On Messaging and Connection

I heard just yesterday that Aol Instant Messenger is shutting its proverbial doors on December 15 of this year for the last time. I remember that sound actually, the door shutting and opening as people signed off and online. The latter always excited me, leaving me to wonder who and in what far-flung part of the world the most recent addition was. I used to want to have so many contacts on my buddy list (buddy list? Yup, that’s what it was called) that those sounds would almost never stop. Weird desire, huh?

AIM was one of the first things I did with my personal Internet actually. On a computer with next-to-no memory by today’s standards at about this time in 2001, I logged on with username Johnmill79 and had a lengthy conversation with one of my friends only a few miles away, but to whom I would have had to talk via long distance prior to that. He kept saying “lol” and because I wasn’t looking at the spelling as my screen-reading software enunciated the syllables, I wondered “why does he keep saying whoa!” It was my introduction to NetSpeak, a concept that has now become so much a part of the language that it is even spoken. OMG, really?

That poor computer could only hold up for a couple of hours though, and after frantic conversation the synthetic voice was reduced to a stutter so bad I gave up and pressed restart. That’s the thing though, because that technology was sort of slow and less portable, we were not as able to be so, some would argue unhealthily, immersed in it as we are nowadays. You had to leave your desktop in the dorm room and go out onto the yard to actually talk to people.

That may be so, but even still it had an impact. Shy guys like me could in fact meet people, and by “people” I of course primarily mean women, in a forum that catered to my preferred method of interaction: writing. I “connected” with folks as far afield as Sydney Australia, Tokyo Japan, and the University of Iowa. A couple of them, one from small town Alabama and another from Greensboro North Carolina I thought I might get to meet in person, but for various reasons that never quite happened. (Read: broke undergraduate).

I was also introduced to the strange concept of starting a conversation with someone local, a woman I’d met in my residence hall, and talking to her without a clear notion of where she was. This is of course commonplace now with cell phones, but before that usually if someone was talking to you telephonically, they were also tied to a particular location.

Time marched on, and MSN Messenger soon became supreme, only to be pushed aside by Skype and voice capability, which Microsoft of course then bought. Then they all got slapped around by Facebook, which will I suppose someday be subsumed by someone else. I think though that the random openness of those early days has long gone away. Most of us, smartly I suppose, only really talk to people in our own circles. But it was kind of fun trying to teach a French or Chinese person a little English, until the conversation inevitably got weird. And that, of course, is the problem: just dealing with the qualms of human nature. And Spam, etc.

I think AIM had tried to compete in this new Mobile world, but they simply didn’t have the infrastructure to do so. I now do most of my connecting via Twitter, and the issue with this is indeed its portability. My iPhone, which I have now possessed in varying versions for just over 5 years as of September 21, has opened my world in ways I once could hardly imagine. It enhances my Twitter influence, especially in the area of book recommendations that I post in the form of #FridayReads mini-reviews each Friday, tagging the author if possible.

I think this is one of many examples of how social media can be a source of good and add to one’s life, but I very readily acknowledge the need to control it so it doesn’t control you. To that end, I set my phone’s timer for 20 minutes three times a day, and shut everything down until it rings. This allows my brain to work through itself without distractions and occasionally come up with solutions to my vexing issues. I also just leave it on my desk in most cases when heading to meal time, so that I remember to talk to people without being bombarded with incoming notifications. And even if it is on me, I can just ignore those vibrations for a bit. I am not a mouse, after all.

I know that some of our youngest readers grew up as AIM was coming online, and others know almost nothing before social media and texting really took over. As many have said, this may not be as bad as some of us old fogey fear, as the research is only beginning on the full effects. But well who knows.

What do you remember a bout your first time logging onto Aim? Did you ever meet someone in person whom you had first encountered in that virtual space? How creative was your username.

Completing Personal 38th Solar Revolution: Or, Happy Birthday To Me

It has already been so long since I last posted on this thing that I barely remembered how to log in. But that should surprise no one, as grad school has finally reached fever pitch and my research project, such as it is, has commenced. That’s right, I have approximately 13 weeks to complete a presentable Capstone in order to finish my Master of Arts degree at Queens, and at this point I only have a vague idea of what I’m even doing. My main objective, as it has been throughout my time in this program, is to continue learning more effective ways of leadership for nonprofits such as the Norrie Disease Association. But before we dive all the way into that, I must do and pass a comprehensive exam this week wherein at least one communications theory will be applied to a random article. Sounds like fun times, right?

And as this new year of my existence begins, I find myself confronting a number of other shifts in the sand that will be discussed later. Needless to say, the transitions I have undergone as the previous year closed and this one opens have been and will be unlike anything I’ve ever known. I’m excited yet nervous, knowing that these will require me to live up to a standard I have never yet achieved. But as I often tell myself, one should always be striving to grow and improve anyway. That’s what the “and one to grow on” pinch meant as a kid.

There are many things I miss about being a kid, but perhaps those “birthday licks” are not necessarily among them? Haha, but they were usually all in fun anyway. I find myself, as always at this time of year, reflecting on past birthdays, those remembered and relayed in stories.

I guess turning 1 wasn’t really a big deal to me. My mom said they threw me a big party, but I…went to sleep in the cake! I hope that was just my slice of cake, and not the whole thing. MMM.

Most of the rest of my birthdays as a kid were shared with my next oldest sister, as we, the oldest twins, and my two youngest sisters each share a month. Whether this pairing was done on purpose or not I can’t say, but it made for convenient party-throwing for the adults I assume. I never minded much, as long as I got plenty of food and cake.

I was trying to remember what my 18th day was like, the first spent away from home at UNC Charlotte, but given that I am older than dirt even that time has now grown distant. I would bet that since I was usually afraid to venture far beyond my dorm in that turbulent freshman year, that it was spent alone in my room with the portable TV and some chocolate chip cookies taken from the residence Dining Hall, (RDH) to chow on later. I kind of hope not though.

Over the next three years of those fun college times, I often had sorority girls take me to restaurants, and especially of course when I turned 21 and downed that first alcoholic beverage. We had a fairly limited selection in those days though, so mostly I chose Outback Steakhouse where I ate their Alice Springs Chicken. That place is kind of pricey for what you get, but it does bring back memories.

In more recent years I’ve just taken the day off work and celebrated it with co-workers, as I did in 2013, or heading over to an expensive restaurant in Durham as a loner, which I’d done in 2014. And of course the last two years were great trips with my now fiancee to Wrightsville Beach and Myrtle Beach respectively.

So what does one do for a 38th birthday? One not imbued with much significance, along with being stuck in the middle of the workweek. Probably not a whole lot, other than prepping for said exam and looking at critiques provided by the prof on my project rationale. I did have a nice weekend with the woman, which included my first ever Greek fest that I intended to write about before being laid out by a cold from which I’m still recovering. It was interesting, in a giant building on the N.C. State Fair Grounds. We weren’t all that hungry so didn’t partake of much of the food there, other than some Greek donuts. We were interested in why many of these festivals take place at the same time, deducing that there is some kind of religious significance given its ties to the Orthodox Church. Is it to do with harvest? I did a search, and could find very little information on that.

In any event, we shall see what this next trip around the sun will hold for me. One thing I’m sure will be present in greater quantities once I emerge from this academic mountain will be blog posts, so stay tuned.

#Eclipse2017 : A Blind Man’s Perspective

People often ask me “do you ever wish you could see?” Mostly my response to that question is “nope, I don’t really care for it.” about the only exception to that is wishing I had some firm way to grasp astronomical phenomena, such as your every day sunrise/sunset, and the rarest of rare, total solar eclipses.

Given that everyone called this thing the “Great American Eclipse,” I wonder if it was only viewable in the US. I guess I’ve heard that people throughout North America could also see it, but I don’t know this for sure.

Technology, or more accurately the people who create this technology, continues to try and make a dent in what we as blind individuals, not to mention other disabilities of course, are able to access. To that end, a group of scientists from the Harvard Smithsonian Museum created Eclipse Soundscapes, an iOS and Android app that would allow us to “feel” and “hear” the eclipse. This is done by moving one’s finger around on the screen in what is called a Rumble Map, and noticing the change in tone and vibration that indicate features viewable in the image. These features are accompanied by text-based and verbal descriptions that help the blind “viewer” conceptualize what he or she is experiencing.

The app aims to make it possible for us to participate in all of the hype that has surrounded this day. To aid in this participation, it notifies us of beginning, peak, and end times of the eclipse in our exact location, as well as percentage. I knew, for example, that in my part of Charlotte it started at 1:12 PM and 20-someodd seconds, peaked at 97% of the total at 2:41, and was completed by 4:04 (not found). Get it? I know, I’m weird.

I decided it would be more fun to partake of this event while surrounded by people. I had heard, for instance, that people might act a little more strangely as the sun disappeared behind? under? (see, I still don’t entirely understand it) the moon. So I ventured to an area Starbucks located at a nice shopping center, and initially went inside for coffee, while attempting to complete some classwork. Only “BLEEP, BLEEP, BLEEP!, the fire alarm immediately went off! The barista dragged me out of the building, newly purchased coffee still clenched in my hand (because nobody’s taking that away apparently), and I sat at the outdoor table from 1:15 till 1:30. The truck rolled up, and they shut it down in quick order. I doubt anything serious had actually occurred, as I smelled nothing upon re-entering. That annoyance out of the way, I scampered inside and quickly did what I needed to using the WiFi so that I could head back out around 2:30.

And well, I sure hope what I then heard was just people getting “weird”. This woman started cursing someone out, the other voice I was unable to hear, saying “You acting like you wanna fight, like you all bad, then you wanna call the police? Gone head! How big and bad are you. You ain’t *beep* nothin’. Just spittin’ noise.” I subtly seized my backpack and was ready to run, if anything further popped off. I was mostly just wishing they (she) would calm down.

After that fun, Mother Nature finally decided it was time for a little fun of her own. As the event happened, I could indeed feel it cool off so substantially that what had been a sweaty stickiness quickly turned comfortable. I was not in a sunny area, but even if I had been I believe some clouds had passed through at the highest level of impact we experienced.

As far as the Soundscapes app? Well, I found the descriptions to be of help at least. I learned that there are four primary types of events during an eclipse: Baily’s Beads, which are the initial bursts of light as the Moon begins to obscure the sun, Helmet Streamers, or projections of light from the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, or part of the sun viewable during totality, and diamond rings, seen as the sun begins to re-emerge. To me, these felt pretty much the same when attempting to use the Rumble Map, mainly because it was difficult to work out exactly where the variations were. If I were to make a recommendation for future projects, it would be that, rather than having the tonal level simply change, it might point things out more clearly to have different tones that represent different things. Then add some kind of key, so that we would know what these sounds mean. I understand of course that this sort of thing would require more effort, but it is a thought.

In any event, I appreciate the folks who worked hard to bring us that kind of feature, and make it more possible for us to enjoy something that was all over our news, on everyone’s minds, and as someone else said, a positive experience that we could all share in contrast to so much of what happens lately. They state that this project will continue and take on new forms, and I for one am excited to see where it goes. This kind of stuff has always interested me. I guess this is the only total solar eclipse we have had since 1979 (hey that’s the year I was born!) but I seem to remember other partial eclipses when younger. My sisters wishing to get a look, and having to protect their eyes first. And speaking of that, I hope you all were able to successfully protect yours, and that enjoyment does not result in issues later. Till next time, don’t let the sun go down on me.

Meeting Sandra Brown

Again I had the opportunity to meet a well-known author, as discovered by Twitter. On what I think was her third tour stop, New York Times bestselling writer Sandra Brown came to Charlotte’s Park Road books to promote her recently released title “Seeing Red”. As it had just dropped on Tuesday, none of those in the appreciably-sized audience had yet completed it. I am not sure when I will get around to it, as my booklist is already large and growing more quickly than I can maintain it, but I have enjoyed the four other titles by her that I’ve read. These are: Envy, Mean Streak, Ricochet, and The Crush. As she is Southern, (which one can clearly hear in her accent), many of her titles take place in this storied part of the United States that I call home.

But before I attempt to recall what the meeting was like (and we all know my reliability on that score is questionable at best so I hope I am not eviscerated if slightly inaccurate) let’s look at how I got there. I am nothing if not a good planner. Not in the sense that I plan my life and know what on earth I’m doing, hey I’m working on that part but well..,. Anyway, more along the lines of figuring out how I will travel to a destination and what I will find there. Because I had errands to run at Queens University anyway, I decided I would head to that side of town and just stay over there until the time came for Brown’s presentation, which was at 7 PM.

Of course this meant I needed to find somewhere to eat. So I launched the GPS app BlindSquare to do a search for restaurants near Park Road Books and found one called the Park Road Soda Shop, only a couple doors down. I confirmed its existence with Google Maps, since sometimes BlindSquare has given me erroneous entries. The ambience and food very much reminded me of a spot I often frequented while residing in the Triangle, Suttons Drugstore on Chapel Hill’s Franklin Street. This is on purpose, as the Charlotte restaurant also bills itself as a throwback diner in the 50’s style, serving burgers, dogs, and shakes. I ordered two hot dogs all the way, fries, orangeade, and a lemon pound cake to go. All were delicious.

Upon exiting, I found a table and chairs immediately outside of the door. Probably questioning my sanity for parking there in the intense heat (but I love it hot!), a passerby woman carrying a child offered to assist me down to Park Road Books. At that time it was only 5:30 or so, but as the crowd size began to swell around 6 I was glad to have secured seating. Given my hearing issues, I should probably have sat closer to the front. It was all good though, and everyone around me was nice. One of the workers piled my plate with refreshments: cubes of cheddar cheese, crackers, and two deep sugar cookies. That actually filled me up even more.

A bit harried from a crazy day that had involved airport delays, a driver taking her to the wrong place, and a morning interview, Ms. Brown arrived pretty much on time and began to regale us. The room roared with laughter for most of it, which meant that I didn’t exactly pick up on all of the jokes. But she told us about the inspiration behind “Seeing Red” which was that her daughter was in the area where the Oklahoma City terror attack occurred in 1995, and Brown worried about her safety. She was fine, thankfully, but the city was shaken up obviously. From this arose a book in which a female journalist attempts to interview a survivor of a similar attack who had become a photographic icon, but for reasons unknown decided to disappear from the media’s eye. As with much of Brown’s work, there is suspense and sexuality, and as she told us, a deliberate conflict between the male hero and female heroine. This is what moves the story forward.

After her amusing presentation, she took a series of questions. What is her writing routine like? She rarely if ever writes at home, having established an office with a couple of employees into which she can retreat to do her work. She says this helps her separate the spheres more effectively, as people would sometimes not take her writing time seriously, and she too would allow herself to be distracted.

Does she ever write multiple books at once? Again, no, because she enjoys having a life.

“I wish I had the energy of my colleagues,” she quips, “but I don’t know how they do it. … Putting out a book a year is enough for me.”

The final question came from an individual whom I think has written her own book and is trying to decide how next to proceed with regards to publishing. Brown says she thinks the editorial filter is still needed, as it can help “protect consumers” from shaky writing. She compares it to other purchases, such as cars and appliances, which must receive inspections before being distributed to the public. While she does note this, she also states that self-publishing just wasn’t her path but if one really wants to go that route then give it a roll.

“I just feel that if it has my name on it, I want it to be as good as it can be,” she says in closing. “If an editor is asking a question, then the reader will probably ask it as well” a good reason to listen carefully to what they have to say and make revisions where necessary.

At the talk’s conclusion, we were invited to meet and shake hands with Ms. Brown. I did this quickly, welcoming her to our city (I should have said the Queen City), and thanking her for coming. I was then whisked outside, where I sat on a cushioned chair and listened to the town go by until my ride arrived.

So all in all, it was a fun night out in Charlotte. I continue to get my feet all the way under me as time goes by, and certainly being able to plan and successfully execute an evening like this is a confidence boost. Hopefully I will have some major other types of confidence boosters to report on shortly, but those will come when finalized. Till then, I’ll keep on reading.

RELATED: Meeting Carla Buckley

#FridayReads The Untold Story of the Talking Book

Whenever I type that title, I keep wanting to put “audiobook” instead. This is because I find the term “Talking book” strange. Makes it sound as if the printed pages are actually speaking, which ok I guess in a way they are.

I am reading a nonfiction piece, a result of Matthew Rubery’s research project called The Untold Story of the Talking Book. And as one who has grown up immersed in this media, I love learning about the ins and outs of how it truly came to be.

RELATED: Listen to an interview with the author couched in that Blind Bargains Podcast episode.

I have only just begun reading, but I already know it’s course. He notes Edison’s invention of the phonograph and the savvy advertising that slowly convinced people of its utility, how audiobooks really came to life as a way to service newly blinded soldiers after World War I?, their slow but continuous growth with all of its attendant controversies, and concerns over Audible, the granddaddy of audiobook companies, taking everything over. In between, there lies the content of what could be a college-level course. I am intrigued to continue grasping the main way that reading, especially initially and even counting into the smartphone era, has become accessible to me.

The funny thing I suppose is the way I am in fact consuming this book. I read the introduction via a digital audio file downloaded from BARD, the Braille and Audio Reading Download service provided by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. I eventually decided though that I was gaining nothing from having it narrated, and switched to a Braille copy obtained through Bookshare and consumed on the phone with my refreshable 40-cell display. (As an aside, I have noticed a spiking interest in my silly Braille post made in late 2015, so I hope you all are having fun with that!)

I have for a long time now enjoyed taking in books through multiple modalities. Each suits me at its time. Audio is great for winding down at bedtime, and when I was at the workshop, snatching a few minutes of a thriller or great memoir to fortify me during the breaks as I prepared to enter another segment of the day. Braille works best when I’m outside and wish to listen to and absorb my environment as I read, or if on a long road trip as it can make time speed by. I know too that they stimulate the brain in slightly different, but equally interesting, ways. So I would definitely say that each has its place.

Given Rubery’s primary focus on audio and the resultant transformations it has wrought though, I want to mostly stick with that vein. Let’s talk about narrators. (Readers? Voice actors? There is even disagreement about what to call them). First, I am in agreement that one who does not do this well can detract from the story. But then “doing it well” is probably subjective. As Rubery states, I have some favorites who will cause me to grab a book even if I have no idea what it is about. And there are others whom I will avoid at all costs, either finding it in Braille or locating another audio version. One of the major areas that is changing as audiobooks gain in popularity is how they are read. They are becoming a little less truer to the printed page, which coincidentally I noticed was even the case with this title as it has been rendered for BARD audiences.

The main way this plays out is in dramatic, or multicast, narration. I actually thoroughly enjoy this kind of performance for what it is, whether one can call it “real reading” or not. I will often take in these books from Audible or its competitor if it looks like something I can get into.

So as you can see with this title, there is more to an audiobook than meets the eye. (Ear? Ah, that’s too easy.) It is a fascinating topic, and one that has been addressed to a surprisingly small degree. I would recommend it to all of the audiophiles out there who, like me, look forward to putting head on pillow, setting the sleep timer, and being whisked off to a new world. After all, this thing we love started somewhere.

A Small Comparison of NC Transit Systems @GoTriangle and @CatsRideTransit

Ah, what’s a man’s life without a little adventure? Especially mine, and after I had been (relatively) motionless for much of the preceding month.

As I vaguely alluded to in the previous entry, I am making moves to shore up affordable and hopefully usable transportation in the city of Charlotte. A place this size can be a bit challenging to navigate, and even more so when you live towards its periphery. But, after much consultation of Google Maps, I located a Charlotte Area Transit System (Cats) park and ride within easy Uber distance of my current residence, and as I needed both to venture to the transportation center to acquire my paratransit ID and to visit Queens University so I could work on a couple of things there, I opted to chance the bus.

Naturally, I found myself drawing comparisons to that I experienced aboard the GoTriangle buses that took me to and from work for just over four years in the (of course) much smaller Durham/RTP area. Note that I am not saying either has issues per se, just that they function a bit differently from one another.

First, the similarities: on boarding the 53X, an express bus that would whisk me to uptown Charlotte (it’s our downtown but we’re just quirky like that) I notice that they too have switched to the more comfortable upholstery that most of the GoTriangle buses now have. I guess that most have gone in this direction, eschewing the bumpy bucket-type seats of my childhood. This definitely makes for a lot less soreness for road-weary commuters.

I can think of few other similarities, interestingly. Their differences were more notable. First, I suppose Cats does not have onboard WiFi. I guess this is to be expected in a larger fleet, and it is not a big deal. Second, all of the buses I boarded still have stairs one must climb to board, rather than the flat surface you step onto when entering a GoTriangle bus. I think they still lower them though. One nice difference I noted: Cats has its automated system set to call out all of the stops, stating which locations each serves as well. This means I can follow along without use of my GPS unit for the most part, insomuch as I can hear it, which was less doable on the return commutes when the A/C was set to full blast.

And hearing is in fact the greatest challenge I face when riding the fixed-route system, not surprisingly. This is why I signed up for Special Transportation Service (STS) and will see how much use I am able to get out of them. I know though that, being as we are outside of their guaranteed 3/4 of a mile from a stop, there will probably be times when I cannot get a ride through them and might want to resort to the regular route. I would say I actually got to my points relatively well, but as one might expect there were a few, insignificant glitches.

The main issue was communicating to the driver where I wished to disembark. I could tell them the stops as Google had told me, but this did not always get the desired result. Actually, the first driver on the Express route took me all the way to the transit center, and the second had no issues notifying me when I had arrived at Queens. The third told me, I think correctly, that I could catch the return Express route at the transit Center rather than doing so on 4th Street as the map suggested, but relented and let me off at the latter location. This was good, because there is a little bit of a walk from where the locals arrive to the Express routes at that very loud facility.

In the end though, I certainly was able to reach all of my intended destinations without notable difficulties. As I more fully come to understand the system, and especially the route to Queens I should have an easier time communicating exactly where I am going, but these things come in time. I am one who does not and will never mind the learning.

The Charlotte Life: Settling In

Every day, I adjust a little more. It’s small things, like figuring out a sensible, and slowly cheaper and cheaper, way to get where I need to be. Becoming used to basking in the rocker out front for a while as I read my Braille display, which at the rate I’m going I will completely lose shortly, then shifting to the low metal table with two chairs to break out the Mac for some work. It’s adapting to the relatively late dinner schedule in here, meaning I learn to consume such that I am not too hungry once mealtime arrives. It’s discovering the many entertaining Netflix series that, along with the aforementioned reading, help pass long summer days that feel like a second dose of childhood.

At some undefinable point, these little changes continue until suddenly, I have made myself a temporary home. This is my longest stint in the Queen City since eight years ago, and it amazes me how different things are, and yet how the same some other things remain. Certainly my tech, and let’s be truthful, especially my iPhone are aiding in the acceptance of this new period. I can pretty much remain in my comfortable room/nook up here in the nice house and stay out of the other folks’ hair unless they are inclined for conversation. I think that this makes the situation more tenable.

Not that I am silly enough to just remain in here all of the time, of course. I am, in fact, looking for some kind of work. If all goes as I would like, I will find a position that moves me forward. To that end, I am working with a career counselor at Queens who will help me clean up my resume and may give me some ideas on what I can pursue. I have also come across an interesting opportunity on Twitter about which I will have to inquire tomorrow. See? Social media can be useful sometimes. I will definitely hit this hard for the next little while, and see if something can come to fruition.

And even as all of that unfolds, along with my working to complete grad school, the wedding preparations begin to ramp up. The main thing that will happen in relatively quick succession is acquisition of my passport, so that we can leave the country immediately after the ceremony. We figure once that document is gotten, after dealing with the bureaucracy required to do it, we may as well notch some other countries in our belt someday soon as well. So we’ll see on that. At the moment though, it’s just going to be trying to get everything funded and to not go crazy in the midst of all of this change! It’s incredibly exciting because we so rarely get the chance in life to really reset and try to get things more right, but it is also nerve-racking because my decisions and choices are tied into the fate of someone else. I just pray everyday for the wisdom to make the best calls possible.

So here I am, firmly into what I’m calling my middle transition: Chapter XI as it were. I believe that today was one of the happiest I’ve had since abandoning my Durham residence (well other than spending time with the lady in Williamsburg of course) and that things are really looking up. (I have learned from the past not to say “can only look up,” because that’s daring stuff to slide sideways, but optimistic, I’m gonna be optimistic!) Till next time, I bid you adieu. But I invite you to check out this great interview turned blog post that BookShare did with me (thank you Laura for that). Heck, that thing told me more about what I’m trying to do now than I could probably have articulated. Amazing. Back soon.

Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Busch Gardens

Ah ba-humbug. My initial idea had been to accompany this post with photos, but as you might figure it is difficult for me to keep reams of them straight. I will learn to do this someday! But first I have to come up with some kind of labeling scheme so that I can be certain of what I am posting. In the meantime though, I guess I’ll stick with what I know and write, write, write. So enjoy a (relatively) quick summary of our entertaining and educational trip to Williamsburg Virginia.

We set sail for (ah ok drove to, although that might be an apt metaphor given the amount of rain we encountered on the way) this historic Virginia town on Wednesday at 12 PM, a couple hours later than intended but after some much-needed sleep. Mostly things were sunny, but when we did enter those two or three downpours I stayed quiet so that she could concentrate on keeping us whole. We popped out of the other end of the tube around 3:30, arriving at the fairly decent Courtyard by Marriott, Busch Gardens Area located at 470 McLaws Circle and within a mile of that iconic theme park. You’ll notice that of late I’ve been staying in Marriott properties, because I’m trying to stack up rewards points. They say I’m only 9 nights away from Silver status, but if I understand correctly you only get one night for every three.

Bags down and a little more rested, we schlepped off through the horse-poop-filled streets of colonial Williamsburg. Unfortunately by this time, all of the houses and such were closed, but just smelling the smells was enough to conjure up a feeling of what life might have been like there. And I got firsthand experience of what life could have been like if I were to be punished for being bad, as she good-naturedly placed my head inside of a stockade, (guillotine?) and took a hilarious photo. This device forces you to sit on your knees and makes the head nearly immobile. It’s brutality, made real. That bit of silliness done, we strolled by houses noticing a prominent name of Bruton (this guy had a Parrish church and a house apparently).

That trip out was relatively short, though we still logged at least two miles of walking. This added to the three miles or so we’d traversed the previous day leaving and returning to the car for the fireworks display (which was also fun as we snagged good seats that gave me an unusual sound experience). Anyhow, needless to say we got our exercise in this week.

Off to Cracker Barrel for dinner, where our inexperienced server neglected to provide the biscuits we had requested. I was ok though, as I greedily consumed my meatloaf, Mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, real lemonade, and later, a piece of delicious chocolate cake.

After that kind of start, it was surprising that we actually rose earlier than expected for the trip to Jamestown Settlement, a fascinating replica of the first established colony there. Afraid of both the rain and crowds, we arrived as it opened at 9. I think this contributed significantly to my great time learning there.

As we left the cool of the visitor center for the nearly dripping moisture beyond, I immediately felt a separation from modernity. The first thing we did was enter what the Tap Tap See app says is a Tiki tent? I hadn’t known what they were called, but the huts where the Powahatan Indians would have lived. I really couldn’t help wondering how one lives like that, but at the same time that sort of spartan existence kind of appeals to me. The natives did little inside of those huts but sleep and stay warm, even preparing food outside at private fire pits. Even so, they were so tiny that I, and most people I would imagine, had to duck to enter and exit, and could barely stand up inside.

But then there was the most interesting part, where we were able to board replicas of the ships that sailed from England. Constantine, the largest of the three, would have had 71 persons onboard, which I find mind-boggling! After walking around two of the decks of that and the other two vessels, I know that if I were to try and survive the four-month crossing from England to the colonies I would probably be half dead on arrival. I mean what did they eat? I am reading a book set in Jamestown now, a fictional tale called Dark Enough To See The Stars of a Jamestown Sky by Connie Lapallo, wherein the author states that it is based on the true story of her ancestors’ arrival there. So I anticipate getting a sense of just those sorts of questions.

After making our stumbling way up from those depths, we sauntered over to a table full of what would then have been classed as medical supplies, but actually resembled a toolbox). The woman at that exhibit showed me the crude splint, forceps, and other what would now be considered dangerous items used to operate on people, and especially soldiers, during that time. It was quite interesting.

And after a tour of the mostly inaccessible indoor gallery, she and I had a random stranger snap us standing in front of a fountain as some kid inadvertently intervened. The sound of rushing water was pleasant, if not enticing in those temperatures.

The rest of our day in town mainly consisted of a respite in the hotel from 1 to 3 after enjoying burgers from Sonic, as we did on our Charleston trip. Then off we went to Busch Garden.

Happily for us, the suggested rain showers did not come at all. But the humidity was such that, as previously noted, we still sweat buckets anyway. We also rode in a bucket of a ride that flung us around a bit, one that reminded me of the Wild Bull at Carowinds as it rocked us back and forth aggressively, a giant swing, and the one roller coaster I could get her on. Our final ride was the mach Tower, analogous to Carowinds’ Dropzone, where we rise way up and are flung to the ground. We then retreated into a German restaurant where some sort of live band was playing for the few patrons inside. Then after a boat ride called Cruising the Rhine, she said she needed to go ahead and call it a day. This was clear as we ambled about, trying to find a way out of that monstrosity but getting turned around a time or two. It is an amazing place, divided into countries such as Italy, France and Germany where those cultures are highlighted. I hope to visit again someday.

And that about sums up Williamsburg, in probably the longest entry I have ever written. We had pondered eating in a local spot called The Whaling Company, but a quick look at the prices changed that. They did have some pretty good sounding seafood though. So it was back to our trusty Cracker Barrel, where this time I had Chicken-fried Chicken with the same sides. Hey, you can never go wrong with that! Back with the good stuff whenever the next adventure happens.

My Life, Chapter XI

(Because adding Roman numerals gives it a certain gravitas).

CONTENTS

I: Being A Baby In Brook Hill. II: The Florence Avenue Blues. III: Birch Crest Family House. IV: The Town Home Down Home Experience. V: Livin’ Large on Hyde Park. VI: Off To The Pines. VII: Over The Bluff. VIII: Getting “Royal” on Beatties Ford. IX: The Estes Park Avalanche. X: Duke-in’ in Dern Durham. XI: Back to the QC, A Cozy Spot. XII: Marrying and “Cary-ing.

Ha! I really could use that as a template for my life memoir, at least as it has gone. Each of those titles represents a relocation for me, to all of my non-university residences held for at least six months. I had to specify those criteria, because if not then things become confusing and difficult to sort.

So, the last two chapters have yet to be written, of course, but they have begun. Chapter ten was brought to a rather abrupt end as the truck bearing my furniture, nearly popping a tire, eased onto the freeway and slight sloshes of rain blew in as if off of an ocean. The hour was 12:30 AM, and both I and the driver, my always hard-working uncle, were famished

“Ok, let’s stop here,” he said as we scrambled out and walked hopefully up to a small-town Wendy’s in a truck stop-type area. But, it was a no-go.

Then, as tired as he was, he said “ok we’re gonna try one more fast-food joint, then it’s the Waffle House. They’re always open!”

And with that, he reluctantly eased into the McDonald’s drive-through line, where I acquired my first Big Mac in many years. I agreed with his assessment that their burgers just don’t hold a candle to really any other establishment, despite the fact that their fries are actually superior.

A hair-raising cruise into the Queen City, with the last miles being seen through a fog of daydreams according to my uncle, found me, by 3:30 in the morning back at the Hyde Park residence of Chapter Five. Because he basically maintains a bachelor pad in there, the room was warm and the covers a bit dusty. But by that point, nothing else mattered but sweet sweet sleep. While I wouldn’t say I had done nearly the amount of work he had hoisting all of my (former) furniture and cleaning all of the detritus of years spent in a place by someone more concentrated on other things than, well ok keeping spotless?, I had taken out tons of trash and helped the morning mover with my tables. So numbness spread mercifully across me, and I sank into hilarious dreams with contents I of course can not recall in any great detail.

And so here we go. With that cliff-hanger ending, I plunge into the area unknown with little idea of what to expect next. Right now though, I am sitting in (Chapter Eleven), at a desk with the kind of writing chair I had during (Chapter Eight) and feeling the inspiration flow through me again. Thus far I have eaten at the delicious House of Prayer cafeteria, a church located on Beatties Ford that is the only restaurant I know serving what I call “REAL” baked macaroni and cheese. I have also enjoyed chatting with my cousin for only the second time all year, and luxuriating in the expansiveness of this place. I am definitely feeling the love, and comfort as I have a nice room to myself as well.

So do enjoy as my story continues to unfold with unforeseen plot twists, and probably the climax. (Wait, maybe not yet on that last, because the end usually follows that in rapid succession). But, you get my drift. More pages and chapters coming soon!

On Furry Friends

As my transition enters its final phases, I’ve sat out on this little thing we call a porch and pondered the meaning of life, often while reading a good book or otherwise occupied. As I’ve done so, someone apparently decided he (or she, who really knows?) would like to meet me and I guess maybe feel a bit less alone.

I think you can see my new companion here, blind folks, it’s a cat apparently with his head missing (this is why they will never hire me as a photographer)

Anyhow, this has been happening all week. At first, he would saunter up to me and just brush against my legs, then bounce off to other parts of the porch. Then, he began stopping and sometimes sitting at either of my feet. In the last couple of days, he has attempted to put his paws on my legs, as if asking to be helped into my lap. But then I get the sense he knows he is probably not clean enough to do this, so he will retract the paws and likely sadly slink away.

I can’t help wondering if he was also a victim of this apartment complex’s rapid rent increase, in that maybe someone threw him out? Maybe they, as am I, moved in with some other family member who wouldn’t allow pets and had to make a wrenching choice. I say this, because I would find it surprising to be so rapidly addressed, and apparently trusted, by a stray with little experience dealing with humanity. That cat acted as if it were quite close to someone, in fact. Something of a reminder that these kinds of policy shifts can effect other lifeforms as well.

If I were staying here though, I might actually consider keeping him, knowing that I would have to take him to the vet and have all of that stuff checked and get him cleaned up real good. As it is, I hope maybe someone does find him soon and take care of him.

I don’t know what’s in their minds, of course, but I have always felt like animals have a deep connection to me that forms as soon as I am seen. They have played some role in nearly every major era of my life, as I would guess is the case for most.

Because we were the poor kids we were, our first four kitties came from a cat that had been stolen from my grandma’s neighborhood and transported clear across town. Named Tiger because she looked a lot like one, she gave birth to Ginger, Salt, Pepper, and Cheetah. The first three were seasonings, and the last was just fast! Ginger was the only one to survive that rough and tumble existence for any length of time, living with us until we left that house and began our next chapter in a town home around my teen-age years.

We’d had a dog then named Shannon, but because she hadn’t really been trained and lived out back, I didn’t get to develop any kind of relationship with her. I was afraid of dogs actually, until 2004 when I ventured to Spain and met a shaggy Old English Sheepdog whose only desire was to lick one to death and try to knock them over with his bulk. Then in 05, my cousin acquired a terrier to whom I became very close, cementing my belief that I was far more a dog person than a cat person. I mean dogs understand so much more, it seems. My sister’s little dog got close to me during my brief time in PineBluff in 2012, and now my fiance’s dog enjoys having me around. She seems to know the rule that she should only stop by to say hi when the lady has gotten up to do something else, m which amuses me.

But I am sometimes reminded that cats, aloofness for which they are known and all, can be just as intelligent and friendly. I guess really their personalities can vary as much as any person’s, right? This is what we humans can forget, that these animals do have feelings and probably even realize when they have been neglected. If my story above is true and that one was tossed out by someone, I wish they could have managed to at least turn it in to some sort of agency. I know there are shelters that are set up to handle such things. I also know, of course, that if someone is under stress about all other elements of their life, like where they will eat or stay, this just might not occur to them.

So that’s just a bit of the strangeness that represents the beginning of my summer. I actually hope it’s not a bad omen, as I’ve heard before that cats can be drawn to people when they have some kind of serious condition of which they may not even be aware. But in the end, its presence has had a calming effect during a tumultuous time of my life. In any event, he gives me something other than grad school to write about.