Why a Blind Man Watches Spacecraft Launches

And yes, I used the word “watch,” as it commonly refers to consuming video content. I “watch” TV or YouTube, or what have you.

I tried to watch the launch of the new Starliner spacecraft yesterday, but unfortunately they still haven’t been able to get it off the ground. Of course because it is a new machine, I’m sure they have to take every caution in putting it into the skies. But I find it particularly interesting to catch it, as this will be only the sixth different American craft created since the U.S. space program began.

My earliest memories of humanity hurling things out of Earth’s atmosphere are the same as many of my generation: the very sad Challenger space shuttle disaster. Because a teacher was going into space, all of the schools had us tuned in to watch this spectacle unfold. I think I only partially understood what had happened that day, because I was only 6 years old. But it gave me my first taste of a desire to explore and the dangers that could come with it.

This desire was deepened, oddly perhaps, by the little-known sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (one of my all-time favorite books by the way) called Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. In this one, Charlie ends up riding the elevator, I think from the factory, into space where he encounters aliens called Vermitious Knids. I guess they were a sort of stand-in for bad kids? Looking back on his writing, it seems maybe the author Roald Dahl didn’t like kids too much. Anyway, I remember the aliens smelling like eggs, and I was rapt by this nonsensical story. It even awoke in me a need to meet people not of my background who brought different perspectives and lived different lives.

As I got older I watched many of the shuttle launches, always feeling a thrill as all that audible power thrust them up, up, and away! I’ve read nearly every story written about the Apollo missions, and was most focused on how the astronauts felt as they left our planet, a slow ride at first with increasing G-force and speed until suddenly you go slack and float off of the couches. How I would love to experience that.

My interest in space and space travel went through the roof (clouds?) with the Apollo 13 movie starring Tom Hanks, which I got to catch in theaters. It was even more awe-inspiring to hear that power projected through a good sound system. And obviously getting those folks back home safely after everything unraveled is one of the best examples of the good we can do when we choose to work together.

Fast-forward to 2011 and the second-to-last shuttle flight. I sat in the lobby of my graduate school department building, feeling ho hum as I faced an insurmountable workload and had no clue how to deal with it. So I took a break and listened to the shuttle blast off. When I finished, I met a wonderful Lebanese woman who helped me get through that last, bumpy year and a half. I have an entire entry about her if you’d like to read it, but it again showed me the power of meeting and getting to know people from different backgrounds.

And as we are still stuck in low-earth orbit, I have read and am reading some sci-fi novels that take me many parsecs (I learned that a parsec represents roughly 3.26 light years) away and years into the future. The Noumenon series, by Marina J. Lostetter, is one of the most imaginative series I have ever read, and I’ve read many of them (the Frank Kitridge Mars series is also excellent). In Noumenon, she has them awake while traveling incredible distances rather than being frozen. I like how she takes care to represent all kinds of people, including multiple cultures and even people with disabilities (a deaf woman and one in a wheelchair play significant roles.) The books, three of them, are long but worth it. So if you get the chance, check them out.

So yeah, my interest in spacecraft launches and space travel overall stems from all kinds of experiences. Hey, maybe I’ll do as I told my mom and be the first blind man on the moon (I’ll plant my cane there!)

The Dinner

Well, I promised to write a bit about my experience attending the dinner for those who had received or were receiving the Thorpe-Mitchell Diversity Leadership Fund Scholarship. So, I will attempt to do just that.

A cool and somewhat gloomy Thursday dawned, but I felt satisfied that I would get a shorter workday. I knew that in order to arrive in Chapel Hill so that Dr. Mitchell, my former grad school mentor, could pick me up; I would have to depart from the jobsite around 2:15. Before catching the 805 bus at 2:30, I finally scuttled across the lot and picked up 2 7-day Triangle Transit bus passes. For some odd reason, they never gave me one for this month, so I’d been having to cobble together enough cash to board every morning. This was a pain.

It had been two years (2!) since I last ventured over to UNC Chapel Hill’s Health Sciences Library, where I lived during my grad school days. So I guess it shouldn’t have been too surprising that I couldn’t remember things as well as I’d thought I might. After detours into grass and accidentally sliding inside of other buildings, I arrived at the School of Medicine in which my mentor’s office is contained. The sounds of students and smell of mingling perfumes flooded me with nostalgia and longing to be back in that circle.

She was at that moment engaged in another appointment, so I cooled my heels in the reception area and played with GPS apps, learning what all was nearby. Much of UNC is labeled, which is pretty cool.

Then we were off. The get-together was to be held at the Hampton Inn Chapel Hill Carrboro, which was not far at all away from the med school. So we arrived early, as it was to start at 5, went to wash hands and all that fun stuff, and settled in.

I had a name tag on, and so as I sat there a confusing array of people stopped by to say hi and inquire about the status of my life, what I was hoping to do, etc. All of the other recipients, as well as nearly everyone else there, works in the Allied Health field. This is a broad area, covering careers from Rehab Counseling (which is what I had tried) to Occupational Therapy, Clinical Laboratory Science, and Speech Language Pathology, to name a few. And most of them actually had decent jobs, too.

We were to give a short speech detailing what we had achieved, how the scholarship had helped us, and why we felt that diversity of culture, gender, and thought was necessary in the field of Allied Health. And, well, I don’t know what I said. I had ideas, but guess I was a bit intimidated by my own current position and desire not to come across as a negative ned. I croaked something about appreciating the award, it having been my second such after being named a Ronald E. McNair Research intern in 2001. McNair was the first African American astronaut who sadly lost his life in the Challenger explosion. As I’ve probably said before, that program’s goal is to increase participation of underrepresented groups at the graduate level. So, I feel I still have a high mandate to become more successful somehow, also in order to reimburse the scholarship fund I got while at UNC. I want to help others to have a better opportunity to get where they want to be as well.

With regards to networking, a couple of the individuals I spoke with are going to see about finding me some contacts to learn about journalism or communication studies programs. I met and was assisted in getting food by a nice young woman from Texas who now works at Duke doing something that sounded over my head. Haha.

For eating, they mostly had finger food. I had a few meatballs, a delicious little turkey sandwich with all kinds of stuff in it, some brie cheese, (whatever that is,) tuna, and a delicious brownie. Because I was unaware that my turn to speak would be next, I found myself hastily ramming the last of that brownie into my mouth as I made my way to the podium. This may be why I had a hard time talking in straight sentences: chocolate can amp you up!

And that’s really all that happened at the dinner. My phone also told my mentor how to get back to my apartment, and she says that now we will stay in touch and I might go over there to chill with her and her husband sometimes as I did while in grad school. She really is like a mother to so many of us.

Now I just need to try and ride the forward momentum gained from that experience to new heights, and hopefully stay up there this time! It was strange going back to the same old job on Friday, but also I felt better as I could see that tiny pinprick of light shining at the end of the proverbial tunnel. More soon.

Preparatory Thoughts

In pondering the next few days, I am inspired by a couple of my good blogger friends. I will mention them when referring to what they have said that so inspires me.

So here we are yet again, having arrived at that time of year when things either will or won’t change. Grad school? Some new way into my desired career? I’m still not entirely sure, but I do think long and hard about it as I jam light sticks into the packs each day.

Last week, I had a job evaluation. The supervisor concluded that I have indeed improved in nearly every area, and especially in speed of packaging and quality of the final product. These areas of growth didn’t necessarily occur passively, but rather I had to generate some active strategies to cut down on wasted time and still maintain or increase efficiency. I believe that these strategies will be useful for me wherever I end up.

I posted about this on Facebook, and some suggested that I should just make sure not to settle or even be too entirely pleased with my current situation. Well there is some truth to that, but I believe that in order to get what we want, we have to work hard on taking a more positive inclination to our lives. I’m telling myself this more than anyone else, because I’ve never been particularly good at doing so. I can gain something useful from this little job, if only that I can pay rent, travel, and get the stuff, especially iPhone and accessory-related, that continue to enhance my independence.

I’ve been pondering this since reading Amy Juicebox’s post What I’m Thankful For after their Canadian Thanksgiving celebration. Thanksgiving, MMM food! Anyway, I’ll try not to think about that just yet, as while it will mean bountiful food, it will also portend the beginning of the real cold months.

Second, I dove-tail a bit off of Natasha Ramsey’s post entitled Passion? Do I know what it is? Do you? Boy am I ever trying to figure this out! I posed this question to my Twitter followers once: does everyone have at least one thing that they’re good at? If so, how do we find it. I’m not really sure if I can move on until I do, but then how will I find it if I don’t actually move on. It’s the old chicken and egg problem.

I’m hoping to get some kind of momentum by attending the Thorpe-Mitchell Diversity Scholarship dinner this Thursday. I had won this scholarship while in grad school, which then led me to meet Dr. Brenda Mitchell, the person I considered my mentor. It’s been far too long since I last spoke with her, mainly because I have so little time outside of employment to venture over to the University of North Carolina. So, it will be nice to catch up with her and the rest of those folks, and I’ll try not to get too down on myself based on my current situation.

The thing is, they want us to speak to the audience about where we’re going and how the scholarship may have ultimately helped us get there. I know what people have to say regarding my possibly returning to grad school and largely agree. Have I thoroughly considered other options? Will I be financially prepared. Well, I hope so. Very tentatively starting conversations with people about Master’s programs in either Communication Studies or Journalism. As far as I know, grad school is still my best chance to make more happen. And the thing for which I feel the gratest passion is this thing I’m doing right now: writing/blogging. So, I’d like to take a shot at making something happen with that. As I learned last time, you may as well not even mess with grad school unless you’re going to be able to find that drive! So, we’ll see. Still a long way to go before I know what will happen.

I suspect I will post a bit about my experience at this scholarship dinner. I think it’s pretty cool that I was even still invited. How do you feel about your current job/career? Is it anywhere near your passion, assuming you’ve figured out what that is?

The Caged Bird, and Other Reflections

I’m guessing by now that you know of the passing of Maya Angelou, one of the gratest and most inspiring writers/poets of all time. It’s funny, but to me she seemed like one who could go on and on for many more years. She certainly didn’t sound different in the last NPR interview I heard with her, though I grant that happened over a year ago. In any event, I guess all of our stories must at some point come to its end.

In an attempt to learn more about her, I read the first of her autobiographies entitled I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. It’s a powerful story, with the feel of fiction but accompanied by the heavy weight of many injustices. We watch as she navigates and tries to learn the confusing roles of “black person” and “female” in the deep south.

On the former, this is one of the first books that really got me to understand a bit of why there was, and sadly still is in some cases, so much mistrust between individuals of different racial/ethnic backgrounds. Maya, (real name Marguerite) and her brother Bailey to whom she was very close, are called all sorts of names by the few whites that visit them. They also are forced to watch as some of the visitors attempt to disrespect their grandmother, because social norms dictate that she can do little or nothing about this treatment.

Meanwhile, they also grow up seeing white people as not human, primarily due to the infrequent and charged interactions among and between them. I find this very sad on all counts, and hope that we as members of this great but sometimes misled species jostle to survive and thrive on this planet.

As to the latter role of female, I’m sure most have heard the part of the story where she stops talking after having been sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend, who was subsequently killed by the family. She feels as if she has caused this killing by what she uttered, and thus refuses to talk with anyone but her brother for a long time.

This event was definitely awful, but what makes it worse for the reader is that Angelou manages to view it through childlike eyes again: not really able to understand what is happening or its meaning.

I think it is her ability to assume this perspective that makes her entire bio more poignant. If you’ve not read it, I’d recommend. For along with the sadness, there are rather humorous stories speckled in. It also gave me much to reflect on regarding my own life and its happenings.

It especially gave me cause to recall my own project on the lives and societal standing of African American males that I completed as a Ronald E. McNair Summer Research Internship Scholar. This program was created to honor Dr. McNair, one of the astronauts who lost his life in the Challenger explosion, and I believe the first black astronaut. Its aim was to improve the attendance rates of graduate school for minority/underrepresented students. I still remember that summer of 2001 as being one of the best I’ve ever experienced, especially from a social standpoint.

As I benefited both academically and financially from that program, I’m still hoping to, if not attend grad school, find some way to carry out enough of its mission to be more successful than I currently am. I’m wondering if, by extension, it might work for me to advise others on a college campus on how to strengthen their good points and maybe avoid pitfalls. It’s definitely something about which I’ve thought for years.

RELATED: Thinking of Attending Grad School? Some Advice

I know it isn’t the only path to such a career or maybe even the one I’ll end up taking, but one of my Twitter followers suggested I look into a master’s-level program in Student Affairs at the University of South Florida. From what I’ve seen of that program, it looks pretty good. They take seriously placing individuals who complete it, requiring also that one work while studying the theories and other classroom stuff. So I’d feel pretty confident about my chances upon completing it.

I think the primary issue here is that I need to somehow make sure that I’m cut out for this sort of thing. Perhaps the most feasible way to do this would be to mentor an incoming first-year student and just see how well I can make suggestions that might actually be helpful. I would also like to get a taste of my potential leadership skills.

So I think this is one of the reasons I keep reading these days, looking for that one piece of information that will set me on the right path. Does such a thing even exist? I intend to keep trying to find out.

Charlotte Trip and School Thoughts

Now that my cousin’s birthday has already come and gone, as of this Thursday in fact, I consider the summer on the decline. Man is it trucking by or what.
Remember all those fancy trips I’d pondered earlier on? Well, I don’t think any of them are really going to happen, for one reason or another. So, I’ve just had to make the best I can out of my little staycation.
I just returned from my third trip to Charlotte this year, this time to visit my cousin and his wife in their new digs. They live in a nice little place not far from where I spent some of my formative childhood years. There isn’t a whole lot in the way of restaurants or retail over there, but I suppose as a residential area it’s pretty decent. It’ll also give them the best chance to get off to a solid financial start.
I decided I’d take Friday and today off, since I would have done so if I’d actually gone to Washington DC as planned. On Friday I headed to Charlotte, having an entertaining train trip in which I got to talk to a nice woman all the way down to Greensboro. She said she’s 20 years of age, attending UNC Greensboro, and working a full-time and part time job. The full time is at Burlington Coat Factory and often can encompass 5 and a half days per week. The part time is babysitting children closer to her home town of Fuquave Marina. Right off of that train, she would go to work at the store from 7-10 that night, and by 9 AM Saturday morning.
“Wow, you’re a hard worker!” I said.
“I have no choice,” she responded.
And in a demonstration of how out of control our education costs are these days, she will still have to take the Fall semester off in order to save some money before continuing. This makes me sad, as one must have at least a Bachelor’s Degree, and really more than that, if one wishes to have a decent career.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and especially as I try to decide what kind of path will get me to where I’m going. As I prepare to begin this HTML course, (last day to enroll, by the way), I of course know and hope that others who are taking it are aware as well, that it alone will not result in some sort of magical employment opportunity. In fact, I hope that my experiences in the job market haven’t pushed my idealism/realism meter too far to the other side, to the point where I’m not really sure anything will quite work. I do hope this course will get me thinking about how I can use my newly acquired skills, along with ones I already have, to start the hard work of building credentials and experience. And as I discover that some of my long-time friends will also be taking this course, I grow even more excited by the possibility of firming up professional relationships.
Will I find a graduate school program to attend? Well, I’m not sure. As I said earlier, education expenses are increasing exponentially. And those points were in reference to undergraduate students. On this past Friday alone, I met three (3!) individuals who said they either were taking this semester off or had taken the previous semester off in order to scrounge up enough dough. While I hope I can get something to work out with my idea to become a professional blogger or social media manager, I know there are no guarantees. I’d like to avoid a $200,000 student loan debt that I’d never be able to repay with my workshop salary. So the tough adult choices continue to spin through my head, with no one to give me definite answers on which are correct.
My Charlotte trip did give me some respite from all of these worries, even if only for a couple of days. I ate, slept, enjoyed chatting and listening to baseball games with my cousin, and had my regular Charlotte lunch dates with a good friend I met online. On Saturday night, I even helped to make delicious fudge brownies that we enjoyed with almond milk, after having consumed garlic bread that my cousin made, and a couple of plates of delicious spaghetti with meat sauce and parmesan cheese.
So all in all, it was a great weekend. When I returned to Durham, I met the kind cab driver who has often assisted me these days in grocery shopping, going so far as to accompany me up and down the aisles and thus making it a lot less irksome a process. She quite regularly works with many of the area’s blind folk, and started telling me about all sorts of places near my apartment that I might want to know about as well. Things like that make Durham feel to me less like just a place to stay and more a bit of home.
More soon, probably on what I think after experiencing my first couple of HTML classes. I hope you’ve enjoyed this summer.

Thinking Of Attending Grad School? Some advice

Dove-tailing off of last week’s Grad week posts and still quite relevant as people are walking the stage this week too, I thought I’d give some, unsolicited, advice on entering grad school. If you’re planning to go this fall, I’d hope you’ve completed many of these suggestions by now. Even so, they can be used as a sort of checklist. If, like me, you’re mulling over the idea of getting it going in the fall of 2014 or later, then you’ll want to consider these along the way.
I speak from experience. I also speak knowing that it’s pretty difficult to understand how to implement some of this unless you’ve actually walked through the fire, as much of what people tried to tell me went into one ear and out of the other. There were some aspects though that I’d not been made aware of at all, so perhaps what I have to say will help at least one person to obtain a Master’s or Ph.D. in one go, rather than having to suffer the humiliation of being dropped as I was and trying to figure out a way to get things restarted. So, let’s go.
My first recommendation is probably the hardest for most folks of my generation: try to enter with a clear goal. Sit down with yourself and ask: “What am I trying to do with my life? Is there anything I think I can stand going through the fire for, sacrificing social life, sleep, and the like to attain?”
I don’t know if I grasped the necessity of this thought process until it was far too late. I came in with the same mentality I had as an undergrad: I don’t really know why I’m here but I’ll figure it out as I go.
The big problem with that is you may find it more of a challenge to direct your research. And if you can’t direct your research, you may never get your major project, (in my case it was just the literature review that was meant to begin my major project) to a level that departmental advisors would consider defensible.
So I think that what I’m going to do this time, once I decide on the general degree I wish to pursue, is to begin talking to as many current and incoming students and professors about work they’ve done. It also pays of course to chat with program alumni about actual jobs they’ve managed to get as a result of receiving this degree.
In my previous program, projects and requirements rarely changed unless new professors were brought in. This means that, generally speaking, you may be able to take a look at past syllabi and actually get a bit of a jump on some of the projects that must be completed. Goodness knows I’d have benefited from trying that! All of the initial reading and writing of several papers that were suddenly thrust on me meant pretty much instant overwhelmedness from which, it can be argued, I never really recovered.
Following on that, and this is very important, know the style of writing (e.g.) APA, MLA, that your program uses. And if you don’t know how to write in that style, please! Make an attempt to learn before arriving on that first day. They will likely test your abilities in this area immediately by making you compose a small essay wherein you cite sources, use formatting, and the like.
I was directed to see if perhaps the good folks at my university’s writing center might be able to help me out, but I believe they provide most of their services to undergraduates. Perhaps this shouldn’t be too unexpected, as an individual on the graduate level is expected to have a basic understanding of paper composition. There are various reasons why some of us may not have that understanding, and so I’d just suggest that you keep it in mind that you should work on sharpening it before getting started.
Given that I’m totally blind and largely deaf, many of my suggestions are aimed at persons with disabilities. Still, I think it benefits anyone to be aware of the kinds of technology that will be necessary to stay on top of in-class assignments. For example, I got bonked by my inability to use PowerPoint in organizing two major presentations in that fateful first semester. Not that the presentations were all that great even without them, but especially for the treatment manual I had to write for a Diagnosis class, I may have managed at least a P or pass, (B by most grading systems) rather than the L or low pass C, I actually got. That grade forced me to retake the course the following year.
Especially for others with disabilities that require materials to be made accessible, I’d recommend sitting down with all of the professors as well as staff from the campus Disability Services office to discuss how each project will be made doable. Try to avoid surprises if at all possible. I found myself surprised a few times, and was usually too intimidated by the time that I realized I hadn’t a clue how to get something done that I failed to notify everyone in a timely manner.
Finally, and speaking of surprises, make sure you have enough money to get through that first semester without there being too much financial stress. Seriously, by November I was drawing dirt from my bank account and praying that somehow I’d get it accepted as payment of rent and other expenses. This meant that as the major papers of that semester ratcheted up, I had also to worry about cobbling together enough pennies to avoid being tossed out onto the streets. I think even this issue could have been mitigated by making small changes to my budgeting habits.
That’s just a little advice that I write here more for my own memory than anything else. If if helps you to experience more success, then that’ll be a pleasant byproduct. If you are planning to start that journey some time soon, I certainly wish you well.

Intro Post: Old hats may wish to skip

So I realized that since I zapped that other blog, I no longer have an intro post. This means that I should try and come up with one, right? Well its as good a time as any to examine who I am, I guess. Those who’ve known me a long time might wish to skip this post, but maybe I can make it interesting for you, too.

I was born. I’m told the day dawned cold and rainy, but I’ve also been told that it was Friday, September 13, 1979. I know that last wasn’t possible, since the calendars say the 13th was on a Thursday that year. In any event, that kinda makes for a good story.

I have a rare genetic condition called Norrie disease, which results usually in total blindness from birth due to retinal detachment. It also causes progressive hearing loss, which has been the more adjustment requiring part of things for me. It’s all good though: I have not and will never let it stop me from doing the same crazy things I always do.

Hailing from the queen city of Charlotte, I grew up in a family of five sisters. For much of my early life, my only real male influence was my cousin who is about a year younger than my 33. My dad then came into my life during teen aged years, and he has certainly taught me a lot about what it means to be a good and honorable man. And anyone should know that one doesn’t have to donate sperm in order to be a good father.

I went to high school in a small town called Southern Pines NC, and while I complained at first about being out of the city, it was probably the best thing I had done to that point. It allowed me to find myself academically.

Eventually I returned to Charlotte to attend the major university there, going on to experience even greater academic success as a psychology major. What is it that they say about psych majors needing the most therapy?

After five aimless years just working in a sheltered workshop for blind folks in Charlotte and enjoying living with my cousin, I made the somewhat random decision to attend grad school. I did this at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where I attempted to complete an MS in rehabilitation counseling and psychology. Let’s just say all that academic prowess I thought I had pretty much went out of the window. The program was supposed to take two years to finish, but I clung to that raft as it got sucked down the raging river for almost three. It wasn’t a total waste, though. Is anything, it showed me how not to adequately prepare for such an expedition.

Is I do make another go of that, I know now that I need solid, definable goals. I’m still working those out, but part of me is longing to do something in a journalistic capacity, as I had started to consider shortly after undergrad ended. I’m not really sure how to begin taking that from dream to occurrence, though. Just doing a lot of thinking.

And now I reside in Durham NC, where I again work at a sheltered workshop. The nice thing about this one though is that there is real potential for promotion, should I choose to take that path. We shall see how it all plays out.

Of course, there’s more to me than I could easily capture in one post. If you continue to read, you’ll see lots of stuff about books I like, my favorite sports teams, (I’m all about North Carolina except for the duke Blue Devils), music I love, and not surprisingly, the places I go. Feel free to chime in with questions or suggestions whenever you like. And most of all, enjoy.