Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Good Times Ahead and Behind

Hello everyone. Figured it was time to put another blog posting up there so readers could move on from the darker heavier last posting. It's been a pretty interesting couple of weeks. Insomnia has struck again rather hard lately. I think perhaps the change of seasons as winter weather starts to arrive may have set it off. Thankfully, I've avoided hitting absolute bottom this time and may even be on the way back upward. Getting my darkest moments written down and out there in the open has been wonderfully cathartic. I hadn't realized how much it had been weighing upon me all this time. I guess it's my way of truly turning the page on things. This year has really been one huge page turner for me.

The forum at the Dam last week went exceedingly well and we had a great discussion on societal expectations and self-worth. Every so often, that kind of thing happens to remind me what hopes I had when I originally volunteered and keep them alive. There won't be any more forums until after the holidays. However, there are a couple more drop ins before Christmas. There's also a Christmas party this week which I'll be attending. It'll be interesting to see how the teens react to that. I haven't gotten the sense that any of them are religious.

Last week, I went to the Mountain Equipment Co-op store in Burlington. I've been thinking of purchasing a travel pack for quite a while now. As it turned out, my parents purchased the pack as my Christmas present for which I'm very grateful. For the record, I ended up with the Sojourn travel pack. There was some confusion about which pack I preferred. I got the one I liked better but didn't realize that due to some mix-up possibly about which racks they were placed on, this pack was the Sojourn rather than the Walkabout. What finally twigged me to this was being completely unable to find any sleeping bag compartment as was mentioned in the Walkabout description. The Sojourn lacks such a compartment. It has internal compression straps which I could use to hold a sleeping bag neatly in the main pack. I've never been great at rolling those so that's going to be helpful. The main pack has plenty of room for stuff. The day pack is roomy enough for my computer gear, water bottle, and other items. I'll use it when I go to the Dam.

It's Tuesday afternoon now. Just had a delicious brunch of bacon and eggs. The week is going pretty well so far. My Christmas shopping is as done as it'll get. I have to get mom and Emily's gifts somewhat closer to the day. This time of year really shows how very different things are for Emily than for me. She wasn't in a very cheerful mood last time I talked with her. That's very understandable given her circumstances. I'm glad she's found somewhere to go on Christmas day. We've just begun the process of getting to know each other and it feels far too early to bring her into a family Christmas. I'm hoping she can join me for my second New Year's party here. That ought to be something special. I can't help but think about and sympathize with her. I'd love to be able to snap my fingers and fix everything for her but that's a process which takes time, love and care. We've decided to keep carefully exploring the possibility of being more than just friends. I'm glad she had a change of heart there. That took courage finding the strength to hope. Things should begin to improve for her in the new year. This is, I hope, the bottom of the painful valley life has forced her into. I very much look forward to trying to help her find a more stable plateau in the months ahead. I've reached a point in life where I'll be alright if a relationship beyond friends doesn't ultimately prove to be in the cards. Here, there's enough to keep me going in life either way. It's a very good position of stability from which to seek companionship even if it somewhat limits prospective partners. If things don't work out for us as more than friends, it'll certainly be painful but nowhere near as devastating as losing Janene was. That has far more to do with the circumstances in which I now find myself than with Emily. She isn't used to seeing herself as of much value or as very intelligent. She is though. I've just begun to scratch the surface there in our conversations. She doesn't have formal educational credentials but she has absorbed an awesome amount of practical street wisdom.

Over the past while, I've gotten to see a number of friends including Adam and his girlfriend Jeanette. It was great spending the day with them despite my insomnia-induced nodding off at one point. They'll likely be at my new year's party. So will Mark and Wendy who I also got to have dinner with here at the apartment. Plans to try a new chicken place fell apart so we ended up cooking dinner and eating here. It's always a treat having them over. A friend from Meadowvale Secondary School has contacted me via Facebook. Patrick and I used to have the odd class together and had some wonderful talks back then. A few of us including Adam and I will hopefully be able to get together with him here in Meadowvale for a small fun reunion. Facebook just keeps proving its worth despite all its hastles.

Today has been very pleasant and busy. It has more than made up for the frustratingly slow and unproductive cession at the Dam yesterday. None of the kids did more than say a quick hi. It was still nice chatting with the staff and volunteers. I got precisely nowhere on the article I'm working on for a future church newsletter. I'm far from giving up on it but it's proving a damnably tough nut to crack. Today started out with the yearly Christmas breakfast in our building. I chatted with a couple of building management staff I had never come across before. Shirley also showed up for a good chunk of it later on. People were very relaxed and things went quite splendidly. A bunch of them recognized me this time. Yet another positive sign that I'm starting to really belong here in this community.

Dad picked me up and we went to a few places. He treats me to beer and I stocked up on Paddock Wood Czech Mate and Sleeman Fine Porter. The Paddock Wood beer is my favourite discovery of the year in that department. It has a different fruity taste that I find very refreshing. One of those things which you'd think wouldn't work but really does. I believe I'll wait until tomorrow or Friday to see how the Sleeman Fine Porter stacks up. Dad and I each had two martinis with lunch. That's plenty of alcohol for one day. Thought I had tried pretty much every Sleeman beer there was but didn't know they made a porter. I'm expecting an excellent and interesting flavour. Sleeman's is about as mainstream as I tend to get with my beer selections but they're not above putting out some nicely unique beers from time to time. I enjoy different beers. All the more when I get to share them with guests.

We had a look around the Dollar store where I came across a gift for little Amia. That was my only remaining missing gift to obtain. Last weekend, I ended up seeing Carine and Kevin for the first time in a while. They had to do some Christmas shopping and I chose to go along. That gave me a chance to grab a few small gifts for certain people who shall remain nameless lest they happen to read my blog. I've been very blessed over this past year and I always enjoy sharing as much of that as is practical with others. Carine has a treadmill which may suit my needs and spacious bedroom admirably. Something to investigate over the next while. Thanks to my grandmother's recent generosity, I can actually afford to pay a little for it. I've wanted one of those in here for quite some time now. I've never felt comfortable listening to headphones in more public environments. This way, I can listen to whatever's on my netbook while exercising and not disturb anybody else. A while ago, I started a savings account which automatically took ten dollars per month from my checking account. I've put around $200 in there from my grandmother's timely gift. That would have taken around two years to save up myself. I'm still not quite at the point where I could purchase a new laptop or something like that if I had to but I'm a ton closer to it than I thought I'd be. My little jewel of a netbook is still holding up wonderfully so I should be there well before it kicks the bucket.

For brunch at the Symposium Cafe, I decided to try their barbecued chicken dinner. It didn't disappoint. The chicken was delicious and they do very enjoyable vegetables and roasted potatoes to go with it. Definitely something I'll have again. Dad's still got a bit of his cold but it seems like he's getting better. He's thrilled with his iPAD and has picked up some games for my nieces to play on it when he visits them.

The groceries arrived in good time this afternoon. One new experiment I'm trying is fair trade chocolate. Ken's lecture on how most of the world's chocolate gets its coco struck a nerve with more than just me. Don't know how effective it was for the teens but it got me thinking twice about buying my usual Mars bars. I decided to try Coco Camino chocolate bars and bought two hundred-gram ones. Thankfully, they're divided into small squares making rationing easier. It makes chocolate more of an expense and reduces how much I eat at once. We'll see how that goes over the next while. It's a small gesture in the grand scheme of things but I feel better for trying. I got almost everything I ordered. There were four substitutions which were perfectly fine with me. I am, however, disappointed that they didn't have Kind Bars this time. I've come to very much enjoy those as a healthy if somewhat pricey snack once in a while. I especially like the almond coconut ones. Despite that tiny disappointment, I'm very well stocked for the holiday period ahead. Far more so than a number of people I know. It's certainly an interesting place full of many oddities that society has seen fit to stick me in. I very much hope that history remembers me as a man who counted and shared his blessings. ODSP only works as well as it does for me because of a number of fortunate circumstances which attend my life and not others on the system. Chief among those circumstances are a stable supportive family and a wonderful cast of friends new and old. Also, I really lucked out beyond my wildest hopes with subsidized housing after ten years of life in limbo. I can't imagine a more perfect place for me to live short of Heaven itself. In many ways, I'm a profoundly lucky man.

I've been re-reading Robert J. Sawyer's The Terminal Experiment over the past few days. It's neat to read a book about a year you've lived through that was written around a decade earlier. That book is just as profound as his WWW trilogy which I've just finished at last. That guy has so much hope for the future. I'd love to meet him some day. His books seem to pass that optimistic perspective on to their readers. He sets me a very fine example as I write this blog, work on other creative projects, and conduct my extraordinary life.

Tomorrow, I'll be attending the Dam's annual Christmas party during the evening. The fire alarm tests will make the next couple of days very un conducive to lengthy writing of any sort. I'll use them as an opportunity to catch up with news and also with my favourite podcasts which have been very neglected this past half year or so. Perhaps, this trove of countless unheard hours of listening material is one of the largest testaments of just how much life has changed for me over the past year. Like good friends, I know they're waiting and ready if I should need them again. In particular, I feel a tad guilty for missing episodes of Spark and From Our Own Correspondents. How appropriate. Winamp, in its infinite random wisdom, has just picked out Step By Step sung by Huey Lewis & The News. A perfect song for my reflections. Life is going great right now. Not perfect. I don't live in some sort of faerie tale. There are plenty of limitations, thwarted desires and frustrations. When you get right down to it though, they're the friction that keeps everything real. As 2011 comes to a close, I find myself in a wonderful groove. My efforts have paid off in splendid fashion and there's plenty of scope for action. Lots to learn, enjoy, and do. How appropriate. Winamp has now picked out Vanessa Williams Oh How the Years go By. Inspiring music, both pop and instrumental, is certainly one of the many blessings I count. This song once caused me to painfully dwell on not finding a soul mate with whom I could face life's ups and downs. Now, it gives me hope of doing so while causing me to reflect on the many friends I've found to share my adventures with. Hope, effort and patience really do pay off. I keenly look forward to what 2012 brings.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ending it All

Ending It All

In general, people seem to think of me as a patient, cheerful, easy-going guy who usually finds the bright side in situations. Some see me as in fact too optimistic and patient. There was a brief time, however, when these qualities had utterly failed in me. A short time when I was so miserable and devoid of hope that I seriously contemplated ending my life. I never wrote about it afterwards for many reasons. Chief among them was the wish not to cause my friends and family any more pain than was necessary. The period of which I write lasted only a couple of days. Not long at all unless you happen to be seriously contemplating causing your own death.

One of the ways I try to contribute something meaningful and be productive is to share my life story. Such an account would be incomplete if I chose, as most people likely wood, to leave this darkest and most shameful of mental journeys buried in a dingy forgotten corner of my memory. Writing all this down hasn't been fun. It has already led to some hard conversations with people including my father who, naturally enough, had to examine things in detail and try to understand what had brought me to this point. We always want to close the barn door after the horse has left. It's human nature. I know I'm in for more such awkward discussions once this gets out there. I felt compelled to write about this darkest of times in my life for a few reasons. First of all, I sincerely hope that my own brush with thoughts of suicide might in some way serve to help others avoid actually going through with it. If I could find a way up from the bottom of despair, perhaps you will also find the strength to keep hoping , working, and waiting for change. At the time I contemplated ending my life, there seemed absolutely no prospect of meaningful change at all. Finding a way to restore my sense of contentment, purpose and direction just didn't seem at all possible. And yet, despite no job, tight money and no marriage, I'm reasonably content and happy these days. I also hope that my journey to rock bottom serves to illustrate just how important healthy communities actually are. There have to be more ways for marginalized people like me to find meaningful contributive places within communities which allow us to earn both self-respect and that of others. It can't be all about how much money you make. That's incredibly un fare when you're denied the opportunity to make any. There's also a lesson here about how dangerous it can be to put all of one's eggs in a basket which could be kicked away. That's a mistake I never intend to make again for anyone.

Janene had been the light of my life for over two years. For a large portion of that time, we had been engaged. At last it seemed like all my values and efforts had truly counted for something beyond family and friendship. I may not have been able to find a job, but I had at last found a woman who truly loved and valued me enough to want to make a commitment that would change my life. This was what I had longed for even more than I wanted someone to let me into the job market. To at last escape the confines of a society and disability support system which had essentially locked me into an extended isolated childhood. To finally get into a commitment where I could really have a positive impact on someone very dear to me and live something akin to a "normal" Canadian life as I saw it. I wasn't looking for a free ride. Precisely the opposite in fact. I fully expected to cook, clean, and do whatever else I could to make life better for both of us. I didn't want to be pitied. I wanted to actually matter to someone other than my family. I wanted to live life with someone around my age who actually enjoyed going places with me and experiencing new things together. Someone to really build a lifetime of memories with and share all the ups and downs. Marriage is one of the few vocations with wiggle-room enough for insomnia, writer's block and a propensity to disorientation particularly when travelling outdoors. I've always had a sense that I could give more to others in the realm of friendship and relationship.

That seemed finally to be on the verge of happening. We had discussed all the major issues, been completely up front with each other about everything. My friends and family were fully behind us. Unlike my previous marriage which was, in hindsight, entered into on very shaky grounds, things would be different this time. We had done quite a lot together, shared a lot of fun and even some tougher times. We built enough love and trust to become engaged and start seriously planning for a future together. And then, on an Easter Monday, all that was decisively ripped away from me in the space of around an hour as she broke the news to me over our last coffee together. She no longer wanted to marry me. It was like someone had come along with a perverse sort of chainsaw and cut away my future. My recollections of that last evening together are still somewhat fragmented. I was so hurt I could barely think.

The pain of losing a love built up over time with care is indescribable. It devastated me beyond words. Life had suddenly gone from seeming full of hope and possibility to being utterly empty. Looking ahead, I saw years and years passing with agonizing slowness leading absolutely nowhere. What creativity I had would dry up in the face of continued stagnation. There would simply be nothing worth writing about anymore. I needed to somehow find a way to start relating to wider society despite my major difficulties in actually getting anywhere on my own. All I had to offer; my patience, thoughtfulness, ability to see more than one point of view, my compassion, my skills, my honesty.. Everything I was just wouldn't get me connected with others in a permanent, constructive and meaningful way. I'd never get an opportunity to show anybody who could really change things for the better what I could do. My willingness to work or even volunteer my time hadn't mattered a damn to anybody. Now, I saw that neither had my willingness to love. It didn't matter how hard I tried. It simply wasn't ever going to be enough for anybody to give me more than a casual friendship or the odd thank you email.

While waiting for subsidized housing, you're in no position to be making long-term commitments unless it's to a full time job or living arrangement which gets you right off the system and eliminates your need for it. They can't tell you where you are on the list since you may be bumped down by people in greater need. For example, priority is understandably given to people in abusive or otherwise dangerous situations. There's no way to know whether you'll be waiting for years or that something won't come up tomorrow. Being stuck in this limbo living like a child with my parents was very frustrating but thankfully not at all physically or mentally dangerous. Finding out that you don't have the skills to get hired, have tremendous difficulty navigating and are pretty much housebound unassisted, can't even find anywhere in the community to volunteer your time let alone socialize; That's downright soul-destroying. People who look at us and say things like "He should get a job." or "They're so lucky. They can sleep in as late as they want and we pay for it." have no idea at all what they're talking about. Had there been door-to-door transportation, I would have cheerfully volunteered at a distress centre or helping newcomers learn English. Presuming it was moral and reasonably safe, I would have done damned near anything just for a sense of belonging and productivity whether you paid me or not. Had it been possible to flip burgers, deliver pizza or clean out sewage pipes, I would have done it. There just aren't any starting jobs that I could find. That's how an honest intelligent man can end up in his mid thirties with around six months work experience. Everywhere seemed to either want long-term commitments I couldn't make in good conscience or be impractical to get to for me. Everyone passed the buck to someone else. Since I had no problem physically walking, I couldn't qualify for any sort of door to door transportation. People expected the Canadian National Institute for the Blind to do everything for us. That was never their mandate at all. They tried to fill in the incredible gap left by a community unwilling to take the time to understand what slight accommodations they might have made to unleash our potential as participative citizens. Cutbacks and changes have stripped a lot of the more social community-building aspects away over the years. Everything is becoming more centralized and volunteer positions once held by blind people have been replaced by paid sighted people. For an organization who reportedly help the blind, they certainly don't hire a lot of us. The result was a vicious social and employment Catch22 there now seemed no way out of. Getting married had pretty much been my only remaining real hope of breaking out of it. There seemed no chance at all that the painful lessons I had learned during my first attempt at married life would ever be put to good use.

Time after time, I would get just enough experience with an element of adult life to appreciate its meaning and then, it would be snatched away from me. Graduating with my degree from university had been a golden moment. I had earned my BA and still kept my head on well enough to have made a lot of friends. Only then did I discover just how situational all those friendships were. There wasn't even a graduation celebration of any kind. We all just went our separate ways and never looked back. The only full time job I ever had ended due to the company going bankrupt after a mere five months. Once again, the new life and friends just melted away. My marriage had lasted five years failing due to many circumstances including the endless wait for affordable housing. And yet, they contained enough good times for me to understand just how much difference to one's sense of self esteem and place in the world that a steady job and a stable, lasting, healthy relationship makes. Love and companionship were things that were truly worth taking risks for. Janene and I seemed to be heading for a far more stable and healthy marriage full of possibilities. I had come to feel fantastic about being her faience and looked forward to being her husband. I had started making real inroads with her circle of friends and looked ahead to getting to know them further. Now, all of that was torn away from me. I was so damned tired of finding myself with nothing but pain to show for all my troubles. By walking away after saying so often that she wouldn't, she had brought all of my anguish and sense of worthlessness to society to the surf ice.

I felt absolutely powerless. There was no individual upon whom I could justifiably unleash my anger. Even Janene wasn't deserving of any sort of vengeance. Society should have been able to offer me more in life to participate in and hold on to than it had. Intelligence, honesty, cheerfulness, loyalty; all these things damned well should have counted for more. I should have had some sense that my efforts in life were of value to people and leading somewhere, but there were no such indications at all outside the relationship with Janene. That situation wasn't her fault. It was due to a whole host of circumstances, attitudes towards disabled people and societal decisions stretching back for ages. These decisions and attitudes plus my disabilities had conspired to place me in a kind of cage. From this physically comfortable cage, I could hear everyone else going about their lives full of meaning and social substance. More than that, I could hear them complain about how tired, over-worked, and busy they all were. I would have cheerfully walked away from just about anything I owned and done pretty much anything morally acceptable in order to get a real honest crack at living that kind of life. I couldn't break out of the cage on my own. No one was willing to make the kind of commitment necessary to actually open the cage for me. Not even someone who had been deeply in love with me. If she had been ultimately unwilling to, was there realistically any hope of anybody else doing so? I thought not.

The cognitive dissonance I faced through most of my adult life after graduating university was bad enough to deal with. Now, after a wonderful reprieve, it was back for business and magnified tremendously. Cognitive dissonance happens when events in life don't match one's expectations or when one holds opposing beliefs. For instance, a police officer thinks of himself as a good man, but he has had to kill someone in the line of duty. That can really psychologically tare some of them up. My sudden reversal of fortune thrust me into a very dark and different place beyond any mental upheaval I had previously known. All my disappointment and anger had nowhere to go. The glass had gone from brimming full to not only half empty but cracked near the bottom. It's a very dismal spot to occupy emotionally. There should have been more to life, but there wasn't. There should have been places to go, things to do, and people to see, but there simply weren't. Suicide is by nature one of the most selfish acts one can contemplate. You reach a point where you just want the pain to stop and you almost can't care about those you leave behind past a certain point. Now, I struggled with the horrid cognitive dissonance of very much caring about friends and family but still considering committing an action that I knew would cause tremendous pain to them. It seemed like the only possible way to escape the pain I was feeling. I dimly knew that there were people in the world in far worse circumstances than I was. However, my sense of overall perspective which had been marvelled at and remarked upon by many people was almost completely subsumed by grief at what I had lost and anger at the world. It was flat out impossible to concentrate on reading, writing or anything. Nothing would give me any relief. There was no getting away from the situation.

Short of offering absolute incontrovertible proof that life would be less solitary and very different from that point on, I don't think anyone else could have made me pause and reconsider. In an attempt to show that they care, people will say all sorts of things like "Someone else will come along." or "Things will get better." I had heard all that utter bullshit before a great many times. I knew people meant well by saying things like that, but frankly, they just gave me an increased sense that everyone was passing the buck and would continue to do so. You hear that stuff so much that you find yourself wishing you could inflict what you're facing upon them and give the whole world a taste so that you might at last truly be understood. Unless someone was prepared to actually volunteer to be a girlfriend who would keep her word and marry me or an employer who saw enough worth in me to offer me an honest shot at life, there was simply nothing they could do to actually be of meaningful assistance. Perhaps, a cool couple of million dollars would have been enough to get me to think that life could change drastically enough. Then again, I had heard Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins in The Edge. That film illustrates pretty clearly that being incredibly wealthy tends to have some substantial drawbacks when you want people to appreciate you for who you are rather than what you have. I needed something major to change. There was simply no prospect that anybody I knew could or would make that happen. It didn't seem very likely that I would get to know anybody new either. The only change I could at all reasonably hope for was a change in my own frame of mind. Barring stupendously unlikely intervention, I had painted myself into a hopeless mess that only I could get myself out of.

God would certainly not approve of me killing myself. I knew that but at that point, I didn't care what he thought. I was furious beyond words with him for creating a fucked up society where people like me could just be tossed aside, our compassion and potential simply left to slowly rot away like surplus fruit. The bible couldn't help me out of this one. I wasn't anywhere near a state where anything from that book could reach me. My faith seemed entirely unjustified. If I was going to back off from this and stick around, God would have to reach me in a more worldly way. I also didn't turn to family or friends with these suicidal thoughts. I didn't want to find myself in some sort of institution or anything like that. I knew inside myself that I had to find my own way out of this somehow. Also, it wasn't my friends and family's fault that things had turned out this way. If there had been anything they could have done to make such concrete positive differences in my life, they would have done so years ago. They couldn't understand the pain I was in now and saw no end to. My parents had worked most of their lives and had been able to find what community and social outlets they needed. How could they possibly grasp the sense of utter futility and heartbreak I now faced? My reality simply differed too drastically from what they had known. Laying my suicidal thoughts on their plates would only make things harder for them since there wasn't anything they could do to put me in a better overall position.

My thoughts turned to how to go about the inevitably painful business of suicide in as ethical, dignified and non-painful a way as possible. As angry with society as I was, I had no wish to cause friends or family any more pain than I would when they realized that their efforts weren't enough to prevent me from such a drastic step. Anger and bitter disappointment have a way of short-circuiting one's rational thinking about the consequences of one's actions on others. One tends to focus on the immediate details and situation almost exclusively. I had some vague notion that everyone would get over my leaving them eventually. I would only become more of a burden as continued stagnation made me more bitter, angry and depressed. Far better that I punch out now before things took such a dive as to completely rob me of any self-control at all. I was doing everyone a kind of horrid favour. That was how I rationalized it.

I knew of no high buildings or cliffs I could get to on my own so that method was out of the question. Truth to tell, smashing onto the ground from a great height has always struck me as a somewhat messy and ignominious way of departing from the land of the living. You never knew who might be at the wrong place at the wrong time. It could be some kid who finds you and is traumatized for life at the sight of what gravity can do to a body. I didn't want that. There was also no way to obtain a gun with which to shoot myself. Even had there been, Stephen King had written a short story in which the narrator had eloquently outlined what a chancy method of killing oneself a shot to the head actually was. I had gotten to know a mentally challenged fellow in secondary school who had been in a car accident. He remembered clearly what it was like to be able to think normally but could do so no longer. The thought of permanent but survivable brain damage creeped me out. Apparently, chances of this sort of outcome are pretty high presuming you actually survived the shot. In any case, obtaining a gun was pretty much out of the question. I couldn't get one legally as a blind man in Canada. The criminal world had never been a part of my life either so that route was out. Getting run over by a vehicle was out too. I had no wish to traumatize some poor driver despite what a tremendous hindrance a lack of affordable door-to-door transportation had been and still is in my life. Thinking about my rib cage being crushed also repelled me from that notion. While a little disorder can be downright comforting and make a place feel lived in, I've never gone in for serious extraneous mess. Poison was also out of the question. I had read and heard a lot about how chancy a process that actually is. I doubtless could have found something around the house but had visions of finding myself in some hospital getting my stomach pumped and having suffered some sort of permanent damage or other. I didn't like the idea of my parents finding my body. That thought bothered me quite a bit but I couldn't think of a process short of complete disintegration which would get them around that. One couldn't just disappear very easily.

There were only two methods which seemed both likely enough to work and at all tidy or dignified. The first was cutting myself with a sharp knife to the point where I bled to death. I figured that if I did that in a bathtub and thought through the blood flow enough, things would hopefully remain somewhat contained. The second method which seemed preferable almost from the start was to put a plastic bag over my head tightly and lay down in the tub with my head under water. I had read of some famous writer or other who had done this. It seemed perfect in the sense that it was tidy and as ethical as one could get with the whole idea of premature self-inflicted death. The spec tor of what horrid sensations and thoughts I might experience while asphyxiating certainly gave me pause but not nearly so much as the other methods above. There was no chance of a terrible un contained mess resulting. I also liked the fact that it left me firmly in control for as long in the process as my mind was capable of exercising such. I could always rip the bag off my head or failing that, claw a hole in it with teeth or fingernails if I changed my mind. Hopeless as I was, I didn't like the idea of finding that I actually didn't ultimately want to die but having no way to save myself. If I was going to make a final exit, I wanted it to be clearly my choice and on my own terms unlike so much of my life had been. Visions of bleeding out uncontrollably were therefore none too appealing in more ways than one.

The other major objection to using a knife was more a problem of ethics. The sharpest knives in the house had been sold to my parents by my good friend Adam during a brief stint as a knife salesman. I was very surprised when he actually managed to convince my father that they'd be a good addition to the house. He's not a very easy sell even when it comes to far less costly items than Cut co knives. I had no doubt whatsoever that one of those knives would be sharp enough to do the job. However, if I used one, what would it do to Adam if he ever found out that his successful sale was so intimately connected with the death of his friend? He certainly had enough on his plate without throwing that nasty curve at him in addition to dealing with my death. He had been a very good friend to me for well over a decade and been best man at my wedding. It would have been cruel and selfish of me. Even in my hopeless despair, I saw that clearly. The direct connection was so simple that it cut right through my own suffering unlike other equally valid but more complex objections. If I did X, a good man who had befriended me would suffer for it.

Coming to that conclusion was what started me thinking back on all the ethics and philosophy classes I had taken while obtaining my BA degree. The professors I had were all very thoughtful and interesting. I have a lot of fond memories of those lectures. Wistfully, I thought back to those days when life hadn't yet showed me so very plainly how isolated and apart from my peers I would find myself. I remembered one professor presenting a situation where you were in a dark theatre seeing a movie after just picking up a new switchblade knife. Becoming bored, you decide to see how sharp your new knife is and plunge it into the back of the chair ahead of you. It kills the person sitting in that chair who happens to be your best friend. That's the last thing you would have wanted to happen. Are you as culpable for the murder as someone who actually planned to kill your best friend? How do we know what we know? Given that all of our senses are fallible as are our minds, is anything we take to be reality actually certain? There had been so many interesting lectures and discussions. Suddenly, vapid as the ghost I had contemplated becoming, there he stood in my memory.

Tourist Jim is on a vacation in South America. Walking along one day, he comes upon a village. This place has clearly been the sight of unrest. Curiosity gets the better of caution and he proceeds into the village. There, he comes across the dictator of the small country and a large contingent of soldiers. A line of twenty men are up against a wall. The dictator is about to order his soldiers to shoot all of them when Jim comes into view. The dictator decides to make Jim an offer. If Jim takes a gun and kills one of the prisoners, the dictator will spare the remaining nineteen. What should Jim do?

My professor gave us this problem at the start of the class and let us wrestle with it for the entire hour. As one might expect, we all tried to find a way not to have to make the choice presented. Shooting the dictator was suggested right off the bat. The professor had a ready answer for every suggestion the class could come up with. He could have run a splendid Dungeons and Dragons campaign. If Jim shoots the dictator, the dictator's loyal soldiers will carry out his last orders shooting all twenty prisoners in addition to Jim. If Jim refuses or walks away, all twenty prisoners will die. If Jim shoots himself, all twenty prisoners will die. The prof never missed a beet as the class pulled out all the stops desperate to find an ethical way out of the box.

Once any possibility of avoiding making the choice had been ruled out, the discussion then turned to who Jim would choose. Not one member of the class felt at peace with simply killing one person to save the rest. Neither did we feel easy about doing nothing and thereby condemning everyone to die. The professor next started dangling possible answers in front of us. What if a very old man stepped forward to volunteer to be shot? Surely, it would be acceptable to shoot him so that those with longer left to live would be spared. The class seemed as alright with this as it was possible to be with the prospect of killing any innocent person until the professor asked: What if that old man, had he been spared, inspired his grandchild to do something extraordinary? Hadn't any of us been inspired by older members of society to straighten out our lives, be better citizens, etc? Was it at all proper for us to attempt to make a judgement about the value of the lives of complete strangers based solely on such things as the length of time one had left to live? What about our own lives? Even with our intimate knowledge of ourselves, could we ever really say that our lives were of no further value before they had run their natural span?

I remember leaving that class with a new appreciation of just how precious each life was and what a rotten job it must be to have to make decisions which you knew would or even might result in the deaths of others. I don't think I was the only one who left in a very contemplative sombre mood. Every now and then, I would remember Tourist Jim and his dilemma as I went about my business. Unlike a lot else which has long since drifted out of mind, that problem and others like it continue to inform how I choose to live. Facing that dilemma was a far more formative moment for me than I realized at the time. Looking back, I can see now how it changed me increasing my tendency to advocate for those who the world deems forgettable or expendable.

Tourist Jim made me ask some new questions of myself. How could I be so certain that I might not be that old man who inspired greatness or made a critical difference to people in some other way years later? Certainly, I had every likely hood of having any semblance of real adult life as I saw it delayed further probably by years. However, if nothing else happened first, my turn for affordable housing would eventually come up. I would then be somewhere that I could think of as my own place in a community where I could set down roots without fear of being swept off somewhere else. At some point, the un fare stalemate I found myself in would be broken at least a little. I just had to hang on somehow until that happened. Things would indeed get at least a little better in time.

Thus it was that my life was first put in danger by a woman who loved me but walked away, and then quite possibly saved by a dilemma faced by a completely fictitious character. Thanks to Tourist Jim, I stopped asking whether I should end my life. Right then and there, it became obvious to me that I had to stick around for the full duration. I would never again seriously consider an early exit no matter how bad things got. Having looked once down that dark passage, I knew that it wasn't really an escape at all. Even in my deep despair, I saw that I simply cared too much about others and the pain it would cause them to go through with any sort of early exit. There's also the issue of instinctive self-preservation. Did you notice how I turned away from methods which were too messy or uncontrolled? Strangely, I didn't think I had any real wish to keep on living; Didn't realize how even in those dark moments, part of me was looking for a reason not to go ahead at all. Had I actually attempted to kill myself, I don't think I could have overcome that. When push really comes to shove, I'm not the suicidal type. It just took being smashed against rock bottom for me to know that for certain.

The journey back upwards from rock bottom has been pretty uneven. Until last November, I don't think it would have been wise for me to attempt to write all this down. Things had certainly gotten more enjoyable long before then but there were bleak relapses when there was just too much time with nothing in it. Before some pretty substantial changes had taken place, looking back at that dark time may well have set me up for serious depression. How have I gotten from that horrible frame of mind to the happy and mainly contented emotional space I now occupy? The full scoop is in my blog for the really curious. Here's the short version for the rest of you.

Things started out slowly with two phone calls. One was to my orientation and mobility instructor. If I was going to be stuck at my parents' house for much longer, I needed to take a stab at learning to get somewhere. As things turned out, the first objective I focused on was getting to Symposium Cafe, the very place where Janene and I had broken up. It took months of training, but going there on my own for the first time with the help of my Trekker Breeze was a very big if lonely milestone. I reclaimed that place from the ashes of a once promising future and made it part of the one I still actually had. I never have met any new friends there as I once hoped I would. However, it continues to be a place where I like to bring the ones I've found elsewhere. I don't go there alone much at all anymore. The staff are great and so is the food, but there's that empty space near me which simply ought not to be. I save my money for when there are one or more other people to go out with.

The other call I made was to the Meadowvale Christian Reformed Church. Somehow, I needed to reconnect with God and have the ghost of a chance of connecting meaningfully with other people. I had to turn a new page and become involved even if it would all be taken away at some future date when housing finally became available. The church proved to be a very welcoming place right from day one. The pastor was very wise, compassionate and thoughtful. I soon found myself getting to know some very good and friendly people who had room in their lives for the different and extraordinary.

Family and friends stuck with me through my dip into despair and did whatever they could to keep my spirits up. It took a bit for me to discover that they had always valued me as a single man even if I myself had briefly lost that capacity. Not only was the glass undamaged, but it still actually had a good deal of water in it. The Summer after Janene left was a pretty long and empty one but contained some interesting excursions including a trip to Chicago. There were other smaller milestones. The songs that had been too painful to hear for months after Janene left became enjoyable once again and were re-introduced to my hard drive. There were over a hundred of them which could stop me in my tracks and bring all the frustration and memories back. Those songs were once again mine to enjoy with the hope of better times ahead. A small thing, but an important step. As my nieces got older, my relationship with them, my brother and his wife grew stronger. Being a good uncle became more of a cornerstone of life. So too did helping my mother and father deal with technology and computers.

Eventually, after a ten year wait which helped destroy my marriage, I was given a subsidized apartment in the same area where I had lived with my parents. The steps I had taken to become less isolated weren't just going to disappear on me after all. I could build on them. Having a proper home is so much more than having one's own place. That in itself proved to be a somewhat bitter discovery. I had somewhere to invite people to, but getting them to actually come and form friendships proved a more difficult process than I had expected. Particularly for extroverts like me, it's critical that we find people around us to get to know. That took far longer than it should have. I still found myself going through the major part of many weeks where there was no face to face interaction with anybody. Over time though, meaningful friendships started forming. There was Shirley, an English lady around my parents' age who liked going for walks around the lake with me. Joseph, a cheerful if conflicted gay pun-loving Scrabble player who gave me rides to and from church quickly moved from being an acquaintance to a friend. So two did Doug and his mischievous wife Nan who wrote "If you can read this, then God has performed a miracle" on a notepad stuck to my fridge. The message was discovered the next day when my friends Mark and Wendy came over to visit and saw it. To date, other than through the wondering laughter of occasional guests, I never have.

My first New Year's party in this apartment was another very meaningful milestone. We all had a good time despite their being no corkscrew. It brought some of my old friends together with a few new ones for a long evening and night of good discussion and happiness. There was Stephen, a blind friend of mine since grade school who now looked forward to a trip of a lifetime. he would soon be off to India to volunteer at a school for the blind. Joseph was there having fun with the first audio arcade game he had ever experienced and meeting some of my other friends. So were Adam and his girlfriend, a very welcome thoughtful new acquaintance. Shirley even dropped in after returning from another New Year's celebration elsewhere. She came to her blind friend's apartment hoping to borrow, of all things, a flashlight. I have every reason to hope that the next New Year's gathering I have here will be even more memorable. If nothing else, we won't find ourselves short of a corkscrew.

Gradually, I had become more familiar with the local area. Now that I had a permanent place of residence, it became worth the high investment in time and effort to do so. This finally made it possible for me to volunteer at the Dam, a place where troubled youth can hang out and hopefully be influenced to make good choices in their lives. Circumstances had at last permitted me to make a two-year commitment in good conscience and get to the place on my own for most of the year. My parents and new friends like Shirley were willing to help when it became too dangerous in the Winter for me to walk there and back. Connecting with the teens has been pretty slow going. I've sat through a lot of hours where I might as well have been on the moon as there. However, I've gotten to know the staff and other volunteers. Once in a while, I think I've even managed to do some good for the teens I'm supposed to be there to help. Not the most productive use of my skills and talents, but it at least gets me out of the apartment once a week to a place where there are possibilities.

The online world also began to regain its place and value in life. A friend I hadn't seen since secondary school tweeted that the Chilean miners were about to be rescued. Thanks to Twitter, for once in my life, I was able to tune in and watch the drama unfold with the rest of the world. Sad that it took a near fatal disaster to get me in tune with everyone else, but there you are. Listening to Internet radio and becoming involved with the communities which grew up around the various shows brought me further back from the edge. There was the May long worldend experience which saw me up at two A.M. participating in Jonathan Mosen's doomsday celebration. At that virtual shindig, I discovered that it didn't matter that we were all so physically far away from each other. It still felt damned good to be a part of something special with people I had come to know if only at a distance. Another couple who I had lost touch with around a decade ago found me on Facebook. Hard as I find that site to use with my screen-reader, it does have a way of allowing people from the past to come into your present. I've enjoyed some wonderful hours getting reacquainted with them and helping them with computer issues. It helps them get more out of life and helps me feel valued.

I had lost my sense of progress and motivation for quite some time without realizing it. I had become so disconnected that thoughts of working on my book or creating Enchantment's Twilight seemed almost silly. What good could they possibly do anybody in a world which seemed so hell-bent on ridding itself of permanent relationships and cohesive communities where people felt like they mattered? Over this past Summer, my sense of community engagement and optimism was increased by a number of events. It was easily the best Summer I've ever had. From a great vacation at Lake Joseph to a multiethnic church conference in the US to a trip to Canada's Wonderland with two friends I had chanced upon while out for a walk, it seemed like everything that should have been happening while I was in my twenties was at last starting to happen now in my mid thirties. On Canada Day, I was even able to go out on my own with the help of my Trekker Breeze GPS device and enjoy fireworks in a park near my building. I can't begin to describe just how liberating that experience was. Things had really changed for the better in a fundamental way. More importantly, so had I.

No longer was I willing to head off anywhere. I had managed to find a home worth keeping, sharing and adding to. A place built of people who saw past no job and no marriage and tight money I couldn't earn. People who saw my true value as a person even when I had lost sight of it myself. That's not something I'll walk away from lightly if ever. My purpose is now very clear. The autobiographical book and game are worthy goals but are really just means to a larger end. Above and beyond everything else, that end is to help disillusioned people to see the intrinsic value within themselves and in each other. It's to try and live out an example of why it's important to be included and to include others in a greater community. I do have a kind and just boss. His name is God. I'm on his payroll for life. First and foremost, he cares about the relationships I have with others. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

There's still plenty of stuff on my bucket list. I hope to be married one day to someone who appreciates me and adds to my life here. More than likely, it'll be to somebody else facing one or more disabilities. I haven't given up on sighted women entirely. There are certainly some out there who look for inner strengths rather than external assets. However, they do seem to be quite rare. At my age, I find that most who find me interesting at all have already been spoken for. It's one area where I've left things in God's hands. Having a positive impact on a community is something I'm at last in a position to actually be doing. It feels damned good. I still hope to eventually find ways of doing more in the local community and less online if possible. However, if that proves unfeasible, I believe I'll still manage to give a good account of myself productively speaking. I seem to have reached a point of critical mass where I can find enough ways to help friends who I can actually get together with so that I don't feel quite so damned disconnected anymore. Regarding travel, things are starting to look somewhat more positive. This is definitely the case when it comes to local travel. I've met some friends who are interested to take me along with them to various places. I'll have to watch my spending but am likely to get around a lot more than I have previously. Perhaps, either with family or through the church, more distant travel may even prove possible.

Things have most definitely turned a corner for me. A corner of changed expectations and newfound contentment with who I am as a person. People will say that not having others see your value is their loss rather than your problem. I know what they're getting at, but can't fully agree. We all come to a point where we need to discover our own intrinsic value. My sense of intrinsic value had certainly been lost and I had to rediscover it. However, consider Sherlock Holmes. He knew himself to be a very gifted and talented man. He wasn't at all humble or bashful about his abilities. Despite that, he had to resort to drugs when things weren't interesting enough for him. He once asked of Watson what good having powers of detection were if there was no field on which to exercise them. Minus any desire for drugs, I found myself very much in the same situation. I knew I could give a whole lot to people given the right circumstances. There was simply no way to connect the dots and bring them about. That's an ongoing problem that I may face for the rest of my life. A problem not so much solved as reduced to a dull roar I can live with. I've found enough to enjoy life with what I have and hope for better things to come.

A big part of maturing as a person is learning to maximize the hand you're dealt making the best of what is within one's reach. It's about adjusting expectations as much as it is about trying to better one's prospects. My life certainly isn't anywhere even close to the template for successful that society sets out and that I had once fully subscribed to. Barring any big changes, I'll be giving away my life's work rather than selling it. In current circumstances, it would be crazy of me to try. A steady, stable and secure job would be the only sensible move that would give enough stability. Those seem like things belonging increasingly more to the past than to even the present let alone tomorrow. I'm as secure and well off here as I'm ever likely to be. There are a lot of restrictions the absurdity of which would horrify people if they took the trouble to educate themselves. On the other side of the coin though, I've been blessed in many ways. There are a lot of reasons for me to be profoundly thankful. I have absolute freedom regarding my time and where to direct my effort. I have a close family and some very good friends. Once in a while, being different does expose you to unusual opportunities. Over the years, I've been on television a number of times, met some famous people, touched exhibits you're normally not allowed to, had time enough to write a fifty-thousand-word guide to help blind people who own accessible computers, and published an online magazine. Increasingly, as I release more of my writing and interact with the online and offline community, I'm becoming more known and less feared. There's a real hesitation among the fully able-bodied to take the time to get to know disabled people. That can take quite a while to even begin to dissipate. It takes more than casual encounters although they play an important part. If you're on the lookout for ways to be of help to people, opportunities will eventually present themselves. Things will eventually open up and get better. When you live an extraordinary life, finding one's own stride and balance can also take longer. Extraordinary tends to lead to lonely and excluded far more than it ought to. Despite that, such a life as I've found is most emphatically worth the living.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Review of King of Dragon Pass for the iPHONE

Review of King of Dragon Pass
Game available from the iPHONE app store for $9.95 regular price
Produced by A-Sharp Software
Fully playable without sighted assistance.
Reviewed by Michael Feir
Rating: 9/10


The Apple iPHONE has certainly taken the blind community to an unparalleled level of affordable accessibility. Its built-in Voiceover screen-reader has managed to turn a flat-screen device into one of the most useful gadgets I've ever owned. Years ago, I had bought King of Dragon Pass for the PC only to discover that it was completely unplayable without sighted assistance. The text was printed in a way my screen readers couldn't detect. There was also a map to explore which required a mouse and sighted help to manage. Worse yet, in a painful paradox, the game required continuous reading as it was mostly text-based. Any sighted people I found who would try the game with me would very quickly lose patience having to read everything out loud. Now, thanks to the ingenuity and inclusiveness of the iPHONE, I am able to fully enjoy this unique game experience.

Let's be clear. This is a game made for a sighted audience first. There's artwork on the screen and the map to be explored. Things are set up to be easy for sighted players to scroll around when they need to. However, for those who have the patience to explore the screen, every element of the game has been made accessible thanks to the Voiceover screen-reader and the efforts of programmers at A-Sharp Software. The developers continue to update the game and have proved very responsive to peoples' reports of issues they faced while playing using Voiceover. There have been several updates since its release and they have included improvements for Voiceover users as well as other additions to the game like new scenes. At this point, the game is fully playable for blind people who have patience and recognize that due to its visual nature, there are some quirks to be wrestled with from time to time. If you can live with that, then get ready for a brilliant game where a flexible but cohesive narrative takes centre stage. Blind players may not be able to appreciate the artwork, but for a very refreshing change, we aren't left out of the picture.

*The Interface:

As I say, there are some quirks. One of these which I think is ultimately favourable is that the game must be played in landscape mode with the home button on the left or right. Presumably, this makes things like scrolling around the map somewhat easier. Familiarizing yourself with the screen layout is essential for this game. For instance, when the menu is toggled on, it goes across the top of the screen. I used to have all sorts of trouble getting to it reliably until I figured this out. Hitting the "menu" button toggles the menu on or off. It makes a slightly different sound when it's on. KODP uses ordinary controls familiar to Voiceover users. You can flick left and right to go between options and double-tap to select them. You can also scroll around the map with a three-finger flick in the direction desired. The map is much larger than a single iPHONE screen so you'll need to do this eventually. One issue is that dialogues in the game tend to stack on top of each other at times. A good example of this happens when you explore. One dialogue active at that time is the map screen. Once you hit the "explore" button, music plays and you can then position your exploration cross on the map. Once that's done touch near the bottom of the screen where you should come to the exploration dialogue. There, you can choose who leads the exploration party and how many weapon thanes and footmen to send. You also set the exploration pace between slow, normal and fast. Once you have that taken care of, you can then go to the "explore" button. The problem is that there are two of these. The first one is from the initial map dialogue. The one you want is past the "menu" button. Hit that and your expedition will be sent off. You'll here the exploration music as well as horses.

Another issue can occur at various times. One of these is when sacrificing. After you have sacrificed to one of the various gods or goddesses in the Orlanthi pantheon, you might then find yourself on what seems to be an empty screen. Patience is needed here as you should keep running your finger slowly over the screen until it starts reading you the result of your sacrifice or you encounter the "proceed" button. If you find the button first, just flick left and you'll hear the result of your sacrifice. Flick right again and you'll be on the "proceed" button.

Other than these minor issues, things are quite straight-forward. The background music and sound can be toggled on and off from the "controls" option screen which is accessed from the menu or before a game starts. Especially while familiarizing yourself with the game, it would be prudent to turn off the background music to make certain that everything is heard. I certainly found this helpful. There's no way to regulate the volume of the background music separate from overall volume. However, Voiceover does automatically lower the music volume while it is speaking. Reading event text works quite well. Most of the time, there's no need to scroll. Once you've flicked onto event text, all of it is read out to you. Continuing to flick right goes across the choices available.

When using the advice, it works much like the menu button in that it toggles the adviser selection screen on and off overtop of whatever dialogue is already present. Advice is always contextual to the screen or current situation the player is presented with. Flicking right goes across the adviser buttons whose names will be read out. Once activated with a double-tap, their advice will be read out. If you need to find it on the screen, you'll have to learn where it is on the screen or find it by flicking through elements. When you're done with getting advice, find the "adviser close" button. Activating this removes the adviser selection and any displayed advice from the screen.

*Game Play:

After choosing the duration and difficulty of your game, you must set up your clan. You can call it what you like and then begin to make various choices which effect how the game unfolds. Your saga starts here. Don't expect to just jump into this game and do terrifically right off the bat. Reading the manual is a very helpful thing to do in this case. Also, during the first year you play, a tutorial box is present which provides guidance for what to do on the various screens. After going through it, you'll at least have a basic grasp of the options and different game screens that you'll use throughout your clan's history. Once you have completed the tutorial, you will no longer have to contend with the tutorial box. It will never appear again unless you reset your game centre achievements even if you start a new game.

Essentially, the game is one of decision making on behalf of your clan as its history unfolds. There are many factors which influence the results of your decisions. These include random chance as well as such things as the skills of your clan leaders. You are always able to receive advice from members of your clan ring. This is very helpful particularly as you are first digging into the game. It may be helpful to keep notes on things you learn. A lot of information is available to you in the game but details such as the personalities of clan leaders you encounter can be useful to refer to. Not everything is kept track of in the saga screen of your clan. Also, during hero quests, you can't refer to the relevant mythology. Be certain to check out the "lore" screen. There, you'll find a vast amount of information about the myths, culture, history, and much more. The game manual can also be accessed from that screen via the button near the bottom right. The manual is also available in pdf form from the "tips" section of the game's web site. This pdf is unrestricted and may easily be converted into text by Kurzweil1000, Adobe Reader, or other software. Remembering details can make a very big difference in how things turn out for your clan.

Combat in the game is quite straight-forward in terms of the decisions you can make. However, there's a whole lot going on under the hood. A clan's personality might effect how prepared their forces are. How much magic you or the enemy devotes to the battle can make a substantial difference. At times, individual leaders involved in the battle will be placed in key situations where their choice can strongly effect the outcome. Battles occur throughout the game but this aspect doesn't dominate play unless you wish it to. If anything, the game encourages careful consideration about what is worth fighting for and why one goes to war. You cannot simply conquer your way to victory in King of Dragon Pass.

Much of the farming which takes place is handled automatically. However, there are points where decisions such as how much land to set aside for which purpose, how many hunters to have, and how much magic to invest in crops can make or break a clan. Thankfully, it's very hard to make decisions in the course of a single year which would completely wreck one's chances of winning. The game is won or lost in increments over time rather than in some sudden large-scale disaster or stroke of good fortune. Your clan ring is always there to advise you of problems and will have useful things to say about most decisions. However, during hero quests or combat, you understandably cannot seek their advice.

Your people, particularly your clan leaders, are capable of a degree of growth and change over their lives. In my Tandora clan, I now have a lady who is renowned for her bargaining skill. Over time, completing hero quests, fighting battles, and other experiences may produce exceptional individuals in your clan. These should be used with care and protected as much as possible.

Don't treat each year as a separate entity. Decisions you make in earlier years may have effects which carry on through the game. From how you choose to deal with the large pantheon of gods to which clans you are feuding with, it's all interconnected. In effect, you're building a house of cards with each decision you make. While the game is fairly forgiving, it is quite possible and inevitable that a game not won will eventually be lost. Things don't just keep going forever.

*Sound and Music:

The background music for King of Dragon Pass is quite well done. It suits the epic but fun feel of the game and enhances the various moods experienced by your clan. Sadly, as I previously mentioned, it can interfere with one's ability to hear Voiceover. You can download the soundtrack from the game web site and enjoy it separately. One way or another, the music ought to be experienced. Much like in a movie, it adds a lot to the feel of the game world.

Sound effects are experienced while dealing with various dialogues. They often include music as when you send off a caravan or exploration party. They are used to add life to things such as battles, feasting, or other events triggered by your choices. The sound vignettes are brief so they don't interfere with one's ability to hear Voiceover. Beginners can fully enjoy the game's sound without any added frustration. Much like the music, the brief sound scenes add just enough detail to the game world to tantalize the imagination. Due to their brevity, the sound vignettes don't become annoying after repeated exposure.

While not effective to blind readers of this review, it should be noted that King of Dragon Pass features original hand-drawn artwork. Not having seen it, or anything else for that matter, I can't give any detail or first-hand opinion about it. However, from what I've read in other reviews, people who are lumination dependent seem to think highly of it. Artwork is displayed during scenes and is likely also present on the various game screens. Mugs, shirts and original art from the game can be purchased if desired. Details are on the game web site. Therefore, if you're playing along and a sighted person asks "What's that?" they may very well have glimpsed some of this artwork past your fingers. You'll then have to decide whether to show and explain, or simply turn on your screen curtain with howls of derisive laughter.


This game is by far the most meaningful and detailed I have ever been able to play independently. I don't believe any other accessible game even comes close to what King of Dragon Pass offers the patient thoughtful player. The re playability level is astounding. There are over 500 scenes which may or may not occur in a given time. The results of your choices are impacted by many variables which may differ should you encounter a familiar scene. Even in cases where you do all the "right" things such as the hero quests, results might differ due to the preparedness and suitability of the person chosen to undertake the quest. Different treasures may or may not be found. You become a co-author of an epic novel which never reads the same twice but always maintains its cohesion.

You don't have to be a mathematician or social scientist. The text is very well-written and you'll find yourself drawn into the story. After a while, you'll feel that you've gotten to know leading figures in your clan over the years of game time. The leadership and management decisions feel very natural and intuitive. Keeping a good overview is important to eventual victory. However, you never lose sight of how much individual community members matter. They just keep popping up. The game has a whole lot to teach about the value of community cohesion, leadership, and other things besides. Should I ever be successful in winning even the short game on easy difficulty, I'll be left with fond memories and a true sense of accomplishment. I'll also be driven to start a fresh game knowing there are still possibilities I have yet to encounter. Thankfully, it is possible to record and share one's accomplishment via the iPHONE Game Centre, Twitter, Facebook, or via emailing your game saga to yourself and then to others. The iPHONE is the perfect device to play such a game on. Despite its complexity and length, it lends itself to casual play. You can pull it out of your pocket, make a few decisions, and then simply put it away again until a few moments of free time present themselves. That is, if you can resist finding out whether your weaponthanes manage to drive off the ice demons. Like drops of water in a bucket, all these short cessions will add up and you'll be amazed how far your clan has come along.

I have always believed that games are more than mere frivolous wastes of time. Games are like journeys for the mind. We learn best while at play and games can teach us a great deal in an environment where wrong decisions don't equal real disaster. Considering this game's fantasy setting, mythology, gods, creatures and people, King of Dragon Pass can teach us an awful lot of deep truth. At its core, King of Dragon Pass lets us play with leadership and power. It does so while showing us the consequences of our decisions in a very engaging way. If ever there was a game which defied its critics to call it devoid of any meaning and value, King of Dragon Pass is such a one. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if it proves to be a watershed game for blind owners of IOS devices. It has the potential to be played both at a casual and a serious level. This could prove to be the closest the blind gaming community has come to a phenomenon like Pac-Man was for the sighted world. What's more, we're playing on an equal footing and can let our accomplishments be known. Thanks to the inclusiveness of Apple and the considerate folks at A-Sharp Software, this game truly bridges the blind/sighted gaming divide. It's worth every cent of its $9.95 regular price.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

And Then There Was One

Hello everyone. As I begin this doubtless long entry, it's monday morning. It's been an interesting and mainly pleasant last while. This is despite my decision to break off my relationship with Janet last night. That wasn't pleasant at all but could have gone far worse considering my complete inexperience in being the one to decide to end a relationship. It simply became more obvious as we continued to talk via Skype that she just wasn't the right match for me. I found that our conversations were getting shorter and shorter. I thought I could live with that in a partner but have come to realize that this is one area where I frankly can't compromise in as much as I thought I could. When you have more substantial conversations with even newly found friends than you do with a significant other, it's definitely a warning sign of dissatisfaction down the road. Over the past while, the glow of at last finding someone who was actually interested in me was increasingly overridden by doubts about our suitability for each other. Actually going to see each other would be prohibitively expensive given our similar financial situations. One of the real dangers of such long distance relationships is that over time, the chemistry just fades away. I've experienced all of that now. While I could have hung in there out of the thinking that I might never find a more ideal partner, this would have been dishonest of me. I no longer felt love for her above the esteem and affection I have for a good friend and had to set things right. I've been passed up by enough people to know precisely how painful it can be.

This is the first time that I've been the one to break off a relationship. Both Rebecca and Janene decided that they no longer wished to be with me. I can't say that it's a very enjoyable experience being a dumper. One has to face some pretty ugly truths about the limits of lasting worldly love. I thought myself capable of living happily with pretty much anybody who truly loved and respected me. That just isn't the case though. Whoever I end up with simply has to have good conversation and communication skills and also share some similar interests or there just isn't going to be enough common experience to keep things going. She took it remarkably well. I think she had the sense that things had changed. For all my intelligence, I had absolutely no inkling that Janene was about to ditch me like she did that Easter Monday which feels like forever ago now. It looks like Janet and I will remain friends while each of us looks for a relationship to pursue hopefully somewhat closer to home as well as to the kind of partner we're each best suited for. Because she's approached her life in much the same manner in terms of values, she has built up a real place for herself in her community much as I've at last begun to here. She has become a very welcome, reliable and needed friend to many people there. It just doesn't feel right asking her to step away from all that before life circumstances otherwise force her to move on. This is particularly true in the case of her best friend Lori. Janet adds tremendously to the scope and possibilities of her life. She's quite a bit more child-like than Janet in terms of mental capability and must also come to terms with losing her sight. In both her and Janet's case, I find it far too easy to take a kind of friendly stance which veered dangerously toward the more fatherly stance Gandalf had towards the hobbits. Perhaps, that's what Janet wants or even needs in a partner. That's for her to determine. For me, it's very important that I'm with a lady who doesn't evoke such feelings. We've got to be equals. Unfortunately, when it comes to intelligence, I'm faced with the reality that most women I'd take an interest in simply wouldn't be interested in me. Most of them anywhere near my age are already spoken for or are hooked too deeply into our society's need for material wealth to even give five minutes to a permanently unemployed guy on an overly ambitious creative quest. While I could now at least offer a safe and secure home to a life partner who's in a similar financial situation to mine, that's all I can bring to the table outside of my own reasonable outlook, optimism, patience, easygoing nature and good character. These assets have certainly gained me a number of good friends and despite everything, I still find myself hopeful of eventually finding someone who proves to be a better fit for me and wants to take things further. There are plenty of other circumstances which place people on ODSP or outside what passes for normal life. Certainly, I've met people with other mental deficiencies whose ability to converse and basic good cheer were unimpaired. However, especially if I'm going to do the long-distance relationship thing again, it's pretty vital that conversations be stimulating and that we have more common ground regarding interests than I did with Janet. Sadly, a similar moral outlook and religion just isn't enough. It sounds so damned shamefully elitist, but it is nonetheless true for me.

I guess I've come away from this knowing more about my own real desires for a life partner as well as my own limitations when it comes to what I'd be willing to settle for. Good conversation is more of a must for me than I thought. Having been dumped twice, I've never really looked at that aspect of myself so clearly before. Like everyone else, I too have hopes and dreams that I'm unwilling to part with. It's an ugly truth to find that someone who you like, respect and admire lacks what your sustained worldly love requires. At last, I believe I can truly better forgive Janene for walking away from our engagement. Was it the prospect of having to earn all the income unless or until I came up with something creative which I could sell? Was it all the art she did which I would never see and could therefore not appreciate? I guess I'll never know. Whatever it was, I now have a greater understanding of the pain she went through even as she utterly devastated me to the point where I nearly attempted suicide. We took things too far to avoid that indescribable pain. Thankfully, due to that distance between Janet and I, neither of us were hurt badly. Both of our lives have been pleasantly added to. I needed and craved that sense of being wanted by a woman as more than a friend, of no longer being alone in life in that way. Through finding Janet, I've come to better appreciate the friends I have who now include her. Paradoxically, despite this experience clearly showing that my range of possibilities for stable life partnership is more constrained by my own requirements than I would have thought, I find that I have more hope of eventually finding a better match. I at least have the fortitude and sense to act if things don't feel right. Janet has proved to me that there actually are women out there who might find me worth exploring possibilities with. I'm not quite in a completely hopeless situation. Realistically though, I know my wait will most likely be a long one. Until a woman who meets my criteria comes along though, I simply have to keep hopeful, happy and patient. I'm also comforted that I haven't become so jaded that I'm completely beyond being swept into something. I'm still human after all. Exploring love's possibilities always comes with a cost. Compared to my last two serious relationships, I've gotten off remarkably lightly this time. I hope Janet eventually finds someone who has the resources and approach to give her a good and happy life companionship. I of all people know well the frustration of being overlooked due to a disability. The temptation to jump at any opportunity for love no matter how unsuitable or likely to last can probably only be understood by people in a similar situation.

For the record, here are my current known criteria for an ideal life partner:
1. She must be able to engage in deep and meaningful conversation. Words and ideas are at the very core of my life and my significant other needs to have the ability to communicate and explore such things at least as much as my friends do. She needs to be able to communicate her thoughts and argue her case well enough so I don't feel in danger of railroading her thinking. I don't care particularly that she have a formal education equivalent to my own. I've frankly met secondary school dropouts who have taught themselves as much or more than some of us with degrees have ever learned about the nature of real life. The desire and capability to explore ideas and discuss rationally are what I'm after here.

2. Over the years, my faith has become more a part of life. I don't think I could entertain the possibility of marrying someone who doesn't share at least a healthy respect for my religious convictions. I'd very much prefer to find someone who would enjoy going to church together as a couple. It's become an important enough part of my own life that I'd like to share it. It should be something which draws us closer rather than separates us. That blocks not only non-Christians who want no part of church, but also blocks the more extreme kinds of Christians who think poorly of all non-believers, reject modern life utterly, frown on anything not mentioned in the bible, jump to idiotic conclusions about modern culture/art, or think the world's nearly at an end and it's about damned time too. I try to find the good in games, movies, music, people, and life in general and want a lady who will enjoy these things with me. It's still not completely outside the realm of possibility that I would come to love and marry someone of a different faith or an agnostic. After all, had Rebecca not fallen in love with me despite my agnosticism at the time, I wouldn't likely be a Christian today. All things being equal though, I would far rather find someone of similar core beliefs.

3. She should fit in well with family and friends. A serious relationship is a package deal. There's no getting around that. I need to find someone who can partake in activities and get along with my family and friends. Someone who feels uncomfortable or begrudges having to go to family functions ought to look elsewhere for companionship. Mine have supported me through a lot of the worst times in my life. I simply won't hook up with someone who has no use or respect for them. While it's still possible that I might be convinced by a partner to move away to somewhere new, I'd really have to be sold on the idea. If we did, my friends would have to be welcome to visit and I'd expect us to go from time to time to visit them as economics and life reasonably permitted. People get into all kinds of trouble when they allow someone else to remove them from their support network and cut them off. I would never do that to a life partner and won't allow that to happen to me.

4. She must be able to respect how I've lived my life. Instead of banging my head on the brick wall barring job access for people with my disability and particular gifts, I've chosen to take advantage of the economic security and place society has offered me. Were the opportunity presented to me, I would cheerfully work for my living. However, despite sustained attempts supported by a government agency, I simply can't find my way into the labour force. I've therefore made my peace with that reality to the best of my ability and chosen to find alternate means for contributing to the good of others while still enjoying life and keeping cheerful. It hasn't been a short or easy journey. Should my circumstances change dramatically, I would absolutely be willing to work in order to support a married life, help keep a business run by a spouse afloat, etc. Under these rules and circumstances, however, I've figured out that I'll end up feeling far happier, contributing more, and feeling more productive doing what I'm doing. Should opportunities come up, I'd cheerfully volunteer three days a week just to be more a part of the community and feel more productive. Just get me there and back safely. If you can't get your head around that and respect my voluntary efforts to contribute to a society which can't see its way to rewarding me financially, you have no business getting serious with me. Respect has to be a two-way thing right from the start. I've got a hard-working family plus a lot of fully employed friends who have managed to make that leap. I'll stand for nothing less from a potential partner. Rebecca had no respect for what I did voluntarily and thought I should do nothing productive or contributive towards society if I wasn't going to get paid for it. I'll never stand for such a situation again. We're not going to last long if you can't see beyond the world of dollars and cents. Even if I at last find a way into the labour force through some miracle or other, I don't plan on turning away from the projects I've started.

5. I've learned what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket. I did that too much with Janene thinking that we'd be starting life together in a new place and everything would therefore be different. I would have gone with her absolutely anywhere and had no reason at all not to fully trust her. My friends and family were ready and committed to supporting her also and were as shocked as I when she suddenly pulled my less lonely future out from beneath me. None of those people have a true sense of what that put me through despite their best intentions and efforts. I intend to make certain that from now on, there's always enough of life not dependent on a relationship that I never go through such a long vicious downward slide again. That was just too painful and doubtless more rough on those closest to me than I fully realize. In other words, there's going to be more to my life than our relationship. Deal with it or get lost.

6. She needs to have a basically optimistic and cheerful appreciation of life and of people in general. Five years is long enough to have spent walking on eggshells and doing damage control. One thing I really admire about Janet was such a positive attitude despite the rejection she has faced in life. It really hurts me to now have to count myself as part of that rejection. However, if she didn't have that basically cheerful good attitude, I never would have explored more serious possibilities with her in the first place. Especially when you live on something like disability support, the benefits of such a fair-minded, level, patient and positive approach to people are incalculable. People who focus all their energy on society's shortcomings and discount their blessings aren't doing any of us any favours. I'm no longer a member of the ODSP Fireside list. It has some very useful information and clear-headded considerate people on it. However, far too many of its members simply spend all their time bitching and complaining. I can't be part of a group stacked so heavily in that direction and refuse utterly to be with a partner who can't find reason for happiness in life. Don't get me wrong. There are days when I'm angry and plenty of reasons for anger and bitterness in this crazy world. However, spending all your time angry just pushes people away from you and eats you up inside. I've been as far down that particular road to destruction as I ever want to go. An ideal woman for me must be able to see the bright side of life most of the time.

7. She needs to enjoy touching and physical affection. That's certainly something I want to experience from a lover again in life at some point. I saved it for last because it's only really meaningful after the rest of my criteria have been established and we've built up the appropriate level of trust, respect and genuine love we can have confidence is going to last. I'd rather have no relationship at all than go through another one which simply can't last due to improper construction. I was quite willing to go through the rest of life without sex had the rest of Rebecca and my marriage been at all salvageable. I felt that this was a part of honouring the commitment I had made. Even in marriage, sex should never be considered an absolute right. That kind of intimacy is a precious gift. Personal space should always be respected. However, if you don't appreciate physical affection, you really ought not to fall in love with a blind man to begin with.

That covers the basics pretty well I think. There's certainly a little wiggle room on these but not a whole lot. Due to the happiness I've found here over the past while, I'm strong enough to get out of what isn't working for me. Hopefully, I'm also strong and kindly enough to do so without hurting anybody too badly. I'd really prefer it if my own happiness in a relationship didn't come at someone else's expense. It should be all about building up hope and possibility for each other and for those whose lives intersect ours. Perhaps, in this self-centred world, that makes me too much of an idealist. I've heard it all before. I just can't make myself believe that this is such a fallen world that quantity is the only way to go in the love department. Women are simply worth more respect than that. Even if that weren't the case, our consciences, our very souls are worth infinitely more respect than that. I dearly hope and wish to find a life partner who I can experience stable growing married love with. Not, however, at any cost. For me, there are things I won't stoop to and things I refuse to give up. If that condemns me to singledom from here on out, so be it. Thankfully, God has blessed me with the ability to patiently hope that this isn't the case. I'll keep open to realistic possibilities. I'm making new connections and new friends these days. There's a whole lot more cause for hope than before this Summer.

This Autumn hasn't been devoid of activity either. I've had a remarkable Thanksgiving weekend. On Saturday, I was contacted about a text book for game designers which I had bought and found to be largely inaccessible due to restrictions placed on the pdf file. To my surprise, the author himself contacted me. It was terrific to hear from him. He was very encouraging. Through his efforts, I obtained a copy of the book which I'm able to easily move through and read. Nothing forced him to go to bat for me, a complete stranger. However, he found enough kindness and faith in me to do so. I've plunged into his book a fair way since then and dearly wish it had been one of the first ones I came across. It's great in that it provides a good overall order in which to do things. I've never really had that and will benefit in many ways from his experience and thoughtfulness. Anybody who is seriously planning to design a game would do well to get Fundamentals of Game Design 2nd edition by Ernest Adams. It's geared towards computer and video games but what he says easily applies to other kinds of games including what I'm trying to create. The other very helpful book was one I found on called Reality is Broken Why Games Make us Better and How They can Change the World by Jane McGonigal. The psychological in sites she provides will serve my project quite well also. I have a whole lot to read, learn, and think about over this Winter. I also have a somewhat better sense of the scope of what I'm trying to do. Even the design document and process is going to take at least another year and possibly two. It's so important to get things nailed down before you go much further.

There have been other good times also. I attended a Thanksgiving party held by members of my church. Despite difficulties hearing due to my illness, it was still very enjoyable and added greatly to an altogether spectacular Thanksgiving weekend. Seeing the family was also fun. Everyone was in good spirits and the dinner was just wonderful. Occasions like that have a way of sticking nicely in your head.

I was also very pleased to have Reverend Chong drop in for a visit one morning. He was a part of the group that I went down to Grand Rapids Michigan with during the Summer for the multiethnic conference. It was great just having him over for a friendly chat in here before heading off to the Dam later that day.

It's Tuesday morning now. I've had a broken but apparently sufficient sleep. Saw the doctor last week and he seems to have hit on something helpful. He suggested I try saline solution sprayed into the nose to clear my stuffiness. Who'd have thunk that salt-water would be as helpful as it's been? Later on this week, I'll be fasting and going in for standard blood work. Everyone says I should lose more than a few pounds. Guess this will be a start. There's also groceries to order and laundry to do. A nicely busy week to help life keep moving along after the breakup. King of Dragon Pass has proved to be every bit as marvellous as I could have hoped. I've already spent hours playing that game. What's more, they're still updating and adding to it. Once some of the rougher aspects of Voiceover access have been polished in the next update, I'll have to try doing a Blindcooltech episode about the game. Meanwhile, I can thoroughly enjoy playing it as I engage in other aspects of life. More blind people are hearing about the game which pleases me no end. I hope the developers are getting lots of feedback.

Doubtless, more has happened over the past while which I have neglected to blog about. It seems a lady who found me on Audioboo is interested in getting to know me further. She goes by the nickname buschic and it seems to be very well earned. She doesn't tend to fit in with the blind community often having different and at times unwelcome opinions. I had a couple of short conversations with her. She seems nice if a little rough around the edges. She seems to be quite interested in me and is thankfully a whole lot closer than Janet was. I could actually see us getting together without going bankrupt. She can certainly carry on a good conversation. Apparently, she considers me cute of all confounded things. The older I get, the less applicable that word seems to me. Given what I've just been through though, whatever happens will take its own time. I've made that pretty clear and she seems alright with that. She'll clearly make for an interesting friend with her radical opinions and justifiable anger considering even the fraction of her experience she has related to me. but whether she fits into the rest of life is a question to be explored slowly and with care. I tend to favour the patient diplomatic approach. She strikes me more as someone who'd charge into a situation and take no prisoners. Somewhat like my good friend Steve Murgaski in that respect. She's apparently spoken briefly to him on some occasions but doesn't know him that well. She makes no secret of her mental issues which at least speaks to her honesty. They're somewhat different than what I've had any experience with. While that at least means things would be different, it still tells me that caution is a good idea. Frankly though, it is damned refreshing to actually have a new lady to even contemplate getting to know. A pretty sharp change of pace from the usual months which stretch on and on between the occasional serious female interest I've experienced. Mustn't let it go to my head. Ah well. Life continues. I'll be off to the Dam pretty soon. Had a delicious brunch which turned out perfectly. No egg on the counter this time. I find that I very much look forward to finding out what the topic for the week's forum discussion after the dropin will be. So far, I've managed to contribute a little to the discussions. It at least makes me feel productive at the end of the day. Hopefully, the dropin will be more eventful for me than the last one was. More people seem to be coming which has raised the noise level considerably. Think I'll take my full set of gear including my portable speakers. If I'm going to be sitting around for hours, I may as well have the ghost of a chance of hearing what my netbook says in there. Who knows? Maybe, some of these new youngsters will have a bit of healthy curiosity. I can hope.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Drifting into Autumn

Hello everyone. I've been happily busy this past while. Lately, my sense of blogger's guilt is telling me that it's way past time for another entry. There's a lot to cover including a few events which could well have had their own blog entries had I gotten around to writing them. Summer is firmly behind now as I start writing this entry on the last day of September. The leaves are all over the ground now on the path around the lake. I know because I went to vote this morning with Shirley. She voted earlier but didn't mind taking me for a walk over. I hadn't realized that the advanced poling station was right in the community centre I walk past when going to the mall and the Dam. This time, I had my voting card and it was simplicity itself. No long lineups or anything. I've officially done my civic duty. Guess we'll see what befalls this fine province on Thursday evening, election day.

For the past while, I've been plagued by an annoying cough/cold. I thought it was allergy-related for quite a while but no longer believe that to be the case. A lot of other people are coughing away too so I guess something's going round and my number came up. I'm just glad I got to enjoy the rest of the Summer this time. Such a splendid remarkable Summer. There are times in your life when you really turn a kind of corner and know that the past while has changed your outlook permanently for the better. This Summer has really shown me that I have far more reason to be thankful, scope for engagement with others in my community, and more hope for social satisfaction in this world of frightfully busy people than I could have imagined before. As I wrote in an article just published in my church's newsletter, I've at last truly found home.

It's Sunday morning now. I've been awake through a whole lot more of it than I would have preferred. However, I'm feeling very good just now other than the somewhat degraded hearing this illness now seems bent on throwing at me. Not nearly so bad as last Summer's illness. Breakfast went far more smoothly today than it did yesterday. A nice muffin and some fresh pineapple proved far less troublesome than the eggs I spilled yesterday. It ought to be a pretty good Sunday. There's church, the Mosen Explosion, and probably a visit with the family later on.

I guess there's a whole lot of past weeks to cover. I intended to do a blog entry a whole lot sooner than this. The first major thing I should write something about was my Aunt Kay's 90th birthday party. That already seems like ages ago. There was quite a bit of driving to Sea forth and then Stratford. We first had a pleasant afternoon with Kay's friends and relatives who attended. It was good to chat with some of Kay's friends who I hadn't met before, and it's always nice to see the folks who have been an intermittent but integral part of my life for about as long as I can remember. I wish we weren't all so spread out. Aunt Kay seemed to enjoy the afternoon thoroughly. There were something like sixty people in attendance. At times like that, you get a real sense of just how wide and positive the impact of a life well lived can be. We then proceeded to Stratford where we enjoyed a catered dinner at the Queen's Arms Inn. The food was terrific. After dinner, some of us gave short speeches. I took a stab at it and quit before I got too emotional. The core of what I said bares repeating here. If there's one thing I'll always treasure that I've learned from Aunt Kay, it's a deep appreciation for rarely encountered often old things. She probably still has that wonderful room in her house where a child of pretty much any age would find some quaint old toy or game which they'd never have come across anywhere else in life. You never got the sense that the possibilities of finding something else of interest on a future visit had been exhausted. Through my writing and other efforts, I hope to pass on that sense of appreciation and wonder that so much of this generation seems to have lost. Even costly video games are now mainly designed to be won and then disposed of rather than kept and cherished. Not so in Aunt Kay's day. Not so for me either. I want people to hang onto my creations be they writing or game. I owe no small part of that resistance to the use it and lose it consumerism plaguing modern life to Aunt Kay and that room of wonders.

It was great seeing Neil and Cathy again. They don't visit that often at all so spending time with them was a lot of fun. After they left, my next big trip was out to Canada's Wonderland with a few friends I hadn't seen in pretty much a year. It was great to be back in the park again. Perhaps, I'll get a season's pass next year. I seem to know enough people who go there often that it would easily pay for itself over a summer. Even better was just catching up with the happenings in the lives of Shane, Crissie and Angel. We just hit it off like we did when they lived nearby and had a very good day together. Sadly, Shane must now deal with the reality of Crones disease which my mother has. He's just starting to blog about what he's been going through. I hope he finds that to be as helpful and therapeutic an outlet as I've found blogging to be. Check it out at:

I've also reconnected with Angela and Tony. Angela came out a couple of times, once to have lunch with Michelle, Gerry and I. She came a second time a week later so that I could update her Trekker Breeze for her. It's all up to snuff now with the latest software and maps. Nobody ever told her she should register it with Humanware to be notified of updates. I cringe at idiocy like that. Same goes for how Jerry didn't get an SMA with his Jaws purchase. If anybody needs things to be easy and up to date, it's someone like him. He doesn't have the technical skill to deal with the adversity he's going to needlessly have to over the next four years until he can get an upgrade. That presumes those who deal with him don't take advantage of his ignorance as has clearly happened this time. He's stuck with version 11 and should have been able to upgrade to 13 like Michelle and I will be. Michelle has the ongoing problem of her visual capability not being understood by people who deal with her. She has to bend very close to the monitor to see it and often can't see things like buttons in the middle of the screen. She notices a lot with her sight around a room or outdoors but this doesn't mean she can when things are close up and small. It's not that she isn't trying. She simply often can't. I've been surprised by what she's able to notice at times so I have a dim understanding of how other people might reach the unfortunate conclusion that too many have for her. I couldn't help her as much as I would have hoped this week when I went to see them. All I could do was take her to the place where she could change colour and font. I just have no direct experience and only a dim theoretical grasp of what these things are. I can see both sides of the coin as usual. It's understandable if regrettable that trainers will lose patience trying to help her and Gerry. It takes them longer to grasp technical concepts and such. Poor Gerry actually ended up frustrated with the phone as he tried to call Swiss Chalet to order our dinner. He really seems caught in a world which has moved beyond him technologically but he's doing quite well considering his late introduction to computers. It's just going to take longer for him to really start grasping stuff well. Too long for trainers busy making a buck to do much more than write him off after a certain point. How much collective wisdom is forever lost to society through the impatience of others?

Back from church now. That was a great service as usual although my illness robbed me of my accustomed ability to hear easily. My article got published in the church newsletter and a few people commented favourably on it to me. I enjoyed a light lunch and am now awaiting the start of the Mosen Explosion on
I just read an article by my good friend Adam Taylor. He's studying to become a journalist and got published in his college's newspaper. Check out his article at:
Looks like he's started a nifty blog also for gamers. Have to keep an ear on that. Check that out at:

Life has somewhat settled down now for me. I don't expect any major outings over the next while. That'll be good for my bank balance. Even these more empty days seem to be going past at quite a clip. I've read some good books including The Rule of Nine which was a very well-written thriller. I've also re-read the Moon Maze Game which is just terrific and well worth the waiting for. I'm about due for another Audible credit and am debating which book to choose next. I may go for World War Z despite it being abridged in the spirit of Halloween. However, there are quite a number of titles on my wish list including Ready Player 1. That one sounds very interesting and comes highly recommended by Dani Hood, a former neighbour and current friend. There are also a couple of game development related books. Now that work on Enchantment's Twilight is on the move again, they also present some temptation. Robert J. Sawyer also tugs at my heartstrings as I'm sorely tempted to get the WWW trilogy over the next few months. So many choices. If there's a sale as there sometimes is, there's always a chance that a book I'm interested in will be included in it. However, I can't count on that and must make my monthly choice accordingly. As my budget improves and recovers from Summer, I'll have more freedom of action but that's how things are for now. Rather than being put out, I see it as only fair that things tighten up for a bit. It all comes down to perspective and I seem to have well and truly found my equilibrium.

Looks like I'll be joining my parents for dinner at Kim and Ernie's tonight. It's always good to catch up with them. Saw the three nieces last week. They're all doing alright despite dealing with colds. School is going well for both Ava and Amia. Little Alleah won't be ready to join the educational system for some time yet but she's a cute grabby spunky little one for all that. I'm glad Neil and Cathy got to see them while they were here.

As offline life slows down a tad, my online existence is becoming more interesting. One of my Twitter followers, Julie Einarson, participated in the Sears Run which raised funds for research into curing Cancer. Apparently, she did quite well and her team came in second. Tom Ward just announced that he's doing a small Halloween game as a kind of break from ongoing work on Mysteries of the Ancients. Thank God people have proved more understanding than past experience gave me any cause to hope they would. So far, no flame war or harsh backlash against Tom for daring to take a short creative break and switch gears for a bit. Hope it does him some real good to make something unhindered by the desires and hopes of the blind gaming community. He's been hemmed in for so very long by trying to do a good deed. Team FM has been very successful in its launch and I'm tuning into a couple of their shows. Mainly, I've thoroughly enjoyed the Bear's Lair on Saturdays. That in itself has been wonderful to have back. Lulu plays some terrific stuff and that whole community Twitter interactive thing just makes an otherwise empty Saturday feel special. It's nice to know that weekends this Winter will have two events, the Mosen Explosion on Mushroom FM plus the Bear's Lair on Team FM, which will be points of contact with communities of listeners. There's also Cathyanne's Soothing Sounds and Erin Edger's Melting Pot, shows I catch on a semi-regular basis. Pretty soon, King of Dragon Pass will at long last be accessible to me via the iPHONE. I have every confidence that this game will keep me spellbound for hours of stimulating story-driven play. That's a very good thing as I'll be saving any extra cash for the whole Christmas thing as well as any social opportunities which might come my way. Podcasts are going to become more welcome things in life. I have tons of Spark episodes to catch up on among a great many other things in that department. I have, however, enjoyed a number of From Our Own Correspondents episodes over the past while during less active times. It's positively delightful and unbelievable how far out of my digital world this past Summer has taken me. The whole tambour of life has well and truly changed.

Janet and I have been chatting on Skype most evenings. It's damned good to have someone to do that again with who really seems to love me. I can't help but be drawn in by her simplicity and obvious affection. However, when you get right down to it, all we've done is talk and email each other. The whole question of how well the chemistry will work outside of Lake Joseph's special environment still remains to be answered and doubtless will for some time. Having a friend like Carine to talk with is helpful. Like me, she's in a long-distance relationship and must deal with some of the same issues. This includes the same tendency to analyze things to death. Will we find each other to be stimulating when together on our own continuously or simply find that things run out of steam? We operate on two very different mental levels. Janet has a very simplistic way of approaching things including faith. God will provide. It's a foregone conclusion for her as reliable and all-encompassing as the sunrise. With intellect comes a knowledge of how things work which precludes such easy refuge. I'm forever weighing and pondering, wrestling with the very essence and consequences of what I believe. As with my faith, so too it is with the rest of life. Particularly when it comes to my hopes for life-long female companionship, I'm probably altogether too mindful of the consequence of choosing wrongly. I get a strong sense that we would both be useful additions to each other's social circles. However, while I was listening to some fantasy book or lecture, would she take an interest or simply be bored to death? Would we listen to radio shows or podcasts and have meaningful talks about them, or would that simply be an ideal I'd do better to let go of? I can sort of see myself getting into some of the mystery and crime shows which fascinate her but am never going to be enthralled by comedies, campfire singalongs or other things which amuse her. There would certainly be compensations in terms of the freedom of action her sight would provide us. Also, while I'm apt to get mired in detail and counter-argument, she's the type of kind soul who's apt to come up with one of those breath-taking "why didn't I think of that?"-style conclusions. She doesn't say what she doesn't mean. There's no ambiguity. I would always know precisely where I stood with her. Ability-wise, each of us can nicely fill a lack experienced by the other. That could either lead to a kind of stability or not. Eventually, we'll doubtless manage to visit each other and really find out where things might go. Until then, I take comfort in my new lovely lady at a distance and explore what ground Skype makes possible. Our road to togetherness will be a very long one. For me, it'll be full of weighty questions which only time together will answer but which I can't help but wrestle with anyhow. I don't ever want her to feel belittled or inferior to me if she can't immediately grasp things or can't get into things which interest me. She has, in many ways, surpassed me in how she has approached things and/or dealt with her limitations. It's not at all the same as having someone to go on dates and start experiencing life with. Hopefully, the distance between us will prove to be a means of building a solid foundation of understanding upon which love can grow. For the present, having Janet to talk with and write to is a whole lot better than the big zero relationship wise. It's so damned nice to finally have a possibility for long-term companionship to at least explore with someone who takes the possibility seriously.

It's Monday afternoon now. Dinner with the Perins was delicious and entertaining as always. Their computer needed quite a cleaning as they hadn't really known to attend to that over the past years they've owned it. I trust that they'll notice quite a speed boost now that a disc cleanup and defrag have been done. I seem to be doing a lot of basic computer maintenance for people these days who either don't have the time or inclination to learn to do it themselves. I can relate to that. There are certainly things, particularly fashion-related, that I could doubtless grasp more firmly but simply aren't worth my bother. There's that palpable sense that Fall has arrived and with it, a bustle of activity you never quite feel in Summer no matter how full of adventure it is.

Carine called unexpectedly this morning. She and Kevin have been pretty busy lately, as have I. It was good to go for a walk around the lake with her dog Breeze and my Trekker Breeze GPS. We went off to Symposium where I had the breakfast of champions. That'll pretty much be my meal for the day. Kevin and Carine want to take me tubing this Winter. Carine also seems to like hiking. Haven't had a whole lot of opportunity to do either of those things in quite a while. It's great to have people who think of me when they're considering doing something and have them be so close to where I live. It'll be fun including them in some of my gatherings also.

Apples have definitely made their way back into my list of liked fruits. They're a nice change from oranges this time of year. Dad says oranges are to his liking just now so I may get some with my next grocery order in a couple weeks or so. I have a Fall coupon book which I intend to get some use out of. The coupons are five dollars savings plus one for ten. That doesn't really justify doing an extra order what with the delivery fee but I'll still save at least fifteen or twenty just sticking to my natural schedule. They do a good job of reminding you when codes are about to expire. I appreciate thoughtfulness like that. When it comes to customer service, Grocery Gateway truly has its act together. Wouldn't mind if the bills were lower, but would mind extremely if they ever went out of business.

It's been a pleasant afternoon and is now well into evening. The wind has now passed well in to the realm of chilly. Time to close the balcony door for the night. People will be coming to check on and perhaps repair the balcony railing tomorrow so I've moved the table into a corner and the chairs inside. I've never gotten to meet and talk with the folks who do that kind of work. That could be interesting. I wonder what tools they might carry or whether they leave everything in a truck until they perceive an apartment which needs their attention. There are so many things like that which I guess are just obvious to sighted folk but that I've never gotten round to finding out. The railing certainly seems just as safe and solid to me as it ever has. Do they use some special equipment to examine them and how well they're set into the concrete of the balconies? Also, what possible insights might such a career lend itself to? They see the inner sanctums and visible possessions of so many people. What do they actually think of it all? What impact might it have on their sense of place and accomplishment in life? I think of people like Franc Snape, who I've always thought of as Uncle Franc despite our not being related. You can read a bit about him in the previous blog entry. There are so many different approaches to wisdom and depth of character.

At last, I learned today what Julie sounds like. She's the lady I mentioned earlier who's running in the Great Canadian Run for Cancer soon. I finally got to hear a Youtube clip of her speaking. For quite a while now, I've known what two thirds of the Twitter triangle[twiangle?] of Dani, Jacqui and Julie sound like. Dani was a neighbour of my parents and I and still comes over on some occasions. Jacqui is Dani's friend who I've also had the pleasure to meet and talk with over the years. The most memorable thing I've done with them so far was eat at O'Noir when they wanted to experience eating in the dark. That seems so damned long ago. So much has happened to me, them, and Stephen since that evening. Now, I can have some sense of how all three members of the twiangle would sound saying what they tweet to each other. It's one of those things, like putting that last dish back in the cupboard, which imparts a disproportionate degree of satisfaction. Sort of like having a matching set of stuff. My impression of Julie as an interesting and caring person hasn't changed at all for finally having heard her. We might never actually meet as is the case with so many of my online acquaintances. It's just a tiny bit of curiosity put to rest.

Tomorrow afternoon, I'm going to be leading the Forum discussion at the Dam. My previous experience explaining to students and others about life as a blind person will hopefully stand me in good stead for this. I hope I can keep them interested and pass something of what life has taught me on to them. This is a fantastic opportunity for me to make some real headway with whoever ends up staying around for the discussion and pizza. It's been on my mind most of the day. Thank God for Twitter and other seemingly trivial stuff of life. As the author says in Stranger Than Fiction, that seemingly trivial stuff does a whole lot to save our lives. It saves us from taking ourselves too seriously, from becoming too obsessed for our own good with what we're about. It can give us that small speck of distance we need to stumble across what our most intensely focused careful thinking can never find. Mostly though, it saves us from the crushing weight of time we cannot more profitably use. I was going to publish this entry today, but believe that I'll hold off. Tomorrow's forum is a pretty important first stab at youth leadership for me and you all deserve to know how it turns out.

It's now Tuesday evening. I'm back safe and sound. It's been a pretty good day. The balcony workers were extremely quick. They walked through, hammered a few times on the railing or something out there, and then left. Couldn't really chat with them but got to chat briefly with the building superintend ant. He seemed somewhat surprised that I was cooking despite it's being lunch time. The Apple press event was unfortunately less than informative regarding IOS5. The only real piece of info I learned before having to leave for the Dam was that IOS5 is going to come out on October 12. That ought to be interesting.

The Trekker performed beautifully today on the way to the Dam. My hearing, however, was somewhat problematic. This time, it was that lack of the clear crisp hearing of my surroundings which got me turned around heading accidentally back towards my apartment until the Breeze announced familiar landmarks which clued me in. That added five minutes to my otherwise excellent walk over there. Crossing the street was a tad more nerve-wracking. One car was quiet enough and moving slowly so I didn't realize it was anywhere near until it was very close indeed. The driver was obviously well aware of me. It seemed almost criminal after the forum to accept a lift back home but given that hearing difficulty, I figured discretion might be the better part of valour this evening.

My first forum was quite a success and turned out very differently than I had planned for. It ended up being about getting to know me. I shared some antic dotes and basic information about how I approach things as a blind person. I think it'll make it easier for them to approach me with their issues during the drop in. Robin seemed to think that it was quite a success and everyone was interested all the way through. They want me to lead another forum later on where I tackle the rest of what I planned to do in this forum.

The rest of this week will be pleasantly busy for me. I'll be going to Symposium Cafe on Thursday to have lunch with Michelle and Angela. Michelle's computer seems to be working better for her but I've no clear idea what happened to accomplish that. Face book is still a bit more difficult but seems to be manageable for her. It'll also be interesting to find out how Angela likes her Trekker now that it's all updated. I'll have to read up on entering addresses into the Breeze so I can explain that better. I haven't used that feature a whole lot but it would come in pretty handy for Angela. I guess tomorrow and Friday will be when I do laundry and other odds and ends. Thursday is also election day and I'll certainly be tuned into CBC Radio1 for their coverage that evening. At some point, I'll have to catch a full length news broadcast and get caught up with that. What with all the happenings and tech stuff, I guess I've let my grip on world events slip a tad. Rather than finding that annoying, I find it a welcome indicator of just how much things have changed for me over this past while. It's high time I got this entry published. I'll be Skyping Janet and her friend Lori fairly soon once I've gotten a nice cold drink. Until next time, my good readers all.