demonstration, that social media can be quite powerful. I’ve been ruminating on that trip all day. It happened about this time in 1991, early May to be precise. Its seed was planted one cool March day, as my favorite O&M instructor and I raced to our lesson site, where presumably she either taught me to cross streets or navigate the mall.

Thinking probably of the prior year’s travel to Los Angeles, I said “I’d like to go to Washington DC.” Being a woman of big dreams herself, this individual told me to sit down at the Brailler and compose a letter to the President, that she would then figure out how to have delivered to him. I sure wish I still had the contents of that letter, because I have no doubt that its success is what really caused me to both enjoy writing and respect its power. Someone, I don’t know whom but I’d guess just in the White House who takes care of such things, booked us for a night in the Ramada a couple of blocks away, and so we, my cousin, a friend from school, and I, along with said instructor and two other adult chaperones braved the insane DC traffic and ventured up there.

The tweet pretty much sums up what happened that first day, a Friday OUT OF SCHOOL! In addition to meeting Barbara Bush though, we stood outside in the fierce wind created by President Bush the first’s helicopter as it prepared to leave for Camp David, struggling to maintain our hold of tiny American flags. This part was kind of fun. Then, hot and tired, we retreated to the hotel’s lobby for yet more soda’s before making our drive to Alexandria and the executive club suite where we would remain for the rest of our trip. Three kids? Soda? A car ride? Big mistake. Let’s just say we were all begging the merciless adults to find somewhere, anywhere, to stop as we squirmed and danced and drove them crazy. That night though, one of the chaperones who worked at Columbo Yogurt, gave us some of that delicious stuff and used what sounded like a professional camera to snap photos of us enjoying it.

Then that Saturday, we got to board the subway for the first time ever. I was alarmed by how they sounded roaring into the station and the rapidity with which we had to board in order to avoid those doors. This was, until that point, the most urban experience I had ever had. We disembarked, and hit up many of the tourist sites. The site that struck me most profoundly was the Vietnam Memorial. Feeling all those names made it real how many service members (and yes I definitely know Civilians as well) lost their lives in that conflict. There were people openly weeping along the wall even still.

Anyway, after I posted that tweet, I went off to do other things. Just in time, I returned to find a message from a BBC journalist asking me to follow and send a direct message to her. She was wondering if I would be willing to speak for a couple of minutes about that trip, as they were taking memories from regular folks who had had interactions with Bush. The piece would be live and I had only moments to kind of prepare, which probably made it easier as I was less nervous. I spoke with Mike Embley of BBC World Service, and listening to it as my initial contact sent me the files I guess I did ok. Inasmuch as one can listen to himself on the air. I think it only lasted a couple of minutes, but I really focused on trying not to speak too fast. (I probably said “orientation and mobility teacher” too quickly, but hey that’s a mouthful!)

I think I improved significantly compared to my performance on live air in 2006. I was speaking with someone about travel and why I love it, but unfortunately using a nearly inaudible landline. In this case, I had my headphones connected directly to the iPhone, and so experienced no hearing difficulties. I did, however, struggle to get her the picture she wanted of myself. First, I’m never really sure which pictures contain only me. Second, iOS makes entering email addresses, well fun, sometimes; because if you make one mistake and backspace it the entire thing is then messed up. I initially got the journalist’s address wrong, then when she tried to have me send it to another of her co-workers, I just could not get it entered in time. It is good that I gave up on that when I did, as the interview was to happen in only a couple of minutes.

These are only minor issues though, and they give me things to think about on my next attempt. Overall, it was a great and much-needed uplifting experience in a field I have pondered trying to enter for a long time. Who knows what’s next?