New York Times Columnist Shares Insights on Vision Loss and Found

Books on desk with cup of tea

Reading with My Ears Book Review

I came across another excellent audiobook read from the library by  New York Times columnist and bestselling author, Frank Bruni. “The Beauty of Dusk: On Vision Lost and Found” is a wise and moving memoir about aging, affliction, and optimism after partially losing eyesight.

The first time I heard about Frank was listening to his interview  with the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Print Impaired. Then again  with Oprah as he was discussing this book. I knew, when the book was available in audio, I had to read  about his vision loss journey  .

Book Summary

Display of NLS Talking Book Player, Cartridges and Earbuds

The book Summary from Bookshare. One morning in late 2017, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni woke up with strangely blurred vision. He wondered at first if some goo or gunk had worked its way into his right eye. But this was no fleeting annoyance, no fixable inconvenience. Overnight, a rare stroke had cut off blood to one of his optic nerves, rendering him functionally blind in that eye—forever. And he soon learned from doctors that the same disorder could ravage his left eye, too. He could lose his sight altogether.

In The Beauty of Dusk, Bruni hauntingly recounts his adjustment to this daunting reality, a medical and spiritual odyssey that involved not only reappraising his own priorities but also reaching out to, and gathering wisdom from, longtime friends and new acquaintances who had navigated their own traumas and afflictions. The result is a poignant, probing, and ultimately uplifting examination of the limits that all of us inevitably encounter, the lenses through which we choose to evaluate them and the tools we have for perseverance.

Bruni’s world blurred in one sense, as he experienced his first real inklings that the day isn’t forever and that light inexorably fades but sharpened in another. Confronting unexpected hardship, he felt more blessed than ever before. There was vision lost. There was also vision found.

Initial diagnosis  and Advocacy

His story was very relatable, especially in the beginning. The first doctor was reluctant to give a proper diagnosis of his sudden vision loss. It was all maybes  and guessing which can send you down the rabbit hole of possibilities. He was referred to a specialist who gave the final diagnosis  of a stroke and no cure. I recalled some of the same experiences talking to multiple eye doctors. Taking numerous tests  and also  telling me there was no cure.

A Black male patient is sitting in a chair, facing his white doctor who is doing an exam/refraction with a phoropter.
Image courtesy of the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health

Frank stresses  the importance of being your own advocate when it comes to medical care. Doctors are busy and you are one of many patients. Be prepared to ask questions and do your own research. Also, bringing a friend or family member to appointments to help is useful as long as they understand their role and let you take the lead.

For example, Frank mentions not knowing about low vision services or opportunities for clinical trials. Or the doctor not asking questions about mental and emotional health. I can definitely relate. The same thing happened to me too. I had to find out about those resources from other people, and once Did, I chastise my eye doctor for not informing me. Fortunately, he took the constructive criticism well and promised to do better.

Why Not Me?

Frank poses the questions, “Why me?” Yet, there is a better question, “Why not me?” Why should any of us be spared struggle when it is a universal condition? Comfort and happiness are not automatic; we should expect some kind of difficulty to come into our lives. Having this mindset leaves us unprepared for pain and struggle. I have always been told just live long enough and pain and suffering will ultimately come into your life. I have also come to believe that perfect or even excellent health is not a guarantee until death. At some point  something on our bodies will break down.

Millions of Americans have some form of vision loss and that doesn’t include hearing loss or other bodily functions especially as we get older. Frank’s viewpoint is not that he overcame an obstacle but lives a condition. I appreciate this statement in the sense that being disabled is not something that I have overcome but what I live every day. It is a part of who and what I am. Yes, there are difficult moments but sometimes an ending is a new beginning. Sometimes a limit or a loss is a gateway to a new encounter. Skills you wouldn’t have acquired, insights you wouldn’t have gleaned come to live during this time.

Career as a Journalist

Frank talks about his career as a journalist  and his ability to write well. When he lost his vision  he made tons of errors in his writing. This of course  was devastating. But he began to focus on the ability and the gains. The fact he could still write in the first place. Editors who still wanted to work with him and readers who still wanted to read his work. I can identify. I too  am a writer  and lost vision immediately after receiving my journalism degree. I wondered what kind of career could I have as a blind writer? How would that work? I knew how to do the work as it was all in my head from my education  and training (I graduated with 7 journalism internships under my belt). The access to assistive technology  as allowed me to pursue this not only as a career but as a passion.

Growing Old and Being Disabled

Privileges and blessings were so much greater than what was loss. It was eye-opening in Frank’s perception of the world around him. How he saw other people with disabilities and  those who were elderly. These people were out here living their lives.

To grow old is to let things go. I see this more and more as I get older. But it first started when I went blind. My disability forced me to  release the reins. I had to shift my focus and prioritize  the things that really mattered. I pick and choose my battles because I want to live for another day. It takes energy  to pay attention and/or push the envelope on everything.

Frank points out we are a country that focuses on youth. As a result, we miss the greatness  of the accomplishments  that people make later in life. People are still doing phenomenal things in the later stages of life. With aging comes wisdom and maturity. You feel more comfortable in your own skin. What determines people’s happiness is not their physical conditions but what they pay attention to. When it comes to being disabled  you are not focused on that all day long. You are living your life, working, going to school, spending time with friends and family, etc. Frank finally muses  there is beauty in every stage of the day, from dawn to dust

Making Accessible Origamis: How Folding Paper Stimulated My Brain

White origami crane

Accessible Origami Class Offered

For some years now I have been interested in taking an origami class. I would see them advertised  all the time at my local library. But thinking they were probably not accessible I didn’t  pursue it until recently. The American Printing House for the Blind offered a virtual weekend origami class  via Zoom. When I saw this opportunity I knew it was time  to satisfy my curiosity and learn something new.

Surprise by Mental Benefits

Well, I was not disappointed. Not only  did I learn how to make origamis but how to stimulate my brain in the process. And what a surprise! I had no idea that taking an art class  would do so much to energize my cerebrum. It has been documented, tasks that challenge our minds strengthen our brains. Now, before I get to all the wonderful mental benefits I acquired let me pause  and explain  what an origami is  and how things work.

What is an Origami

An origami is the Japanese art form of folding paper. When the paper is folded it creates either one- or two-dimensional objects. These  objects can go from simple to the most complex depending on the numbers of folds. Typical origami objects are cranes, flowers, boxes,  airplanes, boats, fish, rabbits and dogs.

Woman folding colorful paper with her hands to make an origami object

Since I was taking a beginner class the instructor kept it simple. In other words, no complicated  animals or other objects. During the 90-minute class I made two origamis. The first was a corner bookmark and second was a snack cup/pocket similar to the containers for fries at fast food restaurants. As I was creasing and folding my square piece of printer paper, it  slowly dawned on me the mental benefits I was gaining from this class.

1. Mental Concentration

First was mental concentration. As I listened to the instructor, I had to pay close attention  and focus on what I was doing. Making origamis are  not to be done while multi-tasking. You have to focus on the direction of your fold, when to tuck or pull,  when to crease or rip. You can’t be checking your social media or email, talking on the phone, or doing some other mind-numbing task. You need all hands-on deck. Literally and figuratively.

2. Persistence and Patience

Second was persistence and patience. Like two peas in a pod,  these two traits  are needed for successful  origami creation. I quickly noticed the need to pace myself  and breathe. I could feel some slight frustration creeping in as I was making my corner bookmark. I struggled with visualizing  what the instructor was saying causing me to not understand her instructions. Then I fell behind  and needed her to repeat the directions. fortunately, she was very encouraging, stopping to be sure everyone  was understanding and not wanting anyone left behind. I  was comforted by  that gesture and it motivated me to keep going.

3. Problem Solving

Third was problem solving. Making origamis are similar to solving a jigsaw puzzle. You got to figure out where the pieces go. As you fold and tuck  the paper; the  pieces slowly slide together producing  recognizable artwork.

4. Perfectionist by Nature

Forth was the wild card. I am a perfectionist by nature and this class exposed it. Yet it supported my creativity. It  challenged me to aim for excellence not perfection. See, I wanted my design to be exact. I wanted it to be perfect but it wasn’t. The instructor told us to crease the paper and bend it back and forth  to make it easy to rip off. This was excess paper we didn’t need. I followed her directions but when I ripped off the extra paper it was not smooth. The edge was jagged, not perfect.

I realized what was happening. This was my first attempt at making origamis. I needed to relax and just enjoy the process. I told myself this is an art class and remember to have fun.

Ready for a Brain Boost?

Need  a brain boost? Looking for a mental challenge? Want to learn a new  artistic craft? Consider creating origamis. It’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month  and why not explore this historical and cultural activity. You can learn more about accessible origamis  by reading this blog post written by my instructor. Also , if you are a Facebook fan  check out the group called Accessible Origami Project.

First Paralyzed Athlete Competes in Archery at the Olympics

woman sitting on a chair helping her young son shoot a bow and arrow

Even though archery is one of the oldest sports in existence, it is still practiced  and played today. In recent years it has increased in popularity  and  is observed on May 14, the second Saturday in May-National Archery Day . In honor, I’m sharing about a woman who was disabled and very talented in archery. Her name was Neroli Fairhall and she was the first paraplegic athlete to compete in the Olympics. I initially heard about her listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Womannica. I was so intrigued I’m retelling her story. Hopefully  after reading this post, you will feel the same. So, let’s get started.

Riding Horses and Accident

Neroli was born in 1944 in Christchurch, New Zealand. Since childhood, she was very physically active   and rode horses Even competing in local horse-riding events. But that all changed in 1969 when she was in a motorcycle accident. As a result, she  was paralyzed from the waist down. She was 25 years old and it seemed her life and career was over. I could definitely relate to this experience because I lost my vision at 25 as well. When you go through a traumatic experience  it can definitely appear that  things are over for you. That all you knew and understood  comes to a crashing halt. But this is not the end of the story.

Archery Becomes New Sport

Neroli reinvented  herself and tried a new form of athletics. She got with Eve Rimmer, who was at the time New Zealand’s most famous disabled athlete. Eve was paraplegic too and encouraged her to try shot put. Neroli realized she could still participate in sports. She discovered she had the aptitude and personality for archery. In order to participate one must be focused and calm under pressure, have a good eye, And  a competitive spirit. She had all the above.

First National Championship

In 1976, Neroli competed in her first national archery championship and placed third. Three years later,  she was on the New Zealand national team. Just one year after that, she was at the Olympics, winning her first national title.

Although a historic accomplishment Neroli never made it to the archery range. No one from her team did. Led by the United States, 66 countries, plus New Zealand, boycotted the Moscow-hosted Olympics in protest of the Soviet-Afghan War. Neroli was heartbroken. But she quickly regrouped  and  went to the 1980 Paralympics in Holland. She won a gold medal and set a world record in the double FITA rounds, an intensive form of target shooting.

Competing at Brisbane

In 1981, Neroli won her second national title, and was named to the New Zealand team for the Brisbane Commonwealth Games. It was the first and only time that archery was included in these Games. And Neroli was the first disabled athlete to have ever competed in any event. She competed in the double FITA. The four-day event begins with each archer shooting 144 arrows. This means 36 each at four different distances. The top 24 competitors then enter a grand round. Nine arrows, at each distance. Winner takes all.

Older man in wheelchair practicing archery
Older paraplegic man in wheelchair aiming with bow and arrow on archery training

On Neroli’s first day at Brisbane, she fought with the wind, finishing twelfth. But she persisted, and the next day, pulled herself up to fourth. The third day, she was third. The final day there was a standoff between Neroli and Janet Yates, a teenager from Northern Ireland and the favorite.

Janet Yates led. most of the day but  began to crack under pressure during her final 3 shots. Neroli stayed calm. After much deliberation  and a recount, It was determined by officials Neroli won the gold medal.

Made the Olympic Team with Challenges

In 1984, Neroli’s Olympic dreams finally came true. She made the archery team. But being the Games’ first paraplegic athlete proved hugely difficult. First, her steel wheelchair set off multiple alarms at airports and competition venues. Resulting in an inspection of every part of her chair even the air-filled cushion she sat on. Second, reporters circled her , each trying to get the scoop on her historic appearance. Finally, her execution was lacking. Neroli finished 35th in a field of 47. Perhaps  this less than stellar performance  was partly due to the little support for disabled athletes  competing internationally.

More Olympic Competitions and Final Years

Still, Neroli would go on to compete in four Paralympics, five world championships, and win a total of five national titles. A shoulder injury halted her final Olympic attempt in 1996. During the final years of her career, Neroli coached elite New Zealand archers, and served as an administrator for disabled sports. Neroli died in 2006, at the age of 61.

Growing  a Writing Green Thumb:  6 Ways Spring Can Nurture Your Craft

Colorful spring flowers in a field with the sky in the background

Writing About Spring

I’ve  never been great at growing vegetation. Plants and flowers  don’t seem to flourish around me. The idea of getting outside in the heat. Dealing with bugs of all kinds. Tilling soil  and getting dirty. None of these are my thoughts of a fun  and enjoyable activity. Then add my visual disability to the mix  and my interest quickly wilts like leaves on an unwatered plant. Although there are blind gardeners they must have a passion I don’t possess. But what I have found fruitful is writing about the topic. Now, that is something I can do.

I have been reading a lot about spring and it has inspired me to write about the season as it relates to the writing craft. I can’t grow an actual green thumb but I can do it with words. Here  is how I do it.

1. Start New Writing Habit

Spring is the time to rejuvenate. The time for rebirth. The time to try something new. With that in mind, start a new writing habit or ritual. I tried something new  with writing this blog post. Before writing anything down or doing any research I wrote a list of keywords that  communicated spring and growth. Words such as: nature, nurture, flourish, blooming, blossoming, petals, plants, leaves, stems, root, ground, dirt, soil and germinate. This writing exercise helped to get the creative juices flowing. It boosted my excitement about writing this piece. I felt energized  . Also, it helped eliminate using the same standard, old words and phrases  multiple times.

2. Writing in a Different Genre

Empish holds the anthology titled “Strengths, Courage and Inspiration During the coronavirus.”

Another new habit worth trying is writing in a different genre. If you are a nonfiction writer try fiction. If you are an author enter a writing contest or pen an article for a newspaper or magazine. Just like growing the same crop every time the soil  will lose nourishment, your writing can go stale. Your creativity can suffer. I have tried a new writing assignment. A  submission  I wrote was recently published in my local library’s anthology. it has motivated me to continue in this direction and I am working on another anthology submission for Black female writers.

3. Interact in Person

Spring is also the time to come out of the winter cave. During those cold months we stay at home and hibernate. Plus, the pandemic  has made many of us hesitant to physically interact with each other. But this is the prime time to get out of the house. Slow down those numerous Zoom calls. Renew old friendships and meet new people. Whether it is a writing group, book club meeting, or just hanging out, these interactions  boost positive energy  perfect for growing creativity.

I am an introvert but love interaction. This spring  I started attending live theatre again. I went to my first production  last month and it was a wonderful experience. I will share more in a future post. Later this month, I will be meeting with my dinner book club in person for the first time since the pandemic started.

4. Write Down Ideas and Thoughts

Now, for the real dirty work. You must plant seeds in order for your writing green thumb to grow. Just like in a real garden, seeds must be sown in order for flowers, fruits or veggies  to materialize. Something I do regularly is write down blogging ideas whether they turn into a published piece or not. This  boosts my creativity  and gets those little writing shoots growing. When you write a list of ideas you  can refer back  and it keeps your creative brain fertilize. You are giving your thoughts and ideas a safe place to grow and germinate.

The seeding stage is the most important of phases of a plant’s growth  and can’t be rushed. In other words, you can’t speed up creativity. it has to sprout over time, and with water, sunlight and nurturing creative ideas will soon emerge through the soil.

5. Remember the Writing Process

Seeds are resilient to weather changes, fighting their way through the ground. You will see little spurts of green sprouts inching their way up. As a writer it is easy to focus on the victories and successes of our craft. The published article, blog or even book, without properly acknowledging  the hard work it took to get there. There is real time and struggle in accomplishing any objective  or success story. Remember the experience and don’t forget the writing process as you work toward your goals. Enjoy the journey  not just the fruits of your labor.

6. Stop Writing If Burned Out

Are your writing seedlings not growing? Don’t see any shoots sprouting up? Experiencing creative burnout? Yes, I can relate. If you are Stuck on the next section of a story, unclear on a headline,  struggling with a character. Then stop. Do something totally different than writing. Do something you enjoy but doesn’t require a lot of mental gymnastics. This gives your brain a break allowing creative ideas to blossom. For me exercise is my thing. Turning up the music loud and walking on my treadmill not only is good exercise  but I can relax and enjoy the moment. usually by the time I am done I can get back to writing. Other times, I will sit on the piece and sleep on it. Then come back the next day and continue to write.

Empish on Treadmill

Spring is here and full of writing possibilities. Use my ideas to inspire and refresh   your work. I am sure that one, two  or maybe even all of them will help you grow that writing green thumb.

Can You Hear Me Now? Why I Like Landlines and Smartphones

Empish using iPhone

Telephone Memories

Today, Apr. 25,  is National Telephone Day and I am feeling somewhat nostalgic. I am reflecting on my usage of this important communication device  invented by Alexander Graham Bell. I remember my first telephone. It was a white Princess model purchased from Bellsouth. It sat on my nightstand next to my bed. I remember my parents  and I going to our  local shopping center where there was a Bellsouth store. In the store were a variety of makes and models of phones much like  the cell phone stores of today.

In my hone, there was one in my parents’ bedroom  and one more in the kitchen. The kitchen phone was a wall mounted version with a rotary dial. For those too young to  remember  or those who have forgotten a rotary dial was a type of phone where you had to place your finger in an open metal circle and turn to the corresponding number you wanted. You had to do this one digit at a time and it was a slow process but that is how we dial numbers back then. Also, there  wasn’t a need for area codes unless you were calling long distance.

Now getting back  to my Princess model. I can’t remember if it was a rotary dial or push button because it was so long ago. All I remember is that as a teenager I had my own phone and that is what counted.

But having my own phone quickly ended when I started college and lived in the dorms. It was the phone in the hall mounted on the wall  . Someone would yell loudly, “Empish, you got a phone call!” Then later it was housemates in an apartment. Depending on the situation maybe I had a phone in my room or not.

Blindness and Using a Landline

When I went blind the importance of the telephone  and my ability to use it really  became critical. I  didn’t realize  how vital vision was until I couldn’t dial a number on my landline phone. Back then cell phones were not really happening quite yet. This was back in the mid-90s. People were still using landlines. But my vision loss kept me from seeing the small numbers on the keypad. Initially I got a large print phone with high contrast. The numbers were big and pronounced. The colors were black on white for better visibility. But as I lost more vision  those features were not as helpful anymore. I began to totally rely on the small, raised dot on the number 5, slowly navigating around the keypad. I started memorizing the sequence  and order of the numbers  to know which one to press. I also began to be more  particular about my phone purchases. Touching carefully  the display models in the store before walking out with one. I duplicated this same method when cell phones became popular. Carefully touching the display models to be sure I could  access the buttons.

Empish Using a Landline Phone

Today I am a master at my landline phone. Yes, I still use one . It has a large size keypad. A dot on the number 5. I can quickly dial numbers without even thinking much about it. I also have several cordless phones throughout my hone. All with  distinctive keypads for easy dialing. I have these phones in case of an emergency because you never know when you need to quickly grab  your phone. If you have a cell phone it could be anywhere in the house while you are someplace else.

Also Using a Smartphone

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my smartphone too. Unlike older cell phone models my iPhone is totally accessible with voiceover command. I just don’t make calls much on it. The shape and design is  not made for holding up to my ear. Yes, I know I can get earbuds  but for some reason I have been slow to get on that train. So, I use my smartphone  for other things like reading my audiobooks, listening to podcasts and watching movies. I do some text messaging  and store my contacts  as a digital address book. I also find it helpful as a quick and handy dictionary and spellchecker.

The evolution of the telephone has come a long way. Who would have known that our phones would  become minicomputers in our pockets or purses? The advancement of technology  and what we can do with it is amazing. I wonder what Alexander Graham Bell would  say if he could see how far his invention has come. I know he would say more to Mr. Watson than, “can you hear me now?”

Fun Telephone Facts

Looking for some fun facts  about the telephone? Read these provided by National Days Today:

  • Alexander Graham Bell and his helper, Thomas Watson, made the first phone call.
  • The first phone book only had 20 pages.
  • Mark Twain was the first person to own a phone.
  • In the United States, telephones expanded rapidly, from one phone in 1876 to 11 million phones countrywide by 1915.
  • By 1910, New York Telephone had 6,000 female telephone operators.
  • When Bell handed Watson the phone and said, “here, hold this,” the phrase “to put someone on hold” was named after them.
  • When Alexander Graham Bell died in 1922, all telephones were silenced for one minute with respect to the inventor.
  • In 1956, the first transatlantic telephone cable was laid. A telephone cable was laid across the ocean floor, reaching depths of 12,000 feet. The cable connects Canada and Scotland across the Atlantic Ocean.
  • There are around 150 million telephone lines in the world, with the number growing by thousands every day.

Suggestions for Celebrating National Telephone Day

Whether you still use a landline phone or only use a smartphone, or like me use both, celebrate National Telephone Day  with these suggestions:

1.  Call someone today you either rarely speak to or normally communicate with via text.

2.  Who is your favorite person to talk on the phone with? Give them a call today and check-in to see how they are doing.

3.  Feeling nostalgic? Inquire with your grandparents about the amount of energy required to “dial” a phone — and why they disliked numbers with a lot of zeroes.

4.  And if you are really feeling musically inspired  and bold call a friend or loved one and sing Stevie Wonder’s  iconic song, “I Just Called To Say I Love You.”

We’re with U Concert Helps Blind Ukrainians

People performing and playing music. There are people playing rock, dandcing and rapping.

As I’ve been watching the news on the war in Ukraine I have wondered  what is happening to the people with disabilities there. Are they successfully escaping with their families? Or are they safely staying behind? I know war harms the lives, health and safety of all people involved. but the circumstances are far worse for the millions of people with disabilities and their families living in Ukraine. Getting reliable information in an accessible format  must be challenging. Spotty transportation options  and/or places to shelter safely  are probably  also difficult too. I know just thinking about the basic things of life like food, clothing and shelter, then add a disability  to that equation has got to be incredibly tough.

Benefit Concert for Blind Ukrainians

As a disabled person living miles away from this devastation I  was at a loss  with what to do. Then a few weeks ago it was announced, on one of my favorite podcasts, Mosen at Large, a benefit concert  would be held to help the blind people in Ukraine. This virtual concert would be  an opportunity for the international blind community to contribute  in two ways. First, of course, to give a monetary donation regardless of the amount. Second, to contribute our musical talents and skills to a very worthy cause. I thought this was a wonderful idea and blocked off the date and time on my calendar.

Well, the We’re With U concert was held Saturday, Apr. 16. It ran for about 11 hours or so, reminding me of the days of Live Aid, a benefit  concert  to help the famine in Ethiopia. It was fantastic! I was so proud of the incredible  talent in the community . For hours I listen to singers and musicians. There was a classical guitarist,  trombonist and  poet. All varieties of music were performed  from rock, gospel, classical, operatic, country, reggae and jazz. There were even some performances from the theatric productions of Fiddler on the Roof, Hamilton and the Phantom of the Opera. There literally was something for everyone. The performers came from all parts of the globe-the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Spain, Romania, Ireland, India, Singapore, Germany, the Caribbean and more. It truly was an international  united front to help Ukraine.

Stories About Blind Ukrainians

Not only did I hear wonderful musical selections but stories  from  Ukrainians  themselves. I got  to learn a little  bit about what  people with disabilities are really dealing with, driving home the pressing need more. Stories were told about blind children trying to shelter in place. A story of a  blind person with cerebral palsy  escaping. Another about  accessing braille books in  Ukrainian’s native language.

Multiple Ways to Donate

Empish Writing a Check

During the entire concert opportunities to donate were provided. In the US, people  contacted the National Federation of  the Blind who partnered with the World Blind Union. On their website there  was a dedicated page about the concert and a form  for your donation. The form was accessible and easy to complete. Once done I got an email confirmation of my donation.

For people outside the US, a donation form from the World Blind Union was available. According to their website, The WBU is  the principal organization that represents and speaks on behalf of blind and partially sighted persons at the international level. The WBU derives its strength from its members in approximately 190 countries worldwide. The WBU reflects the aspirations of blind persons for equality and full participation.

The concert started at 2 p.m. with an amount of around $30,000. By the time I started yawning and nodding off at 1 a.m. the total was around $80,000. And this is not the grand total by any means. For people who  didn’t have internet access a phone number was available  to receive a call back. Also, there is probably opportunities to still give  as the weeks progress. Again, I was immensely proud of all that we  were doing to help blind and visually impaired Ukrainians.

Concert was an Opportunity to Give

I have no idea when this war will end but I do take some comfort in knowing that I helped  in some small way. The We’re With U concert gave me the chance to give   not only to those who are currently disabled but  those who will become  so because of this war. As we all know war injuries can result in PSD, amputations, deafness and blindness. I  also  am giving back by writing this post. Hopefully, you will read it. Share  with friends and family. And most importantly, donate  to the people of Ukraine.

Managing Creative Burnout and Slowly Getting My Writing Mojo Back

Empish sitting on mat in a yoga prayer pose

Writing is a Joy

Writing has been such an intricate part of my life it is hard for me to remember  the days when I was not a writer. With that being said writing is something I love to do not just a task to make money. The creative process is a joy. Coming up with  topics to write. Stringing interesting words and phrases to make sentences worthy of reading is exciting. Researching fascinating topics for a blog or an article  thrill me. But I noticed a shift recently. It was  not glaring directly in my face like a deer in headlights. Rather it was more subtle  and quiet.

It  all started around the Christmas holidays. My mother came to visit me and boy what a treat. For her  short visit I set up a firestick so we could lounge on the sofa and watch TV and movies. This is what we typically do when I am home. We did that and had a wonderful time. But after she left I kept lolling on that sofa. It was hard to get up and get going. I would tell myself, one more movie and then I will get to writing only to look up and the whole day was gone. This strange and weird pattern  stretched over several days and then weeks. I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. This behavior  was not my style.

Showing Signs of Creative Burnout

I did a self-check in and noticed my love for writing  was not gone. I was just not in the mood. I was just not motivated.

After reading all the new year articles about setting goals and intentions I stumbled across some talking about creative burnout. As I continued to read and research I discovered this was me. Like being diagnosed with a disease, I was displaying  the signs and symptoms. I became my own doctor and started to work on a cure. Or at least a way to reduce  the symptoms  so I could get back on track. As of this writing I am in a better place but don’t feel completely recovered. I don’t feel that I have fully gotten my writing mojo back. Rather I am managing my creative burnout  and here’s how.

Need to Chill Out

AS they say in the Alcoholic Anonymous meetings you have to admit there is a problem. You can’t be in denial and expect to get better. As I said earlier, I knew something was wrong. Or at least something was off. But I had to go a little deeper. I looked at my personality. I am one of those Type A people most people love to hate. I am on time every time. I am meticulous about keeping things organized. I keep a running list of things to do and  don’t handle it well  when I can’t scratch  items off my list daily. So, you get the idea of the kind of person I am. In a lot of places my type works very well yet in other places people  want me to chill. I have worked on relaxing  and cooling out over the years. Which leads to my creative burnout.

Since I know who and what I am, it began to dawn on me  this period in my life  was probably a needed respite. Instead of getting stressed out, worrying  or even ramping up my work, I needed to stop and listen. To take a chill pill as they use to say. To slow down  and be quiet.

I Am Not Alone

The next thing I realized is that I was not alone. While sitting on my sofa  mindlessly watching movies  I felt a little isolated. Like I was the only one or one in a few dealing with this issue. But that is not true. People who are creatives  can experience burnout. That is people who are writers, artists, social media  experts,  musicians, influencers, podcasters, etc. People who have to crank out content constantly  for the man. You know who I’m talking about. It is a continuous  grind to come up with creative ideas to write about, to blog about and on and on. After a while you get tired because  you are not a machine but a human being.

As  creatives, yes, we take breaks. Yes, we do all the selfcare stuff. But we can still get burned out. Because we are on someone’s schedule  and the work has got to be excellent. The heat and pressure is on.

Switch Writing Gears

So, what to do? I have switched gears up a bit. I have worked on writing projects  that don’t demand  all of that from me. Projects where I can use  the other side of my brain. This way I can give myself some needed rest while still doing what I love.

Not Demanding Perfection

I am also not demanding perfection from myself as much. I realized the huge amount of stress I was placing on myself. Not that I  won’t produce excellent work. Or be open to correction  and criticism to improve. That is not what I am talking about. I am referring to the fact that I am not perfect. That I tend to be nitpicky when it comes to my work. I know as long  as I do my very best that is good enough. I just have to keep telling myself that until it sticks like old chewing gum on the bottom of my shoe.

Making Peace and Not Afraid

I have also made peace with this place in my life. I am not fighting where I am. Everything has a purpose. This transition or phase or whatever you want to call it is happening right  now  for a reason. I am learning how to lean into  the moment and experience the ride. I don’t have to be in control of everything  all the time. And actually,  it feels pretty good  to pump the breaks.

Lastly, with this new resolve I am not afraid of totally losing my mojo. AS a matter of fact, it is slowly coming back. Not in a big title wave like I had originally expected  but more  like drips from a  leaky faucet. I can live with this fact because writing is my joy.

Talk to me. Are you a creative? Have you experience burnout? If so, what things did you do to manage it? How did you get your mojo back?

Feeling Anxious About Tax Filing? Stay Calm with My  Stress-Free Organizing Tips

Woman holding up two tax forms in front of her face

Although this year’s tax filing deadline is right around the corner on April 18, I traditionally file my taxes in February or March. I figure the sooner the better and to just get the whole maddening business out of the way quickly. But more importantly I file early  because things get pretty busy and hectic. This way I avoid the stress and anxiety as much as possible.

Before losing my vision I prepared my taxes myself. It was fairly simple  and straightforward. But afterward, I lacked the confidence to do it on my own and some tax preparation  products and tools were not very accessible or complicated. Even though tax filing has become more accessible over the years I  still prefer to have a professional handle the paperwork. So, when I was recently in my tax guy’s office he was telling me once again how organized my paperwork  was and how easy it was to file for me. He tells me this year after  year,  marveling at how I do this with vision loss. I just smile and say, “Thank you for the compliment.” But it got me thinking  and led me to share some of my tax filing tips. The things that keep me stress-free  and organized each tax year. Hopefully, you will feel the same after reading.

Make Excel Your Friend

The biggest tool I use to stay calm  during tax filing is Excel. This software program  is my friend. I use it daily for all kinds of things. To track my grocery spending. To track my Uber/Lyft  ride amounts. To track my credit card payments. To track my out-of-pocket medical  cost. Do you get my drift? Excel is a great way to track numbers for nearly anything you want. So, each year I track my freelance income and expenses. For example, on my freelance expense spreadsheet I create  rows and columns for the date, company, expense description and amount. On a spreadsheet everything is laid out and easy to read. You can also sort and reorganize the columns and rows to crunch the numbers in different ways which my accountant loves.

Each year I create new spreadsheets with the year in the title so I know the difference. I usually  will do a save as in Excel and just update  the new one. I find this easier  because the formula I use to calculate my totals  stays the same each time. Then when I meet with my accountant I just hand him the thumb drive  and he can clearly read and review the spreadsheets  he needs for tax filing.

Create Email Receipt Folders

Now, how to deal with all those paper receipts. And no, I am not talking about stuffing them in a folder or shoebox. I have noticed nowadays   most receipts are provided electronically. I can even get my grocery receipts  sent via email. Now what I do is create folders in my email provider for receipts. I label the folder in accordance with what is in the folder. I use Outlook for this process. I have a folder for all my Amazon orders. Another one for house-related  things. Another for medical. I refer back to these receipts  for taxes when I need to. I can simply punch all the info into  my spreadsheets  and/or print out the receipt for verification if needed.

For receipts that are not electronic I store in a paper file folder for tax filing only. I have a dedicated folder strictly for this purpose. Throughout the year, as I get receipts, donation  letters, home ownership tax statements and other documents, I place in this folder. Although the amount is minimal this step keeps me from getting stressed out later because everything is in one place  and ready to go during tax time.

Empish using water and fireproof safe

These paper receipts I store with a copy of my tax return and place in my water and fireproof safe. There I keep copies of previous tax returns  for the future just in case the IRS comes calling.

There you go. My two biggest organizing tips for  stress free  tax filing. Some might be looking for a long laundry list of tips and tricks but for me it is really this simple. I have been doing this for years and it actually works. Hopefully, if tax season is stressing you out, my tips helped you feel better. With some organization and preparation this year’s filing could be your calmest ever.

Max Cleland Has the Heart of a Patriot While Surviving His War Wounds

A man sitting in a wheelchair with one missing arm and missing legs. He is being fitted with a prosthetic arm by a medical technician.

Day Remembering Vietnam War Veterans

When I think of veterans November  comes immediately to mind because of Veteran’s Day. Or Memorial Day coming up soon in May. But I was surprised to see a national observation for veterans on my calendar. March 29 was National Vietnam War Veterans Day.

After I saw this commemoration pop up, it immediately made me think of two things. First was my father who  was a Vietnam War veteran. He was not a fan of this war and rarely spoke  about it. He passed away some years ago  and I wonder  his thoughts on such an observation. Second Max Cleland, a disabled Vietnam War veteran and Georgia politician. He died in Nov. 2021. His book, “Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove,” has been on my list to read. I thought there is no time like the present. This national day of observance  was the push I needed to read and review  his book.

Reading with My Ears Book Review

In the forward Cleland speaks directly to brothers and sisters of war. Those who are trapped in the memories. To those overwhelmed, coping on their own and struggling with what we have done and what has happened to us. To those left hopeless  and confused about our lives. He says, “It does not make us victims, it makes us veterans.”

Cleland was born and raised in Georgia. He lived  in the same town I reside in today. There is even a street named after him in the downtown district of the city. His father was in the navy during WW2 and he had other family members who served in the military. He was a  captain during the war. He   signed up for more time in the war because he felt he had to do his part.

War Injury and Rehabilitation

The day he was wounded by a grenade explosion was April 8, 1968. Eight days after President Johnson called for an end to the war. He came back from Vietnam missing three limbs (right arm and both legs)  and was treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Doctors were not optimistic  about his future, but through the bonds he formed with other wounded soldiers, and through his own self-determination, he learned how to be mobile and overcome his despair.

As I read about his rehabilitation journey, I learned some new things about amputation such as the importance of knees. When he first tried to get artificial legs  there was resistance because he had no knees  and you need them to bend   for walking and climbing stairs. They are the key to balance  and mobility. During that time, they were made of wood and very heavy.

The doctors told him he would need crutches to use the wooden legs. But with one arm that would be nearly impossible. Yet, Cleland was determined to walk again and did everything required to do so. He did walk with those wooden legs until he was upgraded to plastic ones with knee support. Later on, the stress and exhaustion, especially  during the beginning of his political career,   caused him to go back to using a wheelchair.

He shares openly and honestly about his rehabilitation. For example, trying to get dressed using only one arm. He struggled with buttons on his shirt  and putting on pants. It made me think about a recent episode of The Shark Tank where a contestant pitched her business of accessible clothing for  people with disabilities, specifically amputees.

Disabled Black Man in Wheelchair Boarding Bus
Disabled African American Man In Wheelchair Boarding Bus

He shared about the differences in treatment between Walter Reed and the Veterans Hospital. He was released from Walter Reed and had to  continue at the VA Hospital. At that time, they were not prepared to deal with Vietnam veterans  as most patients were  from the Korean War or WW2. Additionally,  he says that 80% of patients were there for health problems unrelated to war  . As a result,  he felt lonely  because he couldn’t connect to the other men  as many of them were veterans from a different generation and also heavily medicated.

Reading his story, I could relate to the feeling of loss. Cleland talked about how  his feelings of safety, security  and sense of self were gone in a heartbeat. Although I didn’t become disabled because of war it did happen pretty quickly  and traumatically. My life was turned upside down.

Leads VA and PSD Revealed

Cleland  takes his artificial legs  and goes home to become the first Vietnam veteran to serve in the Georgia state senate. Next, President Jimmy Carter appoints him head of the Veterans Administration. He believed his mission was “to care for those who have born the battle.”

He recognized the lack of funding for veterans  yet always plenty for war. Nine million served in Vietnam,  from Aug. 4, 1964, to May 1975, with millions of them wounded and injured. There was a push to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PSD) not just physical injuries. Living on hyper alert takes a toll, seeing death firsthand takes a toll, and killing takes a toll. In 1978VA psychiatrists finally admitted that PSD existed. and became an official psychiatric diagnosis. Meaning that veterans could get treatment and financial benefits. Years later he would benefit from this decision as he too delt with PSD.

At 40, he became Georgia’s youngest secretary of state. During his time in office, he appointed the first Black assistant secretary of state. He opened the process and registered 1 million voters. He was secretary of state for 12 years  but was not fulfilled politically.

It wasn’t until he became U.S. Senator. that he accomplished his dream. Battling a smear tactic  causing him to lose his seat and 9/11 by the invasion of Iraq, Cleland was pushed to the edge. Depression and PSD surfaced during this time. He was dealing with deep depression  and seeking  therapy and better medications. He went back to Walter Reed  for help.

Seeks Therapist and Help for Depression

At Walter Reed he was thrown back into Vietnam as he saw wounded veterans  coming back from the battlefield. He was deeply distressed and moved by what he was seeing  as the signs were so similar to what he had also experienced many years before.

A woman in a wheelchair along side another woman working with her on a computer

Despite all of that, he was able to get help for his depression and PSD. He found a great therapist  and medication that actually worked effectively. He learned how to reconcile  his past with his present. To remember who and what he was before he went to Vietnam and became disabled. Reclaiming that part of himself was a big part of his healing. He learned to find a new sense of himself at last.

I got quite emotional as I read Cleland’s memoir. I thought about all he went through. All  Vietnam veterans went through and probably still do. All my dad went through. Even in some ways how much things haven’t change since then. But also, how much  it has changed. I realize the goal is to keep going. To not forget the past but to look forward to the future.

Representation Matters: Excellent Audio Description of The Harder They Fall

Empish watching TV. She is sitting on sofa pointing remote control at TV.

Grew Up Watching Westerns

While growing up in Texas watching westerns were a big part of my childhood, especially on Saturdays. There was Big Valley, Bonanza and The Lone Ranger. In the evenings, my favorite western was  Gunsmoke, starring James Arness as Matt Dillon. I even enjoyed Little House on the Prairie and later as an adult, watching Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.

But rarely have I ever seen a western with Black folks. Maybe a token  character or two. But definitely not a full cast. So, it was to my delight to view the movie The Harder They Fall  with audio description. Although, the movie premiered on Netflix  some months ago, I am just getting around to watching it. But better late than never, right? And boy was it well worth it. The film  has a cast of characters loosely based on real cowboys, lawmen and outlaws of the 19th century American West. It is about revenge, love and redemption. The film stars Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, and Deon Cole.

Popcorn in a red bowl and a mug of a warm beverage on the table with a fireplace in the background.

Representation Really Does Matter

Now when it comes to representation it really does matter. What I am talking about goes beyond race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. It is providing equal access  to information in a film, movie or TV show for those with vision loss. It is the way information is described  and given to me as I engage with the film. Since I am blind watching films with excellent audio description is important to me. I watch  a lot of audio described movies  and I have to tell you  this one was done exceptionally well. Let me tell you why.

Race and Skin Tone Described

From the very beginning of the movie race is communicated. In the opening scene  we view a Black family sitting down to dinner. They are dressed in clothing of the time period. One of the men is described having  dark Black skin with a salt and pepper beard. Too many times I have watched films with people of color in them never knowing that fact. There are times I don’t discover it until the character  self-identifies  by saying in one of their lines they are Black, Asian, Latino, etc. Then I have to  reprocess the scene because  if race is not communicated the thought process is to assume the dominate race which is white.

The audio description didn’t shy away from identifying variations of skin tone. In the Black community we are a rainbow of skin tones-from light skin to medium to dark-and variations in between. Throughout the whole movie skin tone variations were given which I greatly appreciated. For example, a character  was described as a copper skinned man. It gave me context and understanding as to what the person really looked like especially since I had eyesight before. Other movies I have watch stop short and just describe hair and eye color. Some have stepped a little closer and have mentioned  terms like olive  skin tone or just use the generic word brown.

Clothing and Movie Title Described

Detail description of clothing. I was very impressed  because too many times in the movies I watch there is little to no description of what people are wearing. In one scene  a male character was wearing a poncho and black pants. While a female character wore a felt bowler hat. Yet, another male character wore  a Crimson velvet coat. This information is specific and helpful to understanding the time period of the movie  and also giving more equal access to what my sighted peers are getting too.

I Loved the description of the title of the movie, as one of the main male characters shot another character, the words  to the title appeared on the screen one bullet shot at a time. That was clever and creative.

Black Hair Described

Unique description of Black hair. Very rarely do I watch a movie where Black hair is audio described. Every so often I will hear a word like dreadlocks or afro letting me know the character is probably  Black. But in the Harder They Fall I was so pleased by the description of hair. For example, Stagecoach Mary had fluffy shoulder length natural hair and Treacherous Trudy Smith had micro braids.

Final Thoughts

My last observation of the audio description in this movie was how it  was timed well with the music. This is a tricky thing to accomplish because it depends on the type of music  and the scene in the film. Sometimes the audio description can be distracting  or hard to follow because the music overpowers  the scene. But in this movie I found both worked very well together.

The audio description was provided by International digital center  with writer, Liz Gutman, and voicer, Bill Larson. I have noticed their name numerous times in the credits of movies  I have seen. I am very appreciative of their work  and hope to see more of this kind of audio description in the future not only from them but other companies that audio describe as well.