Freeing Refreshable Braille for More Access

Many in this era worry that the advent of digital audio technology will mean the end of braille as we know it. And there is already some truth to this, as very few totally blind people know or read braille as it is. But and I’ve seen this frequently in my training, those who depend heavily on audio to consume written content often are less able to spell correctly, which may well affect their ability to gain employment. Given the degree to which the cards are already stacked against us when it comes to getting jobs even without this challenge, we need to gain every advantage we can in any area.
These days, the answer to being more able to read materials in braille without having to produce the paper and take up the space this medium requires is to use a refreshable braille display. I’ve had a few of these devices, from the Braille Lite I got way back in the late 90s during my college career to the Brailliant BI 40 received from the I Can Connect program for deafblind individuals. And in 2020, I of course got the Mantis Q40 display I’ve written about a few times in this journal. And each of those devices opened up more of the written word in ways I could not have imagined.
The problem with these displays is and has been their expense. Most of us blind folks can hardly afford $2, 3, or $4,000 to get even a low-end display. Happily though, at least in the U.S, the National Library Service for the Blind (NLS) is making refreshable braille available for any eligible blind individuals. You have to be enrolled in the library for services, as I am, and call your regional library to request one.
There are two models of NLS Ereaders, as they are known: one provided through Humanware and another through Zoomax. I think you get the brand of reader that your library has available, so I received the Zoomax machine.
These models contain 20 braille cells, which is as much space as I had on my Braille Lite but only half the 40 cells on my other units. Reading with 20 cells is certainly doable, but it requires a lot more pressing of the panning buttons to advance through a single braille line. I’ve found though that as I practice I’m already getting better at it. My Mantis is currently on the fritz and I don’t know when or if I’ll ever see it again, so having this option so quickly available is vital to me being able to continue my work. I also like that it has a handy carrying case with magnetic snaps that keep it closed, which is kinda cool!
This reader is primarily designed to download and read NLS BARD books. However, it can connect via Bluetooth to your smartphone, and USB to the PC. It’s got an SD Card reader, and USB C port for the PC and a USB A port for a flash drive. I love that such a small unit contains so many ports.
It’s a pretty good device on the whole. The only issue I really notice, and this may be only in my unit, is that the battery gauge is unreliable. It says I have 50% charge, then 77%, then 19%, then 54%, so I can’t really tell how much juice it actually has. This is not a big deal though, as I’m usually close enough to a charging port at all times. I even have a portable battery I can plug in.
I am happy such a program exists. If you would like to take advantage of it, again just call your regional library and ask if they have an NLS Ereader. There was a slow roll-out, but they were at least hoping that all states would have units by the end of 2023. And happy reading!

2024 Arrives: On Work and Books

Hello to 2024! I know, I was pretty much nonexistent in this blog last year as I adjusted to full-time work on the computer. I probably said the same thin in my prior entry, but it’s been so long since I wrote that that I can no longer recall.
Anyway, I thought I’d quickly catch whomever still reads this thing up on my life’s goings on. And well as much as I’m about to have to shell out to keep this site active, I figured it was high time to start generating content.
Work is work. I pray, and feel like, I’ve really settled into this role now. I’ve chugged away at teaching JAWS in various formulations and based on the folks with whom I’m working. Every day is an important lesson in that regard. And of course every trainer is only as good as the learning they take on. So to that end, I continue to obtain certifications. I just got my NVDA screen-reader certification last week. I’m happy for that, but still have much to learn about that program. It’s free though, so could be useful for those who might not be able to swing JAWS. And that studying broadened my knowledge to boot. This work takes a lot of thinking at times, but it can also be quite rewarding.
And now I’ll document my reading. Because of course I’ve been doing more reading than writing, which I’d like to start to change someday but I ain’t making promises no more y’all. This year, thanks to my learning how to use Excel as part of the training I can now deliver, I created a handy spreadsheet to help keep track of the books I read, in addition to adding them to the Goodreads app so I could see what others have read as well. In total, I completed 79 books. Only 13 of them were nonfiction, I listened to 43 audiobooks and read 33 in braille. I assigned a 5-star rating to 30 of my books and gave only 3 of them 3 stars. I just didn’t finish nooks I would likely have rated lower, because there is not enough time to read the ones I want to read, let alone slogging through something I’m just not into. I’ll put my 5-star reads at the end, if you’re curious.
And that’s what I’ve had going on for the last little while. I’m curious to see how 2024 unfolds. 2023 was probably the best year of my adult life, something I’ve been saying since 2015, with the exception of course of the Covid-warped years of 2020 and 2021. So hopefully the up and up continues.
Five-Star Reads
1. Invisible Child, Andrea Elliot
2. Thank You for Listening, Julia Wheelan
3. Memphis, Tara Stringfellow
4. Hell Bent, Leigh Bardugo
5. The Maid, Nita Prose
6. The Calculating Star, Mary Robinette Kowal
7. The Fated Sky, Mary Robinette Kowal
8. The Relentless Moon, Mary Robinette Kowal
9. Corrections in Ink, Keri Blakinger
10. Loyalty, Lisa Scottoline
11. Woman On Fire, Lisa Barr
12. City of Refuge, Tom Piazza
13. The German Wife, Kelly Rimmer
14. My Love Story, Tina Turner
15. Drowning, T.J. Newman
16. African Town, Irene Latham
17. The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece, Tom Hanks
18. The Apollo Murders, Chris Hadfield
19. Remarkably Bright Creatures, Shelby Van Pelt
20. Out of the Corner, Jennifer Grey
21. The Last Thing He Told Me, Laura Dave
22. River Sing Me Home, Eleanor Shearer
23. The Catch Me If You Can, Jessica Nabongo
24. Things We Lost to the Water, Eric Nguyen
25. Cabin Fever, Michael Smith
26. Happiness Falls, Angie Kim
27. The Country of the Blind, Andrew Leland
28. Three Words for Goodbye, Hazel Gaynor
29. None of This is True, Lisa Jewel
30. Borderless, Jennifer De Leon

Time of My Life

I happen to be reading Out of the Corner, a memoir by Jennifer Grey. She’s the one who played Baby in Dirty Dancing, which came out nearly 40 years ago now and which my sisters watched for the equivalent of 2 months of their lives. I’ll admit to enjoying listening to that while stretching out on the floor during those long, languid summer days of youth. Anyway, that’s where the song in my subject line originated, and it’s an apt descriptor of this, the 44th year of my life. It really has been a “time.”
First, I haven’t written in this thing in ages. I guess I’ve just not felt as much up to it, given that the day job is now working on the computer all day. But I’m beginning to find my way back to writing, one ponderous word at a time. I’m actually working on another book (I know, I haven’t even finished the first, but this idea that my wife helped me germinate I too good to let pass). And, now I’m getting at least one day of remote work every week, on Tuesdays. And it’s great, now that I have a perfect home office with a nice high desk, a big comfortable swivel chair, and even a sleeper sofa. I’m living the life, truly.
As far as the actual work goes or has gone, it’s been good and is getting better. At this time last year, just a day prior to my birthday, I was getting wound up for an interview that I knew would set me onto a new career path. Since I have
• Yes, gotten off to a bumpy start: those three or four months of initiation made me grow in ways I couldn’t imagine and I just thank God I survived it and was willing to listen to people as they tried to help
• Made it to February, where I began to round the corner (trust me blind folks, it’s really important to learn proper document formatting in order to make it in today’s workplace)
• Did my first heavy-duty training starting in April with folks wishing to go into Customer Service
• Launched a JAWS class at the beginning of last month, where I had to learn to take a breath and give people time to process information and ask questions
• Am now preparing to do several levels of JAWS, iOS, and other computer instruction while working with a partner who’s going to do the career development/resume/interview kinds of things
So yeah, certainly from a work standpoint this is by far the most fun I’ve ever had. As I turn 44 tomorrow I find myself in deep introspection, with much to be thankful for and in anticipation of twists and turns I cannot see yet (blind joke, too easy). Maybe I’ll be around these parts more with the good stuff as it unfolds, but I just felt inspired tonight.

The New House, Our New Home: Moving In Drama

Now that we actually own the place, I am changing the name of this series. It will continue in ways I can not now foresee.
So we have arrived in the spot, having, basically, completed our move in yesterday. Well that’s a long story, parts of which I will tell, but at this moment I’m enjoying hearing SiriusXM piped from my windowsill as I type in the room I dub my Man Cave 2.0. I like the acoustics in this room better than my other.
I took yesterday off work so that I could help my wife load some materials as we prepared to make the trek from our apartment to the house. It’s about a 35-minute journey, and we were up and at ‘em by 6:30 A.M. So after slinging a couple of large trash bags full of clothes in the back, we made our way along i-40 in a persistent rain while wolfing down Bojangles biscuits and their delicious seasoned fries! Well at least I had seasoned fries.
We got to the house and made our way inside, and I began to come to terms with the fact that this was now my new residence. I went into our bedroom and crashed on the surprisingly sturdy air mattress we had inflated in lieu of our king-sized bed which was due to arrive later that day. They sure don’t make air beds the way they used to, and now they can really support your entire body quite well.
Anyhow, I wiled the day away listening to men’s college basketball conference tournaments and interesting podcasts. My wife had the movers scheduled to begin collecting our furniture from the old place at around 2:30. They arrived, and from what I gather things were bumpy from the start. First, they only sent two individuals when really there should have been three. And one of them had only completed two other moves, and well in the end he decided, rather unprofessionally, that this would be his last. So upset was he by the difficulty of the job and his inability to work with the other guy that later that night he just walked off of the job saying he’d quit.
But before we got to the pinnacle of that craziness, things just kept dragging along. My wife eventually told me I’d need to find my own food, as it was taking far longer than planned for them to complete operations there. So I called up one of the delivery services and found a delicious restaurant in my new area of town called Demario’s, from which I ordered 6 (SIX!) “drummettes,” which are small chicken drumsticks, green beans, and mac and cheese. The food was fantastic, if a little heavy on the pepper and salt (the green beans had a kick to them and the mac and cheese dried my mouth a bit). But I will definitely eat there again. I’m always pleased when I find a spot from which I can get a real dinner plate on days when I want something fast.
So the movers finally arrived at our abode somewhere around 8 P.M. They continued to snipe at one another and got very little done. The individual who did at least try was forced to throw in the towel after being abandoned by his partner. So he decided he would go ahead and help put our bed together as we’d need something to sleep on, and they’d take most of the rest of our furniture to a secure storage facility and bring it back to our home today to be offloaded.
This morning, three men showed up at around 8, even though they weren’t due to get here till about 10. They finished the job with far less drama, even as I shivered in the cold that came from the constantly open door and all of the windows also being open in deference to the fact that they were working and would likely get warm. It was a small sacrifice though to finally have this place mostly up and running. Now some things just need to be unboxed, and as usual when one moves we just have to relocate all that may have potentially been lost. But we’re here and ready for this new start. I have transportation set up to take me to work via the GoTriangle Access paratransit service on Monday, and we’ll just see how that goes. If anything interesting happens therein, you can bet I will write about it.

22 In Review: On Life And Books

So, where to begin in this strange year? Well probably by noting that, thank goodness, it has been much better than either 2020 or 2021. I do know that some of us are still being ravaged by Covid, and that it might break back out of the box at any moment as we’re really seeing in China. But more of us saw some sliver of normalcy than we had in a very long time.
My two previous entries are about my new job, so I won’t say much about that here except that I am still glad for the opportunity and yeah I’ll admit some learning is going on, but one would probably expect that when making the jump that I have. Just doing a lot of reading and watching videos and trying to get better at asking for guidance when I need it. I look forward to being able to use these experiences to mentor others with disabilities as I get farther down this road into my career.
As far as travel goes? This may be the most dormant year I’ve had since at least 2003, but that’s ok. We’re going to complete the first year since 2015 without having gone to the beach, so no relaxing roar of the ocean. I’m sure it won’t take long for that to be rectified though once we get on the other side. I was happy to get to visit my cousin twice in person though, well once he came up here in April and over the Thanksgiving break my wife and I went to Charlotte to see them. And we were able to enjoy watching some sports together for the first time in almost 3 years. It still feels like that time lost didn’t exist, or at least not in the usual plane of reality.
The biggest reason we didn’t do much travel this year is, as I noted in earlier entries, we’re preparing to get a home of our own. The structure, part of a collection of townhomes, is nearly completed; and our closing date is set for February 15, 2023. Now to just survive the paperwork involved in securing all of the mortgage and loan bits, but I am breathing a little easier. It’s quite a process, as there will for most of us be no bigger purchase than that of acquiring our own home.
And now for the fun stuff, books! My initial goal was to complete 60 titles this year. And I had fun smashing that! I actually got all the way up to 70, largely because once I got the new job I could enjoy a slightly more relaxed lunch and listening to my audio books for the entire 30 minutes rather than having to stop after 15 to start making my way back to my section. In total I read 34 audiobooks and 36 in Braille via my APH Mantis Q40 Braille Display, a number that surprises me. I think my previous record for Braille books read in one year was 17. In terms of fiction/nonfiction, I read 56 of the former and 14 of the latter. I try to read more nonfiction titles, but I usually like either to escape reality or find something that helps me look at it differently. I do enjoy memoirs though, as hearing all those paths to success gives me ideas I might use someday. And finally, I ranked 24 books with five stars, with an average rating of 4.3. In total, I read 27,346 pages at an average of 390 pages per book. So I didn’t read a bunch of short ones either.
And that’s about all for this interesting year. It’s been mostly level, with no real challenges to speak of or at least none I can recall while writing this. I seem to be in relatively good health, for which I am thankful. And there are lots of exciting things lurking just around the corner as we head into 2023. I’m just hoping it all goes as I need it to go. Here’s wishing us all a happy and prosperous new year. And maybe I’ll get back on my writing game, but no guarantees there.

Job Days No. 10: Embracing The New, My Life As A Training Specialist

Even though I typically only do one Job Days a year, I think this change is so big that I wanted to capture the feel of its early days. And it’s kind of cool that this will be my tenth Job Days update, giving it a little more gravitas. Hopefully it’s only the beginning of great things for me.
Nearly a month in, and I’m finding my footing. The day’s rhythms have certainly changed, but the overall goal of doing the best I cand and producing quality work are of course still there.
I get there around 6:35 A.M., and usually have to wait about ten minutes before my badge will allow me to open the door. Then I saunter back to my office, saying hello to the occasional co-worker I come across in the hall. Then, thermal mug of coffee at hand, I sit in my chair and read a good book until work commences at 7:30.
Once the watch begins vibrating at 7:25, I affix my computer to the docking station, clock in, and bring up email to see if anything has come in after I left the previous day. Then I get to work, flicking open planning files and half-completed training documents and working to wrangle them into something intelligible. Some weekdays, typically every other Monday, Wednesday, and Friday see me having professional development or planning meetings at 8 AM, after which I have to remind myself to stand and stretch periodically until my lunch break at 11:30.
I mostly just take lunch inside of my office, since the area near the building’s front entrance doesn’t get sun at that time of day anyway, but if it’s warm enough I will make my way out there just to see if I can cross paths with others. Of course that’s generally a difference with this position; I have less frequent social encounters than before. Although this is already changing and will continue to change as we draw closer to ramping up my training sessions with people by January. If inside, I listen to an audiobook while laying waste to a sandwich and other energizing foods like grapes or trail mix, then it’s hitting the grind again.
When I started in late September, the focus was largely on taking courses to prepare me for the office environment and learning how to complete reports, notes to go out to the company advertising our offerings, and participating in said meetings. But for the last two weeks, I have started building training sessions using techniques I learned like Action Mapping, which is a structured brainstorming method, and creating a transcript and design document. I hope to have a good body of course modules by the time I really begin working with others.
And I did do a little of that work this past week, as we did a Lunch and Learn Presentation on Accessing Basic iPhone Functions Using VoiceOver in which I answered a few questions and established a couple of individuals with whom I will likely work in training. I also worked during Open Labs to help people to get set up so they could explore the computer keyboard and learn other basic skills. I’m mostly getting used to moving around and assisting in a room where there can be many things going on at once.
My day ends at 4 PM, and once that alarm goes off I clock out, remove my computer from the station, and try to remember to collect everything I’m supposed to take back home with me. Every day is a little different, and I remain grateful to get this experience.

And My Mom Got Scared: My Thoughts on the Peacock Show “Bel-Air”

As soon as I came across this show, I knew I had to check it out. If you recall from the HBO Max post I did a couple years ago (a couple years already? Wow!) you’ll know that I’m a big fan of the show Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And while I don’t usually care for reboots in general, I figured this one might be interesting.
Before I get to my thoughts about the series though, I first want to comment on streaming apps and accessibility from a blindness perspective. This has improved markedly in those two years, and I know we have many tireless folks working in the background to thank for that. Now, unlike then, I can interact with most of the apps’ interfaces and get them to work, instead of or in addition to using the Apple TV app to launch shows. And thankfully, most shows are also including audio description, which for the uninitiated is a track that explains to those of us who are blind the visual aspects that we would normally miss. I saw that Bel-Air had this, so I opted to pony up for the lower tier Peacock subscription that requires watching ads. There are only a couple ads per set, and they are a lot shorter than one sees on regular TV anyway.
So that noted, I shall speak a little about the show itself. Immediately, one is struck by the vastly different tone that “Bel-Air” takes compared to the TV show from which it draws inspiration. This is in no way comedic, as we see right from the start when Will Smith’s original Fresh Prince rap is played out and he “got in one (not so) little fight” on the basketball court. This fight ended in gunshots, and found Will behind bars. After his uncle springs him with a little help from his friends, Will is taken from Philadelphia to Los Angeles where he encounters Jazz. Jazz is a driver, and he gives Will a lift to the Banks residence in a car that bears some resemblance to that referred to in Will’s song as well.
The characters have similarities and big differences from those we saw in the original series. Will, ironically played by an actor with the actual last name Banks, sounds a lot the same but perhaps a bit flatter in emotional and vocal affect. Hilary and Jazz are both still kind of strange, but in less silly ways than they had been. They do end up drifting together as the show goes on in a more realistic way.
Ashley is only minimally seen throughout much of this season, but she does provide a rare platform from which to look at how LGBTQ issues play out in the Black community. This idea is spoken of little anywhere, and it certainly is rarely examined in a television program.
And Carleton? Well at first we are given the impression that he is just a complete jerk. But slowly his anxiety and illicit drug use reveal themselves, and the character’s actions become more understandable. If you think about it, you could certainly see some vestiges of that in the original show’s Carleton character. Finally, the way that Lisa and Will come together is also more realistic. She’s a long-time family friend who had dated Carleton, but their relationship was already starting to fall apart before Will drifted into the picture.
This series presents more like a long movie than the episodic Fresh Prince, and I think one has to watch the shows in order to follow entirely what is going on. But I thoroughly enjoyed the drama, feeling like it really started to find its way by season’s end with a show that was, when seen against the previous series, a combination of the famous show where Will encounters his father (Season 5) and the show that ended Season 1. It was a powerful episode, and it leaves us ready and willing to watch the Season 2 that I hope is coming.

Job Days No. 9: On Self-Development and Tutoring from the Other Side

Ah, my slightly late annual look at how things are changing or not on the job front has arrived. It’s the ninth (9th!) such post in this series, and my mind is boggled by how many there have been. How quickly does time fly.
Anyway, I guess things are slowly shifting as I move toward what I hope will be a fulfilling career as I bound along through middle age. Things are basically unchanged in the plant, as we call the manufacturing facility where I am employed. I’m still in Omni Glow, the name for the light sticks we package, as I have been since September of 2013. Ten sticks to a box, sling it onto the conveyor belt, grab the next handful, stuff, slide, and on and on and on. As with each year before I am faster than ever, because the rhythm when really established makes the day go by in a blink. I basically aim to stay awake, do the highest quality job possible, and head home at 3:20. I’m always amazed when I manage to catch faulty sticks even as they race through my fingers quickly enough to leave the occasional papercut. The past two weeks have been the best in months, because we’ve finally obtained enough product to really get going without being stuck and sent back to rework or worse, the pointless counting of buckles into already worn plastic bags as a time-killer.
Even as I work the “day job,” I am aspiring for more. As I’ve often discussed since it started, one of the main ways I’m planning to do this is through tutoring other blind individuals on assistive technology. I’ve now had three students at the plant, and with each I’ve gotten a little better. The last finally got me to open up more, and by the end I was talking to him before sessions started and after they ended. As others have told me, this not only makes the student more comfortable, it also puts me at ease and allows me to not stress as much about everything going perfectly with a lesson. After all, it’s about connecting with the other and finding out what a given student truly needs.
It’s been a couple months since I had my last student, so in that time I’ve been working to sharpen up. I did a couple of mock sessions with other tutors, which took me back to the days of grad school in the University of North Carolina’s then-named Rehab Counseling and Psychology Master’s program where we did these sorts of sessions for video tape. They do help though, as they show me how tight I had previously been and how smoothly I can teach if I let myself.
And even more recently, I’m being tutored by my cousin. He’s taking the online assistive technology program at World Services for the Blind, and thus has mastered many of the techniques involved in the delicate work of helping others. We’re working specifically on using Jaws for Windows with Outlook, but I think a lot of what I’m learning can be applied more broadly as I come to understand pacing, proper use of lesson and guides, and the like. I’m also grabbing a lot of material from the Freedom Scientific Training page so that I might use it in conjunction with these newly acquired techniques to actually help whomever I am assigned to next. Truthfully, working with him is instilling discipline as well, as I’m having to come home from work and shift gears twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays at 6 PM. This is a real challenge sometimes!
And that’s this year’s Job Days update. Things are getting really interesting around these quarters, and I hope to have even more exciting news to report to you soon.

The Tidalist: …And I Run Up 2000 Stairs

Well that last is a hilarious exaggeration, but you’ll see what I mean in a bit. Yeah yeah yeah, it’s been a month since I last wrote in this thing. It has also been a month since that wonderful, relaxing trip. But I’m still going to capture the second half of it as best I feel like. After all, memory is fallible, maleable, and all-kinds-of-things-ible anyway, and all that really matters is the story.

If what I have of it serves, and even the bestselling author John Grisham confessed to being “too lazy” to go back and make sure his book series still fit together, I stopped on that Monday May 3. This was the only day we didn’t get in the pool, well other than that Thursday when it was far too cold to do so. What we did do on Monday evening was have some delicious spaghetti with homemade meatballs. This was the only non-breakfast meal they prepared in-house, because hey we’re on vacation!

Tuesday dawned as easy and relaxing as the rest, but it was the birthday woman’s big day. As it happened, it was also the day the temperature swelled well into the 80s. Did this stop me from going outside? Is water wet? So after happily warming myself on the porch, my wife and I made our way to the store to pick up some odds and ends for the night’s celebration. First, she moseyed along that crazy endless road of highway 12 that always makes me feel like we’re experiencing the kinds of space time dilation that the theory of relativity predicts. There wan’t a whole lot to see, though.

When it came time to cut the cake, one baked by her mom and re-frosted after the first frosting attempt had gone awry and tasted strangely for some unknown reason, we teleconferences with her sisters who were not able to attend. It was fun, and of course has become the norm during these pandemic times anyhow. Then those of us who were there had Sooey’s again, with me choosing their cheeseburger and somewhat bland fries (I wish I had tried the beer-battered onion rings). The burger was quite delicious, despite that.

After eating, we went back out and, after taking a casual stroll along the sea with our niece in tow, took another dip in the kiddie pool. This time, the water was near-scalding. It felt sauna-like for a while though, and even though by the time we exited I pretty much had to, I found myself feeling uncharacterstically chill.

This chill followed me into Wednesday, as I prepared for the day’s main event, a “discussion” about a possible position within my company. Sadly, kind of as I struggled to decide if it was the right move for me, that position has not worked out to date. But that’s ok, I still gained confidence from the smoothness of our conversation.

They had opted to rent a tent and have some company set it up by the ocean with chairs and the like, and while I had missed the morning’s fun prepping for the talk, my wife and I did have a picnic out there with “hotdogs by the sea”. It was pleasant just basking in the shade and listening to her describe the National Geographic-type scene of seabirds swooping down to pluck fish from the waves then soaring away with their still squirming prize.

And now we come to the stairs. I had already told her before we embarked that I wanted to climb the Currituck Lighthouse, because I couldn’t imagine what that would even feel like. The lighthouse has, I think, approximately 209 steps (remember that part I said about memory and fallibility?) But our 7-year-old niece, on seeing that, declared ‘I’m not going up those 2000 steps, y’all can do that on your own!” So my wife, brother-in law, two nephews and I went for the $10 climb, while her mom, sister and said niece stayed on the ground. Going up was the hard part, believe me! I was glad they were at least broken into sections of 7-10 steps apiece, and by that last landing I thought my heart would explode from my chest. We stepped out into a whipping wind after emerging from an indoor well, and after snapping a few queasy pictures and taking a look over the railing, my wife decided it was time to reverse course. I had worried about this part, but fortunately going down was a cynch.

A cool, rewarding hot fudge sundae from Dairy Queen and a Wendy’s burger that we had to drive 30 minutes to get made up the rest of that evening. If you do go out there, just be prepared for the near lack of name-brand restaurants.

And that basically made up the trip. Thursday was spent relaxing inside, as the temperature had dropped into the lower 60s and the drivers wanted to rest up for the long trek home the following day. I did take one last wind-chilled sit on a chez longer on the porch, gleaning what little sun I could and enjoying the roar of the ocean till I could take no more.

Hopefully more of those trips are in my future, and especially as we begin to crawl out of our shells again. The isolation had its pluses and minuses, but on the whole it was a very welcome experience.

BE PREPARED: Lessons Learned from First Podcast Interview Attempt

So, remember the idea I had of getting episode 2 of my podcast up by today? Well… not so fast. I guess one might say I had to eat a big piece of humble pie, in at least trying to fully grasp the challenges that would come with actually interviewing someone. I’ve sat on it for a little over a week though, and have learned a few things that one might think I’d have recognized from all of my years of listening to NPR and the like.

I’ll begin by saying that the issues I faced were by no means a result of my interviewee, a person whom I’ve known for many years from my time as a UNC student and considered a mentor throughout that rocky period. In fact, she tried to take my shakiness and do the most she could with it, clearly having experience in the area of participating in interviewing. (And just to give her the plug I still hope to in a future podcast but can’t at the moment for reasons you’ll see later, she is Dr. Brenda Mitchell, author of a wonderful hildren’s book called Anthony’s Adventures, Already A Winner!)

I suppose the first lesson learned is that listening does not equal doing? Man, I have a much higher respect for those who can carry on complex conversations, following different lines of thought and coming up with great questions to bolster or deepen the audience’s understanding of a given subject. Do they teach that kind of stuff in journalism school? Or is it something you just have to have.

One thing I’m sure they cannot teach is awareness of the need for time flexibility. Whenever you’re asking someone to speak with you and they’re willing to give of their time, you must be prepared for that time to shift due to changing circumstances. The interview had been scheduled for 2 PM on Saturday, but as I settled on the couch with my coffee at 1, she texted asking if I could go ahead with it. This meant I no longer had the 30 minutes prior to meditate and try to get myself into the right headspace, as well as working out exactly how I would record it. But well now I know that I had better do those things well ahead of time and not depend on things to stay the way they had been planned.

After coming up with a nominal solution, she would record the Zoom call and send it back to me as I discovered that one cannot record Zoom from the phone, we began. And therein lay my second lesson: it’s probably best to give the author heads up on what the topic will be. I’d vaguely told her that it was a podcast focused on disability issues, but hadn’t explained that I would talk about her children’s book which addresses dealing with bullying as a result of visible difference. Worse, I just launched right into the body of questions saying “and in this book” with no indication that the title would be given later, meaning she covered for me and told the audience what it was indeed called. Next time I’ll just make sure that the author knows I will give the book blurb prior to playing the recording, or I will go ahead and do it in the introductions.

I would have liked to learn whatever other lessons that recording held, though I could guess that some were to speak more slowly and give myself time to thing so that I’m not “um, ah, ur-ing” all the time, but unfortunately the file was too large to share easily. That was fine though, as I was already pretty sure it wouldn’t meet basic posting standards. So, I need also to make sure that I have already worked out how I will record things and whether I can get everything to fit together in the end.

This is a big mountain to climb indeed, but I think it’s still an idea worth pursuing. I’m trying to be really careful before attempting to get another guest to make sure that I at least have a good enough understanding of what I’m trying to do to experience success. I want after all to promote myself and to elevate others’ work who have taken the time to highlight an experience, the experience of disability within the world, that is important to me and so many others I know. I hope you will still give it a listen whenever I can iron out all of the kinks, and as always, I hope my sharing helps someone else who is considering podcasting.