Category Archives: Literature

Can You be Safe Without Sight? Yes, and Here’s How I Protect Myself

Empish demonstrating a self defense pose with her hands near her sholders

Do you know One of the most  common misperceptions about blind people? It is we are more vulnerable  to attack than sighted people. This is a dangerous myth. First it implies we are an easy target. Second, it creates a false notion that if we were attacked we couldn’t  protect ourselves

Class and Audiobook on Self Defense for the blind

Sept. 26 is National Situational Awareness Day. This holiday made me reflect  on the time when I took  the Safe without Sight self defense course at  the Center for the Visually Impaired. I   remember feeling some stress because of the idea of being attacked. Who wants to think about that? However, I realized the value  because I needed to learn ways to protect myself now that I was blind.

I learned so much about  self defense  . Since that was some years ago, I refreshed my knowledge and recently read the audiobook from Bookshare, “Safe Without Sight: Crime Prevention And Self-Defense Strategies For People Who Are Blind” by Wendy David. The book was written  back in the 90’s but still packed with  excellent tips that I want to share. Hopefully after reading this post, you will be even more determined to protect yourself too.

Listen to Your Intuition

Intuition, common sense, gut reaction, funny feeling, small voice or even the Holy Spirit. We might all have different ways to describe that sensation  you get when something is a bit off. All I can say is trust it whatever you call it because  it will save your life.

Once I was in a support group  and when I sat next to  another member I quickly got a bad feeling. I was struggling to trust  my gut reaction. I didn’t know the man and felt I was being judgmental. His actions toward me didn’t display  anything harmful. So, instead of getting up like my intuition told me to do I stayed and sat next to him during the meeting.

A few weeks later  all of us in the support group were told he was not returning. Apparently he had been touching women in appropriately and there had been several complaints. I was in shock and this news sobered  me. I knew from now on to trust my gut  and do what it said no matter the circumstances or how uncomfortable  I became.

Why Don’t We Listen?

The million dollar question is why we don’t listen. We are trained to be nice to people. To not make waves or hurt people’s feelings. It is a standard Rule to disregard our own feelings over others. Also, we tell ourselves to be reasonable. We discount our own emotions even when things are glaringly obvious.

Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

Pay attention to your surroundings. In our highly distracted world,  we are looking down at our phones while walking or driving. I remember when I was a young girl, my mother  was teaching me how to ride public transportation. We were at the bus stop and this car kept circling by. She pointed this out to me and I hadn’t notice. She said always pay attention to what is going on around you.

I have never forgotten that lesson because now that I am blind it is even more relative. Today, as part of my awareness strategy, When traveling I ask questions. For example, what other businesses are in the area, what does the front of the building look like, are their stairs  or is there a flat surface. Or when sitting in a room, I sit close to the door and know exactly where it is located. I do this in case of an emergency  for a quick retreat.

Pay Attention to Body Language  and Facial Features

I also Pay attention to my body language and facial features. I walk and move with purpose and assurance. I keep my head tilted upward and straight ahead. I will look confident even when   I’m not. When interacting with people I speak clearly  ,No mumbling  or whispering.

Use Other Senses to Pay Attention

Empish Holding White Cane at Street Intersection

I use my other senses to pay attention and navigate the world. Sound, smell and touch all tell me what is happening. Someone’s tone of voice or the traffic flow at a crosswalk are pieces of valuable information. Interesting smells can tell you things about a person like their cologne, if they smoke cigarettes, or have bad body odor. Touching objects like walls, doors or furniture  communicate  location.

Spatial Awareness

Boundary setting is critical for good self defense. You must be clear, both verbally and physically, with your personal space. For us, blind folks, good spatial awareness  is key. It  means understanding  where you are physically  as it relates to other  things such as people and objects. I use this skill daily to find  furniture and turning  hallway corners. Mastering this skill has kept me free from harm and danger.

Spatial awareness Also includes my feelings. The ability to feel if you are close to something or not. It is a little hard to explain  but I can get a sensation  when I am moving toward or away from something without actually seeing it. This skill is handy when people get too physically close to me.

Setting Verbal Boundaries

Setting verbal boundaries  come up when people ask me personal questions. Two that raised a red flag are do you live alone, and how much vision do you have. This is a tricky thing to figure out sometimes. People  are naturally curious and ask questions  about my vision loss. This doesn’t mean  they will harm me. Admittedly, I get tired of this  but I try to be kind and gentle. I don’t always know the person’s intention when asking so I will proceed with caution. Sometimes I don’t answer at all.

Who is asking the question, what is my situation I am in? What is happening around me? Do I feel safe having this dialogue? Do I feel comfortable? I have learned it is okay to lie. This is  my personal safety  we are talking about and I don’t have to be honest. Or I will give a general answer especially in public settings. I realize other people are listening too causing me to be mindful of the conversation.

I practice this all the time at the doctor’s office. When I have to fill out medical documents I will request to do that in a private waiting room. Sometimes when I am asked to give my address I will hand the person at the counter my state ID instead of verbally  giving it out.

Setting Physical Boundaries

A side veiw of Empish demonstrating a self defense stanze with her feet apart and hands up near her shoulders

I am particular about people in my personal space, especially if  I don’t know you well. I have taken the initiative to shake hands instead of hugging. This lets the person know my boundaries. I will be verbal and extend my hand toward them. I communicate to not grab my arm. I have been  forceful  when necessary. Women are socialized to be quiet  and not assertive. But this is my personal space  and I have to speak up.

I know we can implement  these self defense techniques regardless of vision. Still, they are chiefly important for  people with vision loss  and even other types of disabilities. Listening to your intuition, being aware of your surroundings and setting boundaries are the keys to good self defense. Are there other self defense strategies we can do? What tips do you have about protecting yourself?

The Benefits of a Library Card: It’s Not Just for Checking Out Books

A gradient purple to yellow background, in yellow text is "September is Library Card Sign-up Month." In purple writing is "Let your imagination sing at the library." There is a photo in bottom right corner of Cara Mentzel and Idina Menzel with an animated mouse on left side holding a library card.

When I was a little kid my dad took me to the library. It was part of our Saturday routine. We would pile in the car and drive to the local branch  in our community. On the way he would share  his childhood story about his inability to enter  the main public library  in his hometown due to segregation. He wanted me to understand  the importance of accessing  the library.  And the key to that access was having a library card.

a gradient purple to yellow background. An animated mouse in a white shirt and pink skirt holding a library card. On left side in yellow text is "September is Library Card Sign-up Month."

As I got older and moved from home, every city I lived in I  had a library card . Even after I went blind I still kept a library card and frequently utilized my local branch. September is National Library Card Sign Up Month. Do you have a library card? Do you  know the benefits of one? It’s not just for checking out books. The library has many other services and resources and here are the benefits.

1. Learn new job and computer skills.

Do you need help looking for a job? OR what about learning a new computer skill? Libraries offer broad electronic resources for students, small business owners, job seekers, hobbyists, and lifelong learners. Whether you’re looking for free software to pick up a new language, resume tutorials, or patent records for a new invention, the library has free access to awesome online databases and classes.

2. Help your kids do better in school

As I shared, my dad took me to the library on a regular basis. As a kid I had my own personal library card with my name on it. I was not only able to checkout books for pleasure but also for school. When I had to do research or term papers the library was the first place I went. Libraries expose children to reading at a very early age. Many libraries have children Storytime  and other  fun and age-appropriate activities.

3. Explore your family tree

Empish with her family on vacation

I remember  a few years back I was on a mission to learn more about my family. I had  sent off for my DNA info through Ancestry.com and worked on building my online family tree account. As I did  this exploration, I discovered that my local library had genealogy resources.  I was able to take a family tree class for African Americans  and access library digital databases. But none of that would have happened without my library card.

4. Check out passes for free admission to State Parks, museums  and the zoo

These passes are typically first come first serve. Just ask the librarian at the circulation desk for more details.

5. Access books, eBooks, movies and music

Yes, of course, we all know in order to checkout a book you gotta have a library card. But did you know you can also checkout other  materials like movies and music? I used to physically checkout music all the time. Now since I discovered the Hoopla app  I do it from the comfort of my home. On this app  you sign up with your library card and  it gives you instant access to eBooks, films, audiobooks and music. Another library app is Overdrive/Libby but some materials, depending on demand, are not instant download.

More Persuasive arguments

If these 5 benefits didn’t move you to get a library card maybe this compelling point will stir you to action. According to the American Library Association, libraries are among our country’s most democratic institutions, promoting free and open access to information for everyone. Registering for a library card is one of the easiest ways to support this mission, since libraries use their sign-up stats to prove their value to local policymakers and advocate for much-needed funding. When you sign up for a library card, you’re helping demonstrate that today’s libraries are more important than ever.

Empish Writing a Check

And one of my most persuasive arguments  is you are paying for it. So, why not fully access your library?  Many community libraries  are able to function and provide their services and resources because  we are taxpayers.

If you don’t have a library card, hopefully my post has gently pushed you to do it. Reading and books  are my jam. Can’t you tell?  If you have a card already,  share with me  your benefits? Are they different than the ones I shared?

Confused About Disability? Read This Demystifying Guide  and Become a True Ally

Books on desk with cup of tea

Reading with My Ears Book Review

I have read a lot of books about disability. Some were fiction while others  nonfiction. Some  were biographical, technical, historical  or medical in their approach. Others more laid back and conversational in tone. But the book, “Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally” by Emily Ladau was one of the more real, true to life  and informative books I have read on disability so far.

In the audiobook read by Emily herself, she  provides an approachable guide to being a thoughtful, informed ally to disabled people. She gives real actionable steps for what to say, what to do and what not to do. Through her kind but candid tone, Emily shares how you can help make the world a more inclusive place. .

I was excited to read this book. Partly  because of my previous  interaction with the blog Rooted in Rights, where Emily formerly was an editor. But more importantly  because I am disabled  and wanted to hear her  strategies on how  people like me can learn and find the language to interact with people who are not disabled.

Definition of Disability

In the first chapter Emily gives her definition of disability along with other advocates  and the ADA’s official language. While reading, it dawned on me that I don’t have my own version of a disability definition. I have just gone with  the status quo and/or the legal definition. Yet, one size fits all doesn’t work in the disability community. We are as diverse and different as any other community. For so long society has used a broad paint stroke  however in reality that doesn’t work. It depends on the individual.

Two women have a sign language conversation at a table.

Additionally, there is no single way to talk or think about disability. Emily said the way we talk shapes how we think; and the way we think shapes how we talk. For example, some people don’t want to use the word disability because it has a negative connotation. We are socialized to think that way.

Terms and Labels

But it is unavoidable because we  are still disabled in the end. There are nondisabled people making up terms for our community. Terms like differently abled or  handy capable. Rather just ask for what the person wants to be called.

Little Black Girl Wearing Braids and Walking with White Cane

In my world,  phrases like legally blind, low vision, sight loss, visually impaired, blind, and vision loss are the terms most often used. I prefer the word blind because it is clear, simple and to the point.

She cautions readers the usage of labels. A very popular label is high functioning verses low functioning. This kind of label pits one disability group against another. For the sake of this review, I am considered high functioning because I can read, write, manage my daily activities, work, etc. I need very little assistance from others to maintain my life. But viewing me this way can be harmful because it looks down on others who can’t do the same. At the end of the day,  we all have some kind of limitation.

Also, services have been denied me because I am too independent or high functioning leaving me to fend for myself. We have to take into consideration  over time this situation can change. As I get older I might need more assistance because of aging with a disability.

Remove Negative Words

Emily encourages us to  Work on removing negative words from our language. Harmful words like stupid, idiot , lame, crazy, midget, albino, insane, retarded,  crippled and dumb. A recent example  of this is when the music artist, Lizzo changed her song, “Grrrls” to remove the damaging word “spaz.”

She explains disability is not an insult. Phrases like quit being so OCD, what’s the problem are you blind, and falling on Deaf ears can enter our psyche without us realizing it but in the end  can be toxic. Now this can be confusing because some disabled people reclaim  these words, terms and phrases. So, it is best to use  safe words  and ask the disabled person what they want to use.

Disability Identity

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

Now with that being said, let’s look at disability identity. Emily describes disability identity as a pizza. The crust is  the foundation; it is who you are. The specific toppings  of meat and veggies make each pizza unique. No two slices are exactly a like, cut a pizza and one  slice might have more pepperoni   or olives on it than another.

Some people choose to identify  and make it known they are disabled. They might even fully immerse themselves in the disability community. Others might identify  only when it is necessary. Still others might not identify at all. Then we go even deeper and address intersectionality  where you have a disability  along with something else. I am blind, female and Black. That makes me a member of three different marginalized communities.

Disability History

Her chapter on disability history touched on the story of Judy Heumann, which I talked about in a previous post. She also highlighted the Ugly Laws, advancements in educating  disabled children  and of course the ADA. She noted several laws  before the ADA  which  amazingly  I was already familiar. As a high school senior, I worked  part-time for the Department of Health and Human Services/office for Civil rights. There I learned about  the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Section 504. I typed up lawsuits  based on discrimination  and assembled paperwork for voluntary compliance. Who knew in 10 years I would be recalling this work experience as I navigated my own disability.

an outline of a shield with the American flag in the center and the wheelchair icon on top of the flag. The letters ADA are to the right side and the words Americans with Disability Act underneath.

She presented a timeline featuring the closure of shelter workshops and the launch of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. The Communication and Video Act opened up audio description  and more accessibility to the internet  and phone apps. She remarked on the Able Act  and how it  provides more financial control allowing disabled people to save money without penalty.

Avoid Ableism

She devoted a whole chapter to ableism. I liked the fact she owned up to her own missteps. As people with disabilities, we can be insensitive  to other disabled people too. Ableism can exclude us from larger  discussions of injustice. Since many of us carry multiple identities we must be included in other social justice movements too.

The Curb Cut Affect

When we think of the disabled the immediate thought is ramps and elevators. But accessibility is having full use and experience of the product or service. Accommodations are provided and come in many forms. Accessibility is not about special treatment but providing equality  so that all people  can  take full advantage. Everyone can play a role in making the world more accessible  and everyone can benefit.

Think about the curb cut affect. Initially  curb cuts were for people in wheelchairs only but today  all kinds of people use them. Parents with baby strollers, People rolling backpacks  or luggage on wheels. Another example is audio description. This  technology was  designed for people with vision loss to enjoy and understand  movies and TV but sighted people also use it  when multi-tasking and not actually watching the screen. To make the world more accessible and inclusive we need more figurative curb cuts.

Disability Etiquette 

What do I do when I meet a disabled person? This is the million dollar question. There are guidelines to disability etiquette  however don’t over think it. Ask questions  and be open to learning  and receiving instruction. Don’t make assumptions about what people can and can’t do. People that insist on helping cand cause more problems in the end.

Empish Holding White Cane at Street Intersection

Emily  warns abled body people to not assume we are faking our disability. I have come across this one  a lot. People assume I can see more than I can  or I’m not blind at all. I get the response, “Well, you don’t act like a blind person.” My reply is, “how does a blind person suppose to act like?” People are looking for  the stereotypical image  of what they have seen in the media  . But blindness doesn’t work that way.

Disability in the Media

Which leads me to disability in the media. We don’t have nearly enough true to life images  but plenty of media tropes. Such as inspiration porn which objectifies people with disabilities to help people feel good about themselves. It is those stories of people who overcome their disabilities  against all odds. We buy into inspirational porn because we have been told disability is a bad thing and living with a disability is exceptional. I have even fallen prey to it myself by being inspired by other disabled people , it is everywhere

Final Thoughts on Becoming an Ally

A woman in a wheelchair wearing a red sweater and black framed glasses. She is along side another woman working with her on a computer

Reading this book is just  one important step and not the conclusion to becoming an ally. None of us are experts on disability. Being an ally is a show don’t tell approach. But ask yourself why first. What is your motivation? Are you feeling guilty, pity or  wanting to be helpful? These reasons can be self serving. Help is a stereotype about the disabled community. We are not always helpless or in need of saving.

Being an ally is a commitment to change. It is a journey not a destination. Keep in mind to advocate with us  not for us. And as you do, read books, watch documentaries and listen to podcasts.

Deaf Culture Facts I Learned from Reading True Biz

Two people having a sign language conversation over the computer. One person is at a table and the other is on the computer.

Reading with My Ears Book Review

I recently joined Book Nation for another virtual discussion about the book  True Biz by Sara Novic. The conversation with the author, who is deaf, was noteworthy because she shared about her life and the writing process for the book. But reading The audiobook was such an educational and intriguing read. First, she recorded the sound of ASL dialogue to differentiate from spoken dialogue. Before  this I had never read an audiobook  about deafness where I could hear the  sound of sign language. It made the experience more realistic.

Second, I learned so much about deaf culture  and the deaf community I didn’t know . Although, I am blind, I don’t take for granted I know everything about other types of disabilities. I took this reading as an opportunity to be entertained and learn.

Book Summary

True Biz focuses on three main characters. Charlie, a rebellious transfer student who wears cochlear implants and has never met another deaf person before. As a result, she struggles with communication with the limited sign language she knows. Next is Austin, the school’s most popular kid because of his family lineage  of deafness, but his world is rocked when his baby sister is born hearing. Last is February, the hearing headmistress, a child of deaf  adults (CODA) who is struggling to keep her school open and her marriage intact, yet unsuccessful at both.

The students at the River Valley School for the Deaf are typical kids. They just want to hang out, pass their finals, and have adults stop telling them what to do with their bodies. True Biz is a  story about sign language and lip-reading, disability and civil rights, isolation and injustice, first love and loss. This is an unforgettable journey into the Deaf community and a universal celebration of human connection.

Chapters were separated by the voices of the three main characters with sections on deafness inserted. These sections I found the most interesting as they educated me on deaf culture. Novic was initially resistant to adding these sections to a novel but later reasoned that the hearing community  would  likely have no working knowledge of deaf culture and without  information would lack understanding and empathy. She was right. Here are some of the facts I learned from reading this book:

Finger Spelling Doesn’t Count

1. Use finger spelling only for proper nouns and names. You should look at the shape of the word not the individual letters. This technique is very similar to learning braille. Although my braille skills are limited when I was learning it I was encouraged to not touch letter by letter but get the feel of  the whole word. This would increase my speed and reading comprehension.

Two women have a sign language conversation at a table.

Here’s a fascinating bonus fact I learned about myself. I was a sight speller before I went blind. If the word looked correct then it was correct. Over the years my visual memory  has decreased impacting my spelling. As I was reading this book, I struggled a bit with Charlie. Since she was a finger speller  and her sign language  skills were not sharp. She spelled out everything and I would sometimes get lost in what she was trying to communicate. I would have to rewind  portions to hear exactly what she said.

Meaning of True Biz

2. True Biz is an idiom in ASL. Meaning, in context it is something different than the denotation of the constructed signs and hand shapes. It means true business, seriously, literally, no kidding and real talk.

Deaf Cures

3. The variety of cures for deafness were just as broad  and creative as those I have heard for blindness. One was to insert olive oil, red led, bat wings  ant eggs and goat urine into the ear. Then you have faith healings like the time Jesus healed a deaf man in the Bible. Harsh chemicals like mercury were used. One particular healing technique was to fly the deaf person upside down to correct pressure on the ears. Lastly, we have hearing aids, cochlear implants and stem cells. Early models of cochlear implants actually destroyed residual hearing, and  success could vary  widely. When it comes to stem cells the questions of ethics   and consent arise. Who gets to decide if stem cells should be used or  not for deaf children?

ASL Influenced by France

4. The usage  of what would be later called American Sign Language  (ASL)  was greatly influenced by a sign language teacher named Laurent Clerc  from France. Deaf Schools there were using sign language and when Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, who later founded America’s first school for the deaf, came to learn and observe  he brought  those techniques back to the United States. I thought this fact was interesting because braille came from France too.

Manual Verses Oral Communication

5. Late 19th Century manual language verses oral communication for deaf children was a hot button topic. The thought was if a deaf person could learn how to speak they could better assimilate into  the dominant hearing society. Also, there were strong beliefs around eugenics, championed by Alexander Graham Bell, who had a deaf wife and mother. It was used to forcefully sterilize disabled people. Bell was not a proponent of sterilization. Instead, he believed if deaf people talked  rather than sign they would be more likely to not marry each other and produce more deaf children.

Banning Sign Language

6. In 1880 educators gathered  in Italy to determine deaf education. It was decided to ban sign language worldwide. This ban would be in place for the next 80 years. Some schools like Gallaudet, pushed back and resisted but many others stop the usage of sign language. The history of braille has some striking similarities. Initially blind children  learned how to read by touching raised embossed letters. This process was painstakingly slow. When Louis Braille invented his code it was initially rejected partly because sighted people  couldn’t read and understand  the formation of the raised dots on the paper.

Interesting, how abled body people assume they know best when it comes to people with disabilities. This of course is ableism and can cause great harm.

Punishment for Deaf Children

7. Deaf children were forbidden to sign. If they did, there was severe punishment. Hands were tide, tapped with rulers  or slammed in desk drawers. This decision resulted in fewer deaf teachers, role models or professionals for deaf children to emulate. Further stigmatizing deafness in society.

Black Deaf People Communicated Better

8. I knew that Black deaf people had their own version  of sign language, called BASL. But  one fact I didn’t know  was during the oralist period  they were better communicators. White deaf people were forbidden to use sign language and to speak only. So, sign language teachers  went to segregated Black deaf schools and taught them sign. This resulted in them learning how to communicate better.

These are just a few of the facts I learned from reading True Biz. Learning something while being entertained   was enjoyable. If you are curious about deaf culture  and love a good story, I highly recommend  this read.

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

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.

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.

Do Words Matter? Here’s 15 Quotes on the Power of Words

Poster of night sky with Northern lights. The top says Words Matter Week 2022. Bottom has quote from Emily Dickinson

The Power of Words

Yes, words Matter. They are what we use to communicate. Whether it is verbally or in written form words are the tools for language. From the time a small child learns to talk, the significance of words becomes clear. With that being said words have power. They can inspire, motivate or encourage ,. Yet, words can also cause harm. They can tear down, harass and destroy. This is why it is so important to be wise and thoughtful in the words we speak to each other and also to ourselves.

Words Matter Week

This is Words Matter Week, March 6-12. Sponsored by the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors. They know the importance of words and have been celebrating it for 14 years. In the past people have honored Words Matter Week by writing in their journals, taking a writing class/course, or writing stories and poetry. But I decided to do something a little different. I did a simple Google search and found 15 quotes on the power of words. These quotes are insightful and thought-provoking. I hope they will resonate with you and remind you of how much words matter not just this week but every week.

15 Quotes on Words

Books on desk with cup of tea

1.  “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” Maya Angelou

2.  “Raise your word, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” Rumi

3.  “Words: So innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

4.  “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it until it begins to shine.” Emily Dickinson

5.  “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” George Orwell

6.  “Language creates reality. Words have power. Speak always to create joy.” Deepak Chopra

7.  “It’s no use of talking unless people understand what you say.” Zora Neale Hurston

8.  “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” John Keating

9.  “Better than a thousand hollow words is one word that brings peace.” Buddha

10.  “Words have power, words are power, words could be your power also.” Mohammed Qahtani

11.  “A broken bone can heal, but the wound a word opens can fester forever.” Jessamyn West

12.  “There is power in words. What you say is what you get.” Zig Ziglar

13.  “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” Mother Teresa

14.  “Speak to yourself like someone you love. Encourage yourself, motivate yourself, and uplift yourself with your words.” ATGW

15.  “Words have magical power. They can either bring the greatest happiness or the deepest despair.” Sigmund Freud

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, letting 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.

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.