Book Review: Run, by Ann Patchet

I read this one a little while ago, I think maybe at the end of February? I’d acquired it due to an iBooks sale, as it had been significantly marked down and was long. Suits me.
The other reason I thought it would be fun to check out this book is that it takes place mostly in my favorite city: Boston. I’ve visited no other major city as often, having gone five times. I neglected to document all of my journeys there, but you can check out the ones I did here in my old Live Journal.
One of the things about that city that I most enjoy is its character. Patchet does a great job really capturing that character throughout the story.
It starts with the death of the family matriarch, and the devastation her husband and kids feel as a result. However, we quickly realize that this “family” is not necessarily the most traditional of units. The husband, Doyle, is a former and much loved Boston mayor. He has an older white male child and two black adopted siblings.
Much of the novel centers on an 11-year-old girl who, as it turns out, is the sister of the two siblings. She and her mother thus take an extended interest in the mayor’s family, tracking them down as they meander about the city, onto the subway, while in parks, and most especially, as they attend political gatherings.
Doyle has as his main aim to get his kids to understand and become actively involved in politics, generally of the left-leaning variety. He takes them to speeches put on by Jesse Jackson and others, eventually causing all but one to lose interest in this pursuit entirely. He also frowns on one of the adopted siblings’ desire to become an ichthyologist, or studier of fish.
It is in departing one such political event in a fierce snow storm that the two family’s lives intersect when an accident occurs. We then learn that the 11-year-old is an avid runner, having practiced for many years and built her strength and speed up to near Olympic quality.
As I read, I found myself saying “Ah, I remember that place!”, or “I’ve eaten there”. There isn’t a whole lot of action therein per se, but somehow it was enough to grab me and keep my attention throughout.
Patchet seems to be exploring the role that politics, religion, and many of the other controversial subjects play in our lives. For example, we see an older individual who had been a reverend, believed to have healing powers that draw many sick and ailing people to his nursing home bedside.
I’ve also read State of Wonder by her, and always enjoy her vivid place descriptions. I believe I can recommend this book even over that one, as it has a little less of that distant, overly literature-ish feeling
I hope I can somehow go back and remember the other books I’ve read this year that got lost in the blog changeover. I suppose we shall see on that, though.

A Step Back In Time: My trip to a GMS talent show

Sometimes, it’s nice to get away from the hubbub, even if only for a couple of hours. Work, long bus rides, home, eating, management of apartment needs, sports, NPR, books, and sleep. Ah, to break out of that routine.
But the other side of that is; when you dare to venture out in such a way, how do you keep yourself from becoming catatonic? I’m definitely trying to find that balance as I settle in to my new job, having just passed the 3-month mark which is pretty cool. And with that has come the startling realization that by making very small adjustments to my hearing aid, I could drastically improve both my ability to hear and to cope with the day.
Anyway, back to my point. Yesterday, I met up with an individual who stays in my neighborhood. He volunteers at the Governor Moorehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, and he thought perhaps I would enjoy attending their end of year talent show. I had to peel myself off of the couch, but decided I should indeed make the trek.
Related Posts:
Cocoa Butter Clogs
A silly story about my first attending the GMS summer camp and being informed that I should be homesick
Tech and Rehab
An entry about visiting the Rehab Center portion of that campus with my former UNC classmates
He pulled up to my place around 6:30 PM, and I jumped in. I was
excited, in perhaps a nerdy way?, to get a look at what the Ariadne
iPhone GPS app said as we sped toward Raleigh. I chatted with him some and let Voiceover call out street names as we went, which he thought was pretty cool also. It’s somewhat surprising how many people, even those with iPhones, don’t know anything about the Voiceover screen-reading program. I suppose we’ve still got more educating to do, huh?
After battering our way through more stop-and-go traffic, we reached that campus at approximately 7:10. It’s instant: as soon as we stepped onto the creeking floors of Lineberry Hall, a building that feels and smells like it was constructed in the mid 1800’s, I was flooded with childhood memories.
One in particular was when I and my cohorts had done our own talent
show some 20 years ago. I was to be some kind of peddler, standing on the street corner and selling caps to passersby. I said something like:
“Get your hat, get your hat, 50 cents a cap!”
I remember not having any idea what I was even talking about, just
knowing it’s what the adults had told me to do. Being a kid is funny like that sometimes.
Flashing forward to modern times: the lobby and auditorium were hot but packed As we entered, someone was singing The
Chain of Love, by Clay Walker.
It’s an excellent country song that tells a story of someone who makes an unnecessarily large payment to another individual, I think the waitress?, and that payment comes back around to help him somehow. That’s the Youtube link, check it out if you’ve not heard it.
If that person was singing it, and not, say, dancing, then he did a
great job. We’d come in halfway through the song, so I didn’t get to hear any such announcements on that.
There was quite a mix of songs performed throughout. The next act was I think a group doing We Are Never Getting Back Together, by Taylor Swift. And ok, I’ll admit that silly song is kind of catchy, mainly because she does that strange yoddling thing before the course. Is she crying about her lost relationship?
Speaking of teen-ish songs, of course someone had to do Call Me Maybe. I hadn’t even heard that one till I moved back to Pinebluff between September and January, and well, I don’t really get the appeal. The individual performing did about as well as the singer, which is to say ok. Again, I guess it’s just one of those catchy diddies that you hear and get stuck on a loop in your head.
My favorite act was a five-person drum circle. They had a pretty good sounding percussion going in there, perhaps feeding into the narrative that blind folks are often good with rhythm. I know I and my cousins have always been. I’m not sure how old the kids were who put that particular portion on.
They also had what I think was a younger individual haltingly play Jingle Bells in single keys on the piano. Everyone gave that person a rousing applause though, which I thought was a nice thing to do.
In fact, the audience was quite alive throughout. Cat calls, cheering, even rhythmic clapping broke out when someone struck a wild west-sounding tune. I had to fight to stay awake, but I still
thoroughly enjoyed myself.
The show ended shortly after 9, with the obligatory refreshments and introductions. The intros are what I was most looking forward to, as I knew it might present some sort of networking opportunity. The individual who brought me had me shake hands with a number of folks, and he said he’ll help me follow up with some of them later, once they’re not in such a harried position. So, we shall see.
I really hope to start doing more of that kind of stuff, if I can find some way to balance it with the work schedule. I got back in at around 10:30, but still made it through today without getting too entirely sleepy. The big Friday lunch I’ve grown accustomed to, along with the already mentioned hearing improvements, contributed a lot to that. I’m afraid that now I won’t wake again till Sunday afternoon, whenever I finally lay down.

Summer Travels?

Ah, it’s that time of year again. High time to start planning my
summer trip. This year, I might take two of them.
Well first things first, I’m kind of nervous about scheduling the
excursions. I work at a place that is being effected by the
government’s sequestration policies, and so we’re being forced to cut
back significantly. I suppose my greatest fear is being furloughed for
a time, and thus having to have enough money to survive until I’m
picked up again. I know this isn’t an unrealistic possibility. Darn
adult decisions and having to hold back. Of course, if I’m to go
anywhere for a reasonable price, I can’t hold back for much longer. I
guess we shall see. Perhaps I should go and play the lottery.
The first trip I might take would be to Washington DC. Here, I could
do a number of things to further my career path, and have a little fun
while I’m at it.
The main thing I might get to do is to actually visit the headquarters
of the National Industries
for the Blind
in Alexandria. I’m hoping to talk to some higher-ups
about possible positions and what I’d need to do in order to get
there. This would be in conjunction with my starting the Contract
Management Support Training course, which I hope to do pretty soon
here. I just have to line up all of my references and get everything
submitted. This course would teach me some basic concepts in helping
NIB-affiliated agencies or other government entities in acquisition of
contracts and negotiating the best deals possible for those who would
benefit from them. It’s a potentially wide-ranging experiential gain
that could open many doors for me.
The next thing I’m looking into doing is visiting NPR headquarters, I guess
it’d be the new one into which they’ve just moved. I’ve been told by
insiders that it is possible for regular folks to do this, but I
haven’t yet made heads or tails of exactly how. I’ve been an NPR
junkie since late 2001, when my Sociology professor had us listen to
an excellent series on black codes and the Jim Crow South. In the age
of social media, I’ve actually enjoyed chatting and interacting with
many of their reporters and producers online. I “know” them so well
that I can often tell who’s covering a story just by that story’s
title.
I’m not entirely ruling out some kind of career with that network, and
so I look at the job listings, taking note of the qualifications for
positions that are currently over my head so that I can get an idea of
where and how I might start. I hope that my experience as a volunteer
with a nonprofit, the Norrie Disease Association as well as some of the
other things I’m doing would come in handy should I attempt to make
that leap.
The final thing I want to do would be for fun. I want to visit the Smithsonian National
Air and Space Museum
. I’ve heard they have some blind-friendly
exhibits, or at least some way for me to get a good sense of what is
on display. This would feed my love for all things aviation and
space-related. Hey, I’m still planning to be the first blind man on
the moon!
Later, perhaps in late July or early August, I should get paid
vacation from my employer. Then, I’m thinking of heading to beautiful
Northern California to meet up with some friends I have out there.
I’ve hoped to check out that part of the country for a long time too.
I don’t know what the itinerary would look, other than I’d probably be
there for a week, but I know those folks would show me a good time.
Whatever the case, I sure hope I get to go somewhere. It’s not in my
nature to stay grounded for too long. Have you made any summer travel
plans yet?

On Music And Connection

Music. The great salve that sooths the soul. And nothing is better
than music, in my opinion, than old music that takes one back to his
glory days!
I’ve recently downloaded the Pandora app to my iPhone. I’d had access
to it before through a screen-reader-friendly program called Hope,
which I wrote about in another entry over two years ago.
It’s hard to believe it’s been that long!
The thing I love about having this program on my phone, and now the
premium version which means no ads, is that I can have it streaming
through my speakers across the room as I pound away on the keyboard.
I’m presently listening to the Michael Jackson station, where ABC by
the Jackson Five is playing. Of course Jackson’s station is going to
be one that’ll make you feel like dancing around the room, with songs
by Stevie Wonder, his sister Janet, whoever sang Brick House, and
others similar.
These songs remind me of being a kid, flying around the living room
with head just about touching the ceiling as I yelled in equal parts
fear and excitement. We’d sometimes stay in that living room with the
old stereo vibrating till well after 9, our pajamas on but bed clearly
forgotten.
I try so hard not to just get stuck in that past time, when I had
nothing to worry about but whether homework had been completed, a big
worry to a child mind you but nothing compared to the craziness of
which I am aware nowadays. Because of the sadness that happened in
Boston and the resultant, rampant, unfounded speculation about the
whys and hows, I’ve stuck to my music over news pretty much all week.
I suppose that at some point we’ll have a clearer understanding of
what went down, but until then I’ll just try to spread happiness
wherever I go, pray for us all to love each other and never forget the
song.
Like nearly everything else lately, I learned of this tragedy via
social media as I boarded the bus to head home from work. Recently,
upon being sidetracked from going to look at the personals ads on
Craigslist (for the entertainment value!, oh alright, maybe to see if
I could find someone to hang out with here too), I found a study being
conducted by folks at the University of Michigan that sought to
understand how our social media habits had changed over the past three
years or so, and to what extent this effects other kinds of
relationships. It came with some modest compensation for time, and
given that I’d have a lot to say on the subject anyway, I decided why
not participate?
I said that I’ve certainly become more a part of social media now that
I have a smartphone. Twitter and Facebook are some of the more
powerful innovations the Internet has seen. I love that people from
high school now know what’s happening with me, just as those from
former employers, college, and other current and former life circles.
Where I think it may be getting us in trouble, and I keep beating this
point home especially when we have sad things happen, is I think it
may be minimizing our desire to go out and talk to that person next to
us on the bus or park bench. In so doing, it makes easier the
perpetration of acts of violence against that same person. So as we
remember to sing that song, let us do so together.
Just a bit of my rambly thoughts as I continue to get older and try to
plod on through this life. I’m sure I think too much for my own good.

I Wanna Go Outside,In The Sun!

ah, at last, Spring seems to have arrived in the southeast. And despite my having been cooped inside for most of it, I have managed to enjoy some of today’s goodness.
I am so happy that, as far out as I can see, we have weather that at least approaches 70, leading me to finally jettison my coat in favor of a somewhat thick sweater. Hey, my transition will always be slower than everyone else’s.
The biggest benefit to the change in weather is a discernable improvement in my mood. Yes, life here has been pretty good. But there was a part of me, a big part, that has felt kind of lonely while adapting to this new city. I can’t think of another time where I’ve located to a place where none of my immediate family or close friends live in that same town, so I’ve had to essentially start all over again.
I’d like to think I’ve made use of that chance, branching out and becoming more independent than I had ever before because I didn’t have those around who might have been nervous, with some good reason, about my doing so.
But there have also been days when I’ve just chosen to sit in here, comfortable, safe, and not daring to take a chance and see what I might be able to do. Feeling the warmth on my back and listening to people and birds cavorting around out there ease some of my nerves, and so slowly but surely I am emerging from that cocoon.
The same sort of thing is happening at work, where I opted to join some of my co-workers outside at a picnic table in one of their gazebos during lunch. This was nice, but the air had been filled with smoke from about 20 cigarettes. *chokes* I’ve been informed that there’s a non-smoking section not too far away, and I plan to try that tomorrow.
And speaking of tomorrow, my lunch lady is bringing meatball subs! Mmm. This past Monday, a day on which I may have slept about a half hour,she had breakfast that was also delicious.
On that sleep, man it’s starting to be a serious problem. It’s probably the only real drawback of improving weather for me, but now that I am employed it’s going to be a big one.
While assembling locks, I had that sillyy falling-down dream thing. I know you know what I’m talking about, and especially if you’re used to doing this on church pews. Suddenly out of nowhere, I feel like I’m about to fall over the edge of a ledge, plummeting to…, well, I don’t know. Anyway, it causes me to jerk embarrassingly then hope that somehow no one noticed the great rattling of that chair.
When this happened today, I was holding a lock in my hand that banged against the table loudly enough for the entire plant to hear. *sigh*. I know someone caught it, but there were no comments made.
On the other hand, I love that I’m starting to feel refreshed, renewed, recharged. I don’t know what this Spring holds, but I think it’s going to be some of the best I’ve yet experieced. I hope the same for you as well.

iPhones and Pc’s and Players Galore!

I’ve been asking myself this a lot lately: how many devices are enough? Am I in danger of becoming so absorbed in all of this stuff that I float through every day without any interaction with the people around me?
It’s amazing to think about how much this has changed over the last 10 years. Serotalk did an April Fools day podcast recently where they acted as if they were doing a show from 2003. One of the most notable things about that show is that Apple products were pretty much inaccessible to people who are blind. That company somehow went from practically nonexistent to taking the lead in bringing usability to mainstream technology. I’m not sure how or why they began that transition, but even though all of my products are not of their line, I still very much appreciate Apple’s actions.
Even as I watched many of my blind peers venture more fully into the touch screen environment, I still chose to just stick with my Windows computer and barely functional SamSung Haven cell phone. I just couldn’t imagine how I might be able to figure out an iPhone when there were only a couple of buttons on the thing.
I was finally propeled over the abyss by the offer, shortly after my birthday in mid September, of a free iPhone 4. I said to myself “Well if I don’t have to pay for it up front, I can feel more comfortable experimenting with something that I might not actually like.”
And admittedly I hadn’t cared for it all that much for those first couple of weeks. However, as I went on living out in the very small town of Pinebluff, North Carolina where I couldn’t access many other services, I grew fairly quickly to appreciate that phone. It served as my Internet link to the outside world, and definitely helped me to secure everything that I would need to make the move to Durham.
Now that I am back out here though and have a computer, my NLS digital talking player with another amazingly small flash drive, I’m trying to determine the best way to integrate all of these pieces of technology in such a way that I feel will benefit, and not overwhelm, me. I supose realistically, they all have their uses.
As the Serotalk podcast folks pointed out, there was a tie when we had to lug around a laptop with an attached receiver if we wanted to use GPS. And this equipment could easily cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
Now though, all I need to do at least basic GPS locating is a $5 iPhone app. That’s right, I used Ariadne GPS, a VoiceOver friendly program, to steer me to my apartment complex’s leasing office this past Friday. It doesn’t give navigational directions, but by saving the office as a favorite in the addresses, I was able to find it as if it had a sort of beacon on its roof. I just kept zoning in closer and closer until there it was.
And as a quick aside, I should point out that there have been two excellent, free, picture-taking apps introduced to help visually impaired people identify products. The first, Tap Tap See, allows you to take a quick shot of something and gives feedback about color, composition, and likely type of material. The second, Cam Find, tells what the product probably is, but also it conducts a Google-like search of similar images to help one note where online other things like it could be purchased or to do a price comparison. I’m enjoying these thus far, as they give me a better sense of what my clothing looks like, cut down on guesswork as I select something to have for dinner, and the like.
As with everything else over the past six months or so, I had been purchasing iBooks on the phone. Now that I have access to my player again, I will make extensive use of the BARD service and read many more books and magazines than I could have otherwise. It should make those commutes full of snoring passengers that much pleasanter, and hopefully won’t result in my ignoring the time for hopping off of that bus in the process.
And of course even as I often point out the somewhat antiquated status of my Windows computer, I can’t deny the ease with which I am able to write on here, even compared with the iPhone and apps such as Flexy that do greatly improve my typing ability therein. I am beginning to assemble the pieces that I hope will help me design a career path, more on which I will be writing shortly.
So how do you do it, with your iPad, iPod, iPhone, computer, entertainment system, and goodness knows what else? Do you ever feel overstimulated by all of this stuff?

Data About DATA

I wrote an article entitled Riding The Bus in Chapel Hill a few months ago for the Go Triangle blog, in which I talked about my experience using Chapel Hill Transit. Given that I have located to another city in the Triangle area, Durham, I thought it would be fun to juxtapose that prior experience with my current one.

My silly title comes from the fact the the Durham Area Transit Authority? Association? I’m not sure which, is shortened to DATA. Makes it sound like the city is a hub for technology and information, which I suppose this whole area strives to be with its Research Triangle Park.

Of course, DATA is different from Chapel Hill Transit in that its primary base isn’t necessarily college students. Well maybe many college students ride, as the Route 6 that takes me to my apartment in Duke Manor spends a significant amount of time on the Duke University campus.

Any system is most obviously powered by its drivers. The Durham drivers are perhaps less likely to engage me in brief conversation than those in Chapel Hill were. By this point though, the ones who regularly transport me know who I am and will say “good morning” or “have a good rest of the day” when appropriate.

One very good thing is that I have yet to miss a stop and go sailing back around. This is a result not only of the drivers’ vigilance, but also that of the other passengers. Invariably, someone will tap me on the leg or shoulder to ask where I plan to disembark. I have learned, as I usually do, to notice when I’m arriving at my apartment’s location.

This ability is aided by the stop announcement system, which is more intricate than any I can recall hearing. I recorded an audio file some time ago to capture that ambience that I called A Fun Ride Through Durham .

The first thing I noticed, as I demonstrate in that recording, is that every time someone pulls the cord to request a stop, the bus says “Please remember to remain seated, or hold onto a railing, until the bus comes to a complete stop”. Then once the door hisses open, it says “For your safety, please watch your step when getting off the bus”.

Second, it somehow recognizes if individuals are rockin’ too hard to a song, either in open speakers or a headset. It’ll say “Please, no loud music allowed on the DATA bus,” until something is done about this situation.

Finally, and perhaps most fascinating of all, someone had taken the side-facing seats at the front of the bus that are typically reserved for older folks and those with disabilities. I continued down the aisle until I was able to locate an open seat, but then the system pointed this out:

“Please note, seats in front are reserved for the elderly and those with disabilities”.

It kind of put a big, red dot on that poor individual’s forehead.

That’s just a little taste of what it’s like for me taking the DATA bus to and from work every day. Quite often packed, full of interesting happenings and conversation. I’m sure it’ll become even more so with the improving weather, supposing said improvements actually happen.