Sunday, April 12, 2009

my Easter weekend

Hello everyone. This Easter weekend sort of snuck up on me. I haven't been attending church for quite some time now and don't really plan to until Janene and I settle down together. She's taking advantage of the holiday to see her parents. I'm seeing a lot of my nieces and younger brother. We went over to Hamilton yesterday. Ava and Amia were very happy and cute for the most part although Ava had to have a timeout at one point. Amia likes to grab and examine all my stuff. I think she's slowly learning to get me to feel what she brings over to me or wants me to help her with. At one point, she brought me over one of the fold-out padded books they have. I presume they have pictures and stories in them. Apparently, mom and dad got a pretty cute picture of me with Amia in my lap enjoying my pretending to read to her. I had the book upside down but she didn't seem to mind. That probably won't last long. Hopefully, she'll be gentle in her remonstrance of me for that kind of thing over the years ahead. Ava's getting pretty good at getting me to feel things. She, however, has the advantage of being able to verbalize a lot more. They both love to examine my netbook bag and the equipment it contains. Amia also took a keen interest in my cane this time around. It was staggeringly too big for her but Dad was there keeping careful watch while she briefly held it fully extended in the living room.

Dan's new Keg is doing pretty well so far. He's looking forward to his hours going back to more normal ones now that the opening has happened and things are running smoothly. He's also very pleased with his Apple computer. While we were there, he installed a printer he had previously won but never used. It's a very compact little thing with a front section which opens up rather like a wide and toothless gaping maw. I think it helped that the kids were kept occupied while he did this.

We all went out to Pizza Hut for Lunch. It was the first time we had all done that as a family on the spur of the moment and it felt very good. We all piled into Dan's new van and off the seven of us went. They have a pretty good crispy chicken salad at Pizza Hut. The chicken reminded me strongly of chicken wings. Dad wasn't all that thrilled with his. However, the kids certainly enjoyed their food and got to try the dessert pizza. I have now found something I can enjoy more at Pizza Hut when Janene wants some pizza. It's one of her favourite places. They were very well behaved in the restaurant. Dad got up and went around the restaurant with Amia showing off his granddaughter and dealing with her growing restlessness rather effectively in one fell swoop.

At last, Janene has completed her two classes. I fervently hope that she'll be able to enjoy having a bit of a break before her final class starts. Things have gotten a little strained over the past while. School and work have kept her extremely busy. We haven't done a whole lot together other than dinners out during the past while. Adding to that, she's decided that she wants to postpone our marriage until she's taken the time to sort out what she wants from life after completing her university degree. That hit me pretty hard. It's a perfectly sensible thing to do but after you've been mentally and financially preparing for such a big life change, it's quite a letdown to have all that swept back for who knows how long. She still wants me to move in with her so that we can get a proper sense of how compatible we are. Again, a very sensible idea. However, it took a bit to adjust to that very different prospect emotionally. I don't know what it'll do to my standing on the subsidized housing list when we move in together and/or marry. I presume I'd get cut off when our incomes had to be considered as a legal couple. As things turn out, I'm still on the subsidized housing in Hamilton. I got confused earlier and thought I was off that list as well. To deal with the inaccessible forms and letters they very occasionally send out in order to verify that a person waiting for housing is in fact still interested, I need sighted assistance. I had earlier decided not to remain on the Oakville list. My good friend Ron not withstanding, I just wouldn't want to end up in Oakville as a single person. I have too many painful memories of another apartment there. An apartment where blank spaces which I could detect the moment I stepped through the door were once occupied by my stuff before my first marriage slowly died. I wouldn't mind if Janene and I ended up living in Oakville together. That would make for a triumphant return and let me start fresh there. Ending up back there as a single person would just be a somewhat perverse twist of fate. It's the first time I've ever had such a strong negative situational thought about a place. Earlier on, I also just gave up entirely on the Mississauga housing list where the wait was something like ten years on average. However, Hamilton had some pretty advantageous stuff for blind people such as accessible door-to-door transportation for starters. If I'm ultimately destined to end up single, it seems that this is where I could make the most of that life. I'd be absolutely stunned if I heard from Hamilton prior to two or three years from now. That ought to give us lots of time to be as certain as we can be that things will work out well for us as a life-long couple. Would I walk away from an opportunity to finally have a place of my own for Janene? Presuming nothing happens to break off our engagement, absolutely. I'd do it in a heartbeat. What we've gone through is merely a bump in the road. Nothing has happened to lessen my faith in her or my love for her.

Another unfortunate habit we damned well have to get out of is getting into sensitive conversations at the end of the day when I have either already begun to go to sleep or am contemplating achieving that state of oblivion in the very near future. Last Wednesday's conversation happened after I had actually just begun to drift off. I was telling her about the discovery my mobility instructor Ray had made when he consulted the schedule and map. He found a bus route which he thinks will prove far easier than the train route I had been working on for what feels like forever now. I thought she'd be pleased at this discovery and we'd then move onto other more pleasant topics. However, she chose that time to start questioning me on my troubles with mobility and try to understand why I found it such a struggle in life. She, of course, was also fully awake and ready to plunge back into working on her last paper right after we said our good-nights. She didn't mean to attack me but I've always been sensitive about my Achilles' heel and that was what it started to feel like. Combined with everything else, it started to feel like all the progress we had made over the past year and a half was crumbling away. A complete over-reaction on my part. I got somewhat frustrated and angry. She then pulled the "this isn't getting my paper done" line on me just when I was starting to get my proper perspective back. Honest, accurate, but damned infuriating. We sort of recovered but I lay back down in bed wondering whether I was too frustrated to sleep or two tired to remain frustrated. Ultimately, neither side exactly won the day. I tossed and turned and thought about the whole damnable issue.

My parents have always been very supportive of me. Having lived either with or near them for most of my life, they have mostly been available to take me where I wanted to go. They could get me to a place by car in fifteen minutes to half an hour. Meanwhile, learning how to travel such a distance by myself with any degree of competence typically takes me ages. We're talking months of lessons from a mobility instructor. Hours and hours of practicing until I'm finally able to do it safely on my own given good conditions. It takes very little for me to become lost. Routes are ribbons of reality comprised of a set of instructions and an experiential sense of the environment I travel through. Once I've learned a route, I have to keep using it frequently or it just fades from my mind. It just doesn't seem to anchor itself to anything. As a result of this, I've been very reluctant to squander my time trying to learn to get places.

While I'm travelling, I can't do anything else with that time at all. If I'm navigating, I need to pay as much attention to everything as I can. It isn't about safety so much as maintaining a sense of where I am as best I can. I'm always tensely alert. Thankfully, I've gotten to the point where I can converse with my fellow travellers should an opportunity arise. However, I doubtless sometimes seem preoccupied due to trying to keep mental track of location at the same time especially with newly learned routes. Other than that, travel time is not only lost to everything else but stressful to boot. I'd never dream of pulling out an Ipod or netbook or cell phone. My ears particularly have to remain unobstructed and ready. I don't even like to wear hoods or carry an umbrella due to how these things detract from my ability to hear things properly.

I don't mind asking people for help if I do get lost. However, throwing myself out there knowing I would almost certainly be forced to take up the time of one or more strangers just seemed irresponsible. I therefore tried to organize my life around the availability of getting lifts and arranging things so that I minimized the number of requests I'd have to make. Growing up, I had very few places I actually wanted to go. There was nowhere I had any interest in going alone. Shopping has never been something I've particularly enjoyed. There are also no places one can go in order to meet and converse with people which don't revolve around alcohol or loud music. I've never really been the outdoors type either. As a result of this, I've lead a fairly academic life.

Things are changing now. My parents aren't exactly elderly but they won't be able to help me get places forever. They also have grandchildren who are very deserving of their time. They do quite a bit of baby-sitting currently and will doubtless do more things when they get a bit older. Janene will also feel a whole lot better about things if I can get to more places independently. Technology is also much more on my side now. As quirky as it can be, the Trekker Breeze can do a lot to keep me from getting hopelessly lost. My father and I just walked a route out to near the Meadowvale Town Centre. Unfortunately, doing this and then looking closely through the user's guide reveals a limitation I wasn't previously aware of. I can't create landmarks which are only announced during a specific route. I can just indicate things in such a way that they are always announced when I'm in the vicinity. That changes how one should describe such landmarks in the brief four seconds allowed per landmark. I'll have to do two landmarks in some cases to better direct me both ways on a route. Ah well. Live and learn.

Two more devices have also been added to my arsenal. I have a cell phone now. In a worst case situation, I could find out where I was and call a friend or a taxi. That's also an important consideration. With these two devices, trying to become more mobile makes a great deal more sense. I've also taken the step of ordering an Olympus DS 61 digital recorder. I'm going to use it to record routes as I travel them. This way, I'll have the journeys recorded in four-directional high quality sound plus whatever verbal notes the people who help me or I decide to point out recorded in real time along the way. That's something I've never tried before and it's the only idea I have which might let me re-familiarize myself with a route after an extended period of not practicing it. I'll also be able to use it to better fine-tune the names of the landmarks I set in the Trekker Breeze without having to recreate them.

Over the next six months, I'm going to embark on an extensive campaign to learn routes to and from where my friends and Janene live. This is going to entail practicing for a good part of most days. I'm reserving weekends as down time. Also, I'm not about to march out there in heavy rain. My other reservation is for visits with family, friends, or other special events. Failing those things, I'll be out there trying to overcome my travel hang ups by sheer dint of force. Everything else is on the back burner with one exception at least until September. What happens at that point depends largely on how Janene and I feel. We haven't broken off the engagement or anything like that. She just needs some time to find her new life balance and direction. I'm profoundly happy that she wants me to be an important part of that.

But what, you may wonder, is this one exception that isn't put on the back burner? Well one of my major issues with spending all kinds of time learning to get from A to B is that so often, in my experience, nothing concrete ever seems to result from all that work. I could never be happy in a situation where I had to constantly work to maintain my memory of all kinds of routes. My guide could never have been written under those conditions. I put two years of main effort into that project and it truly seems to have made a very big difference for people even if the larger blindness organizations don't seem to give a rat's ass. I've put over a year of effort into learning a route to get to a go station and have gained a little more than prior mobility efforts. I can now comfortably get to a local corner store. I'm also somewhat more comfortable with bus travel. I'm not at all easy with those damned transfer points where multiple buses can be present at the same time. Some things, those transfers included, I don't think I'll ever be alright with and will go to some trouble to avoid. For the most part, I see myself remaining a mostly social exploratory traveller. There are many experiences I would love to have with a person or people who I know and trust but wouldn't find at all worth while going to alone. I'd far rather take the time and effort to cultivate a friendship than try to learn a long route. To make certain that I come out of this with more than routes which time will doubtless eventually render useless as friends move or other circumstances transpire, I am going to attempt to produce an audio documentary of my experience. The exact nature of the end result will depend largely on the source material I collect as I record my travels. One way or another, I hope to have something which goes to the heart of issues surrounding expectations of mobility by the blind and of the blind. Along the way, I hope to become more comfortable speaking into microphones in general, editing and dealing with sound files, and to gain a bit more overall poise. We'll see how all that goes over the next while. Stay tuned, presumed small audience. You'll hear about my experiences first in this blog if you aren't otherwise personally connected to me socially. I hope you all had an enjoyable Easter weekend.

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