Home: Alone

In his song Still In Love, Luther tells us that “a house is not a home if there’s no one there to hold you tight”. I often think about this wordplay, that involving the terms “house” and “home”, and whether it actually has significance.

Today, the 23rd of September, marks the time when, two years ago, I moved back into what I guess I still call home for the last time. Well barring any unforeseen circumstances, of course. In contrast to this one, that Sunday was still dripping with the refuse of summer as we squeezed what remained of my belongings into my family’s car and trundled off for the small town of Pinebluff, North Carolina.

I lived there for almost exactly four months, departing on an icy late January day for my current residence. To me, “home” came to mean a place where I no longer had to worry about what I was going to eat, or making sure that the meaningful bills were paid. I did have to maintain my cell phone bill, but otherwise all of that was back out of my hands. It was a bit of a welcome reprieve, and one which I now wish I had allowed myself to enjoy more than I did.

Instead, I spent much of that time kind of to myself, and pondering how I would get back into the larger world. Granted, I shouldn’t have wanted to remain there forever, but I just think I should have slipped into the role of “brother” and “Uncle” more thoroughly, as I don’t really know if I’ll experience these roles in as profound and constant a way again, or at least anytime soon.

I have my own apartment now, of course, and had one before that September day two years ago. Yet I don’t think I ever really called those rentals home. Is this because they both have had an air of draftiness? I guess industrial, like a giant space that isn’t really meant to absorb all of the memories, emotions, etc that make up a life.

Or is it because I have occupied these units by myself. Waking up on major holidays, which I haven’t done as much since relocating to Durham but certainly did in Carrboro, with no one around brings with it an attendant sadness and distance, reminiscent of the room with “Nothing there but gloom” that Luther refers to later in his song.

Well, I had stayed with my cousin in a unit that also had that somewhat unhomely feeling from 2003 till 2009, but perhaps because he was there most of the time also, it did at least seem to hold more of a sentimental value when I prepared to depart. I do recall spending one of those weird holidays, the first time we woke to a quiet Christmas in that same 2003 year that we arrived, with store-bought burgers and a plate that arrived later in the night. It still wasn’t as tough as some of those days in 09/10.

So I say all that to ask: what makes “home” to you? Do you still refer to your parent(s) place in this way exclusively? Does it become different once or if you have children. I suspect home is a place where you really have those family roots laink regardless of what role you actually play in said family. Just some thoughts as we begin the seasons where such bonds become more profound and important: cold, drippy, less ideal for meeting people outside of the household. Chime in!

Tools To Build A Dream: King’s speech

Let the current lift your heart and send it soaring
Write the timeless message clear across the sky
So that all of us can read it and remember when we need it
That a dream conceived in truth can never die

Black Butterfly, by Deniece Williams (YouTube)

Man, I loved that song the first time I heard it. Reminds me of my recently written about first trip to the beach, as that’s the first time I remember hearing it. I’m sure I had before, as my sisters had and wore out a Deniece Williams cassette, (you know those blocky things with spools of tape that you had to flip sides in order to continue hearing?) But I think we had little else to listen to on the radio during that trip, and so that cassette was played several more times. The song was then indelibly etched into my memory. Anyway, you’ll see its relevance to this entry in a bit.

The Second Leg (Cont)

The train rattled first westward, into the small town of Belmont in Gaston County, then made stops in Gastonia and Kings Mountain NC, Greenville, Spartanburg and Clemson SC, and a town called Taquoa or some such then Gainesville Ga before arriving. There may have been more, but if so I missed those in what little sleep I managed. I found that if I turned my body just so and pressed my head against the seat, I could drift off for minutes at a time. I’d set my timer for two hours, because I didn’t want to take a chance on missing Atlanta if one could remain onboard past that point. I don’t think we could have anyway, but better safe than sorry.

As we approached, the cabin stirred and began coming to life. Someone wouldn’t or couldn’t stop coughing. A baby cried. The woman next to me told me a little of her story, particularly that she would be babysitting a tribe of grandchildren, including a rambunctious 4-year-old whom she had little hope of keeping up with. I didn’t ask that woman’s name, just enjoyed the conversation.

On disembarkation, it took staff so long to come and assist us that that woman decided to walk me in herself. We took an elevator up a level, popped out, and my sister was already there waiting.

A Place With Space

Ever been somewhere that just makes you feel like the Chinese ideals of feng shui probably intend? Just a certain openness, where the walls are curved and thus the energy seems to flow effortlessly throughout. That’s the feeling I got when I walked into my sister and her partner’s apartment. Or maybe it had to do with being tired and slightly loopy after such a long and bumpy ride, but whatever. They currently reside about 20 minutes outside of Atlanta proper, in a town called Duluth. Man, I don’t think any other US city has as many parts to it as Atlanta does.

Anyhow, I discovered that my eldest sister’s twin, along with her partner, were also there. Party time! Dogs came to say hi, as I sat on their comfortable sectional and tried to keep my head from bouncing up and down too many times. It was about 9 AM, but after a delicious breakfast of bacon, eggs, and grits, I finally gave over to an hour or so of sleep on stationary ground. It felt great.

We passed time catching some of the early football games, especially watching Georgia Tech, the local public university, smack Waford, a private school in South Carolina, around. Then we wanted to find a little something to get into.

Off to See King

Pic of my sisters and I standing near the MLK fountain

We decided to visit the Martin Luther King Center, to which I had been before but always seem to learn something new when I come. The most interesting part was going down into the fellowship hall at the old Ebenezer Baptist Church, where we listened to an individual first give a bit of a history lesson. I can’t recall all of what he said, but others in King’s family had also been assassinated after his death. Those were sad and turbulent times, and I’d recommend taking a look at the King Center site as well as a supposedly pretty good Wikipedia article on his life. I plan to once I finish writing this, as there is no doubt much that I don’t know. And from what I’ve been told, school kids nowadays are learning even less than we did.

“The number one question I get” that guy said “is are services still held in this building. The answer is no.” That church has been designated as a historical landmark, and services now take place in a newer facility across the street.

The speaker concludes with a near spot-on impersonation of Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech, even capturing the right inflections and King’s tendency to almost ram sentences into each other. I hadn’t realized that we had permission to record it, or I may have. The only thing that would’ve ade it more real is audience interaction, but still it was pretty powerful to hear those words spoken where King himself had delivered countless other speeches.

Saturday Wind-down

The rest of the day was the kind of relaxation I’d come for: first in a spacious townhome on comfortable leather couches that we left as my sister said “let’s get out of here before you go to sleep!”

Back at their place, someone cooked up some delicious nachos with meat, sauce and the works, and I got my fingers all sticky. I loved every bite, though. Then we sat on the deck with a couple of beers and talked about life while enjoying the sweltering night.

And that pretty much made up Saturday. Finally inside to bed, sliding under sheets and, after listening to the Florida State Seminoles just manage to stave off an upset bid by the Oklahoma State University Cowboys, diving headlong into the first real, sweet sleep I’d really had all week.

Tools To Build A Dream: The sleeper

He kept dreamin’
(Dreamin’)
Ooh, that someday, he’d be a star
(A superstar but he didn’t get far)
But he sure found out the hard way
That dreams don’t always come true, oh no

Read more: Gladys Knight And The Pips – Midnight Train To Georgia Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Midnight Train To Georgia, by Gladys Knight and the Pips (YouTube)

Oddly, I’ve had this song bouncing around in my head ever since I began planning my Atlanta trip to visit one of my sisters. It probably has more to do with the Amtrak that departs from Greensboro, North Carolina at 12:22 AM for Atlanta. This makes up the second leg of travel if one wishes to reach the city of peaches? peach tree city? haha I don’t know Atlanta’s knickname but imagine it’s something to do with peaches right?, from Durham.

First The Backstory

Because every character must have a backstory, and my family is full of characters.

Many of us see social media’s dark side: its tendency to isolate us and make a person more likely to hold a conversation with someone 2,000 miles away than one sitting right across the table from him. Board any bus or train these days, and you’ll note that there is an element of truth to this assumption.

However, there are some silver linings. For instance, I think that Facebook has made our somewhat scattered family more aware of what is going on with each of its members than we have been in many years. Most of us don’t really have easy access to constant transportation, or else priorities like kids, jobs, etc mean that we must stay relatively close to home. The online space allows us to celebrate achievements, pick each other up, and otherwise respond on a near daily basis, bringing some real closeness back.

So, my eldest sister responded to one of my recent Facebook posts by saying that she would really like it if I made the journey down to Atlanta someday. I thought about it, and decided why not sooner rather than later. I go to see my cousin most holidays, and while I will always enjoy hanging out with him and would do so whenever possible, a little variety is, as they say, the spice of life. Daring to do something different creates unexpected opportunity, as I most certainly discovered throughout this vacation. I left Friday and returned yesterday.

The First Leg

As the Friday workday drew to a close, I was already feeling concerned due to a wave of tiredness brought on by Sunday night’s lack of sleep. How does that make any sense, you ask? Well, I never really get the chance to fully catch up if that initial workday is offkilter, at least not till the next weekend. I figured what the hey though, after that long overnight train ride I would be way out of sorts anyway.

The cab deposited me at Durham Amtrak Station, and after stepping inside of its frigid confines to retrieve my boarding pass, I insisted on waiting in the mugginess that threatened rain.

“I’m not built for cold!” I told the woman behind the counter as she slid the ticket into my hand. Maybe it’s a sign of how many times I’ve passed through that station that she was saying “Hi, Mr. Miller” before I even got all the way to the counter. And her voice didn’t even sound like one of the people I know for sure.

The train is supposed to leave at 5:24, but that big thing is almost never on time. Yet for a holiday weekend it did remarkably well, rolling in at 5:39. A passenger ran up to assist me, because she hadn’t seen that one of the other women who works in there, my favorite, was making her way out. As I made my way down the aisle, a pair of hands popped out to suck me into a row and I settled in.

“Hi,” I said, because I must always attempt to greet the person sitting next to me. I allow them to decide if they wish to converse further.

Immediately, this person was interested. It seems that she rather suddenly lost a significant amount of sight, especially her central vision. I don’t know much about how sight works, but apparently this makes it hard for her to identify faces, view things that are either too close or too far away, and results in a classification of legal blindness. Understandably, she has found the adjustment challenging. I talked about how I can empathize due to the fact that I have lost so much hearing over the years and have to keep re-thinking how I handle social situations. Unintended feelings in others of having been snubbed by simply not knowing that our attention was being requested was definitely a common issue.

I’m never sure to what degree I am helpful in such situations, but this is a big reason why I am always open to talking to people about my blindness, heck we may as well say deafblindness at least if not wearing hearing aids, and how I cope. I’m just hoping that she can use technology that she already has, like the iPhone, to at least mitigate some of the changes. I will continue to do what I can.

The train arrived in Greensboro pretty much on time, after another minor delay while we awaited the passing of the Raleigh-bound train. I was interested, because I would finally get to enter their vaunted station.

On entering, I met a nice individual who made sure I had everything I needed from arrival till departure. We got to their little coffee shop just as it was closing, and I snagged a Mountain Dew. Then, she dug up menus from somewhere and I placed an order with a place called, I think, Big City Burgers for, you guessed it, a burger and fries. It seems that any restaurants in that general vicinity will deliver to the station, which is pretty cool. Given that I had six hours to wait, I had contemplated taking a cab somewhere. I guess this saved me some dough, though.

I didn’t do much else, except wolf down that sandwich, listen to some of the college football game between Syracuse and Vilanova, and read a little. The wait didn’t seem that bad, so long as my wonderful entertainment device was charged and functioning. And speaking of, if you have a smart phone or tablet and don’t have an external battery, I recommend getting this one from Amazon. It has changed my life. Well ok that’s probably an exaggeration, but you get my point.

The Second Leg<

Because the train left from Greensboro’s station, it departed right on time. This time, I was seated beside an older woman who wrapped up in her blanket and dropped off pretty quickly.

In fact, the whole cabin felt almost otherworldly, with the whistle sound drifting in as if on a fog. This may have had more to do with the mode in which I had my hearing aids set. I’d wanted to see the lounge on this train, if that were even possible, but figured it would be hard to summon someone with everything so quiet. No stations were called either, and after a 45 minute stop in Charlotte, we largely just kept on rolling.

Continued in next entry, as it stretched on into Saturday like my flight to Madrid nearly 10 years ago. Stay tuned!

Beached

I stand on the edge, listening to the awesome roar of wind and waves, and feeling the water slide up and down my legs, up and down. I note the shifting sands underfoot, and think to myself that I am slowly being sucked down into a deeper and deeper hole. And I’m amazed at the idea that, some 3,000 miles away, on the other side of this great body of water stands someone who is probably doing the same.

Few things are to me like going to the beach, an activity I sadly haven’t engaged in for at least ten years. The mighty ocean is the closest most of us will ever come to deep Space, and from what I’ve learned, is actually less known about than said overhead environment.

I can still recall my first experience with the ocean and beach. It is probably more primarily stitched into my memory, because not two weeks later Hurricane Hugo slammed into those shores and took out many of the structures we had just enjoyed. Hard to believe that was 25 years ago, but it was. Man am I getting old.

I think that Myrtle Beach, South Carolina hadn’t yet become as crowded as it is nowadays. My family, always interesting navigators and especially in the era before widespread GPS was available, turned a 4-hour trip from Charlotte into an eight-hour trip. I think the more surprising thing there was that we pressed on until 1:15 AM, finally arriving at the Driftwood Motel and more or less dropping straight into bed./p>

That next day, I was taken aback by the smell of salty air and water that almost seemed alive somehow. I was also, maybe irrationally? I don’t know, afraid of being stung by jellyfish. I wasn’t brave enough to go any farther than waste-deep, that’s for sure. Once we stepped clear of the water, I think we only actually visited it one time, it evaporated pretty quickly, leaving me covered in crystals.

Then a fierce rainstorm blew in. The hallway of our motel had a balcony/viewing area, and my sisters looked out and said the tempest caused the ocean to look even more beautiful.

“I can see England in the distance”, one of them erroneously said. I thought maybe she could.

We went to Myrtle once again in the mid 90s, for a high-priced family reunion in which we spent a fair amount of time in a cold banquet room eating rubbery vegetables. I think most of us were wishing we’d just booked a cookout on the sand. We did stay in a nicer hotel though, Tropical Seas, which had a cool indoor/outdoor pool that would allow you to swim between them.

I visited two other times, both with the Charlotte Beep baseball team. One was to the incredibly nice Ocean Isle Beach in 1999. This trip was punctuated by the woman who was to drive my cousin and me down from Charlotte having crazy issues getting us into the rental car. For reasons known only to her, she thought the car had only two doors when it actually had four. She thus leaned the front seat all the way back and had us clammer over it, squeezing in there like crazy people. I showed her the back door when we got to a gas station and needed to relieve ourselves. I didn’t have time to wait for that fun again!

And my final trip was with that same team to Charleston, SC, where that year’s beep ball tournament was being held. My most memorable part of that experience was sitting on a huge deck, with sand blowing into my delicious shrimp meal and making things a bit gritty.

A trip with my high school out onto the Atlantic just off of the North Carolina coast showed me that I might have difficulties riding the waves on a boat, as I got kind of seasick. I enjoyed my only ride on the Pacific, though, a cruise through the relatively calm Marina del Rey, just off the coast of Los Angeles. I would like to stand on a beach of that ocean someday, as I hear it’s even more ferocious.

And that’s a little about one of my favorite experiences. I love the ocean and would consider living by it, if doing so wasn’t so frought with danger. I don’t know, maybe there’s some location where I could do so relatively safely.

Have you visited an ocean? What was it like? Ever been swimming in one?

Going On A Coaster Ride

As this summer is ending far more quickly than I would like, I thought it would be fun to continue reflecting on reasons why I enjoy the season so much. The only experiences I’ve really written about thus far are attending summer camps and old-time traditions of ice cream and car-cruising with the family. For the next few entries, I will talk about my trips to amusement parks, public pool jaunts, and standing beside the awe-inspiring Atlantic Ocean.

Have you ever been to an amusement park? It’s hard for me to imagine that one hasn’t, especially in the US and I guess most European countries. With that line of thought, I wonder exactly how many amusement parks there are.

In my hometown of Charlotte, we have Carowinds. I think I saw in an article that someone wrote about his experiences with the Thunder Road and White Lightning roller coasters that this park opened in 1976? It is built right on the North Carolina/South Carolina line, which creates a fun photo opportunity of shooting oneself while standing in both states. I think many of the coasters traverse the line as riders hurtle along as well.

The first time I can remember going, I was probably 7 or so. I think back then, they’d give out vouchers to attend the park for kids who had achieved perfect attendance at school. This is likely the only way our family of seven, including my cousin; my mom, dad, and Aunt could have gotten into the park at the same time.

We would stop by Bojangle’s to procure giant boxes of chicken and biscuits that we would leave the park to consume around lunch time, in lieu of the expensive fare provided inside. Better make sure the stamps on our hands could clearly be seen!

Back in those days, we had a big hatchback, and so a lot of us kids would squeeze in back with the trunk flung wide open, trying not to be sucked out by the roaring wind. I wonder if that sort of thing could even be done today? Probably a bit crazy, but fun.

Man, was I ever the cry baby back then. And it didn’t help that my biological father would pick on me constantly about it, calling me “sissy” in particular. He kept urging me to try riding Thunder Road, even though I was probably too short to do so then anyway. Not to mention terrified just by the sound and screaming people! Back in those days, I enjoyed smaller stuff like the Octopus, Metiorite (“Enjoy your flight, on the Metiorite!”) and swings that more like sucked you high into the air and spun faster and faster while doing so.

I eventually did try the coasters though, probably at age 10 or so. All that anticipation builds while standing in line, and I nearly got sick before getting on.

It’s probably more of an adventure for blind folks, as we can’t see what’s going to come beyond that hill. I was always amused by the clicking sound it makes as we slowly work our way up.

“Ah, I don’t think this is gonna be too bad.” I thought.

Till we leveled out, and woosh! Down we flew, with screeching metal and the shrill roar of voices reverberating off of the tunnel walls until those sounds became indistinguishable from one another. I felt the bar press toward my lap as I rose a bit from the seat and pulled the bar down towards me. There would be a few seconds of reprieve, allowing me to think it was over, then off we shot again! After that, I couldn’t get enough.

On that day, I rode Thunder Road, the Carolina Cyclone, (first time I’d even gone upside down on a ride,) and the Carolina Gold Rush. I was never brave enough to ride White Lightning, because I’d heard about it jumping the tracks and getting stuck a few times. I think they eventually shut that one down, if I’m not mistaken.

The ones that really terrified me though were the water rides! See my previously mentioned fear of water. There was one called the Waterlog, which would bump ominously against the side of its enclosure as we raced downhill toward the pool there. The sides were so low that I feared losing an arm or plain being thrown from the boat. In retrospect though, I suppose I enjoyed it.

At both Carowinds and Six Flags over Georgia in Atlanta, I rode what is basically the same stand-up coaster. At our park, it’s known as the Vortex, while down there they called it BatMan. A sighted person showed me how frighteningly close we come to the ground on one of the big turns on that thing.

Probably the most unnerving experience I know of someone having on that ride happened to my sister. She squeezed on the bars as the ride sped around the bend, and the bar came up as if unlocked! This caused her to hang in the air for the remainder of the ride, hoping she’d have enough strength to hold on until it stopped. Thinking of that makes me feel queasy. I think stuff like that may be why they’ve installed belts on most of those rides nowadays to offer additional security.

So which parks have you visited? What were the names of your favorite coasters? Do you know if they still exist?

Random Rambles, and Monkeying with Site

So at this moment, I don’t have a good topic to write about. However, I feel like pounding on the keyboard anyway, so this is what you’ll get.

I now officially own this patio in front of Dunkin Donuts. I’m here again, for the 200th time, so often that people in every business along this strip know my name. Someone even randomly gave me a $10 gift card, which helped to fund my delicious, traditional ice cream sundae on July 4th. This sundae consisted of vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, and chopped nuts.

As I told someone else via Twitter, the tradition has its roots in middle childhood, when my mom would load her seven kids (including my cousin) into the family minivan, roll through a McDonald’s drive through, and get us all either sundaes or cones. I’ve always favored sundaes, because they tend to be a lot less messy. Plus, some cones taste like eating cardboard. I do kinda like the flavored ones, though they make the already sweet ice cream perhaps a bit too sweet.

Anyway, we would speed down the highway heading out of Charlotte for nearly 2 hours sometimes. Music from the Quiet Storm (remember that concept?) would finally lull us into a state of sleep that mom would have difficulty rousing us from once we finally turned back into our driveway. I know she’d be relieved though, as we would then drop straight into our beds. I’m guessing for her, this also served as good thinking time, a chance to just let everything float away on the cool, country-scented wind.

Speaking of which, there’s a fairly brisk breeze blowing out here as I sit and listen, with an umbrella flapping noisily overhead. Today and tomorrow are to be mid 80s, but then on Tuesday we’re gonna suddenly shoot up to 99! Hello, full-on summer.

In celebration of that, I activated the Beach theme on this page. I actually have no idea how that looked or if it worked, so eyes can tell me what they see. I just thought it sounded cool, and like something I’d like to be thinking about right now.

And finally, just six more days till my trip out west! Las Vegas Nevada, or as the flight attendant in The Goldfinch called it as they landed: “lost wages”. I certainly won’t be losing much of my wages there, as I plan to play the slots only once or twice, mostly so I can tell you what it’s like.

I find it somewhat amusing that I’d chosen to read this book without checking the reviews, and thus not knowing that a significant part of it takes place in Vegas. It confirms what happens to me every time I go somewhere, that area suddenly seems to become prominent in the news. Well area, object, person, whatever I’m noticing at the moment. I know, I’m important! Haha. Other instances of Vegas can be found in this NPR story on lack of youth employment opportunities there, and an article from the travel site Skift about how Vegas is marketing itself as a more welcoming summer tourism destination.

More sometime soon, maybe not till I get out there or back. I’m trying to decide if I wanna bring my laptop with me, though I fear that’d have to be checked and could thus be damaged, or just stick with the iPhone. I’ve blogged from the iPhone before, but we’ll see if I feel like doing that while on the go. Truthfully, I’ll probably be on the move too much to do it anyway. I have at least twelve people to meet. In any event, you’ll still hear about the fun. I also hope you’ll see some pictures, again if I find eyes to snap them with my iPhone. And there’ll be plenty of audio for us blind folk who thoroughly enjoy it. I’m all inclusive! To those who will be out there with me, have fun, and I can’t wait to hook up.

Writing 101-3: Off Da Top!

Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

Hmmm, I’m not entirely sure about three important songs. I would say though that it isn’;t a stretch to think that all of my favorite stuff came during the best musical decade ever, the 1990s. And one of my favorite things about the Internet is that it allows me to live in that decade continuously, the same way that adults listened to their oldies stations as I grew up.

I can think of at least one song that defined my life for a stretch: In The Still of the Night, by Boyz II Men. This is because its random singing led my two cousins and I to create a singing group. Remember that concept? I don’t think many of those exist these days, as most are solo artists. But, I suspect that history will bring it back in eventually.

I’d told this story in my other blog, the one that has since met its end, on the day Soul Train’s Don Cornelius passed. Perhaps it’s appropriate to try capturing it again on the day we lose another major music icon: Casey Kasem. If you didn’t grow up listening to his distinct voice deal out the top 40 songs of each week, well you missed a treat. I always looked forward to either his countdowns or Walt Babylove on the R&B side, which he did until deciding to emphasize gospel more.

Anyway, back to the formation of our little group. My cousins and I had just completed a rousing game of basketball with an adult, one of my cousin’s fathers in fact. How appropriate for Father’s Day? We then piled into his car to go and find some delicious, refreshing ice cream, probably at Dairy Queen.

Said song came onto the radio, and for some reason we don’t entirely recall we just began singing it. My youngest cousin took the lead vocal, I sang bass and my other cousin did the “shoo-wops”.

“Hey, that was fun!” we said once the song concluded.

It really surprised me that I was even able to do this. All of my life, I’d been told by many that I couldn’t really sing, or play instruments, (have tried to learn the piano from time to time and had gotten decent at the trumpet when in elementary band) so I’d largely become discouraged from even trying. My cousins told me more than once to stick with it though, and working with some fantastic choral instructors and singing in a couple church choirs, I began to expand my range.

RELATED: Sang With The Choir!

Due to our group’s origins, my dad suggested that we should’ve called ourselves the Backseat Boys. Lawsuit, anyone? We instead went with the name Off Da Top, because of course we wrote songs off da top of our heads! My Aunt chided us for the less-than-professional spelling, but hey why can’t we have a little fun. Like Musiq. Or Xscape.

Over the years, we continued to develop. Naturally, many of our initial favorites were Boyz II Men tunes. I especially remember singing It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye to Yesterday onboard the Catawba Queen as we cruised Lake Norman while at a summer camp sponsored by the Metrolina Association for the Blind (MAB). The restaurant area was staffed by college-age women, and one each came to rub on our backs as we sang. I nearly lost the ability to stay on the correct notes. Haha. They also shut down the PA music, so that everyone onboard could hear.

There was another time at a Raleigh ice skating rink. My cousins and I weren’t particularly big fans of this recreational activity, so we sat at the table with drinks in front of us and worked on Chi’s Baby I’m Yours. We’d made an error, and as we stopped to retry that spot we suddenly heard a loud burst of clapping. There had appeared a rather large contingent of young women, traveling with some kind of youth center. They opted to join us in singing Kirk Franklin’s Stomp. The preacher and leader of God’s Property? I think many members of that group came from Charlotte’s Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, our family’s original home church.

Our dream, like anyone who would have been doing such a thing, was to achieve stardom. I think in retrospect that it is quite fortunate we did not, as we had no idea what that would have actually entailed. The great memories we do have though, like winning a talent show at UNC Charlotte, performing to an incredibly excited congregation at First Missionary Baptist in Southern Pines with our own rendition of We Shall Overcome in celebration of Black History Month, and the like may in fact never be surpassed.

Even as my disorder continues to take away my hearing and make singing more of a chore than a joy, I will always continue to enjoy music. So, if I’m a bit flat or sharp or slightly off rhythm, try not to be too harsh! Off Da Top hasn’t performed in many years, but we have floated the idea of giving it a shot again someday. Who knows.

What about you? Can you sing, at least as we define it? Heck, to me anyone who sings just to feel that passion flow is good enough in my book.

Getting To Know You

I have always found it interesting the ways in which we become aware of those around us. I think especially among those who are blind, we are often not fully aware of the degree to which others watch, perhaps learn from, and become familiar with us from afar.

I especially noticed this this past week. I had to miss a day of work, because my left ear, the good one, decided to ring really loudly and make it difficult for me to function. This usually happens when we experience drastic swings in temperature, but for some odd reason it occurred on the day before said temperature changes took effect. It ended up being a plus, as it created an opportunity for me to go grocery shopping during the day. Less crowds, easier to get in and out, etc.

When I returned to work the next day, I was somewhat amused by the number of people who came up to say they’d noticed my absence and missed me. They knew my name, but I couldn’t really tell you who they were. In addition to my blindness, I am also atypically quiet in there. I’ll speak when spoken to, but generally I remain lost somewhere in my thoughts. I suppose this also explains how so many end up just getting to know me in a hands-off sort of way.

The phenomenon of knowing starts long before we even begin to speak. I’ve had the pleasure of participating in many of my twelve nieces and nephews’ upbringing, and was always amazed by how attached to me they became. They each seemed to have their own ways of preferred connection: one I could lure into a calm state by using a strap, another liked to listen to me whistle a tuneless melody as I walked him up and down the hall, and a third just needed to know I was in the same room as he was. This last one left me feeling like perhaps I could actually hypnotize him, as I could say “you’re getting sleeeepppy,” in that funny, dragged out voice and he would indeed quiet.

They would also, I believe, demonstrate that they knew I was unable to see them. Whether they thought this by choice or fully understood that my eyes didn’t work, who knows.

My niece, for example, would make a humming sound as her little legs propelled her along the floor and to me, until she was able to tap my leg.

And once, the strap-loving nephew decided I needed assistance into the laundry room to put my clothes into the hamper, and then back into my mom’s room where he knew I liked to watch sports with my dad. He may not have even been a year old then, and hadn’t really developed speech yet except for the ability to make a sound that approached “here”. Then he grabbed one of my fingers and led me around the house. I guess he’d seen enough of me nearly tripping over his and others’ toys. It was cute.

Even nonhuman animals are capable of getting to know from afar, of course. I think primarily of the little toy fox terrier that my sighted cousin had when he moved into our Charlotte apartment in 2008. I have never become as close to any living creature as I did her. Sad? Perhaps.

She especially enjoyed interacting with me when I sat in the big, comfortable swivel chair I had at my heavy oak computer desk. She’d tap her little head on the side, stand back a few inches, and watch me turn to face her so she could then leap into my lap. Then she’d lay there, picking her head up if I began to talk to her or demanding attention occasionally with her paws.

She most showed her understanding of my likely limitations once when I’d taken her out for relief. I guess I’d gotten lost in my thoughts, and she decided we’d go for a longer walk. She probably had tried to get my attention somehow, but I didn’t notice. Next thing I knew, we were on the other side of the street and behind that set of apartments.

“Look what you’ve done!” I yelled as I tugged on the leash. “Now how on earth am I gonna get back home?”

She then slipped through a narrow fence, causing her collar to pull hard and come off of her neck. Now if she’d done this with my sighted cousin in tow, she’d think “freedom!” and “game time!” and take off. However, she probably knew that I couldn’t catch her, so she sat down a couple of feet in front of me and waited for me to reattach the collar. Then, she got ready to cross the lot and, probably, correctly head for home. I didn’t fully trust that we could do this safely though, so I pulled back on the chain. I believed she then deferred to plan B, which was to find an apartment with a human inside that I could ask for help. I did this, and an old man who walked with a rather pronounced limp assisted us back to the right place.

I’d guess that getting to know one another, and discern likely motives, has significant survival advantages. And, of course it helps us get whatever it is that we want from another, as well as to give to others what they might enjoy. I’m not sure blind folk will ever be really good at fully understanding tendencies, since there’s so much we miss by lacking observational abilities at least from a visual standpoint. But, I certainly do pick up on and have an uncanny memory for voice, smell, and other odd quirks. Just something I’ve been pondering all week. How much do you pick up from others as you go about your day? Are you always watching as a new individual comes into a room? What about other kinds of sensory information.

Book Review: I Know This Much Is True

In honor of today’s Readathon, which asks people to continuously read books over a 24-hour period, I thought I’d post a review of my best read of 2014 thus far. While I think the idea behind Readathon is cool, I know I couldn’t do it since I like to take my book in small bites and really digest the plot. But to those who are doing it, enjoy, and probably drink lots of coffee!

So I’ve just completed my second really long book of the year. The first was The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan, which I may review at a later date. This one though is titled I Know This Much Is True, by Wally Lamb.

On posting that I was reading this on Facebook, it quickly became clear that I’m the last person on earth to pick it up, not surprising I guess, given that it came out in 1998. Many immediately said they loved it also, having some deep sense of connection to and empathy for the characters.

The main characters are twins Thomas and Dominic Birdsey, (last name may or may not be spelled correctly but for that you can blame the fact that I read it in audio). We meet Thomas just as his Schizophrenia leads him to profoundly injure himself in an attempt to stop the oncoming Gulf war of the early 90s. He takes this action in a library, and other patrons and the librarian demand that he be put away quickly. He had already been in a lower-level facility, but they decide to escalate him to one with greater security, and a lot less flexibility for him and his family.

Much of the rest of the story is essentially told in flashback: through Dominic’s therapy sessions, thoughts from their stepfather, and a diary that their grandfather wrote about his coming to the US from Sicely at the turn of the 20th Century. It is a fascinating tale of hardship, bombast, and the strength of a special kind of love that only people with a fairly rare relationship can understand.

I think my favorite parts of the story were those concerning their life in the 1960s. How Dominic met someone at a place called the Dial Tone Lounge, a bar with tables that allowed people to dial in the number of another table if they saw someone attractive there. Did such establishments exist? That sounds like fun.

Of course, not all was great for them then. We get a glimpse of how their stepfather Ray treated, and often mistreated, Dominic, their mother, and especially Thomas. As with other books I’ve read, I can really feel Thomas’s discomfort, enduring taunts that he was a “sissy” and too girl-like, as my biological parent very regularly said such things to me as well. Later in the story, Ray claims that he had a hard time not doing this as he had been raised in an era where men were taught to always display a tough exterior. That’s sad.

I also liked the complexity of Dominic’s feelings. While he often yearned to have his own life and space, he nevertheless continued to fight vehemently for his brother and whatever his brother wanted. He did this even to the extent that it hurt his relationships with women. It was certainly a tough fight with a less-than-desirable outcome.

I would definitely recommend this book, though probably not as one to consume during the readathon. I’m not sure how many print pages it is exactly, but at 30 hours of audio it has to be of a pretty good size. It will however make for a great summer read, as there is lots of talk of waterfalls, beaches, and entertainment. There is also a deep exploration of those characteristics that make us beautifully made, if flawed, human beings.

Jeopardy At 50

Today, I heard an NPR story that noted that Jeopardy began on this day 50 years ago. Wow, way back in 1964. And that the current host, Alex Trebak, has been there for 30 of those years. He’ll retire after this season.

I’m not entirely certain why I became so addicted to Jeopardy. I used to watch it somewhat even as a kid, though I would mostly get angry because I knew not what any of the answers were referring to. I often asked my precosious cousin to give me some of that information, as well as everything else he knew, and would yell and act like a toddler when he tried to get me to narrow it to specific topics. Looking back, I was a very strange child. I wonder how people put up with me.

Anyway, I eventually moved to Southern Pines in 1994, and my mom met her husband a year or so later. This happened as I entered high school, and he and I began watching Jeopardy religiously. It came on at 7, and if we were in the grocery store line at 6:30 I’d become antsy. I really hated to miss the beginning, feeling I guess as I might about watching my sports teams. I had to see the whole thing.

Through readings particularly of National Geographic Magazine, I soon found that I became sharp enough to get many of the Jeopardy questions right.

I did make some hilariously incorrect responses that I’m embarrassed to admit, but whatever. I can’t exactly remember what the answer, for that is the actual Jeopardy format that prompts the respondant to say “What is…” was, but it had to do with some rare animal found in the wild. I said “What is a warewolf!” My dad still amusedly gives me grief over that to this day.

I enjoyed competing on Jeopardy teams at school too, often created as a way to get extra credit on tests and such. People wanted me on their teams, because they knew I would usually be thorough in my information gathering.

One time though, I made a big mistake that cost my team dearly. I use the word HOMES to remember the five Great Lakes. My instructor told me to name them, of course within a time limit, and I shouted “Hurron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Wisconsin!” I knew it was Superior, but the state name got in the way of my proper response.

I have considered trying to get onto the real show, but many of the ways of so doing don’t seem to be too accessible. I did manage to take a sample test somewhere, and I came out of that feeling like I knew practically nothing. Hard stuff!

I remember a few years ago that a blind guy appeared on there and absolutely pounded everyone over a five-day period. He did have a bit of a challenge remembering which categories and dollar values were still in play, which I imagine I would struggle with as well. Still, it was cool watching him blaze that trail and perhaps in some small way improve public perception of those with disabilities, and persons who are blind in particular.

I don’t watch Jeopardy as much as I did in my high school days, but I do sometimes catch it through various portals. It makes me nervous that I’m already over the hill or something, as I no longer seem as able to get the answers as regularly as I once could. I wonder though if they now place a greater emphasis on pop culture, a subject area that I’m naturally not going to be as strong in. I’m not a movie person, and while I love music I tend to follow newer acts a lot less because I can’t hear the same anymore. I suppose I should know a lot about books and authors, though.

My sister told me recently that my dad misses the days of watching that show in our way, and regularly reminisces on it. I do too, and can’t help but to wonder how it will change when Alex exits. It’s funny, but even his name and the answer structure have become cultural icons, as I sometimes hear people say “I’ll take … for 500, Alex”.

I think I will always enjoy things that ask me to stretch my knowledge beyond its limits and keep learning. Here’s to 50 more years!