“The Sign for Home” Examines Life and Challenges for a DeafBlind Individual

Recent high-profile cases have shone a spotlight on issues regarding disability and independence. To what degree should one make decisions about one’s life, even if not fully able to perceive the world in what is deemed a “normal” way. Should family be able to basically dictate how a person is to live, simply because they believe they are protecting the individual from harm, thus possibly denying access to choices that other adults expect to have?
In his debut novel The Sign for Home, Blair Fell addresses this issue in a novel way. First, we have Arlo, a DeafBlind individual who resides with his devout Jehovah’s Witness uncle and receives information via a Tactile American Sign Language (TSL) interpreter who professes to believe the same. Arlo, wishing to explore possibilities in writing, enrolls in a class at a Poughkeepsie (NY) community college where he meets Cyril, another interpreter who accidentally or on purpose opens Arlo to a whole new world.
This writing class, taught by an unusual professor from St. Kitts, leads Arlo to explore parts of his past that he had been forced to shut away because his uncle deemed them sinful. These included an encounter with a deaf girl while he attended the School for the Deaf that led to his being sent to live with said uncle in the first place.
As the story unfolds, we learn that things with this girl are not as they seem. Arlo had been told one story about “the event” that ultimately ended their blossoming love affair, but… well as it turns out everyone has their secrets and lies. As the truth is revealed and Cyril and his associated cast of characters make Arlo more aware of possibilities regarding independence, he begins to push back against his uncle and Molly, the initial interpreter. This eventually leads to his seeking total freedom from his uncle’s guardianship.
Arlo and Cyril are primarily featured, with Arlo’s perspective being second person present and Cyril’s first person past. Both of these methods allow the reader to connect deeply with what is going on, offering a different set of feelings based on each. The former seems designed to ensure that one feels the experience of DeafBlindness and coping with a world neither heard nor seen insomuch as one can truly experience this, while the latter aims to allow access to the complicated emotions involved in helping Arlo deal with change.
At points during this novel, I as a DeafBlind person worried that the portrayal of Arlo made life for those living with these disabilities seem too simplistic and/or sad. Arlo knew little about how to operate in society when it came to moving around by himself and being willing to explore the wider world. The first part of this of course is that for some individuals who are DeafBlind, just as for those with other challenges, this is a true outcome. If one is not exposed to people and services such as Orientation and Mobility and Vocational Rehabilitation that are designed to help a person with a disability learn what is needed to thrive, one might indeed have a hard time. Even so, I appreciated that Fell included people who were functionally independent and who knew enough to teach Arlo, Cyril, and all in their circle some basic strategies to make his life easier. It is realistic, after all, to show that one might struggle with life as a DeafBlind person, but I believe it is equally if not more important to show that life can still be lived well with this or whatever condition one finds oneself.

QC Blues: Mayhew Highlights Little-known Era of Charlotte History in “Tomorrow’s Bread”

Every town and city, any place we call home with pride likely has within itself some less-than-desirable era or characteristic. For my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, this era hit its zenith during the 1960s, as the city sought to dismantle the predominantly Black Brooklyn community that was then located in Second Ward, which is primarily downtown. They saw “blight,” a lot of which did truly exist yes, but they also envisioned a chance to make a lot more money by establishing what would become one of the world’s premier banking centers.
Anna Jean Mayhew fictionalizes the events leading to this hostile takeover of sorts in her 2019 novel Tomorrow’s Bread, a tite derived from a Langston Hughes poem that calls on us all to stand up for what we need today rather than waiting for some promised tomorrow that might then never arrive. It centers on Loraylee Hawkins, a young Black mother who works at the S and W cafeteria, one of the great diners of that area, as a server. The portion of the story which she directly tells is written in partial dialect so that the reader gets a feel for how she and those around her talked. She stayed with her grandmother, whom she called “Bibi,” and her uncle Ray. Bibi experiences memory loss and must thus be watched very closely, while Uncle Ray acts as a father figure for her child whom they call “Hawk”. As is a truism in the Black community about which many often joke, nearly all of the people in this book have nicknames.
Also true is the idea of a multi-generational family living in a somewhat rundown abode that they nevertheless own with pride. As their house is threatened by the coming “urban renewal,” Loraylee interacts with Persy Marshall, the wife of one of the most zealous attorneys who wishes to set these changes in motion. This alters Persy’s feelings about things, and she works to try and influence her husband to little avail.
Throughout his relatively short piece, we see ways in which segregation had and hadn’t changed, and the impact this had on the psyche of Black folks and white folks alike. Potential relationships not to be, trips to the beach and other waterways fraught with possible danger, and the little regard given to those who were powerless to control their ultimate destinies. Against all that tragedy though, Mayhew displays a city vibrant with fun and chaos as well, taking us into a local juke joint, a locally owned grocery store, and a shoe repair shop, to name a few. As a Charlottean myself, I learned a lot about this city from which I originate with pride, some of which I liked and some of which made me very sad. I also enjoyed the many bits that brought back childhood memories, such as radio stations, churches and street with which I am familiar. Overall, this is the most complete portrayal of the Queen City I have ever come across, as so many other novels that purport to take place there feel as if they could have been set anywhere. I think locals especially but everyone who wants to understand the possible harms and benefits of Urban renewal generally should check this book out.

Two Different Realities: On “Wish You Were Here” by Jodi Picoult

I hesitated to read this book for a while, because I wasn’t sure if I could handle a work of fiction concerning the pandemic. But, the author convinced me via Twitter to go ahead and give it a shot, and I haven’t regretted it.
We begin with Diana, a 29-year-old art dealer with the auction house Sotheby’s in New York, and her boyfriend, a resident at New York Presbyterian Hospital, as they debate going to the Galapagos Islands. She then goes on a trip herself, meeting people and having experiences even as her chosen locale, Isabela Island, is shut down to residents and tourists alike. In particular, she encounters a kind family who takes her in after her would-be hotel is shuttered, and forms tight relationships with a teen-aged girl and her father, both of whom speak English, and the kid’s grandma, who does not.
The descriptions are so vivid and clearly well-researched that, as with many things during this pandemic period, I feel like I am traveling vicariously. Even as she has these experiences, she learns from her boyfriend Finn what it is like as Covid ravages New York City and causes his job to become immeasurably harder. She also initially struggles in trying to fit in with this family, feeling at first a desire to return that is thwarted by the continued closure, she was due to return after two weeks but of course things went on beyond that point. This slowly shifts as she bonds with the teen-ager, Beatriz, in ways that Beatriz’s father is not able to achieve.
I found the story, and especially it’s first half, to be beautiful and heart-lightening as I still struggle with the real toll that Covid is taking on society. But, and no spoilers, I was shook by how things ultimately unfolded. It’s awesome though, and a fantastic piece of writing that lets one feel the devastation of loss.
In this story, Picoult is exploring the nature of Covid’s effects (in my opinion something like a warzone in that those who are most directly effected feel its punch acutely while the rest of us go on as normal,) and the nature of reality itself. Weighty subjects, but they are handled with just enough humor and ultimate truth to keep the reader from becoming too bogged down. Having read many of her novels, this is in my opinion the best. As I write this I do not know the ending, which is good as I know her endings are often unnerving in some way and can cause the story to linger in your head long after the last page. If you only take in one pandemic-related story, I would recommend this one.

Visiting The Tidalist: Wild Horses Run Free

Have you ever stayed in a house that has a name? Because I sure hadn’t… until now. My sister-in-law had decided to celebrate her 40th birthday in style, opting to rent a spacious house in Corolla, located in extreme northeastern North Carolina along the Outer Banks. And the house was, you guessed it, The Tidalist.
We arrived at the location last Saturday at nearly 5 PM, after a drive in which it seemed the area was literally moving farther away from us. And it’s true, the roads heading out that direction are such that if you watch the as-the-crow-flies miles on your GPS, they’ll start bobbing up and down at around 32 miles out. It seemed to take foreverr for the numbers to start finally counting down for good. “Man, this is a long way to go for water,” my wife and her mom often said. I guess anywhere in the eastern or western portion of the Tar Heel State has this out-of-time and unusually distanced quality.
When we got to the house though, I suppose you could say the journey was worth it. We hauled our luggage onto an elevator (an elevator, in a house!) and made our way up to the htird floor. It was basically the second floor, but of course any beachfront residence has to be elevated to minimize flood risk, such as that goes when you have a thin strip of land bordered to the east by sea and the west by the Currituck Sound. No way on earth would I actually live out there, I could tell you that.
Anyhow, after a quick perusal of the premises, we selected the room that, as it happened, had the best mattress in the house. The accommodations may have been luxurious, but apparently most of the bedding… wasn’t. We however slept like babies.
The first thing one does after that kind of epic drive is search for food, so we settled on a local pizza restaurant called Pizzaz. Well first we trekked to the grocery to stock the two fridges located in the top-floor kitchen, to at least try and cut costs. Though this didn’t really work outt that much, because of course people didn’t really feel like cooking. The pizza was ok I guess, having toppings that kind of reminded me of school pizza. I was so hungry though that I wolfed it down and was happy.
Sunday was mostly a lazy day of walking along the shore and trying to get into the kids pool while the kids thrashed around in the big pool, go figure. That water was kind of cold for me, so I didn’t stay in there long. I chose instead to sunbathe on the wooden chairs nearby.
The real fun occurred at 4:30, when we went on the Wild Horse Adventures Tour. I was intrigued, because we hopped up into a hummer, I guess those are the same vehicles that in military parlance are called hum-vees (spelling). You had to climb a short ladder in order to get into the vehicle, and I was already wondering how I would get back down without face-planting.
The tour guide, Ames John also, was quite entertaining throughout. As he navigated us through increasingly bumpy terrain, he told stories of how the horses, Spanish stallions, had gotten there in the first place (abandoned by the Spanish when they were run off by local indigenous peoples) and how they had thrived but currently only number 100 or so. The most entertaining horse story resulted from a question about whether the horses swim in the ocean.
“Not really,” he replied. “…the only reason they would get into the water would be to get away from the kisses… or to give up on a fight over a mare to get the kisses.” Yes, there were two really young kids onboard and a teenager too, so we assumed we got the edited version. All of his responses were like that though, well-informed and keeping us involved.
All of that was well and good, but of course what they wanted most was to see the horses. If this works, you should be able to see the photos my wife took of these beautiful animals on my public Facebook page. While I couldn’t of course see them, I still enjoyed the imply ride as we ventured off-road and up into the sand where some people amazingly lived. Guess they truly want privacy, but how do they get, well any kind of services?
And that was basically the day’s highlight, and that of the first half of the trip. That Sunday night, we ate from a place called Sooey’s, where they had so many options I ate three different meals there over the course of the week. To start with, I had delicious fried flounder, some fries that didn’t offer much in the way of flavor, and fried okra.
Monday was a fairly quiet day, on which I read nearly 100 pages of a great book I’d selected by Lisa Wingate called The Sea Keeper’s Daughters. Set in the Outer Banks, farther dow than we were in Matteo, it involves a woman whose Michigan restaurant is about to go under, so she is forced to come to North Carolina to try and find a way to save it in her mother’s hotel. As it turns out, she ends up discovering a vast history that involved her grandmother and an unknown relative, a twin sister of the grandmother who had written many fascinating lettters as she worked for the Federal Writers Project documenting the history of North Carolina. This book beautifully weaves the depression era into the present in a way that is more prescient than the author probably even realized when she penned it in 2015, as there is talk of revitalizing the FWP to capture life in COVID times. If you don’t know anything about the FWP, it’s worth reading up on. But Wingate’s description of Outer Banks landmarks made for great accompaniment on those long, lazy days. More in part 2: The Lighthouse Climb.

In Koraalen, Heather Murata Explores Human-Environment Links

(NOTE: The author provided me with a copy of this book to review, but all opinions expressed herein are mine).

Some people commune with nature, and others communicate with it. In her novel “Koraalen: Planetary Symbiosis, Heather Murata constructs a character who revels in doing both.

Nerissa, an up-and-coming star in environmental activism especially as it pertains to saving coral reefs, is asked on her first assignment for the Koraalen Marine Biology Guild to assess what may be causing an illness among this fragile animal. She happens to have a unique ability to “talk to” the coral telepathically, thereby gaining a fuller understanding of their experiences and sensations. Even so, she and her partner Shan find it difficult to get to the root of the problem, as they tackle obstacles that lead them off-planet to consort with others in search of solutions.

Murata has constructed a futuristic “universe” called the United Interstellar Economic Cooperative that most closely mirrors something like the European Union or United Nations. Only this grouping is made up of planets that have been colonized thousands of years after humanity has basically rendered “old Earth” unlivable. A primary goal of the UIEC and its member guilds is to ensure that the same does not happen in these new worlds.

This might sound like heavy science fiction, but in general it is not. The author aims instead to show readers how small changes in our behavior and a willingness to at least attempt to find a way to live in balance with the environment can lead to desirable outcomes. On Koraalen, for example, many residents live in sustainable platform cities just off of the continents and islands, leading to less urban development on land. Nearly all transportation is by air, whether through flitters, which I assume are a sort of flying car; air taxis, or air buses, which resemble long haul commercial airplanes. But everything is powered by means other than fossil fuels.

While there is considerable emphasis on environmental infrastructure and how best to handle it, with some jargon that only true insiders would fully understand, Murata spices things up with the sweet and powerful love that develops between Nerissa and Shan as they power through testing and experimentation. They first encounter each other as he, Shan, monitors Nerissa during a traditional Luau, and the sparks keep flying from there, growing stronger as adversity mounts. In fact, much of the story occurs against a backdrop of primarily Hawaiian-type culture, with lush descriptions of waterfalls, ocean scenery, pineapple fields, and other tantalizing tropical tidbits.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is curious about the work people do in trying to diagnose and save coral reefs here on this planet, work that I know is vital and not very easy. The characters though present the overall optimistic view that if we make the effort, the coral can do the rest and that healing and regeneration are still possible. And if, after reading this, you want a good nonfiction perspective on the plight of coral, check out Ocean Country, by Liz Cunningham. I read that one last year and found it informative. The bottom line, and I would venture to say that both authors would agree with this assertion, is that we must continue to work to save the Earth, even in the face of natural and man-made disaster.

Local Reporter Writes Interesting Novel

Given that today is Labor Day, one that many (though I’m aware not all) of us have off, I thought it would be fun to highlight a book that examines another career: that of news reporting. Few other professions result in us feeling that we “know” a person more than that of one who covers events big and small and brings them into our living rooms via TV and internet-connected screens.

So as it happened, I came across a book by Amanda Lamb, a crime reporter for WRAL News. The story, called Dead Last, follows Maddie Arnette, who had also been a crime reporter but moved into features reporting where she profiles silly animal stories after her husband’s death.

As it opens, Maddie just happens to see a woman collapse onto the ground while running the Oak City Marathon. I should note that the story takes place in the North Carolina Triangle, though the towns are given fictional names. Anyone from this area will enjoy pondering which real towns most closely fit the descriptions given.

Maddie’s story becomes a lot more complicated as she entangles herself with the woman, Suzanne, after visiting her in the hospital. It turns out that Suzanne is afraid for her life as she fears her husband, who is a well-liked doctor but may also have a dark side, is attempting to kill her. Maddie feels that she should not become involved, especially as serious questions arise about the veracity of Suzanne’s story, but her own background with domestic violence (she lost a mother to it) compels er to at least assist Suzanne in discerning the truth.

I liked many elements in this story, but my favorite parts involved what life was like as a news reporter. Maddie makes one statement that floored me, as it hit so specifically close to home. I’m paraphrasing here, as finding the exact quote in the audiobook (narrated by the author as it were) would be difficult: Sometimes I feel like being a reporter is like being an assembly line worker, packing sticks into a box and throwing them onto a conveyor belt. Well anyone who has followed this blog knows that this is exactly what I do, box sticks and throw them onto a belt. So that thought made me chuckle.

I also laughed at the references to 70’s-era detective shows that we see in her inside cop friend, and as previously noted at the names given to the book’s towns. For example, Oak city? Well Raleigh, our state capital, is also known as the city of oaks.

These moments of levity aside, the book tackles serious topics in a way that really makes one think. How do we decide whom and when to believe as potentially dangerous situations unfold. How do we define friendship, and what happens when we feel we and our profession might be used in ways we don’t want.

Lamb has written nine books, mostly about true crime, but this is her first novel. She says, as the subtitle “A Maddie Arnette Novel” indicates, that this will be part of a series with the second book in editing and the third already underway. So we can look forward to more of this deeply introspective and powerful character. The entire story is told from her first-person point of view, lending a depth to it that might not have come otherwise. I would recommend checking it out, and especially Lamb’s audio narration as she of course knows how and why Maddie responds in certain ways. I mean how many other news reporters do you know who have written novels too?
RELATED: Job Days No. 7: Work in the Time of Covid

Trials and Travels: A Comparison of 3 Recent Reads

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

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

Chamberlain

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

Serritella

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

Yocom

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

Because I am reading this book for a fun Facebook club, and just due to it being an interesting story, I thought I would write a short review about the popular book All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. It’s yet another among the pantheon of World War Two era thrillers, a collection of which I’ve read many. I guess this period has always interested me, given that in many respects it was one of the most frightening in human history.

In this particular novel, Doerr chooses to tell the story of the unfolding conflict from two main perspectives: that of an intelligent German who goes on to become a radio operator and locate people who are making “illegal” transmissions, and a blind French girl who lives with her father and eventually her great uncle.

The German, Werner Pfenig, spends his early life in an orphanage with his sister and other kids, barely able to get enough food and about as por as can be. He discovers his love for radios somewhat by accident, rigging an old set that he then uses to entertain all within the house at the permission of Frau Elena, the head of the house. This ability to fix and tinker with some of the most complex systems as well as to master trigonometry, science, and similar fields, soon leads Werner out of the orphanage and to a rigorous training academy that prepares young men to fight for the reich. That these sorts of academies existed is amazing.

Meanwhile, the blind girl who’s name is Marie-Laure, discovers that she has an uncanny ability to solve puzzles. Her father, who works at the National Museum in Paris at the story’s start, enjoys creating these puzzles for her and concealing prizes within that she usually obtains with eye-popping speed. He soon teaches her tricks to figure out navigating her environment, such as counting steps and other landmarks. Finally, he constructs a model of the city that she can traverse with her fingers to learn where everything is in relation to everything else.

Shortly after the novel’s opening, the French family are forced to flee Paris to a seaside fortress city called Saint-Malo, where the great uncle lives in a six-floor house and has remained inside for many years due to mental challenges, probably definable these days as PTSD, suffered during the first World War. Marie-Laure is thus called upon to re-acclimate to these new surroundings, which she also does with the help of another model constructed by her father. Once she gets good at moving around, she begins to shuttle messages from the bakery to their house for broadcasting on the radio hidden in the attic that has not been confiscated by the invading Germans.

Werner spends a few years honing his skills within the academy, and when he is supposedly only 16 years of age they decide to bump his age up two years so that he can go ahead and begin serving his country. He has many misgiving about this service as he gets farther into it, leading to increased depression about life in general.

The story is told in a unique way, I would say in parallel rather than serial fassion. We jump back and forth between the early days and those leading up to, and those on and following August 9, 1944, the middle period which Werner calls the “Border days”. This creates in the reader a sense of detachment from the latter experiences as they are initially revealed, but slowly dawning understanding of their significance and origins as the previous period concludes. I am not sure how to feel about this arrangement, other than that perhaps it causes me to miss some of the stuff that occurs later and dilutes the response I would have to it. I suppose this is the intent.

Alongside the larger plot of the war itself is a smaller plot where a soon-to-be cancer-ridden German Sergeant Major vigorously hunts down the fabled Sea of Flames, a highly valued diamond that is said to confer ever-lasting life on its holder but also to cause serious problems for those who are close to the holder.

On the French side, I would say that Marie-Laure is generally shown as a competent, well-functioning blind person. As usual though when sighted people write about such things, way too much emphasis is placed on the idea of counting steps to get around. I do this only in very rare cases, and would say that it would mostly be an impractical way of measuring distance anyway. Can you imagine at every turn resetting your “meter” to zero, sometimes having to them go up to 100 or more in order to find the next turn? I might take steps of different sizes, or someone may call me causing me to become distracted. No, most of us do not do this regularly. We just learn to notice changes in the environment; sidewalk, grass, etcl and remember where to make the turns. It’s easier than it sounds. But I do at least like that Marie-Laure is shown being capable of independent functioning.

As usual with my reviews, I haven’t actually finished the story. I’m about 79% of the way through currently, but for the most part I like it. It took me a while to adapt to his writing style, which often omits commas where they should probably be. This creates a feeling of rush or panic, which I gather may also have been intended. I think though that this may have been the most nounorthodox examination of said war that I’ve ever read.

Well The Weather Outside Is Frightful

And the snice is piled a mile high, And since I can’t go nowhere, (I don’t care about grammar, because in my head I sound like Louis Armstrong) Let me read, let me read, let me read!

Ah, it’s already been way too long since I last darkened these pages with virtual ink. I suppose that’s mostly because I just haven’t been able to think of anything worth printing. I know though that I need to maintain some kind of presence here, so that you, dear reader, will not forget me. Plus, I’m about to get got for about 150 bones in order to continue using blindtravel.net. For that price, I should try and make it worth it, right? So bear with me as I try and write myself out of this latest block.

And on blocks, Old Man Winter decided to show up and throw a bunch of ’em at us last week. Whatever that stuff was, snow? ice? I call it “snice” confined me to the inside of my beautiful, well insulation-missing, electrical heating can barely keep up, 500-sqft apartment from Monday when I got off of work at 1 PM till Friday when I was finally able to return to said work at 6:15 AM. And o man, that was some of the coldest cold I’ve ever known, as we hovered around 5 degrees F with sub-zero windchills. And slide slide slippedy slide! All the way to the building.

During that prolonged in-between time, I had mainly books for company. I completed Kindred, by Octavia Butler. Often cited as the first work of science fiction by an African American woman, it revolves around someone who keeps getting snatched from her comfortable life in 1976 to varying times during the 1800s, whenever her White ancestor needs saving. These journeys back are frought with danger, as this black woman ends up on a plantation and has to basically become a slave in practice. While much of it is kind of sad, there are also interspersed some bits of comic relief. I enjoyed it overall.

I also read another Science Fiction, well ok maybe this one was more Fantasy, whatever it is that distinguishes those categories from one another, called Don’t Fear The Reaper, by Michelle Muto. Another of my indie Twitter authors, she writes a novel about a young woman, well a teen-ager really, who decides to take her own life because she can no longer stand being without her twin sister, who had also lost her life due to horrible circumstances that we find out about later in the book. When she “comes to,” she initially thinks that either she had been stopped before completing the attempt or she hadn’t gone through with it at all, but this turns out to be incorrect. She has instead entered another plane of existence, inhabited by “earthbounds,” those stuck in purgatory here on this planet, angels and demons, and reapers, the individuals who are charged with liberating souls from the dying body. Reapers also have scythes, literally hellish weapons with which they can whack demons and villainous earthbounds and vanquish their souls, in a puff of smoke and unspeakable pain, to the hotter environs below. This book also provides comic relief, in that the ghosts hitch rides with people in order to reach their destinations by simply sliding through doors and taking a seat inside of the vehicle. And the next time your engine sputters to a stop on the road, well maybe they are just trying to get out. This was an interesting, speculative read on the nature of suffering, why some of us take that final action, and whether this in fact relieves us of our pain. Of course it’s fiction, but it does stimulate the thought process.

Of the eight books I’ve completed this year, half have been Sci-Fi. I don’t expect that percentage to hold, but one thing I do enjoy about the genre is the ability of those stories to make you examine and ponder your surroundings in a new way.

And I guess that’s all for now. Y’all, when is Spring coming! Hopefully soon, hopefully soon.

Cha-cha-changes

Welcome to the first official post of 2015! Yeah I know, some of the Louisiana entries were made during 2015, but they were referring to an event that happened way back in ancient times of the year previous. So, here ya go.

Man, has this year gotten off to a rockin’ start! It is setting up to challenge me in ways I’ve never really been challenged, but that will help me get closer to where I want to be pretty quickly. These changes are happening on both a professional and personal level.

First, excitedly, I have been named President of the Norrie Disease Association. This was necessitated by our previous president having to step down due to some unfortunate circumstances that have made it difficult for him to continue in that role. While the reasons make me sad, I am still appreciative of having this opportunity and hope I can make the most of it. I got a strong vote of confidence from my fellow board members, though I honestly am not entirely certain why. Me? One who is sometimes too shy to make a simple phone call? Who definitely has a ways to go before he is as assertive as he would like to be? But, I hope I have made and am making progress in this area, and it will help to have such knowledgeable people to assist me as I do so. We’ll see if this August’s conference goes off fairly well.

RELATED: Five Years of the NDA

Second, this city and the Triangle Transit system have decided to pull a bit of a switcheroo on me. They’ve altered some of the routes that I take, especially that which I use to get home from work. I hadn’t known this initially, I suppose because I wasn’t smart enough to check the service changes page they posted shortly after the year began. This meant I got stuck at Durham Station downtown for 30 minutes, in the cold wind! I have since been trying to learn how to get from my old bus to the new one, and a cool thing is that BlindSquare GPS, an app on my iPhone, can actually tell me where the buses are within the station. Well it probably has some set database that doesn’t change often, as some of the numbers are transposed a bit. For example, the 700 now stops where the 400 used to, so it still calls that the 400. But as long as I know this, I can easily still use it to track my location. Hopefully I will know it by rote soon enough.

The final change I will talk about at this point is in my reading habits. Check out my 2014 Booklist, which you should find in the “Pages” section of this site. There, I note that I consumed 34 titles last year, a record for me. Many of these titles were by so-called “indie” authors, as I’ve befriended them on Twitter and wanted then to check out their works. As local writer Monica Byrne noted in an article that discussed her book, 2014 was actually the year of the indie author in many respects. One of its best reads, The Martian, had been put out by an unknown guy named Andy Weir. The thing I most liked about this book is that, while he clearly knows his stuff regarding what the planet is like, how one might experience a mission there, etc.; he does a good job of making things understandable to those of us who maybe don’t have such advanced knowledge.

I also took in more nonfiction than I ever have before. I’m thus starting off this year in the same way, currently reading a very popular title called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks about a black woman who’s cancer cells were scooped in the 50s, implanted in a dish, and have gone on to aid in lots of research, medications, and the like. It’s an interesting read.

I have it as a goal this year to reach fifty (5-0!) books. That’s a lot for me, as I normally don’t have a whole lot of time to sit and read. I’m doing them two at a time though, and already about a third of the way through both books three and four.

I have them all in my iPhone these days, using the Audible, BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) mobile, iBooks, and Kindle Apps. All of these apps have their pros and cons, but as far as functionality goes I think Audible tops the list. In Kindle, if I happen to get a notification it shoots me to the top of the page I was currently reading. In iBooks, I am slowed by having to wait for the page-changing announcement to disappear, though I suppose I do like this announcement since I can keep track of my progress. And in BARD, the audio books work fine, but I wish the Braille books would be automatically marked when you stop. If I forget to set a mark before closing the app, it’ll jump back to the beginning of the book and I must then find my place again. Depending on how far I’ve read in, this can take a while!

Anyway, that’s a quick scan of 2015 as it has unfolded thus far. It looks to be an entertaining year, full of unexpected occurrences. I just hope most of those are favorable for me and for us all. More soon.