The Personal Librarian: A Story of Power, Passing and Progression

The Personal Librarian Book Cover

Book Summary

The Personal Librarian  by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray is an excellent read in honor of Black History Month. I read it a couple of weeks ago and then attended a virtual discussion with one of the authors that was literally amazing.

According to Benedict’s website this historical fiction book is a remarkable story of J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, the Black American woman who was forced to hide her true identity and pass as white to leave a lasting legacy that enriched our nation. In her twenties, Belle da Costa Greene is hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle becomes a fixture in New York City society and one of the most powerful people in the art and book world, known for her impeccable taste and shrewd negotiating for critical works as she helps create a world-class collection.

But Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle’s complexion isn’t dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage that lets her pass as white—her complexion is dark because she is African American.

The Personal Librarian tells the story of an extraordinary woman, famous for her intellect, style, and wit, and shares the lengths she must go to—for the protection of her family and her legacy—to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives.

My Thoughts Plus Spoilers

After reading this book I realized how much of American history I still have left to uncover, explore and learn. I never knew anything about Belle or her story. And what an incredible story! So, here are my thoughts with spoilers. If you haven’t read the book and don’t want to hear the juicy details bookmark my blog and read later. In addition, I am going to share about the author discussion with Victoria Christopher Murray. She spilled a lot of the tea about Belle, elaborating on parts of the book that were true and parts that were fiction. For this review I will break the book up into three sections: power, passing and progression. There was so much to unpack but the three elements that were the strongest centered around the incredible power of J.P. Morgan, Belle and her family’s ability to pass, and the progression that Belle made as a career woman in a male dominant environment.

Power of J.P. Morgan

John Pierpont Morgan, more commonly known

as

J.P. Morgan was an American financier and industrial organizer. He was known as one of the most powerful banking figures during his time. Morgan financed railroads and helped organize U.S. Steel, General Electric and other major corporations.

Portrait of JP Morgan

In 1871 he formed a partnership with Philadelphia banker Anthony Drexel and 24 years later it was reorganized as J.P. Morgan & Company. This firm became the forerunner of the financial giant JPMorgan Chase. Morgan used his influence to help stabilize American financial markets during several economic crises, including the panic of 1907. However, he faced criticism that he had too much power and was accused of manipulating the nation’s financial system for his own gain. The Gilded Age titan spent a large portion of his wealth gathering a vast art collection. Morgan was one of the greatest art and book collectors of his day, and he donated many works of art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. His collection, the Morgan Library, became a public reference library in 1924.

Belle’s Passing as White

Belle and her family had been passing as white and living in New York for many years before working with J.P. Morgan. When they first moved there from Washington, DC, her father, Richard Greener, was a part of the family but when Belle’s mother, Genevieve, checked them off white on the census report her father was done. He had been a fierce civil rights advocate and believed racial change could come through activism and legislation. Her mother thought different. Passing has always been a sticky subject in the Black community because of its implications. The act communicates a person is better than other Black folks. That they look down on others and the community. It communicates that a person is using their lighter skin tone to gain the advantage in a way that darker skin people will never be able to do.

But what I found interesting in the story of Belle and her family is the passing had to do more with pure survival than anything else. Belle was immensely proud of who she was and where she came from. She didn’t deny her family or her legacy. Her family passed because of fear and the dangerous racial climate at the time. Her mother was distressed by the death threats she and her family got when they lived in South Carolina. Her father was working as a professor and the Ku Klux Klan had threatened to lynch him, his wife and two small children if he didn’t leave. So, they left and never returned. Belle’s mother never forgot that time and later shared it with her as a reason for passing. She was also worried about the increasing lack of opportunities for advancements for Black people. In her mind passing was a way to get a head and gain some kind of equal footing.

However, passing paid a high cost. You had to give up your family, friends and any connections to your past. Belle had to give up her relationship with her dad, who she was very close to, and extended family in DC. She also refuse marriage and children because it might reveal her true identity. There was also the regular stress, worry and fear of being found out. Thus, being cautious was critical to survival. Belle had to watch how she carried herself. How she handled her day-to-day activities. For example, her mother strongly warned her to not give eye contact to a Black person. This advice was to remind her to act white because white people didn’t pay attention to Black people in social settings.

Progression Of Belle’s Career

Wall of Book Shelves

When Belle got hired to be J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian this was a huge step forward in her career. Not only would she be working for one of the most powerful and richest men in the country she would have the salary and prestige to boot. Belle was working during the time when women were fighting for the right to vote and women didn’t work outside the home. Her status and position immediately went up when she started working on his collection of art and rare books. But Belle didn’t take that for granted. She knew that she still had to work twice as hard to prove her worth and value. She was also the main financial provider for her mother and siblings. Belle was a woman in a man’s world and she didn’t forget she was Black. So, she learn several foreign languages, how to be flirty, outgoing and engaging. She upgraded her wardrobe and style. Morgan introduced her to high society and made her a part of his immediate family. She learned how to negotiate shrewd art deals and stand out at auctions. By the time Morgan died in 1913, Belle had established herself as a force to be reckoned with. In his will she was guaranteed employment for one year along with a substantial monetary amount of $50,000. But Belle ended up working as his personal librarian until her retirement in 1948.

Talk with Co-author

After reading Belle’s amazing story I attended a discussion with one of the authors via Zoom. It was hosted by Book Nation  by Jen. During the conversation Victoria Christopher Murray talked about the writing process, where the idea of the book came from, and details about what was fact and fiction. I especially enjoyed her comments about how Belle became known as a Black woman in the first place. Apparently, Belle’s plan was to never have her racial identity revealed. But some of her father’s old documents were found decades later uncovering that secret. Another interesting fact is the Morgan Library will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2024 and during the celebration her office will be on display as well as letters from her long-distance lover revealing more details.

8 Reasons I Love Writing

Valentine pink heart shaped paper on white and pink floral textile

I Love Writing

Hey everybody, it’s Valentine’s Day on the 14th! The special time we celebrate love. But this post is not going to be about anything romantic or sexy. Sorry no hot and steamy love stories or how to romance your sweetheart here. This post is going to address 8 reasons why I love writing.

I have been a writer for several years and despite the ups and downs of my life I still love it. This has included death of friends and family, becoming disabled, various job changes and now a pandemic. I am still writing and loving it. And this is the thing. If you don’t love what you do it will show and people will see it. Why put all the work and effort into something you don’t have a deep love or passion for? So, as it is with my writing, I love what I do and here’s why.

8 Reasons Why

Valentine's couple making heart shape with hands

1. I love the creative process of writing. I am naturally curious and interested in all kinds of things. Sometimes those thoughts end up on my computer page. I get to stretch my brain muscle and put digital pen to paper on topics I wonder about.

2.  I love the Spiritual Aspect Of Writing. Writing helps me connect with God and also the universe. It generates a positive sense of my existence. Although I have a journalism degree and years of experience, I know my ability to write is not just from my talents alone., I feel incredibly grateful for this gift of written communication.

3.  I love stringing various words together to create sentences, paragraphs and ultimately pages. I find words and writing thrilling. When I get into my zone words can just fly off the page.

4.   AS a professional writer, I use writing to explore topics of interest. I enjoy reading and learning about things. A lot of times that curiosity comes out in my writing as I pitch a story to a client.

5.  Writing is like therapy. Years ago, I started journaling and found it so helpful when unpacking complicated emotions and thoughts. Writing my feelings down on paper has helped me to get through difficult moments in my life. It has also given me perspective and the ability to look at the bigger picture. Lastly, when I review past journal entries I can see my development, growth or sometimes stagnation.

6. Writing is my legacy. Since I am single with no children I won’t have a family to leave behind once I am gone. But I have tons of my published writing work. People can read my work and be inspired, motivated and hopefully encouraged.

7. Writing allows me to speak for my community. I am a Black woman with a disability and many times are stories are not told or told incorrectly. My love of writing gives me the power to say something, which I don’t take lightly. My writing lets me educate, share a different perspective and enlighten people based on my life experiences. Responses to my writing have helped me build community and connection.

8.  Writing allows me to express my opinions and beliefs. As a professional writer I have had to write for others with their thoughts, attitudes and style in mind. But when I do my personal writing I can let my hair down and say the things I really want and in the way I want. This is a big reason why I started this blog in the first place. I needed a platform for my personal thoughts, feelings and musings about things. I wanted a safe place to express myself in a written format.

Are you a writer? If so, I’d love to hear your reasons for why you love writing. Whether you write for the pure joy or as a career choice we all have stories to tell. Share yours with me in the comments.

You Butter Believe It, I’m Celebrating National Popcorn Day

Container of Movie Popcorn in a Colorful Cardboard Box

My Childhood Popcorn Memories

Popcorn has been one of my most favorite snacks since I was a little kid. I remember growing up and my mom popping kernels of it over the stove. She would dawn oven mittens and shake the covered pot from left to right. I could hear the kernels rattling in the bottom of the pot. I could smell the aroma of the corn popping. Ah, yes, the sweet anticipation! She had a serous knack or maybe a maternal instinct of knowing just when to remove the popcorn from the stove so that it didn’t burn. She knew exactly how much oil, salt and popcorn kernels to place in the pot. Most times it came out perfect. It was our Saturday afternoon treat along with watermelon slices. We would munch on popcorn watching episodes of Soul Train trying to figure out the scramble board and the latest dance moves.

Microwave Popcorn

Empish getting ready to use microwave

Then the 80s came and microwaves were all the rage. We slowly migrated to microwave popcorn instead of stovetop. This was a new invention and not bad tasting. Sometimes the challenge was getting the timing exact and it was different for different brands of popcorn. The worse thing in the world was the smell of burnt microwave popcorn wafting out of the kitchen. But the cool thing was there was little clean up. Microwave popcorn was self-contained so once the bag was empty just throw in the trash. There was no pots or bowls to wash afterward. And, of course, this new popcorn innovation didn’t stop us from our Saturday afternoon ritual of watching Soul Train. That continued on business as usual.

These days I don’t watch Soul Train anymore but still eat popcorn. Sometimes with my mom. Sometimes with friends. Sometimes by myself. I usually have a bag full at my local movie theater. But since COVID I have stayed home and had my popcorn while watching an audio describe movie.

Other Popcorn Options

I have had popcorn during the holidays. You know those Christmas canisters with the three sections. One for butter, one for cheddar, and one for Carmel. During my Christmas visits home, my family would enjoy one of those canisters while watching TV and sharing family stories and gossip. When my mom and I weren’t eating regular popcorn we enjoyed Cracker Jacks and Fiddle Faddle. I remember Cracker Jacks would come in these little boxes. Along with the caramel coated popcorn were peanuts and a little surprise inside. Not sure if Cracker Jacks is still around anymore. I am sure someone reading this post will let me know. As I got older I moved away from Cracker Jacks and ate Fiddle Faddle which is similar but no surprise inside. Then some years ago a friend introduce me to Poppycock. This one is the best as it is a gourmet caramel glazed popcorn with a variety of nuts like almonds, cashews, walnuts and peanuts. OMG, it is to die for!

Celebrate National Popcorn Day

All of these memories and thoughts of popcorn were prompted by the fact that today, Jan. 19, is National Popcorn Day. There is a National Popcorn Board. Yeah, who knew a board like this existed? Well, they decided to create this delicious day of celebration and I’m all in. I will be popping my bag of homestyle flavored popcorn. But what about you? Do you enjoy popcorn? If so, how will you celebrate this popular snack?

Working From Home? Here’s 5 Safety and Security Tips.

Empish Touching Fire Extinguisher Mounted on Wall

Home Office Safety and Security Week

As this pandemic continues on so does the attractiveness and ability to work from home. According to Findstack, 16% of companies in the world are 100% remote and 77% of remote workers say they’re more productive when working from home. With that being said it is important   to make your home office environment safe and secure. This week is Home Office Safety and Security Week. Observed every second week in January, people use this time to reevaluate their home office space. Check fire and smoke alarm systems. Clean clutter from office space. Back up files, use password protection and antivirus software.

When I read about this special week I had to take a pause. Is my home office safe and secure? After doing my own inventory, I am now ready to share with you what I learned. If you work from home this post will help you look at your office environment too.

1. Security Alarm and Fire Safety

The first thing I think about when it comes to home safety is my alarm system, smoke detector and fire extinguisher. A home security system is not just ideal for protecting your personal possessions but for work as well. Now that more people are working from home it is important to keep office equipment, computers, and other devices secure. Additionally, don’t forget to engage your alarm system during the day while you are working. Many folks tend to turn it on at nighttime only or not at all.

When I purchased my home some 20 years ago, one of the first things I did was go to a home improvement store and buy 2 fire extinguishers. I have one in the kitchen and the other is in the hallway upstairs near my office. According to the National Fire Protection Association it is best to have a fire extinguisher on each level of your home, in the kitchen, the garage and near exit doors. You never know when you might need to put out a small fire and you will lose precious time running around the house to get an extinguisher. Two things to remember though check the agent class. They come in A, B, C or a combination. I purchased one for all fires so I don’t have to worry about if the extinguisher will work properly. Also, I try to keep track of the agent levels in the extinguisher. Over time the agent strength level decreases and the worse thing is to have a fire, grab the extinguisher, aim and spray and nothing comes out!

2. Office Clean Up  

Next, I work hard at keeping my office free from physical clutter. That is papers, folders and boxes. It is so easy to plop things down on the desk or floor and before you know it piles of stuff are everywhere. So, I stop from time to time to organize and clean things up. Not just because it needs to be done but because it is a physical hazard. I can easily stumble and fall. And because I am self-employed there is no workers comp pay for me! HaHa! Got to pay my own medical bills.

A paper shredder and a clear bin with paper being shredded.

3.  Shred Sensitive Documents

Along with that is shredding sensitive documents. Your job might require this so investing in a good quality shredder is key. One of my goals last year was to empty my overflowing shredder box. I was all geeked up to do it. Then my shredder died. So, this is on my list to do this year. I have got to clean out all these old papers and dump them in the trash.

4.  Secure Your Technology

Another essential part of working from home is securing your technology. Whether that is a desktop, laptop, tablet or other device is it secure? Do you use a good antivirus software? What about password protection? Are you running the latest software programs to do your job? Depending on your line of work this is critical. Also, backing up your files. I do this constantly. I use a combo of Dropbox and One Drive. They both work well for my writing and photo storage.

5. Protect Your WIFI and Router

My last tip is to protect your internet connection. Make sure your Wi-Fi is appropriately encrypted with a password. Make sure your internet provider gives you the newest version of available routers and that it has basic security to keep your data protected with a firewall. Or you can set up your own wireless modem rather than use the one that comes from your internet service.

It takes some time to evaluate your home office so use this week to get started. Once done it can be simple to maintain. Checking your office safety and security on a regular basis will help ensure your peace of mind and work productivity.

5 Microwave Cooking Hacks to Put the Ho Ho Ho in Your Holidays

Empish at gas stove

Mostly Use Gas Stove

I use the microwave mostly for heating foods but not for cooking. It comes in handy for warming up a nice mug of coco during these cold winter months. Or reheating leftovers and popping my all-time favorite snack, a buttery bag of popcorn, to munch on while watching an audio described movie. Otherwise, it is sitting on the kitchen counter holding double duty as a quick device for heating foods and a place holder for my vitamins, memo pads and other odds and ends.

When it comes to major meal preparation I cook on my stove. I love my gas stove and have been cooking with it for many years. I like the way it cooks quickly yet evenly but boy does it get hot in the kitchen! Microwaves cook quickly and evenly too and can be an excellent kitchen appliance when you want to keep it simple. Over time I have learned microwaves have more functionality than for what I gave them credit. Although, National Microwave Oven Day was on Dec 6th I still want to recognize the importance of this useful kitchen appliance especially as we are in the midst  of the holiday season and gathering for special meals with friends and family.

5 Holiday Microwave Cooking Hacks

If you  want to whip up something in a pinch, create a festive and savory side dish  or just cut down cooking time in the kitchen these holiday hacks are for you. Just be sure to follow safety guidelines for your make and model and you will be ready to go. Now, let’s get ready to Ho Ho Ho in the kitchen this holiday with five microwave cooking hacks:

1.  Drying herbs-spread herbs on a plate lined with paper towels and cover with another one and zap for 1 minute followed by 20 seconds bursts until fully dry. Then store whole or grind them. Fresh dry herbs are great for seasoning soups, meats or cooked veggies. I especially love herbs to season when roasting my turkey breast.

2.  Frying garlic-place sliced garlic in microwave safe bowl with neutral oil, like vegetable, and cook for 5 minutes, stir and cook in 1-minute intervals until golden. Then strain for salads or recipes. I absolutely love fresh sautéed garlic in a skillet on my stove. The fragrant smell is to die for but using the microwave is another great option too.

Empish getting ready to use microwave

3.  Toasting nuts and seeds-put nuts in neutral oil in a microwave safe bowl, like vegetable, for 1-minute intervals tossing in between until golden brown. No need to preheat the oven for this healthy snack. Great for pumpkin seeds, pine nuts or sunflower seeds.

4.  Steaming veggies-cover veggies with damp paper towels and microwave on high for a few minutes until veggies are tender then season to taste. Be careful of heat and steam from paper towels and food when removing. Great for green veggies like broccoli, spinach, green beans and brussels sprouts. I do this one all the time instead of bringing out my clunky 4-part steamer and filling with water. Then having to wash, clean and return to my pantry. Too much work!

5.  Cook sweet potatoes-cooking sweet potatoes in a conventional oven for either side dishes or desserts can take about an hour. This is too much time and too much heat in the kitchen. Scrub the potatoes clean and prick them with a fork. Microwave up to 4 potatoes for 6-8 minutes, rotating them periodically until tender.

Share Your Favorite Hack

Are you ready to use your microwave for cooking this holiday season? Tell me which hack resonated the most with you. Or do you have one of your own to share?

Hoopla: My Favorite App for Reading Commercial Audiobooks

Empish using iPhone

Discovered Hoopla App

I have shared off and on about an audiobook reader app I discovered this year called Hoopla. Well, to be perfectly honest a librarian told me about it. We were preparing for our virtual book club and I couldn’t find the selection in audio format. So, she suggested using Hoopla. And why did she do that? OMG! This app has been so wonderful since that day. So much so that I have almost abandoned my other book reading app, Voice Dream. In honor of National App Day, Dec 11th, I am going to share a bit more about this fantastic app and how it has enhanced my enjoyment of reading.

As many of you know the word app is short for application. It is a computer program or software and has grown rapidly over the years. Today there are apps for virtually everything imaginable. Every day I learn about an app that can help me do this or that. Some apps are free and some come with a cost. Some are simple to use and some are complicated. Some have raving reviews and some are pitiful. Regardless apps are here to stay and there are folks out there developing ones all the time.

App Accessibility

Now with that being said when I look for an app to use accessibility is numero uno. If I can’t access it as a blind person what is the point? The majority of apps I use are on my iPhone so that means they have to work with Voiceover, which is the accessibility feature build into Apple products for the blind and visually impaired. Things like edit boxes and radio buttons must work properly. AppleVIS does a great job reviewing apps for accessibility. I have gone to their website to research an app before downloading and especially before purchasing it. When it came to the Hoopla app I was already aware that it was fairly accessible and I wouldn’t have too many problems.

Hoopla Connects with Library

After downloading the app and creating a username and password I got to searching for the book for our discussion. The process was straightforward and took little time. The Hoopla app is free and who doesn’t like free? It connects directly with your local library. So, you need to be a current patron of the library and have a library card to use the app. Your library card number will be required as part of the set-up process. Since I’m active at my local library that was no problem.

Hoopla Offers More Than Books

Hoopla offers so much more than reading commercial audiobooks. They have a large music catalog. I have accessed all kinds of music. This has allowed me to expand my music library and listen to artist old and new. Recently I listened to Alicia Keys read her audiobook, “More Myself” and then listen to her music directly afterward. It was a wonderful experience to hear her story about her music career and then listen to her sing too. And all on the same app at no cost to me. You can’t beat that!

But wait, there’s more. Hoopla has   movies and TV shows too. Now, I have to say, I haven’t accessed this part of the app yet because there is no indication these films are available in audio description. But I have heard the catalog is plentiful. So, you will have to check that out and get back to me.

The last thing I want to point out on Hoopla you can access is eBooks. When you do a search for a book Hoopla will display the results in either audiobook, eBook or both. So, you have some options of how you want to read your selection. Personally, I like commercial audiobooks because eBooks are in a text format   and when read are with a synthesized voice not a human.

Other Cool Things

Other cool things about the app I like is I can borrow books immediately. They call it instant borrows. With other library apps you might have to take a number and wait in line but not on Hoopla. I can borrow and download right away. Then I have 21 days to read it and I can manually return it or it will be done automatically. No fines or fees. Again, you can’t beat that!

I can also borrow 10 selections per month. Hoopla displays the total and counts down as I borrow. When I exhaust the number I can’t borrow anymore until the next month and the number starts fresh. Since I have a limited number I reserve my commercial audiobooks for Hoopla and all other books I read someplace else. I find the quality of the audiobook readers to be excellent which can make or break a book for me.

Share Your Favorite App

For the book lovers reading this post, do you have a favorite book reading app? Have you heard of or use Hoopla? Share your experience as we continue to celebrate National App Day.

Should You Use Visual Description at Video Meetings? Yes, and Here’s Why.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

Microsoft Receives Backlash

I was listening to a recent episode of Mosen at Large, one of my favorite podcasts, and the topic came up about describing yourself at video meetings. There has been some backlash on social media toward Microsoft. During their annual Ignite virtual conference Microsoft drew criticism in response to its corporate introduction, which described people’s race, hairstyle and gender. Also, during the introduction Microsoft acknowledged the indigenous land the company was built on in Washington State. As a result, Microsoft is being accused of being too woke     or rather ‘Woke capital incarnate.’ Now, I don’t know about all of that when it comes to wokeness. But I do know this. I like the fact Microsoft described the presenters. The goal was to include the blind and visually impaired.

Used Visual Description Myself

Like Jonathan shared on his podcast this is something that is becoming more and more a part of video conferencing calls. I have attended many Zoom calls were the host and panel presenters used visual descriptions to share about themselves even describing their Zoom background. I have recently done it myself during a webinar series I am hosting for my local library. In the session I said something like, “My name is Empish Thomas and I am a Black woman. I have shoulder length brown hair with grey streaks. I am wearing a royal blue top and silver jewelry.” Since I was doing a presentation for people with vision loss it was critical to describe myself. I wanted to be fair and equitable because sighted people in the room could see me but of course those that didn’t have sight could not.

Getting Equal Access

Has political correctness gone mad? Some say it is too much and to just get on with the meeting already. Who cares what people look like or what their gender is. As a blind person I want equal access. Giving a visual description in a meeting, conference or webinar is doing exactly that. Is it not? I think so.

Perhaps because I was sighted for 25 years and know what people and objects look like, I want to retain as much of that information as possible. Just because I am blind doesn’t mean that I am not interested in the appearance of others. Additionally, I can’t tell you the number of times I have embarrassed myself by calling out the wrong gender pronoun or wrongly assuming a person’s race or ethnic background. The thought would roll around in my head taunting me. If only I could see, the mistake could have been avoided.

Diversity and Representation Matters

Another reason for using visual description during a video meeting is to help determine diversity. Maybe this is where the wokeness comes into play? When people describe themselves you can learn about how many women or men are there. How many people of color and what age group they are in. Description sheds a light on who is in the room and who is not. Since I represent multiple groups this is important to me. I have attended numerous meetings as a blind person never knowing the demographics yet curious about representation.

When the person describes themselves the power and control of identity is in their hands not other people. They can describe themselves in a positive and meaningful way. Whether sighted or blind we can assume we know who and what people are along with what they represent. But when that individual speaks for themselves by stating their gender, race and other identifying characteristics the power is in their hands and won’t be disputed.

Visual Guidelines and Continuing the Conversation

I suppose this controversy or maybe conversation will continue as we all try to figure it out. I do think it is important to be sure to include the feedback from the groups you are trying to include. I have seen online a desire to hear from the blind community on this topic. And I am glad for that. Too many times people run off and do things for us and don’t include us. I have even read guidelines for visual descriptions at meetings. These procedures are remarkably similar to what I see in audio description for movies and TV. For example, keep it basic like gender, race, hair color. Keep it short and concise. Do it as a part of your introduction and write down what you will say in advance so you don’t ramble. Establishing some simple guidelines can provide the visual description without taking away from the purpose of the meeting.

I am a part of a large and diverse community which leaves me open to hearing different thoughts and opinions. So, say you. What do you think about this idea of giving visual descriptions at video meetings? Useful or a pure waste of time? Share your comments.

Author and Former Caregiver Abbie Johnson Taylor Writes About Life and Love

Abbie Johnson Taylor

This is the month to write. Write. And write some more. November is National Novel Writing Month more commonly known as NaNoWriMo. Authors take on the challenge to write a novel (at least 50,000 words) by the end of the month. Although I am not a book author, I love reading audiobooks and engaging with authors. So, in honor of NaNoWriMo I chatted with a good writer friend Abbie Johnson Taylor. In the interview below Abbie shares why she became an author, her writing routine and gave nuggets of wisdom for newbies. Enjoy!

Abbie Becomes an Author

Empish:  Why did you decide to become an author? What was it about writing books that piqued your interest?

Abbie:  I’ve always enjoyed writing. But as a kid, whenever I wrote anything for school, whether it was a story or poem or a research paper, my mother, a college English teacher, always rewrote it. I’m not talking about just writing a version with all spelling and grammar mistakes corrected. She actually rewrote my papers so they sounded better. As a result, I lost faith in my own ability to write good material.

When I was in the eighth grade and had to do a research paper on cancer, she took me to the library, where we found books on the subject. At home, she read me the material and wrote the paper while I sat there and listened. I learned a lot about cancer and was glad to get a good grade on a paper I didn’t write. After that, I was content to let her do the leg work whenever I was assigned any kind of writing.

It never occurred to me to consider a career in writing until after my mother passed in 1999. At that time, I was a registered music therapist, working with seniors in nursing homes. I’d just gotten my first computer and loved the idea of putting words on a virtual page, then correcting mistakes and making changes with ease.

Empish:  You share on your website’s bio that in 2005 you got married and quit your job and volunteer work to focus on writing full time. I am sure that was a major change in your life. Share what that transition was like.

Abbie:  Yes, it was a major change but a welcome one. Although I had enjoyed my work as a registered music therapist, I was ready for a change. I was only too happy to spend all day at my computer, writing, revising, and submitting material for possible publication. But after Bill suffered his first stroke in 2006, I was again balancing writing with another full-time occupation-a family caregiver. Although this wasn’t easy, I managed to self-publish two books in the years I cared for him at home before he passed.

No Particular Genre

Empish:  Many authors place themselves in a particular genre such as romance, suspense, Mistry, self-help, etc. However, when I look over your body of writing work, you have written poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Is there a reason your books and writing don’t fit a specific genre?

Abbie:  No, not really. I just enjoy creating material in the many genres in which I write.

National Novel Writing Month

Why Grandma Doesn't Know Me Book Cover

Empish:  This month, as you know, is National Novel Writing Month, where the focus is writing a novel in 30 days. For the books you have written so far, how long did it take you to write them?

Abbie:  At the most, my three novels, “We Shall Overcome,”The Red Dress,” and “Why Grandma Doesn’t Know Me;” and my memoir “My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds,” took about a year to write. My two poetry books, “How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver” and “That’s Life: New and Selected Poems,” took several years.

Empish:  Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo? Why or why not? What was your experience?

Abbie:  No, I like to take my time when writing a novel. I know you should write first and edit later, and I do that. But I like to have an idea in my mind of what will happen to my characters before I sit down at my computer.

Writing Routines and rituals

Empish:  Many authors have a writing routine or process, such as writing at a specific time of day, writing so many words a day or having a favorite spot to write. Share your most important rituals that help you be a successful writer.

Abbie:  Since I no longer have a full-time job and have few obligations during the week, I spend most days at my computer, either writing, editing, or submitting. Most of this time is taken with creating posts for my blog, which go live almost every day. I also spend at least an hour a day reading posts from other bloggers I follow via email. I try not to work on weekends, but this isn’t always possible.

Empish:  Along the lines of your writing rituals, what adaptive technology do you use to assist with your writing process?

Abbie:  I use a Windows PC with screen reading software and a Braille display. I sometimes like to write in my recliner. For that purpose, I use a Braille tablet with the ability to copy files directly to Google Drive so I can access them on my computer.

Characters with Medical Challenges

Empish:  In your novel “The Red   Dress” and your newly released one “Why Grandma Doesn’t Know Me,” both deal with characters with dementia. Why did you decide to write stories with characters who are struggling with severe memory loss?

Abbie:  I created the characters in both these novels for different purposes. I really don’t want to go into detail for fear of giving away spoilers. So, let’s just say that I created these characters to provide a source of tension in the plot.

Empish:  Your other books are peppered with stories about your husband and his medical challenges. Why was it important to write about those experiences and share them with your readers?

Abbie:  Being a family caregiver can be an isolating occupation. You often don’t have an opportunity to socialize with other people, let alone others in your situation. So, I share my experiences to let those people know they’re not alone.

Abbie’s Writing Advice

Empish:  Lastly, for people who want to write a book and get published what words of wisdom and/or encouragement would you give them?

Abbie:  First of all, read, not just books in the genre in which you want to write but books and magazines on writing. Writers, like doctors and lawyers, must read up on the latest practices and trends.

Also, get involved in writing groups, either in-person or virtually. I’ve found people in such groups inspiring and supportive over the years.

Last but not least, write every day, even if it’s just for fifteen minutes, even if it’s just an email message. No matter what you write or how long you write each day, always consider yourself a writer.

Abbie Johnson Taylor is the author of three novels, two poetry collections, and a memoir. Her work has appeared in Magnets and Ladders, The Writer’s Grapevine, and other publications. She lives in Sheridan, Wyoming, where, for six years, she cared for her late husband, who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. Before that, she worked for fifteen years as a registered music therapist in nursing homes and other senior facilities, facilitated a support group for visually impaired adults, taught Braille, and served on the advisory board to a state trust fund that allows blind and visually impaired individuals to purchase adaptive equipment. Learn more about Abbie  on her website, read her blog or connect with her on her Facebook page.

Justice Department sues Uber Over Wait Fee Disability Discrimination and I’m Not Surprised

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

Last week I heard on my news podcast and it was confirmed in my ADA email newsletter that the US Department of Justice was suing Uber for disability discrimination over its wait fee policy. AS I listened to the news I was elated. It was about time but as they say, “the wheels of justice roll slow.” I was not surprised at this news because for years Uber had been charging me wait fees. It has become part of the reason I moved away from using their service and started relying more heavily on their competitor, Lyft.

Lawsuit Against Uber Explained

According to the suit, Uber was discriminating against the disabled by not giving amble time to board the vehicle upon arrival. Uber charges a wait fee two minutes after a driver arrives, and the customer is charged until the car begins its trip. This policy was added back in 2016. Now, these fees are charged to everyone as a way to compensate drivers but were never intended for riders who are ready at their designated pickup location and/or need more time to get into the car. But fees were charged even when Uber was aware the wait time was disability related. For example, a person folding up a wheelchair or a blind person with a mobility aid navigating to the car.

My Experience with Wait Fees

This is what I find so interesting and why I felt the need to say something on my blog. I don’t typically speak on lawsuits but I will today. Uber says that wait fees were not intended to be charged to customers who are ready to go or who need extra time due to a disability. But I beg to differ because of my personal experience. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I was already standing at the curb of my location when the Uber driver pulled up and I was still charged a wait fee. The number of times I had called the driver in advance letting them know I was blind, using a white cane and how I was dressed so they could easily find me and yet still charged a wait fee. The number of times I was standing with a store representative who helped load my shopping bags in the Uber car as I got in the back and was still charged a wait fee. The one time the driver asked my permission to go inside to the bathroom before we left and I said okay. Only later to be charged a wait fee.

Empish Holding White Cane at Street Intersection

So, my eyebrow is raised with a smirk on my face when Uber says the following, “We fundamentally disagree that our policies violate the ADA and will keep improving our products to support everyone’s ability to easily move around their communities.”

To add insult to injury, when I would alert Uber to the wait fee charges initially they would keep quoting the policy like I didn’t know what it said. As if I didn’t know that already. At first they would refund me the difference but would never explain why I was charged in the first place after I took the time to give details. Then after a while they stop the refunds altogether stating I had requested too many adjustments to my account. The wait fee amounts would be typically under a dollar, which is not much, but it was the principle of the thing that would get my blood boiling. I would do everything in my power to be ready when the driver showed up but it didn’t matter I would get charged anyway. So, now you understand why I finally left? I even asked around to other blind friends and they shared the same story. So, I knew it wasn’t personal but a bigger problem.

Transportation is Critical

Transportation is one of the most critical issues for those of us in the disability community, especially the blind and visually impaired. We need reliable and affordable transportation. Accessing our own transportation helps us maintain our self-confidence, independence and quality of life. I remember when Uber came to my town I was so excited and happy. The ability to get up and go like my sighted peers was absolutely wonderful. To not have to wait hours on public transportation was great. When things like this happen it really is hurtful and harmful to a community that is a bit vulnerable. It diminishes trust and respect for us as disabled folks. I am passionate about this topic and plan to give my comments to the US Department of Justice. They are asking for people with disabilities to share their experiences and I will do so. If you are disabled and have had problems with Uber’s wait fees I encourage you to do the same. You can contact the Justice Department at 833-591-0425 (toll-free), 202-305-6786, or send an email to Uber.Fee@usdoj.gov.

Becoming a LinkedIn Rock Star: Chris Reed Shows Me How  

Wall of Book Shelves

I can’t believe it! The month of October is almost over and so is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Well, actually for me disability employment is every month of the year. As a blind freelance writer and blogger, I am working all year long. I spend the majority of my writing on the disabled so this month is like many others. But don’t get me wrong I appreciate the national observation. The focus on how we disabled folks are working, want to work, can work and are still working is needed.

Audiobook on LinkedIn

Now, that being said I have to share about this great business audiobook I read   this month. It gave me tips to take my LinkedIn profile to the next level. As a blind person I have had a love hate relationship with LinkedIn. I love it for the ability to connect and engage professionally with people. Yet, I hate the layout of the

platform because I find it hard to navigate as a disabled person. Since LinkedIn is the top go to social media place for professional networking I soldier through and do the best I can. Finding and reading this book has helped me to do just that. So, are you ready for the name of the book? Want to know how it helped me? Have I left you in suspense? Probably not because my headline gave it away, right? The book is “How to Become a LinkedIn Rock Star” by Chris J Reed.

I stumbled on it while searching on my Hoopla app. And boy what a Jem of a find it has been! Let me share the things Reed showed me on how to become a LinkedIn Rock Star. The first thing he wanted to make clear is what LinkedIn is and isn’t. LinkedIn is the most underutilized social media platform compared to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Tick Tock and etc. People wrongly assume that LinkedIn is just for job seekers only. This is not true because it provides a rich opportunity to make professional connections. As a result of this myth people assume they don’t have to develop and manage their profile as long as it’s there and the job info is accurate. But when someone searches for you online your LinkedIn profile comes up first the majority of the time. This is true because I checked mine and next to my personal website my LinkedIn profile did come up first in a Google search. Hence, if it is not updated, no active engagements and few connections, then you are missing important opportunities and don’t even know it.

LinkedIn is More Than a Profile

So, how do I work this knowledge to my advantage? Reed told me to be sure my summary, about   and experience sections are written in first person. He compared Your LinkedIn profile to a in person networking function. If I were at a business mixer, I would talk to people in first person. I would use casual voice while being professional. I would share about my business, myself and how I could help the person I’m talking to. I found this way of thinking about LinkedIn immensely helpful because I had been approaching my profile as an online resume instead. I now realize that is not the same thing and I need to update my profile and make some changes.

My Personal Brand

Reed spent several chapters stressing the power and importance of your personal brand. He is widely known as the CEO with the mohawk. It is a part of his personal brand and makes him stand out over others. Reed says his Mohawk is the best icebreaker and he loves it because it starts the conversation and then we can get down to business.

Therefore, the question becomes what is my personal brand? What makes me unique? What am I an expert in? What makes me shine and stand out? Next is being sure the answer is clearly communicated on LinkedIn. Because Reed continuously stated throughout the book your LinkedIn profile is seen all the time. Additionally, having a compelling personal brand makes an impression, communicates confidence, helps with referrals and recommendations.

Cold Calling is Dead

After establishing my personal brand, it is time to set up social selling. It is the process of developing one-on-one relationships using social media. It is a soft sell. LinkedIn has the ability to give a broad reach and name drop without doing so. It is a digital networking platform and great for introverts like me. Reed says social selling unlike cold calling allows you to build relationships over time. This is the new way because cold calling is dead. People don’t pick up the phone when the number is unknown. When Reed talked about this I totally agreed. I screen my phone calls all the time. I truly dislike robocalls and don’t pick up the phone if I don’t recognize the number. The same goes for unsolicited emails. I am quick to unsubscribe when companies add me to their marketing emails without my permission. Whereas as on LinkedIn, people’s business profile is right there. You can see their photo. Check job history. Look at the number of connections. See if they have shared connections. You are not going into it blind, no pun intended.

Empish Using a Landline Phone

With social selling, you share content valuable to people who are interested. As you share and engage, you will establish yourself as an authority and strengthen your personal brand. As I read about social selling I noticed that I do share content on LinkedIn, but I don’t return the favor. I need to engage more with my connections. Liking, commenting and sharing on their content not just posting my own. I also need to thank my connections when they like, share or comment on my posts. This too will boost my engagement and not make the interaction one sided.

Leader or Follower  

The chapter on the One to Nine to Ninety was interesting. Reed says that 1% creates and leads. These are the people who are consistently providing content, blogging and engaging with others. The next 9% are active responders. This group likes, shares and comments on content that is posted. Sadly, the majority are 90% and they do nothing. This group is called the silent viewers because they watch but don’t respond to what they see.

He encourages you to engage, just don’t watch. Be a leader, influencer and shine as the expert you are. However, each group of people has value and play a vital role. We need people to lead the way. People to engage. People to watch and be influenced by what they see. But the critical question is what group will I be in? What role will I play? Will I be a follower or a leader?

High Quality Connections

LinkedIn is not just about sharing content but connecting with people as I mentioned before. Reed spent time explaining the importance of first-, second- and third-degree connections. He also stressed the importance of high-quality connections. Looking at how many people they are connected to because if their numbers are small that will limit your engagement. Also, looking at if they are active on LinkedIn. Do they share content, post blogs, comment, like or engage with others? Knowing this will impact your interaction with them as well. If they are active then their second- and third-degree connections will be familiar with them and more likely to be active too.

Whenever I have gotten a LinkedIn invite I would look at the profile first before accepting. I would look at current and past jobs. See if we had shared connections. See how many connections they had. But that was about it. I never really focused on the person’s engagement and activity on LinkedIn. I didn’t pay attention to second- and third-degree connections. Reading this book shows me I need to go deeper.

Conclusion

There was so much more in this audiobook, Comparisons with Facebook. Personal brans of the Joker and Godfather. How sales Navigator works. But I will stop here. I need to start improving my LinkedIn profile and engagement. You need to get and read the book. Reed is a pretty well-known man on LinkedIn and has thousands of connections. So, I trust his advice in helping me to become a LinkedIn rock star.