2020 In Life: My “Year like no other”

This past year has left and will leave its stain on us for the rest of our lives, and will be one mentioned in history books. I am, and I do not say this lightly, thankful that I survived, and always mindful of all those lost to the pandemic and to the other issues that have rocked us throughout. In the midst of our national and world strife, each of us have had a personal story in 2020, and so I’ve decided for the archives to capture a bit of mine.

January opens the same way it had for the previous 2 years of our marriage, with my wife and I preparing for and getting excited about our anniversary (January 27) trip. We have this crazy theory that the enjoyment or lack of in our trip sets the tone for the whole year going forward. Miami in 2019 is one we still talk about, having lived up to our hopes for a honeymoon destination. Tampa of 2020, about which I only wrote that one entry because I figured you didn’t really care,… did not. For several reasons but probably the biggest was that it was so cold! We were shocked that the temperature never really got out of the 50s from the Monday we arrived until it finally climbed on that Thursday as we readied to depart.

The second reason, at least in our opinion, is that there just wasn’t a whole lot to do. We got caught in a gale really at St. Pete Beach on Tuesday and were fortunate not to have been swept into the water at the edge of a long pier. On Wednesday, we opted to go to Orlando’s Universal Studios, which was pricey but a unique experience as most of the rides were inside and based on movies. A very visual experience, I still managed to have fun filling some of it in with my imagination.

We had already known that February would be quiet, as she needed to get a personal surgery that would put her down for most of that month. But we were all fired up to get back going by the end of March, with plans to attend River Dance at DPAC. I think I would have enjoyed that, but…

There came COVID. Well after I had already been officially diagnosed as diabetic at the end of February, a condition I’d no doubt had for at least a year prior and probably longer.

Even as I dealt with the complications of starting to manage that, I remember the shock and fear I felt as the pandemic kicked into full gear. I first took it seriously when the NBA and other sports in rapid succession shut down on March 11, and only a week later I’d left work and entered a 2-month quarantine. Remember that just prior to then, we were being told to worry more about the flu than this new thing called Coronavirus that was not likely to spread widely. Oh how wrong they were.

April and early May proceeded relatively quietly, until a jaw infection that had probably been festering for a year decided to rear up and cause big problems, leading to three teeth being pulled. Ouch. I was glad to have gotten through that challenge as well, and more that it hadn’t turned out to be something a lot scarier.

In June, I lost my father to cancer. I think I’m still dealing with the grief of that loss, as I was hoping to have time after COVID (whenever that is) to hang out with him. I was also tasked that month with returning to work under the mask mandate and no longer using public transportation because of all the safety changes that had been made. But fortunately for me, things have mostly gone smoothly with regard to that transition.

The rest of the year, July to December, was relatively uneventful. Unusually so really, thanks to this virus. It’s why I managed to set a new books-read record and get something like 10 book reviews out in total. We, like everyone I think, had that brief period from July till October where we almost thought we had COVID coming under control, then boom! It’s been up, up, up, since then sadly. No more trips, and then basically locked inside once the October temps dropped.

On balance though, I am thankful to still be here dealing with these minor inconveniences. Hopefully things are truly starting to look up, as we wonkily roll out the vaccine and some degree of immunity develops. I seem poised to have a fantastic, if incredibly busy 2021, but there’ll be more on that in the subsequent entry. Hang in there folks, I think it’ll get better soon.

My 2020 Vote: The Joys of Voting Online

If there has been any silver lining to this pandemic, it would be that technology, which has existed for a good while now, is being used to its fullest potential. We all know this, with unending, some would say tiring Zoom meetings, schools that have been forced to shift online and alter their educational plan, and the like. The outcome for people with disabilities has been mixed, as while there are many instances of it helping us to gain access to events we would otherwise have had to miss, there are also times, and especially in education, when such tech can create significant barriers.

But I’m not really going into all that here. I wanted to note and hopefully have everyone consider the merits of an experiment here in NC that allowed those of us who are blind or low vision to conduct what is often said to be a basic civic task: that of voting. As this virus stretched on and on toward Election Day, I became increasingly concerned with just how I would conduct this activity. I didn’t want to deal with the myriad issues with absentee mail-in ballots, not to mention that I would not be able to complete one accessibly. I certainly trust my wife to fill out my form as I request, but isn’t that beside the point? Aren’t I entitled to an independent, private vote wherein I can select whichever candidates I wish no matter how others might feel about them?

Well of course there’s always in-person early or Election Day voting at your local polling place. I’ve done it six times with the auto mark machines, talking devices into which you feed your ballot and can then navigate with the arrows to make your selections. (Only once on the actual Election Day, and I vow never to do that again as the lines are too long and the people a bit out there!) But I just wasn’t sure if I would be comfortable going in there even for the, hopefully short, time it would take. So my most likely choice was going to be to have my wife fill it out at curbside.

Until I heard via our local news leader WRAL that a different option was available specifically to those who are blind: accessible online ballots. These ballots could be requested (unfortunately the deadline to do so passed yesterday) and completed entirely without the need for paper. So this past weekend, I put my request in, got the email back, and kept getting “Voter Not Found”. And into the bureaucracy we go! I fired an e-ail to the Wake County Board of Elections explaining my difficulty, and an I identified person wrote back that their attempt to enter my information netted a successful find and that I should try a different browser. Turns out though that the culprit was my ID number, which I had not needed to enter on the ballot itself but was for some reason required when I submitted the request. I only needed the last 4 digits of my social security number. I hadn’t thought I would have provided my ID when registering, but keeping all that government stuff straight is complicated.

So last night, I managed to log in and asked my wife to be the witness, as required. Only I had another would-be witness, in the body of a pesky 4-legged friend who always demands pets when I seat myself on the couch. I tried to tell her that daddy needed to work, but she didn’t understand, finally parking herself at my foot in the vain hopes that I might remember her and interact eventually.

That craziness aside, the process went mostly smoothly after that. I did wonder why they used checkboxes instead of radio buttons when we were to vote for only one option? There were 35 selections in total, and once I completed my choices I type-signed it and my wife filled out the witness form. And that was it! I voted in my pajamas from the couch. That’s a winning strategy in my opinion.

Seriously though, it could actually help those who are deafblind, as many who cannot perceive audio are also unable to vote independently. I think the auto mark does have some kind of Braille display, but I’ve never seen it work other than to say “Ready,” or something to that effect. Having the ability to set up one’s equipment how one truly needs it would be a huge benefit not only to us but to those with other things going on as well. I know of course that voting online introduces possible security issues, but really there are security issues no matter how you slice it. As with everything, we just have to put in what safeguards we can and allow the system to truly work for the people it is intended to serve and empower.

Musings on NaNoWriMo and Creativity During COVID

So how are we doing, folks. I think it’s already been over a month since I did the last check-in regarding COVID. And, *sigh* Just when we thought we saw that light at the end of the tunnel, the numbers have skyrocketed to points higher than they were at the so-called peak. Here in North Carolina, for instance, we set two consecutive new case records last week and have just set a record for the most deaths in one day from this virus. Believe me, I know that behind every one of those numbers is a person, family, friend, co-worker or other connected individual who is hurting. I just keep praying that it stops soon enough.

As I continue to look out for my mental health during this time, I strive to at least thrive in the world of creativity. And as was the case when this started, my wife keeps driving me forward in that area. She’s doing her own impressive stuff (shameless plug) with a recently launched Etsy store she calls Carrol Creations. Therein, she makes decorative or inspirational wooden signs that can be hung on doors or walls, customized earrings, t-shirts, and most recently Christmas ornaments and “quarantine reindeer,” each with its accompanying facemask. Of course family and friends have been supportive in stimulating sales, but in this month alone she’s also received three outside orders. Cool stuff. If you’re into that sort of thing, hop on over there and check it out.

Seeing her put in the “elbow grease,” as I often tease, has motivated me to get back off the proverbial snide and attempt to re-launch an idea I initially conceived in 2018, to write a book about two brothers with Norrie Disease who face different variations and thus experience different outcomes. I’m thinking this time that it will be the basis for my NaNoWriMo novel. I’m not exactly sure for how long National Novel Writing Month has been going on, but my first real shot at producing a 50,000-word piece of fiction was back in 2006. I think I got up to approximately 25k words before the whole thing just dissolved into a puddle of goo, and I posted excerpt 1 and 2 in my old blog. I particularly liked the second one.

I made a nod in the direction of trying again in 2017, but that never got off the ground given that I was about to get married and also wrapping up grad school. Now that nearly all travel except that to work and home has stopped, maybe I can make myself sit here with some music on as I am right now and pound these Mantis Braille display keys. I’ll update as November progresses.

And, not a whole lot else. Just working on some cosmetic changes around this my blogging spot, mostly to make it easier for folks to find my book reviews and how they can contact me. I’m not done yet, but all that movement takes so long that it will be mostly reserved for the weekend. As far as I can tell, this viral wave is surging throughout much of the northern hemisphere at the same time, rather than the spikes we saw popping up in varying locations earlier. So wherever you are, I hope you are staying safe and keeping yourself up as best you can. And maybe do some creating of your own. If you have, how so? Has anything worked out?

My Covid Testing Experience

In this year where any kind of disaster imaginable seems possible, one could hardly blame me for being a little jumpy. Over the past couple of weeks, at my job’s temperature checks, I have realized that my core body temperature is almost always below normal. Well especially in the morning, as it often clocks in at 96.7 degrees, and I feel that cold when sitting in my room after dressing for the day.

On top of that, my nostrils have been a bit drippy and my throat congested for some time now. When this happened last year, I simply assumed that it was some kind of allergic reaction that would eventually calm down, as it did. But this year, with the ever-present threat of Covid-19, I was wary.

So all of those things converged this morning, as my temperature bottomed out at 96.1, and I was so cold that my hands shook and teeth rattled. I also felt so congested in my head that it seemed my brain was swimming. I am aware that this is probably not Covid, but on calling out of work to get the sleep I needed I decided I should get myself tested for the benefit of my coworkers, if nothing else.

And on that sleep? Ah, it was glorious. After some Covid-induced dreams, I finally, wonkily emerged around 12:30 and stepped outside for some air. I was relieved to learn that my temperature had increased to 98.4, and I certainly was warmer. But I still felt so yucky that my time outside did not last long.

So, my wife had made the testing appointment at a Cary, N.C. Urgent Care center at 3. After running some other errands, she drove me over to the clinic. This was not a drive-up appointment, but rather we were to enter the room to have the test administered. I was surprised by this, but admired the way they had things working.

First, we called a number and checked in, at which time we were told to wait in the car until contacted. It took about 12 minutes to get the call, with the office having texted a link that would have let me see my spot in line. Their texting was used well and kept the patient abreast on all progress throughout the experience.

Once we entered, with the support nurse holding the door ajar so we needed to touch nothing, she first asked about symptoms and then affixed something to my pinky finger, I think she said to test blood flow. Then another quick temperature. Check, still holding steady at 98. And finally, the real fun started.

Another man, in what capacity I am not entirely sure but I suppose a doctor-type person, came in to do The actual test. “It’s not too bad,” he said even as he offered me a Kleenex. Then, after helping me extract the mask from its entanglement with my hearing aids, he stuck the swab into my nose.

Ok, that’s it right?” I thought. But no! It went back, and back, and back, and surely took some of my whatever lobe when extracted. “Ow ow ow!” I said as I tried to keep myself from separating from the swab. Whew! That may have popped something into place, because much of my congestion has actually stopped, at least temporarily. My nose still hurts a bit, but yeah I guess it’s survivable.

And now I wait for probably three days. He said if it’s positive, then I’ll hear from the health department and that center. If negative, I’ll get a letter in the mail in approximately 2 weeks. We’ll see. If nothing else, it’ll give me a little peace of mind for as long as that lasts. I’m sure there are thousands of other tales of those who have been tested, many less dramatic than mine. But this is my quintessential 2020 story, and let’s hope it’s the last I have! Maybe things will settle down now?

Meanwhile, Back At The Plant: The end of my 72-day quarantine

THE CALL finally came that Tuesday after Memorial Day. No surprise, really, as I expected upon North Carolina’s entry into Phase 2 of Covid recovery (if one can call a record-breaking 1,000 cases a day a recovery. It’s got me terrified, truthfully). Anyhow, I knew my time relaxing and hiding inside would draw to an end soon.

The number originated from the Hazelhurst, Ms. Branch of my employer, so I initially didn’t take the call. “Hello, this is a message from LCI for John Miller about coming to work.” So, I tapped the number, returned the call, and affirmed hat I would return on Monday June 1.

After discussing it with my wife for a time, we decided that at least for the time being it would be easiest if she takes me in and picks me up, when possible, because as noted in a previous entry dealing with public transit or Go Cary Door-to-Door presents a number of challenges in this environment. And honestly it’s working out a lot better for me, as I can wake 40 minutes later and depart the apartment only 20 minutes before my 7 AM shift begins. I could actually wake even later if I wanted, but I like having a little time to quickly check out podcasts and news as I get ready.

So the first week has ended now, and mostly it went well. Monday was long, as I had to re-remember how I get through the day without music or books except on breaks. And without being able to take the random nap, which was a little problematic that first day as my still-recouping gums let me feel not pain really, but a little pressure. The least fun part was wearing that mask for eight hours. My nose was stinging by day’s end, as I had breathed so much air into my own face. I know it is absolutely necessary to wear it though, and washed my hands whenever possible along with sanitizer when too far away from a sink. I certainly do not want the ‘rona, and don’t want to pass it onto my coworkers either, if I can help it.

The only glitch in this week occurred on Wednesday, when I awoke to a non-functioning right-side hearing aid. It started working after an hour or so, sort of, but I knew that it was still time to get both aids retuned. I’m amazed they’d gone a year and a half without requiring service, definitely far better than I got out of my previous aids, but they usually need to be tended to as soon as the heat and humidity arrive.

Covid protocol meant that I had to give the aids to the office receptionist, who came out to the car to collect them, then sit there for 20 minutes in silence while they were repaired. But as usual, when they were returned to me I marveled at how much louder and clearer everything was. The changes in hearing level are so subtle that they can go unnoticed until corrected.

And for the most part, that makes up the news of my return to work. Nothing groundbreaking really, but the week was nice in the sense that I felt great each workday, even managing to get enough sleep to be functional. That time off definitely helped me to get my health back in order, and for that first week at least, I reaped the benefits. Let’s hope this continues, and I sure hope that sometime soon my state, the nation, and the world can begin to find the path to healing that 2020 so badly needs.

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.

At Home Post 2: On Finally Discovering My Passion

It’s the last day of April y’all, and by putting in a little elbow grease to end the month I’m still remaining on pace to make my crazy blog goal! Yay. With the world being in a relative state of turmoil, one must take victories where one can get them.

So aside from my extensive book review, the reasons for which I will get into later in this post, I have written an unfolding series of stories about my (our) response to Covid-19. Hey, maybe this kind of stuff will be important for the historical archives someday, when someone in 2050 is unable to imagine what this time and the time before it was like. “Wait, you mean people used to have to get in these things called cars to go to work? Weird.” Well I don’t know if we’ll go quite that far, but…

So I keep alluding to her, but I want to talk in this post more about what it’s been like being around my wonderful wife for the vast majority of these now forty-one (41!) days. I’ll tell you, if you want to discover whether you are compatible with and can enjoy the presence of someone, take away nearly all choice to do anything else but be with them and find out. Actually though, we’ve been having a great time. We sit on the couch and do things that make us laugh a lot, which at least to me is a key part of my survival. We also have read a couple of books together, because there suddenly is nothing else but time.

One of these was Unorthodox, by Deborah Feldman. You may have seen the documentary series on Netflix, but she is a previously Hasidic (don’t know if I spelled that correctly) Jewish woman who felt the need to depart that community after some tough experiences while married to her arranged husband in New York. I am told that the book departs quite significantly from the series, especially as it concerns what happened after they married.

The other of our reads, I said I would not admit allowed because it sounds silly. It’s Playboy Pilots, by Penelope Ward and Vi Keeland. It’s their third in a “series of stand-alones,” and we had read the first of these, Hate Notes. It’s a typical, fairly cheesy, love story with a lot of sex, but it also explores the challenges of forming a new relationship when someone has things in his or her past of which he or she is less proud. Oh and it has a lot of travel, which I can only dream about these days. I ultimately did like the book.

The main thing my wife has helped me with though, using her incredible coaching skills and a willingness to talk deep into the night, is that battle I’ve been fighting for the last 17 years: trying to figure out WHAT DO I WANT TO DO. Every go I have with the different career and life coaches hits basically this same snag, and so I knew that it was time for me to figure out that thing lurking in my brain and wishing to escape. And what have I often said to myself but not really acknowledged? I want to find a career that allows me to center myself around reading. So, the emergence of the book review! I will, over the next few months, be using this space to practice different types of review and styles of writing until I truly find my voice, then I hope to make my way into some freelance outlets. I am excited to finally embark on this journey, and perhaps it will even have a satisfactory ending for me. So if, like me, you are struggling to find your way in this confusing world, just stop and listen to yourself to hear what you’re already saying. Therein might lie the answer.