I'm not new to talking, sharing ideas, or stating my opinion, especially stating my opinion! After all, I taught elementary school for 30 years! However, my audience has typically been smaller,just family, the classroom, or just talking to myself!

My blog has two goals: be an outlet for sharing thoughts on writing children's books and the path to publication (got my fingers crossed that I'll get there) and a place to chronicle my journey of losing my sight. Sometimes I imagine these two paths will overlap .

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Visualeyes 13

As I stood at a bus stop today, patiently waiting for the bus, I realized a few things:
  • I am now, literally, a "bag lady"- pack on my back and after shopping,a sack or 2 in hand
  • I think my ancestral "peasant stock" is coming in handy as I shlep bags from place to place
  • Waiting for a bus is MUCH  easier when you're yakking on the phone with someone!

I've actually adapted rather easily, all things considered and minus a few bad days, to being car-less and being a mass transit-er. And while a few people have said good job, I'm proud of you, mostly I'm proud of myself. I thought I might hit a brick wall, so to speak, when the driving phase of my life ended, but I'm doing ok. Someone suggested to me that I adopt the "large metropolis mentality", where using public transportation reigns supreme and carrying shopping bags is a daily occurrence. Just pretend, she said, you're in New York, or Chicago, or Boston. It's a bit of a stretch of the imagination, but writers are supposed to do that.

Pretending you are cosmopolitan is a whole lot easier than the issue I'm dealing with now I had my first orientation and mobility  (O and M) training session this week. That means, in plain terms, learning to walk using a white cane. When the instructor measured me for the correct size cane and then handed me a cane to use, it felt almost like someone giving me a prosthetic leg. I can only imagine how weird it must feel standing on a leg that isn't really yours but being expected to adjust to it as if it's a part of your body. Learning to use a cane properly equates to the same thing for me.

Our first exercise was just learning how to hold it correctly- the where you grip it, the where you position it on your body frame- and the sweeping motion back and forth. The next step is to walk around the office space trying it out. So we are preparing to leave the instructor's cubicle and she's telling me to sweep back and forth, hitting the cane against the opening walls of the cubicle smack....smack....smack... back and forth, side to side. She's watching my technique, I'm just thinking oh crap, can I possibly make any MORE noise so people will notice me???? I just wanted to drop it and run. She tells me that the noise is ok because everyone there knows what's happening.........I just want to run. It's that emotional component that I'm struggling to overcome.

I had decided if they had canes to purchase, I'd buy one. I wouldn't use it, but I'd buy it. Lots of people in the RP Support Group have said that they bought a cane, put it in the drawer, and didn't use it for many months. [of course we're talking about a collapsible cane] That's what I thought I would do. When I found out that they didn't sell them, you had to order them, I was so relieved. Then my instructor offered to loan the cane to me until our next session, in 2 weeks. I'm thinking you want me to practice with it out in public????  I  said, no thanks, I probably won't have time to practice with it. The equvalent of drop it and run.

I am feeling so tentative and a little fragile about using this cane. I know it will be helpful for me, currently, at night. I already "feel" blind at night. But daytime, well I still feel like a sighted person- ok maybe a  limited sighted person who bumps into stuff sometimes. But I feel sighted and using a white cane makes me feel blind. What's worse, it makes me LOOK blind. How do I get over that? See, it's that emotional component again.

My next session will be at my house. I asked my instructor to bring a blindfold. During O and M, depending on what aspect one is working on, it can sometimes be helpful to "eliminate" all sight so you don't rely on it as a crutch. I figured I'm comfortable enough with my condo complex that I can try it blindfolded. But truthfully, I think it has more to do with not seeing others watching me learn to use a cane because it embarrasses me.

How long, I wonder, will I go on feeling uncomfortable using a cane. Will seeing me use one bother or effect my friends and family? I just don't know but I'm not really wanting to find out yet.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Write From The Soul 13

I heard on the national news last night that either yesterday or today is National Bubble Wrap Day. Bubble Wrap Day??? Sounds like something made up by one of those big-box stores as a way to get rid of the mass quantity of bubble wrap they bought before the holidays and then didn't sell or use!

In any case, it got me thinking about bubble wrap (obviously I didn't have any pressing matters on my mind) and I wondered....how many books have used bubble wrap in them? After all, it's definitely a versatile material. There must be endless uses for it.

There was only one book I could think of and it's a story I've written (of course!). Now mind you, bubble wrap isn't essential to the main story line BUT it does provide comic relief at a serious and difficult time for the main character.

Lest you think I'm obsessing over bubble wrap (and I'm NOT) there is a real reason I added it into my story of a visually impaired tween coming to terms with her disability and accepting the challenges the loss creates in life. As all of you know I am a visually challenged person- I like to refer to myself as a V.I.P visually impaired person- and during my last years as an elementary teacher, I frequently would knock into tables, trash cans, student chairs left out away from the desks etc.. One particularly frustrating day, I announced to my colleagues that I was simply going to wrap myself in bubble wrap so if I bumped into something, the air pockets would pop and I wouldn't be injured. They of course, just laughed. Two days later,  I rushed into the classroom, late because bad weather delayed my departure from home. I went to start up the computer to take attendance only to find that the monitor and keyboard were wrapped in bubble wrap! As I looked around, puzzled, I found my pencil, teacher guides, and whiteboard markers were ALL bubble wrapped. Then I looked up and saw several of my grade level colleagues peaking in the door to see how I was handling it. I guess they thought it was easier to wrap every thing else in bubbles than me.Not to mention, it would be a little tough to sneak up, wrap me, and surprise me with it!!!  When I started writing my children's book, that scene came back to me and I added bubble wrap into the story.

Soooooo.... does anyone know of any other books that include bubble wrap???? Let me know:-)
And Happy Bubble Wrap Day.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Visualeyes 12

This has been a busy week in preparation for tomorrow's meeting. It is the kickoff for The Foundation Fighting Blindness Atlanta Chapter annual fundraiser called VisionWalk. This is the 4th year for this walk and it's my 3rd year participating.This year is different from the others for several reasons:
  1. I am a co-captain of the Support Group Team, one of the largest teams. In the past, I have been a team of one.
  2. I am a chapter Board  Member now (yeah, fancy title that comes with business cards but it really just means I've become active in the group so they add me to the Board. Oh, and you have to print out your own business cards!)
  3. This year, my vision has gotten worse so I'm aware of the need for fundraising more than before.

The other co-captain, Jim, and I decided to add a motto to our team T-shirts. Since the organization is the Foundation Fighting Blindness, I kind of went with that fighting theme. The Support Group tries to promote public awareness of retinal degenerative conditions as well as supporting research and helping people deal with their challenges. I put those together and came up with SPAR. It stands for Support, Public Awareness, Research. Our motto is: Come SPAR with us in the fight against blindness.
Okay, so it's a little corny but it worked better using SPAR than RAPS or RASP or ASP-R or RSPA. Trying writing a motto with those words!

I have never really felt comfortable doing fundraising and asking people for money. But now that I don't drive, I equate it to asking people for rides places. I can't always get to where I want to by myself, so I have to ask for help. The worst thing someone can  say is "sorry, I can't give you a ride today" and I'm not any worse off. I have to find a bus or take a taxi. Sometimes, though someone says SURE or GLAD TO HELP and if I hadn't asked them, it wouldn't have happened.

It's the same in asking for donations for the VisionWalk. Sure, some people I ask will say no or I can't right now, but some will say YES. And if I don't ask, it doesn't happen. That means research doesn't happen, that means treatments and cures aren't found, and mostly, that means more of us will go on losing sight and becoming blind. And I'm not giving up my sight without a fight.

So friends and followers, and friends of followers, I'm asking all of you if you'd be willing to help me out and thousands of other people, including children. If you'd like to make a donation- and any amount is gratefully accepted- you can do so online at: www.fightblindness.org/goto/gailhandler
If you'd rather you can send a check to: Foundation Fighting Blindness
                                                            4600 Marriot Dr, Suite 340
                                                            Raleigh, NC27612
Just put my name in the memo line of the check so our team gets the credit towards our goal.
Thanks in advance to those who can contribute. And for those who can't, don't worry about it. It was worth asking. :-)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Write From the Soul 12

The Southern Breeze SpringMingle  conference will take place the end of February. I can't wait! I went to my first "Mingle"  last year and found it inspiring, motivating, and fun! And I went not knowing ANYONE!!!

In this one year's time, I now know some people because:
  • I joined a writers' critique group
  • I've been to a few local programs featuring speakers who are writers
  • I started blogging and have some followers
  • I've been reading and following a dozen blogs and have connected with other writers
 To me, that's m-a-j-o-r progress for a year.  I'm looking forward to gaining new insight into writing, agents, publishing, marketing, and so much more at this year's conference.

I've already booked my room at the hotel but am willing to share with another writer/illustrator, if someone is wanting to pay half the rate. I'm a light sleeper, so a non-snoring female would work best for me. And I'd prefer a non-smoker because  residue smoke smell can activate my asthma (yeah, yeah, I know that's TMI about me- sorry!)

Soooooooo,if you're a SCBWI member, or a non-member, or you know someone coming to the conference, let them know there's a spare bed waiting!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Write From the Soul 11

Before anyone sends me a comment informing me that I can't count and I'm really on WFTS 10, I know that!!! But I'm tired of having to go back to my dashboard, and look at the old posts to see which number I'm on. It made sense to me to have both blog posts using the same number, so 10 is gone, banished into the ethernet and 11 for all.

I just finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It's an extraordinary book that is really thought-provoking. The relationships between white women and black women in the South during the 1960s were vividly and painfully portrayed. There were parts in the book where it was so intense, I had to put the book down and check email or just do something lighter for awhile.

I was not raised in the South, although I was raised by a mom from the South.  But because both my parents worked through my entire childhood, we did had a housekeeper-we never called her a maid-named Connie whom I called "Chachie." I adored her. I remember frequently hugging on her while she was trying to get her work done.I'd be holding on just below her waist and she'd have to drag me around the kitchen with her. I thought it was great fun; I'm betting she didn't! My mom used to tell stories of Connie holding me in one arm and making a pie with the other one! Her specialty was to make fried chicken for us before we knew how unhealthy it was.

I don't remember anything negative happening between Connie and my parents.Unfortunately, shortly after my sister was born, Connie had to leave us. She had epilepsy and began having small seizures- no flailing, no falling down, no tongue biting- where she'd just stare off into space for about a minute while leaning over the sink with her cigarette. Of course, to me, it felt like an hour, but really the seizures were brief. But having me and a small baby to care for, Connie and my mom were both worried that something could happen during her seizures.  I  really related to the child in the story who had to say goodbye to her housekeeper and didn't know why. That pulled out emotions from my core.

Most of  the stories I write  are light-hearted and use humor and/or silliness, rather than emotions that come from the core. Possibly that's because I primarily write picture books. I'm starting to write more middle grade stories now. And while I still want to use humor in them, I'm trying to challenge myself to dig deep for emotions and feelings  that kids will recognize. Like fear of failure, the sadness of lonliness, the loss of important people in their lives. All of those will pull from my core as well. I can relate to them all. We'll see where they lead.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Visualeyes 11

Okay, before I start this story, you need a visual of the carrier I will be talking about. This is my new "shopping cart" with canvas sides and a cover for the top in case it's raining. (If it's snowing, I'm NOT going to be out shopping!)

  You can't see it but it has umbrella handles, like a stroller. Usually, the cover is tucked inside so that you can quickly fold it up.

Storytime.... Mass Transit Chronicles chapter two.

I was going to Midtown Atlanta  for a meeting at The Center for Visually Impaired (CVI). I brought the cart for "show-and-tell" as an aid that can be helpful for us VIPs (Visually Impaired Persons). In addition, someone was bringing some large print magazines to donate to an organization I worked with.

I had to leave the meeting early because my book club was also meeting that day. There was little room for error in the timing as I had to walk back to the subway station, catch the train, then get the bus, then walk home from there. If the planets were alligned, Mercury was in retrograde (whatever that means), and my luck was holding, I could be home in an hour with about 5 minutes to grab my stuff, make a pitstop, and be ready for my ride out to Gwinnett County for the book club. [You thought doing more than one thing in a day was easy????]

I left CVI on time-good. Walked to the subway station-good. Got through the gates to go down to the train-good. Looking for the escalator, because I had the cart partially filled with magazine- no good. There's only stairs going down. And of course, I could hear the train arriving although I didn't know if it was going the direction I needed. The elevator would take too long, so I grabbed the cart by the metal bar on the side, yanked in up off the ground, and raced down the stairs-holding onto the handrail- as fast as my bad eyes would allow me. Didn't want to miss a step and stumble butt over cart you know. Now with RP, you lose your peripheral vision so things out to the side of you just disappear from sight. In this case, that was a good thing, because, apparently there were 2 women who thought I had a weird baby carriage and was recklessly dragging a poor child down to the train! How do I know this if I can't see? Well, when I hit the platform and found out the train wasn't going my direction, I headed over to the bench to sit and wait. These women walked past me, one with a look of shock still on her face and the other giving me those mommy dagger eyes! I couldn't figure out what was their problem, at that point, but shortly after that, it came to be clear.

I got on the train with my cart in front of me and the train pulled out. Just before the next stop, it jerked suddenly and the cart, which I barely was holding, headed on it's own down the aisle of the car. I jumped up, caught it about two feet away and jerked it "angrily" back to my seat and my backpack I left there in order to snatch the cart. The guy sitting diagonally from me asked: "Is there a baby in there?" I guess he wanted to be sure of his facts before he stopped the next security guy walking between cars! Of course I immediately said:  "No way! I wouldn't treat a baby like that!" He seemed relieved [and so would those women if they'd bothered to get on the same car as me!]  That's when I realized what the women must have been thinking. It made me chuckle but I guess I'm lucky neither one tried to beat the snot out of me. That really would have wrecked havoc on my timetable!

Anyway, now that I was on the same wavelength as the rest of the world-who thought I was an abusive woman- I decided to have a little warped fun with it. When I got off at my stop, again there were only stairs to go down. [For those of you who've never been on Atlanta's subways, some of the tracks are above ground and some are below but we still refer to it as subways.] As I approached the steps, I though of shouting, "Hang on!" but I didn't :-) I just put the cart next to me, held onto the handrail with one hand and the umbrella handle with the other hand and bump, bump, bumped haphazardly down the stairs...with a smile on my face. At the bottom of the stairs, there was, again, a couple of shocked and perplexed looks. I sweetly turned to them and said," Good thing this is a cart not a baby stroller, huh!" I left that thought percolating as I carefully pushed my cart down to the gates to exit the station.

Hey... nice, kind people can have a little wicked fun too!

Lessons learned:
Put a sign on the cart saying This is a cart not a stroller.
Be more careful with the cart because some zealous mom (or cop) might take it out on you.
Don't talk or coo at the cart!                               

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Write from the Soul 9

I expected to be "off my blog" from the 23rd of December until the beginning of the year. But my computer got sick. Not just kind of sick, I mean the H1N1 of computer viruses paired up with the avian flu of malware. We're talking totally-hijacked-can't-even-see-the-desktop-icons kind of sick. So I had to give up the 'puter to my trusted computer doc. The result was 10 days- let me repeat that more cleanly- TEN DAYS without the computer! That meant no blogging, no blog reading, no email, no story writing (yes, I know they can be written out longhand but do you want to write out several thousand words and then go back later and type them all over? That sounds a lot like revisions to me and those aren't supposed to happen until after the story is actually written! I've never had an alcohol or drug addition  [thank goodness] but after the withdrawal I had from no computer for 10 days, I think I got a teensy peek at what it might be like. No DTs but I was jittery, couldn't concentrate, irritable, slept poorly, and was begging people to let me use their computers. I even got a ride to the library one day just to use their computer and check my email! (I felt so bad about doing that, that I asked the reference desk librarian to help me check out some sources (that I knew they didn't have) for one of my picture books. Is that pitiful, or what!!!!

I read the following on one of my favorite blogs, Plot This, by Katie Anderson and Sarah Frances Hardy. It really resonated with me and it fits perfectly with my writing goals for 2010.

I can write.

I can revise.

I can wait.

I can revise again.

And again.

And again.

I will trust.

I will endure.

I will succeed.

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that this arduous process of attempting to be published is worth the uphill journey.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Visualeyes 10

Hey! Lookie at the title....10 in 2K10! A good place to start out the new year.

The past 10 days have been really difficult. My computer, which had the H1N1 of  'puter viruses, has been out of commission. I haven't been able to blog, follow the news on Facebook, Tweet, or work on stories. I  was able to check email on a friend's computer but once a day check-ins are still tough when you're used to checking 4-6 times a day! Besides being computer-less, my digital cable hasn't worked so I've had the 4 networks only. No HGTV????? No NCIS reruns on USA?  Now add all of that to being car-less AND weather in the teens in the "sunny South" with wind chills in the single digits. Let's just say I've been a little crazed :-)

I did have to venture out into the cold one morning to go into town for a demo on assistive technology. Once I  was bundled up like Nanook of the North, I braved the wind, cold, and uphill path to the bus. The usual 10 minute walk took 20 minutes because the cold air left me gasping for breath like an asthmatic. I finally made it to the bus stop, huffing, puffing, and wheezing .I joined the 2 women waiting for the bus. One woman pleasantly cursed the cold weather (I agreed with her) while the second woman took a small dog she was holding and placed it back in the carrier that sat on top of an old-fashioned upright, wire shopping cart. She turned to me and said: "You haf pone?" I replied excuse me because while English is my first language, it wasn't hers.

"Pone!, Pone, make call!"  I figured out she wanted to use my phone. Now I'm not in the habit of handing over my phone to strangers, especially when communication with them is marginal. But my nature is to help people out, so I asked her what number she wanted to call. She pointed to a number written on the top of a notebook and I dialed it for her. I don't have an ear for languages but I did listen to many a student and parent jabbering in Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese during my 30 years of teaching and when this woman began shouting into my cell in a harsh sounding dialect, I guessed it was Vietnamese.

Suddenly the other woman-who had been observing our interactions- called out that the bus had arrived. I didn't plan to miss it and stand in the cold any longer than necessary, so I  told Ms. Vietnam I needed my phone back. She turned away from me and continued to talk. I tried to reach for the cell and she blocked me and kept talking! The bus started to move and I  waved my arms begging for another moment and loudly stated  to Ms. Vietnam that I needed my phone. Again, she ignored me. I think I suddenly channeled The Hulk because a rage came upon me as I tore the phone out of her fingers shouting, "GIVE ME THE PHONE NOW!!" I leaped over to the bus, tapped my card and fell into a seat. The woman who had been observing this "confrontation" laughed and said she thought I wouldn't get the phone back. The bus driver, closed the door and started to drive off. The Vietnamese woman pounded on the door, shouting to get in (I guess that's whatshe was saying because it was in Vietnamese. Of course, she might have just been calling me names!). She dragged the cart and carrier onto the bus, fumbled for her card, then pushes the cart right in front of me and stood there trying to stare a hole through my head with dagger eyes!

I don't know what possessed me, but I actually sat there apologizing for ripping my phone out of her hands and offered to try the call again! ( the cold must have frozen all my working brain cells; either that or I had the feeling  that she might attack me with something-like a dog carrier- if I didn't let her use the phone again.) Just my luck, the battery was running low and the call wouldn't go through. She tried it twice- pushy little woman that she was- before she handed the phone back with a belligerent "it no work!"

Meantime, the bus driver had been shouting at her that it was dangerous to stand and she needed to sit down in a seat. She turned around and told him, "Get off, get off now!" I'm not sure if she meant herself, me, or the bus driver. He gladly stopped to let her off. He drove off mumbling about the crazy woman blocking the aisle. I noticed she was pushing the shopping cart/dog carrier toward the dry cleaners I use. Duh! It dawned on me that I had seen a small dog in the cleaners several times and this woman must work there. Visions of stained and torn clothes whizzed through my brain. Darn, now I have to find a new dry cleaners!

Oh the joys of riding the bus and the subway trains. I think I'll  write a book about my travails, uh, adventures. I think I'll call it "Mass Transit Chronicles." Here are the lessons I learned from chapter one's encounter:
          * Always start out your day with a fully chanrged cell phone. You never know if you'll have to dial
              911 because some crazy person is stealing your phone.
           * Never hand your phone to someone else, especially when you're waiting for a bus or train and
              especially if they don't speak English.
           * Beware of people with animal carriers on top of shopping carts.
Enough said.