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.

On Music, Sleep, and Access: Slowly Making My Way Back

Feels like I’ve not written in a month, even though I have some entries posted. This is because, for that month, the pandemic and its restrictions had finally flattened me. I’ve not written in my book, which got to over 16,000 words by the way, and was reluctantly dragging myself into work at best. As with all of us I’m sure, it’s been a real struggle with me, living this becalmed existence, but I hope we’re on the backside of this thing finally! Numbers are coming down, now let’s just hold on and try to make it to the other side before we go too crazy.

Anyway, I’m starting to find my way back out of the doldrums, thanks to three things: the gift of music, improved sleep, and the remembrance of love.

First the music, as we all know it can be one of the best forms of therapy. I sort of accidentally came up with the idea a few days ago to listen to every year’s hip hop and R&B and Pop playlists on Apple Music of the 1990s. I’ve only gotten through 1991 and 1990, having started them in the wrong order because initially I’d just wanted to hear songs from 30 years ago, and these tracks both take me back and make me feel a lot better. And the good news, from my perspective, is that I’ve got songs to listen to in this way probably till early April or so, when it will hopefully be warmer and I can get outside for some sun again.

And speaking of sun, sort of, I (or more truthfully my wife) undertook a few steps to try and help me get my sleep back on track. It had gone dangerously off the rails, and especially when trying to get that all-important set-up sleep on Sunday night to prepare for work. First, she got me a My Pillow, that pricey pillow that makes all kinds of promises about its ability to change your sleeping habits and life for good. I broke it in this Friday night, knowing I would have time if I indeed found it harder to sleep instead. And at first I did, because the pillow kid lower than I’ve gotten used to with the two-pillow Elevation I’d had before.

Then Saturday, she’d ordered me some Melatonin gummies. They’re actually pretty good, and you take two of them to get a three-mg dose of that stuff. So I tried those, along with re-elevating that pillow on Saturday night, and I’ve really slept like a baby sense. It’s meant feeling so much Better at work, and slowly but surely getting back to where I feel like doing stuff afterwards too though of course being tired after a long workday is normal anyway. We don’t really know whether the pillow or Melatonin are truly doing the trick, (I joke that this is because our experiment is not enacting one variable at a time) but I don’t really care as long as something works.

She’d gotten me that for Valentine’s Day, having remembered my recent statements about how a lack of sleep was effecting me. I got her flowers from 1-800-flowers.com, mostly as a physical expression of the love I feel. Acquiring them wasn’t a lovely experience at first, as I couldn’t get the site to populate with choices based on my zip code. After fighting with that thing for hours and just about throwing up my hands in frustration, I finally selected the automated SMS feature. It was pretty cool, allowing me to make a series of choices then providing me with a link to pay for the order at the end, similar to what Apple did when I ordered the iPhone. This does not, in my opinion, replace the need to make a site accessible to blind users and really all users, but I guess it’s a fill-in and hope people keep working on longer-term solutions.

And to finish this post with a bonus that is related to said accessibility, because it’s one that had rocked the blindness community and threatened to send us back a ways, I was pleased to discover that Domino’s Pizza finally made its app accessible at least on iOS. It has gone from the least usable app to order pizza and other goods from them to the most usable. I don’t know all of the things that happened behind closed doors to make this possible, but I’m sure it was a big win for our advocates after the big fuss they put up in court wishing to not have to comply, and a reminder to let all of our voices be heard. So that’s a little motivation for me and hopefully for all of us, as we all try our best to survive the grind.

Black History Around The World Through Books

As some have said, Black history is not just American history, but also global history. People of color have had an impact on culture and life in nearly every country, to greater and lesser extent, and one of the most interesting ways to explore this impact is through fiction. So, I’ve somewhat randomly chose six novels that take place in various world regions and look at how Black folks coped “then” and are coping now. NOTE: I do not actually know if all of my chosen authors are Black and am ok with that, as the told stories still hit on important themes in ways that few other novels have.

I’m currently working on two of the novels, and the other four I might have completed by the end of February, but who knows. The first of my current reads is The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate. This story, set in the Louisiana of 1987 and 1875, takes a look at what happened after slavery. Sharecropping, scratching out survival by traveling through dangerous parts of the then-forming country, and most importantly, as the title suggests, an attempt to find people lost or scrambled about during slavery. The 1875 story tracks a specific family as three women, who had to disguise themselves as boys to get by, work their way through Texas and encounter issues that alter their lives forever. In the 1987 story, we see the descendants of this family and its house as they cope with the politics of what should or shouldn’t be taught in schools, particularly represented through a teacher from out of town who dares to venture into the controversial with a class project, because she sees that the kids strongly relate to it. The story is captivating and I’ve nearly completed the 15 hours of audio.

My second read is A Good Neighborhood, by Therese Fowler. I was compelled to grab this title because it is set in my home state of North Carolina, though no specific city is named. In the Oak Knoll neighborhood, a long-time resident becomes upset when a million-dollar buyer has a house constructed that ruins her favorite tree. Things become complicated when the mom prepares to sue the well-off father of the other household, even as her son starts to like their teenager. This story is a lot more dynamic than I kind of thought it would be, especially as we see the complex interracial reactions that occur between them all and the ways that class, and especially the experience of poverty, also plays into it.

As it happens, both of these books are set in the United States of America. The only other book in this country that I plan to read is Concrete Rose, by Angie Thomas. It’s the third in her Garden Heights series, which began with The Hate U Give. I assume it’s kind of stand-alone-ish, as it examines the life of Maverick (the family patriarch) seventeen years prior to that book. I think it’s gonna take a good Look at life as a black boy in a tough neighborhood, set in a major, again unnamed, city.

The fourth book I am considering sounds interesting to me. It’s called HowThe One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, by Cherie Jones. It takes place on an upscale beach in Barbados, an island I know little about and am fascinated with. In an NPR Weekend Edition interview, the author discusses things like the power of braiding hair in Black culture and how some people can be, well swept under, if they are seen as less.

The fifth book, called Africaville, is by an author named Jeffrey Colvin. This story is set in Nova Scotia against the Great Depression, And apparently examines how three generations of one family are affected by prejudice during that time. Again one in a region I know next to nothing about, which intrigues me. It is also narrated at least in part by the excellent Robin Miles.

And my final choice, which I’m sure is going to be equally well narrated, is Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This story, as does most of her work, examines life in Nigeria and some of the challenges that arise because of ideas about treatment of women by men in particular. I’ve read two other of her novels, Americanah and Half of A Yellow Sun, both of which were excellent. So I’ve been meaning to check this one out as well.

Of course there are so many books on my wishlist that I could read for this purpose, and I will read them over time. But I thought this would be a fun way to get a sense of life for Black folks within and outside of my own circle and my own country.

On Becoming a Writer, and Alex Trebek

In a recent Writer’s Bone podcast, I heard Bethanne Patrick, whom I consider my mentor whether she knows it or not, speak about how she discovered she was a writer. It interested me for a few reasons. First, she noted that much of her writing desire came from listening to her mother’s reading to her as a kid. But she didn’t really make a true attempt at writing till late 30s/early 40s, dabbling first in book reviewing and slowly expanding her reach.

Obviously this had a great impact on me. I consider myself having walked a similar path, in many ways. Rather than my mom reading to me to get me started, I grew up listening to my sisters as they practiced reading aloud. I was so moved by the power of words to carry one to other places and paint pictures of things not previously imagined. From that, I’ve always had a little of a writer’s bone, if you will, as I wrote the letter that took some of my classmates and me to Washington DC in the sixth grade. And the year before, I’d tied with one of the teachers’ daughters for first place on an essay I wrote about Martin Luther King.

So while I’ve pondered for years really trying to get into the writing field, if you remember from an earlier post this year, this pandemic has caused me to go all in in a way I had not done before. I was watching Sister Act 2 the other day, and Whoopi Goldberg’s character quoted a Reina Maria Wilke (don’t know if that’s how her name is spelled, but…) quote to the then-angelic voiced Lauryn Hill’s character. She said Wilke had said something to the effect of If you wake up in the morning and the first thing you think of is writing, then you’re a writer. This was to me a revelation. Writing is not something for which I have to be hired to establish legitimacy, though I’d very much love if someone hired me to do it. It’s something I can make up my mind to “be.” Certainly looking up to people like Ms. Patrick helps a lot to spur me on.

My writing, and all of its initials factors, was also brought to life by watching the quiz show Jeopardy! over the years. It’s funny, but I can’t really say when I started watching. I do remember it seemed the categories were a lot harder then. It caused me to pick up National Geographic and other magazines, along with the 1961 World Book Encyclopedia our school had in Braille at the time, badly out of date but still fascinating, to learn an out the world around me. I kept watching with my dad as I got older, and in college when homesickness hit. So it is with a heavy heart that I thank Alex Trebek for all that he brought to my life and so many of our lives. It is no exaggeration to say that I might not have the command of words and the understanding of geography I do if I had not consumed that show so regularly.

So whatever or whomever is your inspiration, I hope you can join me in dreaming big. Especially in this year where, and I’ve probably said this in other entries but it bears repeating, we have nothing but time on our hands. Be well and stay safe.

Trials and Travels: A Comparison of 3 Recent Reads

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

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

Chamberlain

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

Serritella

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

Yocom

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

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

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

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

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

And it goes on and on and on and…

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED: The Cary Characters

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