#FridayReads On Buzz After the Moon and My Life After McNair 

I have nearly completed a memoir of sorts by the astronaut Buzz Aldrin, written in conjunction with Ken Abraham, called Magnificent Desolation: Long Journey Home From The Moon. The title is a bit misleading, as it implies some not-known-about extra drama in the astronaut’s return, when really it refers to the many downs he experienced once his feet were firmly planted on Earth again. The tale does begin with a brief look at Buzz’s and Neil Armstrong’s touchdown on the lunar surface, assuming I think that the reader is pretty familiar with their near loss of fuel in the lander, and of course that Neil was the first to exit and take “a small step” onto another world. Do not make the mistake of categorizing Buzz as the “second man” though, as he generally eschews this status, probably due to cultural baggage attached to such an assignation. After all, we Americans don’t like to lose! One finds that the crux of the story deals with behaviors on which many may frown, and particularly alcoholism and two failed marriages. These stemmed from a deep depression that, Buzz speculates, may have been brought about by the actual trip somehow. Whatever its origin, when an episode (he called it the “blue funk”were hct, he was rendered nearly unable to function. This part of Buzz’s story effected me very deeply, especially as he struggled to define his life and significance after such a harrowing achievement. Most of us will never walk on the mooneab we can probably identify with the idea of reaching some peak in life and feeling that there’s no way we can best it. He kept trying though, eventually generating interesting ideas about Space travel that he worked into a Science Fiction (“I prefer to call it techno thriller” whatever that means) novel, and doggedly attemped to sell to the U.S. Congress. Not much of this was taken up, sadly, but he does start to emerge from his downers on the shoulders of a strong woman. There is even an unexpected climax of sorts in this version of his post-lunar life. A fair warning, don’t talk to him about the possibility that no humans have actually landed on the moon, because he doesn’t want to hear it! As I read this book, I reflected on another astronaut whose life tangentially influenced mine: that of Ronald Erwin McNair. Born in 1950, according to the Weakipedia article, Mr. McNair received a Ph.D. in Physics from MIT and became only the second Black astronaut to travel to space. I am a bit surprised not to know the first, but should rectify that after posting. Anyway, McNair was on his second mission aboard Challenger, not the first as I had always thought, when it exploded on January 28, 1986. Everyone knows about that, primarily because of the school teacher who had also gone up. Buzz points out that after that accident, NASA was reticent about any allowing any civilians to get a seat, a point that conted to irk him for the rest of the shuttle’s “life”. Back to the McNair story though, a program was created in his honor with the aim of helping underrepresented groups achieve success on the graduate level. I was fortunate to be awarded a spot in this program 15 years ago, and as I’ve probably said before it is that which convinced me to give grad school a second shot. I remember the nerves of presenting at my first academic conference, and feeling I hardly knew what I was talking about. I had completed a 25 page paper on “Invisibility” among African American males, working under a great mentor. Ial remember the fun travel to Georgia, (visiting three Atlanta-area universities) and Knoxville to attend a different conference at the University of Tennesssee. And, after that program, how the grad school offers rolled in. Prestigious institutions such as Duke, Brown, Stanford and UCLA wanted a piece of me, but I wouldn’t bite. It’s not hard to see how I felt that was MY peak. But I now see it as a valuable experience that shaped the backbone in me to let my “nerd” out and be proud of it. Thinking of that and reading Buzz’s story is helping me to finally snap out of my own “blue funk” that still lingered after my recent internship attempt. I’ve got the wheels turning, and think that more excitement is coming soon. 

Next Steps

Hello! I think I’ve been quiet too long, mainly because I’m trying to survive one of the craziest winters I can remember. Snow, ice, single-digit temperatures; you name it, we’ve seen it! Thankfully, this coming week has the promise of 70-degree readings, even if they are accompanied by rain.

Naturally all of this cold has left me with plenty of time to think about what I’m trying to do and where I want to go. I still can’t say that I’m certain, but I think I’ve almost come all the way back around to where I was at this time 10 years ago, in that I’m considering a degree in Journalism.

Now though, I have an idea of what I’d be doing with it and am perusing the accompanying job descriptions. It looks like many of them only require a Bachelor’s Degree, and so hopefully in the next few weeks I’ll be discussing with some who know whether that is a good idea or of I’ll need to pursue a Master’s level.

In any event, I’m guessing I won’t get started till Fall of 2015. I have a lot of preparation to complete to improve my odds of success, starting with making sure I know the requisite writing style and have an idea of how things will be made accessible.

I am continuing my preparation from a technological, web design standpoint. I’m now taking a second CAVI course, this one in WordPress. I think the first class of that semester is tomorrow, and we’ll learn how to work with the WordPress content management system. I gather that this can also be used on web sites, in addition to their blogging platform. I certainly admit to not knowing a whole lot about that yet, but this is why I’m working to make sure I learn. I think I’ve talked before about how I haven’t actually figured out a particularly accessible way to post entries to this blog, other than to email them to myself and upload them via the iPhone app. Look forward therefore to pretty big improvements to the look and feel of this thing as I master them throughout class.

I actually had a fair amount of fun with the website I created for the HTML class, a sort of fake travel agency I called Travel Trails who’s aim it was to work with travelers with disabilities to get what they needed to make a trip accessible. It wasn’t perfect, in that I’d made the headings twice as usual and probably had a coule of other visual issues. I don’t think it was half bad though for one who was starting largely from scratch in terms of building a site.

And that’s basically all I have for today. I’m sure I’ll come alive more as we finally begin to thaw out. We shall see what awaits.

A Durham/LC Year, and Spreadin’ The News!

What a way to end a year of life in Durham, and as an employee of LC Industries. I think, hope! well kind of? that Mother Nature has decided to celebrate this milestone with a party of her own. Cold confetti!

That’s right, it’s supposed to start snowing at any moment. At the time of this writing, my iPhone indicates that no such moisture has begun. It says that there is 100% chance of it beginning during the 4:00 hour, so if it does not I will no longer believe! I’m just wanting a day off, and we all know it doesn’t take too entirely much in the South to make that happen.

This day actually reminds me of the one on which I arrived in the Bull City, back at about this time in 2013. That was less fun though, as it was encapsulated in a yucky ice storm! I was surprised and very appreciative of the fact that my parents still opted to venture out in that and get me to my new apartment so I could get set up for the job that started the Monday of that next week. It was a moment that really demonstrated dedication to helping their kids out, and I was just glad that we all got to our destinations safely.

Then that nerve-racking Monday arrived, January 28th. My first aboard the Durham Area Transit Authority (DATA) bus, meaning I’d be exploring as I went. But this seems to be the only way I know how to do things, as it replicated my experience upon arriving at UNC for graduate school in August of 2009. Fortunately, I’d had enough time to find things as I didn’t need to arrive at work until 8 for orientation, but the next day’s events showed me that I should’ve paid more attention to the snafus that did occur involving finding the right streets and stops.

That Tuesday was my first go at making it by 7, and it didn’t really go as it should have. I wish I still had the blog post I wrote on that day, but basically I’d been told I could wait at a place right next to my apartment. I stood there from 5:45 till nearly 8, feeling sick to my stomach at the idea that I would be late to my first full day of work. I found someone who showed me again where the correct bus stop was though and eventually got to the plant. I think my supervisor was understanding.

He, the supervisor, the other employees, and my neighbors have really made this place home for e. An example of help from the neighbors can be seen in the follow-up to my ear wax horror story.

I’ve told this on most of my social media platforms, but not on the blog. The pain I experienced did continue to go away, but then I noticed that my hearing was again decreasing. Still thinking not much of it and ignoring the protestations of friends to go and visit Urgent Care to see what was up, I just kind of laid around for much of that Saturday afternoon.

I emerged from a nap, plugged the aids back in, and could hear… nothing! Nada! Well ok maybe if you got right up in my face and screamed, but that was about it. I was frightened.

I somehow managed to communicate what was going on to my neighbor, the sweet older lady about whom I’ve talked a lot on here. She called my favorite cabbie, because she can’t drive once it’s dark out, and the cabbie came to whisk me away.

I think we got about halfway through the intake forms at Urgent Care before they decided they didn’t have enough lung power to read them to me and went ahead and took me on back. The doctor then slowly flushed my left ear out with hot water.

“I can’t even see your eardrum,” she said.

The greatest pain happened as she penetrated that wall of fluid that had built up inside. It turns out that I had a pretty nasty ear infection, and was lucky to have given into having it treated when I did. In my defense though, I guess, I’d not really encountered such things and hadn’t realized that it was that serious until I couldn’t in fact hear anything. I’ll be quicker to the punch, if that happens again. I was just glad I had enough resources to quickly mobilize and manage the situation.

Fortunately, life on the whole hasn’t been that bad. Technologically speaking, one of the reasons this has been so is my beloved iPhone. On that subject, I recently participated in a promotional story with a local news reporter about the Tap Tap See iPhone app about which I have talked a few times before. You can actually view it by clicking on the “story” link above.

This experience was cool to me, because I got to watch some of how the reporter and her cameraman worked to put the story together. I also found it cool how she could slip into and out of the “News” voice.

It took her a few takes to really get the wrap-up the way she wanted. This was good for me to see as well, perfectionist that I am, because it demonstrated that even a seasoned reporter knows that just because things don’t go as wanted the first time doesn’t mean that one can’t go back and do it again and again until the desired result is achieved. I definitely just enjoyed talking to them as well.

So yeah, definitely an event-filled finish to my first year here. One never really knows what the next year holds, but it may well involve some great chances to volunteer and continue to grow for me. I shall go into those more as they fully unfold.

For those in the path of this predicted snow storm, stay warm and dry! I got off work early, and amd crossing my fingers that, ahem, I might get to sleep in tomorrow? If so, maybe I’ll write again too. Till then, from the Winter Wonderland, out!

Book Review: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

As we take the time to celebrate and honor a man who displayed such great power to change lives through words, I thought I would note the flip side of that. Well perhaps not so much a flip side, as a display of how words can be, and often have been, used to get people to do very bad things as well.

I recently completed The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, my first full read of 2014. Set against the backdrop of World-War-Two era Germany, it is a story about a family that tried to buck the odds and paid dearly for it.

On beginning the book, it quickly becomes clear that Death is the story’s narrator and a pretty central character to the tale. Another central character is Liesel, a 9-year-old kid who has experienced monumental tragedy that causes her to leave her biological family and move in with an adoptive one.

As Liesel ages, from the late 30’s till the mid 40’s, she encounters a boy of her own age whom she befriends. They grow together, experiencing the Hitler Youth, life on the poorer side of a Munich suburb, and eventually, scary air raids that they and their families must work to survive.

Somewhat accidentally, Liesel discovers that a good way to keep herself sane is to sink into the pages of a story. More, as the novel’s title suggests, she ends up stealing quite a few books from a number of places. This activity bonds her both to her adoptive father, as he works to help her learn to read during the long nights after her bad dreams, and to the mayor’s wife, who has experienced her share of tragedy and soon comes to enjoy allowing Liesel to partake of her library.

The most interesting part of the tale begins when a Jew with ties to Liesel’s new family calls in a favor in order to be hidden from the Germans. He takes up residence in the basement, where he teaches her and them many lessons about life and how fleeting it can be.

I found this to be a good read. It is organized and titled as a children’s book might be, with a lot of illustrations to accompany the text, which help to give depth to the words contained therein. I wouldn’t say that it is for younger children though, as there is a bit of strong language, and certainly the concepts can be heavy.

But it can really serve as an initial demonstration to someone old enough to handle its content of the good and ugly of human nature. For it shows, much as Dr. King’s life has, that it is more important to live a life of character than of length: to be willing to stand up for what one believes even when doing so can have dire consequences. That was my biggest takeaway from this book. Highly recommended.

Hear It: My Challenging Wax-cleaning

I should open by saying that I am trying as best I can not to come across as overly critical of anyone. I do not think for a minute that the medical professional who saw me intended for my experience to be as it was, and there are things I could have done to make it less likely to have gone that way as well.

That said, I have a disorder called Norrie Disease that renders some unable to communicate what they are feeling or thinking, due to moderate to severe intellectual disability, autism, or some other developmental challenge. So, I take seriously the idea that I can attempt to be a voice for others, of course not having gone through exactly what they are but still being able to give some idea as to what it may be like.

So an audiologist with whom I worked looked at my ears on my last visit to have the aids cleaned. This happened right before the phrenetic events of my Christmas vacation, and in many respects if the aids had to die on me again, I am highly fortunate that they didn’t wait past December 20th to do so. I can’t imagine the displeasure of trying to get by with only one working ear in large family gatherings. Even with both working, functioning in such gatherings takes work.

Anyway, she determined that my right ear in particular was packed to the gills with wax and should be dealt with immediately. She’d wanted to schedule an appointment for that day, but not surprisingly this wasn’t available. So, she had me booked to go in today.

For this appointment, I had to go to UNC Hospital, which is practically on the UNC campus. I managed to get to the Audiology department in time for my 9:45 appointment and settled in the lobby where they were watching some sort of weird cartoon. I also heard kids scampering around, probably burning off energy as their parents tried in vain to keep up.

Soon, I went in to see the nurses and have my initial forms filled out. They weighed me, I’m up to 141 pounds which may be the highest number this skinny person has ever recorded. Then, they started asking me all sorts of scary questions about disease, family history, etc. Standard stuff I know, but nevertheless it makes me nervous.

After a short wait in a doctor’s office, thankfully not too cold, and just as I pulled out the iPhone figuring that it might take longer for him to arrive, the doctor showed up.

“Ok, what are we doing here today?” he asked.

“I’m here to have my wax cleaned out,” I replied. “My audiologist says it’s starting to be a real problem.”

“Ok then, hop on up here,” (I was ushered to a somewhat reclined chair where my head was then placed firmly against its back at an angle), “and take out the aids, one at a time so you can still hear me and will know what to expect.”

Into my right ear went the air machine. I actually don’t really know what it is called, except that it made a fair bit of noise. I could immediately feel it sucking, and thought to myself “ok, maybe this won’t be so bad after all.”

And then, oh but then. He gradually amped up, commenting: “man this stuff is really packed in. That’s common for hearing aid wearers though.”

If I had remembered my last attempt at having this done, I would have suggested that we go ahead and stop there, just letting him prescribe me the eardrops he eventually did recommend I get. You administer them to each ear approximately three times a week for a month, and they’re supposed to loosen up the wax so that it will come out more easily. I’d done this a year or so ago, but then we never went forward with the larger-scale wax removal.

Unfortunately for me, this thought didn’t occur to me. As the machine pulled harder and harder in my ear, first tears began rolling down my eyes.

“Are you ok?” he asked.

“Yeah, this sort of thing just makes my eyes water,” I replied. I’m not crying! I thought to myself.

Within the next few seconds, I practically was crying. I kicked the table, screamed “ouch!” and all but forced him to stop. Oo man! I don’t think I’ve ever experienced pain like that. Oddly, the only thing I could think was “I wonder how on earth women go through with childbirth?”

“I’m about to pass out!” I instructed him once the machine had ceased operating and I’d removed both aids. “Would you happen to have any water available?”

I guess it had occurred to him that I might just need some water at some point, because a full styrofoam cup was in my hand a second later. I gulped it greedily, and just managed to stave off that unwanted episode.

After this, he decided to go ahead with the drops after all and have me return on February 13th for an attempt to complete the process. I was more than a little relieved to get out of there with my hearing in tact.

Except, when I plugged my right-side aid back in, all I heard was the faintest sound of its turn-on tone. “Oh no,” I thought in panic: “I may have lost a lot of my hearing in this ear!”

I muddled my way back on to a bus to Franklin Street to go to Walgreens and collect the prescription, then fired off an email to one of my audiologists to ask what she thought might be happening. I said “and if this loss is permanent, can I begin the process of getting a cochlear implant?”

She replied, correctly I now believe, that things would probably be ok in short order. My canals are kind of small, and thus it’s easy to get things like wax and such lodged in a place and way that it shouldn’t be. As the day has progressed, I’ve noticed more hearing returning as the pain lessens. All I can say to that is Thank God! I envisioned having to make radical changes to my navigation and independence, which I would have done if necessary. But I won’t lie, that sort of adjustment would be hard. I’ll probably have to make it at some point, I imagine.

So I guess the main reason I’m writing about this is to note the importance of really sitting down with the patient, doctor, and perhaps someone who can communicate on the patient’s behalf before treatment is initiated and generating a plan. The thing is, I know that doctors rarely have time to do this. If it doesn’t happen though, it could definitely have less-than-desirable consequences.

Also, it is important to listen to and be aware of the patient’s responses. I can say that he did suspend treatment once it became clear that I could no longer stand it. I’ve heard of cases where this hasn’t happened, and I’d bet it would be more likely if the patient was unable to speak for him or herself.

Just some stuff to think about. I hope all will be normal for me by the weekend, as I still feel some lingering pain but it is now more noticeably decreasing. A nap when I arrived home helped with this. I hope I don’t have any balance issues when returning to work tomorrow, but we shall see. More soon.

Welcome to 2014!

And, welcome to 2014. I’ll start by wishing you a happy New Year! This will, I think, be a relatively quick entry, who’s direction I’m not entirely sure of.

Looking back at 2013 though, I’d have to say that it was on balance a great year. I’ll probably do a more detailed retrospective on life in Durham when I celebrate that year mark on a little over three weeks. But, of course I have moved here.

I also got to visit the NPR headquarters in August. It already seems that I will visit another NPR property, as I have just won a contest to attend a live taping of Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me some time this year. I’m thinking it will be in March, but am awaiting word from the show’s host. How cool is that, though? The show is done in Chicago, and already it looks like I’d have a packed itinerary should I get to that city. I love the power of social media ad what it does to my ability to so extensively network.

And on the subject of connections, it was also a good year for really getting to talk to my cousin. Even though he just got married, I think I actually saw him more in 13 than I had in the last three years. And, it looks like other less common connections are starting to be re-established as well. I hope that sort of thing continues.

With regards to bad things that happened last year, I’m glad to say I can’t really think of any. I guess the only thing I could say would be that I had a few issues trying to keep these hearing aids functioning, but I think that’s going to always be a part of the territory sadly. It was easier dealing with that this time, having money in my pocket, than it had been in 2010.

I guess that the year was mostly vanilla, with me rolling to and from work and reading a lot. My reading increased once the BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) app came to the iPhone and I re-subscribed to Audible after reading Veronica Scott’s book. I didn’t keep up with all of my books in here as well as I should have, but let’s see if I can manage to list them all using the BARD and Audible histories.

List of Books Read in 2013

  1. And The Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini
  2. Blue Skies, by Robyn Carr
  3. Cruising Attitude, by Heather Poole
  4. Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King
  5. Desired to Death, by J. M. Maison
  6. Is This Tomorrow, by Caroline Leavitt
  7. Just Say No!, by Omar Tyree
  8. Run, By Ann Patchett
  9. The Aviator’s Wife, by Melanie Benjamin
  10. The Forgotten, by David Baldacci
  11. The Heart of Applebutter Hill, by Donna W. Hill
  12. The Hit, by David Baldacci
  13. The Pact, by Jodi Picoult
  14. The Second Opinion, by Michael Palmer
  15. The Twelve by Justin Cronin
  16. Water’s Blood, by Elaine Calloway
  17. White Fire, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
  18. Wreck of the Nebula Dream, by Veronica Scott
  19. WWW (Wake, by Robert J. Sawyer
  20. WWW Watch, by Robert J. Sawyer
  21. WWW Wonder) by Robert J. Sawyer

Ah, well I suppose according to prolific readers, I’ve probably not read much. I won’t know what the total is until I submit this entry, but I think I finished up 2011 with 30 reads. Not sure what the number was for 2012. And it should be considerably higher for 2014, as my “To Be Read” pile is building more quickly than I can finish each, and I even get in more at work lately.

A cursory perusal of my titles suggests, duh, that I like stuff about travel with a particular emphasis on aviation. We’ll see how much more of that sort of thing I get into this coming year.

And that’s about all I have for the start of this year. I did find a nice place here in Durham to have my required New Year’s dinner: a local restaurant called Elmo’s Diner. And even though I’d basically decided what I wanted before entering, as I’d pulled up the place and its menu via Google Maps on the iPhone, I still appreciated that as soon as I was seated I was handed a Braille Menu. Many bigger establishments can’t even say they do that well, and especially without having being asked a million times. Of course, it is entirely possible that some previous blind patron there is the reason they’d complied, but if so that’s all good.

I thought I’d have the italian meatloaf with sides of skin-on mashed potatoes and black beans, as that sounded as close as I could get to my black-eyed peas as listed in the Square Meals Sides. However, my kind server informed me that those sides weren’t on offer at that time. Perhaps that place deliberately catered to New Year’s fare, as I instead got black-eyed peas, turnips, and cornbread.

The meatloaf was delicious. There was a choice of a somewhat tangy sauce or just plain gravy, and I took her recommendation of having the gravy.

“We’re not talking crazy spicy, are we?” I asked.

I can do some degree of spice, but too much and the stomach, ears, nose, every part of the body get unhappy.

Some seem to think so,” she answered: “but I think it’s delicious.”

I decided what the hey, and chanced it. It definitely enhanced the flavor.

The black-eyed peas, piping hot, felt good going down on this winter evening, and in combat with my cold. And the cornbread was as sweet as I’d have at home. The mac and cheese was a little less homely but definitely edible, while the turnips tasted kind of like paper. But then, I think I’d say that of any turnpis, so that’s not really a criticism of this particular place.

I don’t of course put much into the idea that somehow eating that stuff will make my year a lot better, but I can say that 2010, the one year I can remember not having consumed it, was not a pleasant one at all. So, we shall see. For myself, you, and all of humanity, I hope that 2014 goes above and beyond anything we’ve known. More later.