REVIEW: What Every Blind Person Needs You To Know

DISCLOSURE: I was provided an advanced copy of this book by the author so that I might give my honest thoughts regarding it. I shall do that.

I have for the past week been reading What Every Blind Person Needs You To Know, by Leeanne Hunt. This handbook is an intricate collection of scenarios that are intended to aid a novice sighted person in acquainting him or herself in best practices when interacting with an individual who is blind or low vision, and especially a family member. Each chapter is laid out in a similar fashion: Beginning with a section header (Attitudes, confidence-building, encouragement, etc), introducing it with a bit of her personal experience, and then supplementing with subsections that help clarify how one might strengthen the specified area. Finally, the section wraps up with a list of suggested questions that one can ask in order to determine the degree to which one is working to help the blind person cope with a particular life goal/area.

As one who was born blind, I find this book to be insightful. I have often wondered how persons who have to adjust to blindness later in life, what I would say is its target audience, manage to do this with varying degrees of success as I have seen). I am sure that it does help to have someone who cares enough to invest in guides such as this, as well as just going to get appropriate exposure and access to organizations that might offer further assistance.

While heavy emphasis is indeed placed on blind people within families, I think it could also be good for people who are interacting from a different social standpoint, such as a close friendship or romantic relationship. Especially if one’s condition changes once such a relationship has already begun, it could be quite important for the sighted individual to alter his or her attitude toward disability and what it is likely to mean, especially given that blindness as a disability is the most feared. If you wish to stick around and help your friend or partner, then you have first to come to grips with your own thoughts and perceptions thereof.

Anyone who grabs a copy of this book will find themselves moved by the degree to which Hunt searches herself, drawing on personal vignettes to demonstrate the concepts that she then lays out. The book even has a certain order, taking you from ancient/modern beliefs of blindness all the way through goal-setting and building hope with and among others. I have pondered whether I could construct such a piece myself, and think that she has managed to do a great job in doing so.

The book is available via Amazon at the above link as of August 16, or can be pre-ordered at the time of this entry’s posting. Please do take a look, and if it serves your needs or those of others you know, feel free to recommend.

#FridayReads On Buzz After the Moon and My Life After McNair

I have nearly completed a memoir of sorts by the astronaut Buzz Aldrin, written in conjunction with Ken Abraham, called Magnificent Desolation: Long Journey Home From The Moon. The title is a bit misleading, as it implies some not-known-about extra drama in the astronaut’s return, when really it refers to the many downs he experienced once his feet were firmly planted on Earth again.

The tale does begin with a brief look at Buzz’s and Neil Armstrong’s touchdown on the lunar surface, assuming I think that the reader is pretty familiar with their near loss of fuel in the lander, and of course that Neil was the first to exit and take “a small step” onto another world. Do not make the mistake of categorizing Buzz as the “second man” though, as he generally eschews this status, probably due to cultural baggage attached to such an assignation. After all, we Americans don’t like to lose!

One finds that the crux of the story deals with behaviors on which many may frown, and particularly alcoholism and two failed marriages. These stemmed from a deep depression that, Buzz speculates, may have been brought about by the actual trip somehow.

Whatever its origin, when an episode (he called it the “blue funk”would hit, he was rendered nearly unable to function.

This part of Buzz’s story effected me very deeply, especially as he struggled to define his life and significance after such a harrowing achievement. Most of us will never walk on the moon, but we can probably identify with the idea of reaching some peak in life and feeling that there’s no way we can best it. He kept trying though, eventually generating interesting ideas about Space travel that he worked into a Science Fiction (“I prefer to call it techno thriller” whatever that means) novel, and doggedly attempting to sell his ideas to the U.S. Congress. Not much of this was taken up, sadly, but he does start to emerge from his downers on the shoulders of a strong woman.

There is even an unexpected climax of sorts in this version of his post-lunar life. A fair warning, don’t talk to him about the possibility that no humans have actually landed on the moon, because he doesn’t want to hear it!

As I read this book, I reflected on another astronaut whose life tangentially influenced mine: that of Ronald Erwin McNair. Born in 1950, Mr. McNair received a Ph.D. in Physics from MIT and became only the second Black astronaut to travel to space. I am a bit surprised not to know the first, but should rectify that after posting. Anyway, McNair was on his second mission aboard Challenger, not the first as I had always thought, when it exploded on January 28, 1986. Everyone knows about that, primarily because of the school teacher who had also gone up. Buzz points out that after that accident, NASA was hesitant about allowing any civilians to get a seat, a point that continued to irk him for the rest of the shuttle’s “life”.

Back to the McNair story though, a program called the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate was created in his honor with the aim of helping underrepresented groups achieve success on the graduate level. I was fortunate to be awarded a spot in this program 15 years ago, and as I’ve probably said before it is that which convinced me to give grad school a second shot.

I remember the nerves of presenting at my first academic conference, and feeling I hardly knew what I was talking about. I had completed a 25 page paper on “Invisibility” among African American males, working under a great mentor. I also remember the fun travel to Georgia, (visiting three Atlanta-area universities) and Knoxville to attend a different conference at the University of Tennessee.

And, after that program, how the grad school offers rolled in. Prestigious institutions such as Duke, Brown, Stanford and UCLA wanted a piece of me, but I wouldn’t bite. It’s not hard to see how I felt that was MY peak. But I now see it as a valuable experience that shaped the backbone in me to let my “nerd” out and be proud of it. Thinking of that and reading Buzz’s story is helping me to finally snap out of my own “blue funk” that still lingered after my recent internship attempt. I’ve got the wheels turning, and think that more excitement is coming soon.

Up And Down: On My Trip to Asheville Part 2 

Quiet music tinkles on a grand piano as we step inside the restaurant. The squeak of the door, ornate, hanging chandeliers, and double-sided fireplace convey a sense of coziness and old-fashioned slowdown.

We approach the counter, (wait? No sit-down service? what’s this!) stand in line and order “a sausage egg and cheese biscuit, two cups of oatmeal, a medium orange and coffee, please.” We could just as easily have been purchasing one of those iconic sandwiches that essentially ushered in the fast-food era. That’s right, welcome to one of the most unusual McDonald’s in the US. Fancy, but yeah the food is still the same.

The acoustics are such though that we easily converse while injecting initial fuel, and deciding that seconds might not be a bad idea considering all of the walking we will be doing later. Satiated, we exit and traverse the few blocks between this location and the vastly fancier Biltmore Estate, a huge property owned at first by the Vanderbilt family on which George, a sibling living in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, constructed a castle that rivals those in Europe.


A pic of me and my beautiful girlfriend standing in front of Biltmore House

Arriving at the ticket pickup desk at 12:30, we first encounter what threatens to be a big snafu.

“Your tickets have actually been purchased for the 17th,” the rep tells us. “Will you be here tomorrow?”

Oh good grief, I think to myself, could I have made a mistake of that magnitude with so much money on the line? The strange thing is the audio device I have reserved is indeed set to be had on Saturday the 16th. They do work us in anyway at 1:30, and when I check my email in the car I verify that the mistake was not mine! Thank goodness.

Even when we get out of the car at a space, we still have to walk about 8 minutes much of it uphill to reach the actual house. It is hot, quiet, and smells like it probably did in those early days.

Audio devices acquired, which were like telephones that you hold to your ear, we enter the spacious residence. Each exhibit has a number, and if one wishes to hear the descriptions and background information about said you just enter the number into the keypad. I had only purchased one, but am happy they have also gone ahead and given her one as well. I can’t speak what they’re saying quickly enough!

And as I discover in the Billiards room, the acoustics are such that one must be careful how they speak. “I THINK I HAVE PUT IN THE WRONG NUMBER!” I say when they start talking about an Italian-themed room instead. (Well I hope I’m not speaking that loudly, but it at least sounds so, prompting her to let me know this and causing me to feel a bit silly and not speak for the next three exhibits. The thing is, I feel as if the room is empty when in actuality it is full. So I can claim environmental unawareness while also accepting that I don’t exactly differentiate between “Indoor” and “Outdoor” voice as well as I should. But, I do manage to recover a bit.

This initial room is impressive, as well as the library (10,000 of Vanderbilt’s books still exist,) a sitting room where people wait for dinner, another where dinner is actually consumed, and I think a different entertainment hall. Yes, they had too much money. Finally, on the first floor we exit to the loggia, ah c’mon the back porch! It is a nice area, with I assume fairly nice views as well.

Then inside and up the “Grand Staircase.” I think the second floor contain the Vanderbilts’ rooms, and yes they had separate ones due to the idea that he shouldn’t see her being dressed by servants. They would often meet in yet another sitting room between the two. On the third floor, the guest level, there was ALSO a sitting room where they could gather to chat, because how much else was there to do in those days? A shortcut allows for quick access to the library, so that guests could find a title of their liking to take to bed and read.

Of course pretty much nothing can be touched, due to its fragile nature. Yet as a blind person, I still feel I got a lot out of it because of the in-depth descriptions given by curators and others affiliated with the estate in some way. I wonder if other museums have audio tours in this way. And, I can still feel the immensity of the space as well.

Even with the giant fans circulating air and many windows open, (until the rains came) the place is sweltering! This and the uneven surfaces cause us to need a quick break, during which we collapse into chairs in the hall. Nearly in unison, we say “oh, my back!”

The only other thing of interest is the basement. Here, we enter the bowling alley, probably one of the first of its kind in a private residence; the pool room, where that pool was fed with water from a mountain reservoir and had to be drained after use because of course this was prior to chlorination; and the innovative laundry room, wherein clothes could be dried by placing them onto racks and sliding them into a cabinet where electric coils raised the temperatures. The Vanderbilts had much of the latest technology, including Edison lightbulbs and a more efficient kitchen for the servants to use. They note that one could learn more about the servant’s life there by getting a behind-the-scenes tour, but I would also recommend the book I am now about to finish called Maid to Match, by Deeanne Gist. As mentioned in a previous entry, much of it takes place at Biltmore, and it is a really intriguing story about a young woman who falls in love with the “useful man,” thus putting her chance of being Mrs. (Edith) Vanderbilt’s Lady’s Maid in jeopardy. It really helped me to understand a lot about how things were when I went in there, too.

Finally, we get stuck out front for a good while as those rains continue to pound. Luckily, they have sheltered benches where she meets and converses with a dogowner who has a stroller for her pets, and who has also a crown from winning some kind of Ms. East Texas. Another individual recognizes us from the trolley tour.

We make a perfunctory visit to some of the shops they have outside, including a chocolate place where I contemplate getting something but am not sure if I would like it. The café is also full, so we make our way through the last drops toward the shuttle to head back over to the parking lot.

And that about covers the interesting part of our little vacation into the hills and Asheville. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and look forward to whatever else life has in store, as well as to new and unexpected memories.

Up and Down: On My Trip To Asheville PART 1

I stated on my Facebook page that the most recent trip to the mountains was my first in 25 years. Upon reflection, perhaps this is a bit inaccurate as I’d gone to Denver in 2008. It is easy to forget the altitude of that city, because I had flown in. Also, Denver is definitely more level than Asheville, so I guess that would be another reason not to count it.

Well to generate a more correct statement, this was my first time riding into the mountains since October of 1991. On that trip, I had gone into the Smokies where North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee converge. I believe I even stood in all three states simultaneously. I walked a fun Braille Trail, which my orientation and Mobility teacher claims to have happened upon by accident but am not sure about that. I also stayed in a log cabin, ate at a fascinating country restaurant where a horse hit me in the head with its teeth as we cavorted around the barn area while awaiting our meals, and was entertained by an auction. SOLD!

One thing I had forgotten was how that drive uphill feels. As we speed away from my apartment, I key up the GPS app to monitor elevation. Durham is at approximately 500 feet above sea level. We take I-85 till it merges with 40; which, after splitting off toward Charlotte in Greensboro, pretty much carries us all the way to Asheville. Around Catawba, we are about 1200 feet above sea level. Our next major ascent occurs as we approach the edge of McDowell County, from approximately 1500 feet till about 2200 in three minutes or so. Whew! I feel this in my stomach and, more importantly, in my ears. I don’t know if the issue is permanent, but this seems to have caused my right-side hearing aid to fade out periodically until I lodge it back into my ear canal. It continues to do this throughout our stay, but (I think) is slowly returning to normal now that I am back down low. Needless to say, I dread this as a possible disaster that can ruin my weekend with her. Because it was on the right though, it was more endurable than it would have been on the left.

We level off a bit, as nothing is really level up there, in Black Mountain, and roll on into Asheville. As we arrive at our hotel, Baymont Inn and Suites, the sun is tentatively out with temperatures about 12 degrees below what they had been at our outset. She hops out to see if we can check in at the early hour of 1 PM, and is given a room. On further inspection, she discovers that this room is located near the laundry, with the sound of banging washers, dryers, and ice machines to accompany us to sleep. She rejects this location before even entering, and we are re-assigned to a better spot right near the elevator on the second floor.

After a brief respite, we decide to attempt to catch the Asheville Trolley Tour, which I discover can be done by trekking to the Asheville Visitor Center. We make the second-to-last departure, at 3 PM, and sit on slightly uncomfortable seats in a fairly open bus to take in the sights.

Don’t fear my starter,” the driver says as he hops aboard and shuts the door. I do not understand what he means until he keys the ignition and we hear what sounds like an engine that isn’t going to turn over. “It always does that trust me” he says as the vehicle finally roars to life.

It is an interesting tour, much of which I of course cannot now recall. We do pass the swanky Grove Park Inn and Spa, and I joke that I’ll check us into that one instead. We learn a lot about Thomas Wolfe, especially that he had initially been rejected by the town due to his dark portrayal of Asheville in Look Homeward Angel, a book I am slowly making my way through now. Funny though how becoming a bestselling author will change perceptions,. Now he has a plaza named after him, and tours of his residence are also available. He died of tuberculosis at a relatively young age, sadly.

The driver is humerous, and very willing to take questions. He also notes a restaurant, Little Pigs, a local BBQ joint where we opt to eat. People do indeed “hop on hop off” as you are able to do. We do not do this because the last tour has already passed, but if you can get on earlier I would highly recommend walking around downtown. They get a look at the Biltmore, but are not allowed onto the property. Finally, we roll through the campus of UNC Asheville, during which he asks us about our feelings regarding the UNC Duke rivalry. When I note that I am a Tar Heels fan and she a Blue Devil supporter, the driver says “And you’re sitting next to her?” I know, still working on correcting that minor error.

Toward the end, we discover that we could have boarded near the Doubletree Inn within walking distance of our hotel. They do note on the site though that it is best to start at the Visitor Center anyway, so I suppose all is well.

Back at the original location and having mostly missed a downpour as we schlepped along, we make the spot decision to head to Little Pigs, where we both get fried chicken legs and thighs, hushpuppies, slaw, and I think another vegetable I can’t recall. The chicken and Southern sweet tea hit the spot! I learned later through the reviews on Google Maps that they have Key Lime pie as well, and am disappointed I didn’t get a piece of that.

To wrap up the evening, we make a quick trek downtown to the music festivel that takes place every Friday at 5. The streets in that immediate area are blocked off, and the crowds large. There are a few food vendors, the the emphasis is on alcohol consumption as one can buy arm bands for $2 that allow for as much as one can handle. It does not take long for her to determine that this is not a good atmosphere for us, so we make our way back to the parking deck to head over to the hotel. This is pretty much the end of Friday. I will post about Saturday’s estate tour later.

A Redirection

So, the word came today regarding my attempt at an NPR Internship. At the moment, it’s a no. But I’m ok with that! I knew this was going to be a building up, a taking of steps.

Speaking of, I tried to find the cover letter I’d written for this position and am a bit dismayed that I hadn’t saved it! In it, I noted that this would be, to paraphrase Neil Armstrong, “a small step in my preparation, but a giant leap toward my dream.” My dream was then, is still, and has been for fifteen years to work in some capacity for this network. I acknowledge of course that maybe life has something I don’t yet know in store for me, and so am open to that possibility as well. It’s as a quote I saw yesterday says so well: “A no isn’t a rejection, but a redirection”.

So my task now is to sit down with myself and decide on my next steps. I think first though that I can allow myself to feel what I’m feeling, at least for a night, which is a bit of sadness tempered with pleasure that I finally dared to dip my toe into the waters surrounding my ultimate destination. I think my most important “next steps” are to work on reshaping my resume and just trying to determine exactly what it is I wish to get out of a position, as well as what I can bring to it. Then I do need to acquire some kind of field experience (i.e. internship) so that when I complete my current Master’s I’ll be able to put it to use. I do understand that all of this will take time though, and appreciate your support and joining me as I think everything out.

This message came on the heels of a quiet, somewhat gloomy Monday anyway, the first back at work in nearly a month. To cheer myself up, and yes in addition to the reading I’m doing for class, I’m also reading three (3!) pleasure books. Two of them, Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe, and Maid to Match by DeeAnne Gist, take place in Asheville, the spot I will be heading to for vacation this Friday! I will probably do that sort of reading before visiting most places now, because it’s so easy to type in keywords and find a book on a place, and reading said books enhances my travel experience. I think these especially will, as I’m learning about the Biltmore Estate, a giant house that we will be visiting. But I’ll tell you that whole story after I’ve walked those grounds. At the moment, I’m so happy to have that to look forward to. Have you managed to go anywhere yet this summer? What did you do? More soon.

On Sharing

So, we reach the unofficial halfway point of the Summer: July 4th or US Independence Day. And, I want to write something this week but am again juiced after wrapping up class 3 of this graduate program (94 on final project, yay! So, I’ll just write a bit about what was a relatively nice weekend with friends and my girlfriend.

So, we left on Thursday to a small North Carolina town called Lumberton, where food is the thing. Our primary reason for going there was to celebrate a friend’s birthday and special occasion, and we did it up in style. I met a couple of people I hadn’t before, as well as getting to chat briefly with my cousin for only the second time this year. That is a big change to which I continue to adjust, just the fact that we’re starting to drift into our own circles. I know of course that this is to be expected as our lives begin to coalesce more and more around those of our partners.

Anyway, all of this chatting with folks familiar and not was great, offering support to my long-time friend was even better, but the real fun was in the eating! We went to, and took over, a Lumberton establishment called Candy Sue’s. This place has relocated 3 times, from a small former gas station to a warehouse a block long. I am told that they may have slightly overdone it spacewise, hoping initially that downtown Lumberton would develop around them. This hasn’t really happened, probably for the same reasons it hasn’t in many towns; promised money is just drying up.

Even so, these folks do have some good food! They shut us in a private banquet room, meaning that the only noise was generated by our party of 14 or so. And eventually that noise did become voluminous.

So too were the portions. We were paired off, and each two individuals got two main items and four sides in what were called “Bottomless Bowls,” which could be refilled upon request. I had meatloaf, mac and cheese, and green beans. My partner ate their barbecue specialty with dumplings and another vegetable I can’t now remember. I could have eaten some of hers, but was so stuffed after two plates of my own that I needed nothing else. I topped that off with some lemonade that was, ok, probably could have been better though. They also had real southern tea, which is to say sugar with a little tea in it, but I had already had some less sweet tea before arriving.

After consumption, we piled back into the fifteen-passenger van in which we had come, and kept it rocking while going back to my friend’s home, where we partied a bit longer and bounced around to my cousin’s iPod playlist. We also consumed delicious cupcakes, and I know it was delicious because it took me three napkins to get all of the vanilla frosting off of my lips. Ha, ha. Finally, we headed back to the new SpringHill Suites Lumberton to grab a few seconds of shut-eye before heading home the next day.

Much of the rest of the weekend was just relaxing with my girlfriend, and realizing the unexpected joy of having someone share in something I love. It’s silly I know, but I was touched by the act of her joining me in my routine of listening to NPR broadcasts at night. I often snatch a few seconds of listening while she is otherwise occupied, and then turn it off once she returns. But this time she asked me not to, and we laughed, and jokingly groaned, over some of the academically dense books they reviewed. It just showed me, as I already know, that I have to continue getting used to opening all of myself, even those things that I think maybe others won’t necessarily like, to someone who is getting close to me. I’ve just so rarely experienced it, as I’m only now in my longest relationship of a year and three months, but I’m cherishing every moment.

And excitedly, it looks like we will take a different sort of vacation rather than going to the beach, which will doubtlessly be done many more times. In a couple of weeks, we plan to head into the Blue Ridge Mountains and Asheville North Carolina. I am looking forward to it, and will probably capture my experience in some way. Till then, have a happy and safe 4th and a great Summer.

Where Do You Go On That Bus Every Day

It is interesting to reflect on how much power language has, both in shaping our perceptions and in conveying them to others. These perceptions are present not only in the actual spoken words, but also in the tone and inflection in one’s voice as they are spoken. As a blind person, I have perhaps a lesser appreciation for the visual aspects, but acknowledge that they are extremely important in message transmission. I think maybe this post is a sign that this Master’s program in Communication is slowly taking over my brain.

Anyhow, here is the impetus. I was speaking with a woman who works for the Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital here in Durham, as I’ve met many of these individuals at my Erwin Road bus stop in the afternoon. She told me she has been a nurse there for several years, and thoroughly enjoys her job. She also noted being impressed with me as I zip around, an observation that I know gets under the skin of some folks who are blind but it does happen. Knowing this, that whether I want to or not I carry the mantle for blind folks, I usually try to act “presentable” (whatever that means) when in public. It took me ages to understand that I’m always being watched, whether I hear others around or not.

What really got me thinking though was when she posed the question in this post’s subject line. “So, where do you go on that bus every day!?” It was said with a definite quality of disbelief to it, probably both that I hopped onto the bus, and that I had some sort of regular destination to reach on the other end.

I wonder to what degree this sort of thinking affects our ability to be employed? Just the impression that maybe we are not, or at least shouldn’t be, capable of a degree of independence. Now, I have said several times before that “independence” does not mean a complete lack of need for assistance. What it does mean, at least in my own, perhaps twisted mind, is the ability and willingness to attempt to adapt to one’s environment and move around even in new places, and to be able to ascertain when help should be sought. It is more of a spectrum that includes some interdependence, just as it does for sighted people. I readily admit, after all, that I am nowhere near the most independent blind person out there. But fortunately this does not have to be a competition.

I told her how I navigate on the bus, and a little about the job I attend on the other end, each day departing at 5:30 like clockwork. The incredulity continued to seep into her voice, but I hope maybe in the end her mind was expanded a little bit with regard to the possible. I know also that others have the same sort of question(s), and always welcome them and will try to answer them to the best of my ability. For that is how people will learn, and I hope, slowly begin removing barriers for us all that exist because of a lack of understanding.

And you wanna know the irony of this post? As you’re reading it, assuming nothing totally unexpected has happened between its writing and publication, I’m sprawled in bed, enjoying a long weekday sleep! Because just as hard as I might want to work, I need time to vacation as well. I hope the job, and my gaggle of bus stop companions, won’t miss me too much.

Summer Time: Travels and Vacation

I know that as you read this, I’m sitting in the sun and basking in the happy end of yet another workday. Probably people are cavorting around me as I rifle through grad school text, attempting to absorb as much as possible on the first go so that the citations I will have to do later for Discussion Board will come to me more easily. Is that on page 150 or 161? It’s all blurring together.

Why, you ask? Because it is high time for me to hit the road! Every year since 2004, well other than during the madness that was 2010, I actually took to the skies at some point between June and September. And while it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen this summer, short of some very nice anonymous benefactor, I hope to at least go to the beach for the 4th? time in less than a year. That would top the amount of times I had gone previously in all of my life. Fascinating. It’s still a thrill to hear that body of water roar though, and even nice to sit on the sand in beach chairs and/or take a stroll along its shores.

In any event, one thing I’m definitely looking forward to is a few days off of work. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that I still have 19 vacation hours available that will expire on the 28th of this month. Yeah I could allow them to cash out, which would probably give me more dough in the end. But the reality is I need some downtime more than that slight bump in pay. I saw a stat somewhere that 41% of American workers take no vacation time at all. This is just unfathomable to me.

Other than time off, what else am I looking forward to? Well, all of your standard stuff of course. Ice cream sundaes, watermelon, a real, grilled burger! More books than I can cound or probably should even be reading at the moment (I will hit 20 by the end of the month, so 40 could still happen?) Who knows. And freedom from heavy clothing, except on the buses where merciless drivers will continue to insist on cranking the AC as high as it goes.

So here’s to the summer, and whatever it holds. In reality, it makes me miss the joy of camps and making new friends while sprawled out for weeks away from home.
Related: Summer Time, Current and Past
My favorite silly summer camp story

Yay, my favorite time of year! Do you have any special plans? A big summer trip? Or at least some time to just take it easy, which is equally, if not more, important. After all, even after a big trip, one usually needs a vacation from one’s vacation. Tell me about them.


I’m no scientist, but I would venture to say that humans are the only beings that spend 90% of their lives in the past. Why is this? I’ve never been able to say, but it seems related to the real challenge of living in the present. We like to try to convince ourselves that it was “better back then,” even though a simple, realistic pondering usually reveals that this is, at best not true, and at worst a complete distortion.

So am I the only one who checks the Facebook “On This Day” feature with zeal each day? I don’t know when they instituted it, but after a few of my friends shared their own odd memories I went ahead and tweeked the settings so I would be notified anytime there were previous statuses to view.

It’s actually kind of fascinating to look at these old posts, because in many cases they have revealed unexpected themes that run through a specific day. For example, I could see that on a couple of June 8ths, I reflected heavily on who I am or want to be. I guess this isn’t surprising, because it was during my first go-round of grad school, and in the middle of the Summer, when I had nothing to do but sit at home and think.

I was also recently reminded that this month saw my introduction to Wi-Fi, (June 2, 2010), and text messaging, (June 11, 2008). Given how completely both of these technologies are now integrated into my very existence, it is amazing that they were almost unknown to me only a mere eight years ago.

I will probably always enjoy reflection, as my musical tastes still reside in the 90’s, I read books that remind me of books I’ve read before, and I lament that one shot or pass that would have propelled my sports teams just a bit farther than they were able to go. I think that this is good, but can it start to get in the way?

I think it can to some extent. The importance of realizing that where we are now is ok cannot be overstated. I may never have had the kind of life I currently do, with the ability to work and play all according to my own choices. Easy access to restaurants, the bus, and other amenities both are a wallet suck and a relief that make it possible for me to survive the long days at work.

And let’s be real, I probably don’t want to be 18 or 19 again, despite my oft-expressed feelings to the contrary. I would say maybe I would like to if I could still know what I do now, but then I would hate the fact that I had no money and a resultant limited freedom. Not to mention the sometimes intense bouts of depression and such that I had experienced. It would have been really interesting if Facebook had existed then, back in the days of stone tablets and horse-drawn carts. Too bad I have to just pull them up on the slowly fading mental record in my own dome.

I am still sometimes hounded by my more recent past, and especially as I work my way through grad school. Things are looking up there too, with me now more than halfway through my third class and finally starting to get stronger. I can see that I had for a long time been effected by the jitters as a result of what happened to me during 2009-2011, but the important thing I have to remember about that was I hadn’t entered a program that was really along my career path. It’s all good though, because I had learned a lot from that attempt as well.

So have you played with that Facebook feature yet? Do you ever notice any weird themes running through a particular day. If that Back to The Future car were invented, would you opt to go back? To which year?

On Housing and Advocacy

Something really troubling is happening. In big cities and small towns, nearly every apartment property is rushing to build bigger, better units. A good thing, right? Well yes, except that both the quality and quanity of “affordable” housing is shrinking to near nonexistence. Where then are the workaday folks, like myself, supposed to reside?

A couple of things have me pondering this a lot this week. I will talk about them both in some detail, as they are related but different issues.

First, I’m reading an interesting memoir? sort of book called The Stranger in My Recliner, by Doreen McGettigan. In this story, McGettigan’s husband arrives at their home with an 80-year-old woman named Sophie who has apparently been residing on the streets for some time. Sophie has no teeth, is not clean, and seems to have a battery of other issues to go along with this.

McGettigan’s initial hope is to take her in for a few weeks, until some other form of housing or at least someone in Sophie’s family can be located. However, this search turns into a two-year odyssey, the end of which I still don’t know as my reading is in progress.

I think that every community has a “Sophie”. I’ve met someone like this, or at least who freely acknowledged that she might well end up in that position soon enough. This individual was in her early sixties, and just barely hanging on in a low-rent apartment with meager payments from her children for helping with babysitting. As with Sophie, this person alleges that her family might react the same way.

“If I fel through the cracks someday, I don’t really know if they would even care,” she told me. That is sad, and this sort of thing makes me feel fortunate for my own folks, who wouldn’t let that happen to me. Well that assuming that my pride didn’t get in the way of admitting that I was having significant financial or other difficulties, which is probably another issue entirely.

Anyway, I like also that McGettigan really writes a hard-hitting assessment of herself and how she worked with Sophie, confronting the fact that she wasn’t always a saint towards this woman. She often wondered why Sophie had gotten herself into such a position and why she seemed reluctant to do much about it. I think these thoughts are just realistic.

The person I knew was one of the most caring individuals I ever met, and I was never overtly mean to her. But sometimes, when she got to talking, and talking, and talking talking talking, I would just have to zone out! If she happened to see me in what I guess was her favorite hangout, the Starbucks on the corner of Chapel Hill’s (North Carolina) Franklin Street, well I could pretty much forget the reading I had planned to do.

Even so, she helped me and nearly anyone else she encountered on the streets to connect to a service whose intention it is to assist people in avoiding homelessness, a mission that McGettigan correctly points out is very low on the radar of government and even many of the organizations that should be doing such work. These folks are excellent at what they do too. I was never actually homeless or anywhere close to it really, but their student advocates, and one young woman in particular, worked with me to learn interview skills, how to navigate to what I had hoped would be a volunteer opportunity’s site (sadly had to give that up because my nonexistent income post grad school 1 failure meant I had to return home,) and tapped me into a number of other significant networks.

And if you’re on the lower end of the income scale, you quickly discover how important constant advocacy is. Property managers or others in the business of running apartment complexes assume that most of us don’t have much of a voice or are unwilling to really use it, as has just happened to me.

Well ok, I’ll concede that some of this was due to the fact that I hadn’t exactly put in a two-month notice as my lease was due to expire in June, so I suppose they were within their right to assume I was planning to move. So, they had put in a notice of their own that they would begin renovating this unit in the middle of July, and I was to be out by the 4th of that month.

My primary reason for delaying on the notice is uncertainty about what my situation will be by the middle of June. I had hoped therefore that they would put me onto some sort of month-to-month plan. Before capitulating to the renovation outcome though, I was coaxed into going to the office to notify them of my needed flexibility and to request a stay until the 31st of August, or at least until the end of July. And surprise, not only did I get that stay, but also I will be allowed to renew my lease later if that proves necessary.

I’m sure once they do renovate this spot that the price will climb dramatically, again emblematic of the issues that low-income persons will have to deal with. The prospect of relocation concerned me, because most of the apartments that were within range were either in really bad parts of town, or probably crumbling due to neglect. I’m not even sure there is a national or local policy to ensure that everything doesn’t just soar out of reach of all but the upper middle class or higher. Nor do I know what to do about it, other than to put it on people’s radar. I think the best thing we can all do, as I am finally, fortunately starting to learn, is to speak up! Remember that we as tenants have rights too, and sometimes just pointing things out to people or explaining the depth of our issue can affect positive change.

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