Category Archives: Literature

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

My Writing Toolkit: Three Essential Instruments for Successful Freelance Writing

black and white line drawing of two feather pens in an inkwell

Creating Website and Blog

It was this month 2 years ago when I decided to rebuild my website and launch my own blog. The desire to create a personal place to write my own thoughts and feelings about whatever was going on had been noodling around in my head for a long time. Prior to this time, I had been blogging and writing professionally for years but had not carved out a special place that reflected my own ideas and opinions.

Reassembling Writing Toolkit

Yet, I didn’t just want a place to document streams of consciousness or my views on the latest this or that. I wanted to maintain my online presence because I was moving back into freelance writing work. I had been a freelancer in the past and uderstood the importance and necessity of having a virtual home to showcase my written work. So, here I am two years later doing exactly this. Major goal accomplished.

In reestablishing myself as a freelance writer I had to reassemble my toolkit. I had to dust off some instruments. Throw out some old and rusty implements. Add some new and shiny gadgets. Today My writer toolkit is restored. But as I was cleaning and organizing some tools immediately grabbed my attention. Three I use frequently. Three I prefer over others.

First Writing Tool

I am a voracious reader as many of you already know. However, my reading is not just for leisure and entertainment. I also read for personal development and growth. Even more so to help with my work and career. Hence, reading is one of the tools in my toolkit. Part of my monthly reading is the Writer Magazine which I receive in audio format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. This publication   is a valuable part of my career. I have learned so much about the freelance writing world along with tips and tricks on how to be an overall better writer.

Two facemasks expressing love of libraries and African American authors

I also read audiobooks on the writing craft. Currently on my list is “Who Said What:  A Writer’s Guide to Finding, Evaluating, Quoting and Documenting Sources and Avoiding Plagiarism” by Kayla Meyers. I just started but already I am learning so much about how to do deeper and richer searches on the internet. I am confident as I continue reading more precious nuggets of wisdom will surface.

Another book I added to my virtual bookshelf is “African American Women in the News: Gender, Race and Class in Journalism” by Dr. Marian Meyers. Although I don’t work directly in the newsroom or for a media company this book was good to read. It helped me to stay abreast of the trends in the newsroom as it relates to Black women and also the impacts of social media and how it is transforming the way we digest news.

Second Writing Tool

Reading is not the only way I absorb information and learn about writing. Sometimes I will become a student and take a mini online course. I am currently in the midst of going back to J-school with a refresher course on journalism. I am learning how to write eye-catching headlines. Ones that will grab a reader’s attention and encourage them to click on my story. How many times have you passed over an email or story online because the headline was not compelling? Yeah, I know because I have done it too. With so much content hollering for your attention writing a headline that stands out is critical.

Before the J-school course, I went through a session of webinars to improve my website. It was chalked full of useful hints on improving my site to draw more freelance work. Once the course was completed I was given a critique of my site with suggestions for improvement. AS I implement those recommendations I know it will help lead me to more opportunities.

Third Writing Tool

I have to admit this third tool has been hard for me. I know the freelance writer life is a lonely and solitary one. I have made some meager attempts to build a writer community which have gone flat. I realize the problem is my approach and method is vastly different than what is popular. What I mean is the majority of communities now, especially with COVID, are online. They are on forums, chat rooms, social media, or similar places. Well, that way of interaction has never been my speed. Some of it has to do with accessibility. Some has to do with who I am as a person. It is not my flavor. But I am coming to some understanding that I got to get with the program. So, I have been slowly migrating to these virtual communities. I am currently a member of a writers’ forum where I engage from time to time. Recently I joined a writer’s collective for Black folks that looks very promising. I will attend my first meeting next week via Zoom.

Surely, if I root around in my toolkit I will find other helpful writing tools. Things like podcasts, newsletters, email blasts and list groups. But the three I have shared rise to the top and are essential to my freelance success.

Why I Loved the Story of a Blind Adulterous and His Deceitful Wife

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Reading with My Ears Book Review

How long can a husband who is going blind keep that fact from his wife? Can a Sighted Spouse Deceive Their Blind Partner Based on Vision Alone? Is it possible to commit adultery with a woman who is also your legal wife? What happens when the two meet and the truth is revealed? The book “Lady Folbroke’s Delicious Deception” by Christine Merrill addresses these questions and so much more.

Here is the overview by Barnes and Noble: Emily married the love of her life and hoped that he would learn to love her. Instead, he upped and left their country estate for London. Suffering the snub with dignity, three years on Emily has had enough! Confronting her errant husband, Emily sees that Adrian, Earl of Folbroke, has been robbed of his sight and doesn’t know her at all! Emily longs for her husband’s touch. If she plays his mistress by delicious deception, can he finally learn to love his wife?

Loved the Blind Main Character

Okay, you got the gist of this romance novel. Now, let me tell you why I absolutely loved reading it. And I am going to try really, really hard without giving away any spoilers because I want you to read and enjoy it too. So, here goes. The overall reason I loved the book was because of the blind antagonist, Adrian. I have read a lot of books over the years and rarely do I find a blind main character, especially one that is like a regular human being. Let me explain what I am talking about. Many times, people who are blind are portrayed in stereotypical ways. We are the super crip accomplishing huge feats that even sighted folks can’t do. Or we are like little angels that don’t sin or do anything bad. Or we are like Casper the Friendly Ghost hovering in the background like window dressing but have no real purpose or importance. Or we are asexual and either we don’t have/want sex or are not seen as sexually attractive. Are you getting my meaning now? I sure hope so because I am out of examples.

Struggles with Going Blind

So back to Adrian, the wayward husband. He abandons his wife and moves to the city. Why does he do this? Because he is going blind and can’t face the music. This is very realistic and true. Our society puts so much shame on becoming disabled. Many of us who go blind as adults have a real tough time dealing with it and then society, friends and family might not react well to the news. There is fear, shame   and anger when you are going blind. This story was way back in the day and it wasn’t like he had a support group, therapist or someone to call who understood what he was dealing with. So, he ran away.

Then the next thing he did, which a lot of us in the blind community do, is Fake it ‘til you make it. Adrian acted like a drunken fool and spent time around unseemly people as a way to deal with his situation. He pretended he could see when he couldn’t. He avoided his true social connections, family and of course his wife because they would see right through his charade. He acted this way because he was depressed and saw no future.

Process Blindness in a Positive Way

But in other ways he was processing his blindness in a positive way. He had started to use a stick (official white canes would not be developed until much later) to travel and get around. He got directions and remembered how to get to places he had been to before his vision decreased. He was also learning how to use his other senses. Merrill gave several good examples of this with his smell and hearing. Even his sense of touch was explored with touching clothing and body parts. This is a romance novel after all! You got to have some sexy love scenes and they were displayed in vivid description.

He was also figuring out his food plate which is a huge deal for us blind folks. Certain foods I don’t eat in public, like spaghetti with tomato sauce. Just a bit too messy! He wrote letters with a special writing guide. I have one similar and used quite often in my early days of vision loss.

I appreciated Merrill’s focus on Adrian’s resistance to connecting to the blind school yet wanting to help blind people. I totally understood this concept. During that time, the school for the blind only focused on vocational training whereas Adrian was an educated man. He had also been in the military and was a lord. This school wouldn’t have worked for someone on his level. yet, when he came across a blind woman who was begging on the street he offered to help her beyond just giving money.

Wife Decieves Blind Husband

Adrian is my blind hero and why I love this book. But his wife, Emily was interesting too. Once she discovers he can’t see and doesn’t recognize her she plans to deceive him. On the surface this seems cruel. But remember he left her in the dust for 3 years and has been committing adultery. So, girlfriend is doing a little payback! Deep down she loves him and wants to help him regardless of his vision problem. Lots of times when a person becomes disabled the marriage can fail because adjusting is difficult. Many times, the disability reveals problems and issues that were already there and hadn’t been delt with in the marriage. Such as the case in this story.

This novel of love and romance is a real yet sweet one. It was published in 2011 so I am sure it is available everywhere. I found it at my local library as an audiobook and listened to it on my Hoopla app. For my blind and visually impaired friends, it is available through the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. If you are looking for a story with complicated characters that are not one dimensional with some drama going on along with hot steamy  romance, this book is for you.