Help Celebrate, #IDPD2017

Today marks the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. To learn more about this United Nations initiative, read on.
In 1992, the UN proclaimed December 3 as a day to recognize persons with disabilities. This year’s theme is “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all.”
I can only speak for a small fraction of this population, and only those living in one of the most privileged countries in the world. In Canada, living as a person with a disability doesn’t come with the same challenges as it does for people living in, for example, Brazil.
Accessibility, including access to public buildings and services, continues to be one of the major issues facing many people with disabilities. Accessibility, of course, means different things to different people. For me, as a blind person who uses a white cane, having the pebbled strip along the edges of the LRT platforms in Edmonton gives me warning as I come close to that edge. Believe me—it’s helpful. I’ve fallen off the damned platform twice over the years, once breaking two ribs on a snowy evening in January, 2010.
Accessibility, however, isn’t the only issue. Treating people with dignity is equally important. If, for example, you encounter a person who is deaf accompanied by an interpreter, don’t talk to the interpreter; talk to the person. If you see someone whom you think might need some help, ask before helping, and allow that person the dignity of refusing your help.
When I’m out and about, people ask me all kinds of questions—some of them pointedly personal. I wrote a piece about being asked such questions last year, which you can find in Hippocampus Magazine.
I don’t mind the questions people ask, and I try to answer as best I can. If you are ever in any doubt regarding a question you want to ask a person with a disability, ask yourself the same question first. It’s about being aware, but sometimes it’s just about being sensitive.
Help celebrate this day, but take this United Nations initiative into your life and workplace in meaningful ways. And thank you, in advance.

The One Thousand Kilometre Walking Challenge

Summer is a time for many things—working in the garden, lying in the sun, going on road-trips. This summer I decided to set myself a walking challenge. I walk every day, but I thought a challenge would help me walk more consistently.
Back in May, I came across my cousin’s Facebook post about the walking challenge he set for himself. I thought, what a great idea. My IPhone counts my steps, so I’ve been using the Health app to keep track of all my walking—whether it’s to the mall, to the train, on the treadmill, or just Out there walking.
My goal is one thousand kilometres by September 22. Thus far, since May 23, I’ve clocked six hundred eighty-one kilometres.
I’ve thought for years that Edmonton is too much of a car-town. As a pedestrian, parts of this city—depending on where you need to go—are practically inaccessible. Edmonton has a decent transit system, but the bus or train can’t get you everywhere—at least not in a hurry. And some places, not at all.
When my daughters are home, I have the luxury of a car. Much of the time, I rely on foot and transit. Edmonton is reasonably accessible, more than most cities in other parts of the world. I can’t speak for people using wheelchairs or walkers, but as someone married to a white cane, Edmonton isn’t bad. The endless construction, of course, is an obstacle for everyone.
If you want to set yourself a challenge this summer, make it a walking challenge, or even a pedestrian challenge. Walk and take transit for a week, and see how fast your life gets reorganized. Even if you just make an effort to walk more, you will be better off.
And as you fight the rush-hour traffic and the road-rage, watch out for pedestrians. According to a City of Edmonton website, on average, three hundred people in Edmonton are hit by motorists each year, and most of them in crosswalks.
I’ve had many close calls with vehicles, some of which ended in my cane getting mangled by a car. I’ve always thought my cane makes me more visible to drivers—but not always. Enjoy the remaining days of summer, and embrace the slow life by walking whenever you can.

On the Tracks

My brother, who is always a source for bits of news, told me the other night about a visually impaired man who fell onto the tracks of the SkyTrain in Vancouver. Fortunately, some quick-acting students were there to help the gentleman out of the tracks—just as the train was pulling in. You can read more of the story here.
For blind and visually impaired people, navigating public transit can be tricky—and sometimes just bloody dangerous. Buses are one thing: you wait, bus pulls into the stop, and you get on. Trains are different. For one, it’s a train. Trains don’t stop as quickly as buses, and you have to wait on a platform next to a four and a half foot drop into the tracks. If you can’t see, it’s hazardous.
In 2010, I was coming home by train on a snowy evening at the beginning of January. I got off the train at the South Campus station, which had opened the previous spring. I stepped off the train, turned left instead of right, and headed down the platform to get the bus.
My mistake was turning the wrong way after getting off the train. The platform was covered with almost an inch of snow. They hadn’t yet had a chance to clear it.
I was heading for what I thought was the steps to take me down and out of the station. Instead, I walked straight off the platform and fell onto the tracks.
My initial response, lying there on the tracks on my side, was having no idea what had just happened. It wasn’t until I reached out and grabbed one of the rails with a gloved hand that I understood. That’s when I started to hurt and knew I had to get off the tracks.
The track-bed isn’t especially deep—until you’re standing in it. Try scrambling up onto a platform, slippery with new-fallen snow and level with your chest, while you are in shock and can’t breathe because you’ve just had the wind knocked out of you.
Fortunately, someone spotted me. A man ran over, and soon two people were hauling me up onto the platform. Other people came, and I was helped to my feet and onboard the train while the driver called for an ambulance. A slightly scared and completely sincere eight-year-old boy tried to comfort me while we waited for the paramedics. He insisted his grandpa would help fix my cane, which had gotten bent in the fall. The paramedics arrived, announced me injured but more or less intact, and gave me the choice of going home or to the hospital. Given the choice, I went home. They drove me the seven minutes back to my house, and I was never so glad to reach my own front door.
I fractured two ribs in that fall, and it took me all of eight weeks to recover. It wasn’t until February that I started taking the train once again—more carefully, as you can imagine.
I’ve gotten myself into all sorts of situations over the years, but rarely have I felt so helpless and in need of assistance. Strangers helping strangers is a powerful thing, and I’ve always been grateful to those people who helped me out on that snowy evening in January, especially that little boy, who understood the importance of helping out, and did his best to give me the comfort and reassurance he could.

My Hand at Writing Memoir

My first piece of nonfiction was published in Hippocampus Magazine last summer—a flash piece called “Q and A.” “On Smoking” is another first—my attempt at writing memoir. And I have Donna Talarico and the fine people at Hippocampus Magazine to thank once again for publishing it. You can read it here. Enjoy the piece, and make sure to explore the compelling nonfiction at Hippocampus.

100 and Still Posting

This entry marks the one hundredth post on my blog. It’s actually more than that, but I figured re-posting doesn’t count.
In the early summer of 2015, I had the idea for a blog on children’s literature. The teaching term was over, and I spent hours sitting at my kitchen table trying to figure out how to create a blog. Everything I read told me I needed to make it interesting, that I needed pictures, and that I had to find a niche.
I surfed the web for hours, looking at other blogs about kid’s books. Many of these were book review sites—interesting and informative, but not what I wanted to put my energy towards. I finally settled on a weird mix of commentary, personal reflection, and creative writing.
I was still faced with many questions:
1. How not to sound like a pompous ass,
2. How to write about things that interested me,
3. How to reach readers,
4. How to offer something original,
5. And how to make my blog both easy to read and appealing to the eye.
Of Other Worlds: A Children’s Literature Blog was born. My first entry was a personal account of discovering Tolkien at the age of eleven, after losing my sight in a car accident the summer before.
I quickly discovered that maintaining a blog was less easy than I thought. I tried writing something every week, but that was too hard. I tried writing about the books I loved, which worked better. I started writing and posting fractured fairy tales, which was fun, but again, hard to maintain. All of it was a learning experience—the writing, the site itself, and the hard-to-ignore, sometimes demoralizing conviction that nobody was even reading it.
Last summer, I created this author webpage, which meant that my blog was just now part of my site. Kid’s and young adult books are still a major part of my life and work, but the blog has expanded into something more. I’ve learned a great deal from creating and maintaining these sites, and I’ve gained a greater appreciation for anyone who reads what I write.
I’ll keep posting, and I hope people keep reading. You’ll still find stuff on kid’s and young adult books, but maybe you’ll occasionally find more to interest you. Either way, let me know.

Spring Means Writing

Recently, I published a book of short stories on Amazon, The Paper Man and Other Stories. These are adult, not kid’s stories. This is to let you know that I do more than read and think about kid’s books.
Now that spring is here, it’s time to move onto other projects. Spring?—you are thinking. We had a spring snow storm here last week, which left more than four inches of snow on the ground. Mercifully, it didn’t stay. I know it’s spring because my Maple in the front yard is leafing out, and the sun isn’t setting until 9:30. The long evenings are lovely for walking. As it’s spring, and as my teaching life is over until September, it’s time to move onto other projects.
At the moment, other projects means independent publishing. Indie publishing has been on my mind for a while. I finally got up the courage last year to try and publish my stories on my own. I began with Kindle singles, but eventually I worked with the fine people at Create Space (another Amazon subsidiary) to produce a book. The result was the thirteen stories in The Paper Man collection.
My next project is a young adult novel, one that I’ve been waiting to get back to for over a year. It will probably be the first in a series. By the way, I wrote the second book in the series first. After having both an agent and an editor tell me the book simply took too long to get going, which had me ready to give up on writing forever, I sat down and wrote a prequel. Here’s a teaser. Hopefully, you will see this book in print by next fall. Enjoy.
From, City of Shadows (chapter 1)
It was a busy morning on the streets—a market morning. Stalls lined the middle of the street in the direction of the square. Booths, carts, open tables, and even blankets were filled and spread with nearly every conceivable bit of junk or food-stuffs that it was possible to sell or trade. Across the street from the rows of vendors, the morning breadline had formed.  Made up of people who had nothing to sell or trade, this line of ragged humanity had to rely on daily handouts from the Municipal Government in order to get something to eat.
In the centre of the intersection stood a cop, wearing the familiar black uniform and combat boots of the Municipal Police. The Blackshirts, as people had come to call them, had been in the district for several months now. All of them carried a heavy baton, this one swinging idly from the cop’s wrist. More deadly was the sonic whip he carried in a holster on his belt. The sonic whip was the size and shape of a small flashlight, but you never wanted to be on the wrong end of a sonic whip.
Safi knew it. She had once found herself on the wrong end of a sonic whip. The Blackshirt, who had taken a dislike to her,  had only given her a touch, but it was enough to make her hair stand on end, knock her flat, and leave her feeling sick for two days.
Safi watched the Blackshirt from the breadline where she had been waiting for more than an hour. People stood silently in front and behind, clutching themselves inside ragged coats or old blankets to protect themselves from the wind that always seemed to blow through the Hed. She was in position, and the only thing that might cause a problem was if the line suddenly started to move. That was unlikely as the breadlines were notoriously slow, and people often found themselves standing in line for most of a day for a single loaf of bread or package of yeast cakes.
The cop did a full circle in the middle of the intersection, staring at people coming and going from Market Street. He stared as if he were orchestrating the entire street. No one looked at him or seemed to notice him, but Safi knew that everyone who came and went was aware of his presence.
Swaggering idiot, thought Safi. He’s going to get a surprise in a hurry. Soon he would have more trouble than he would know what to do with.
She pretended to stare into space, assuming the vacant expression of most people in the lineup. She was checking for the others. Just at this end of Market Street, she spotted what appeared to be an old woman, hobbling towards a warped bench that stood against a wall. Safi knew that beneath the dirty, pink blanket was no old woman at all. It was Seth, and if he was heading towards the bench, then the others must be in position.
Safi was uneasy. She had a tightness in her chest that she didn’t like, a feeling she had when too many things could go wrong.
That morning, she had clutched Seth’s arm as he and the others headed for the ladder that would take them up and out of the pod and into the street. The pod was located in a short access tunnel that connected to the main sewer system beneath the Hed.
“Is she really ready,” asked Safi, looking intently into Seth’s dark eyes. Even asking the question she felt as though she was nagging him. But he had hardly talked to her in what seemed weeks.
Seth looked back, implacable as ever. “Of course she’s ready. All she has to do is talk to the cop and lead him down the street.”
“And what if he grabs her?”
“He won’t.”
“How do you know?”
It was this sort of exchange with Seth that Safi found more and more frustrating. It wasn’t just that he had stopped talking to her. It was as though he had stopped taking her seriously, or maybe that he was suffering from a sort of blind faith—just relying on things to work out.
“I don’t think she’s ready, not for something like this,” said Safi. “Not yet.” More than anything else in that moment she had wanted his attention.
He had looked at her for a long moment. “It’s not Shank I’m worried about,” he said, softly. “It’s you, Safi.” Then he gently disengaged his arm and scrambled up the ladder after Mo and Rami.
What was that supposed to mean? Safi stared after him for a moment, then climbed the ladder, knowing that she was neither going to get his attention nor even an answer.
Now she stood in the lineup and waited for Seth’s signal, watching the blanketed figure as it slumped onto the bench. And it wasn’t just that he didn’t take her seriously, she said to herself. He wasn’t taking seriously that things were changing in the districts. And not for the better, either: Blackshirts everywhere, armed vendors, and rumours of gangs that were organizing in response to the police, the beatings, and the arrests.
Safi realized she’d been holding her breath. She let it go, slowly and carefully, shuffling her feet and tugging at the shapeless felt hat she used to hide her red hair. The tips of her fingers tingled with anxiety.
And then, out from Market Street ran a small child, a little girl, seemingly one of the many urchins who lived on the streets of the city. It was Shank. She ran straight up to the cop.
The big man paused in mid-swagger and stared down at her. Her face was tear streaked, and she was pointing back along Market Street. The cop looked up the street and then shook his head. Shank began to cry in earnest, pointing repeatedly back along the booths and carts and clutter of the street. The cop glanced once around, and then with a half-shrug followed her into the crowd that pushed its way along the stalls and booths.
Shank was one of half a dozen or so little ones under Seth’s protection. He was the leader of their pod. It was Seth who came up with their plans for raiding or scavenging anything the pod could sell or trade for food.
Seth’s plans were usually brilliant. He could be reckless, but he was a brilliant planner. Raiding one of the fat vendors who took advantage of people in the district with overpriced or rotten fruits and vegetables was dangerous, but to pull it off right under the nose of some swaggering Blackshirt made the risk worthwhile. At least Safi usually thought it was worthwhile. This time she wasn’t sure.
Safi began to count in her head—one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand . . . . And there it came, a high, piercing whistle. Her signal.
Yanking down her hat, Safi broke from the line and ran. The stall Seth had chosen to target that day was near the end of Market Street. It was a fruit and vegetable stand run by a tall, bloated man who wore a long brown coat. He was one of the new breed of vendor who traded the leavings from the corporate districts that had begun to spring up all over the city. The corporate districts were gated communities that never seemed to lack food or water. Nobody knew how they came by so much, but it was said they threw out what they didn’t use. Even Safi, who had come to hate the thought of the corporates as much as she had come to hate the Blackshirts, had trouble believing such a story. Who would throw out food?
The bloated man in the brown coat was a particularly nasty form of bloodsucker. He got his hands on what the corporates didn’t want, and then he traded it for the bread or meds people stood in line to get from the government, then reselling what he traded to people who could pay for it. He was scum.
Because this particular vendor was a corporate leech, Safi would usually have no qualms about the raid. Hitting such a bloodsucker in the middle of the morning right under the nose of a Blackshirt would usually have made it that much more exciting.
No more time to wonder.
Safi ran straight for the table where the man in the brown coat had piled fruits and vegetables and an assortment of dented cans. She could see a small, lean figure to her right converging on the stand. That was Rami—small, wiry, and irrepressible. Safi spared a glance to her left. And just as planned, she saw a tall, wild-haired figure tearing in from the other side. That was Moe. Right on time.
The three of them hit the stand all at once. Maximum chaos, Seth had said. Maximum chaos.
The table seemed to explode as the three of them slammed into it. Cans and vegetables rolled and flew in every direction. The table collapsed with a crash, and Safi heard somebody scream.
The crowd reacted exactly as Seth had said it would. Vendors hawking and bartering while the crowd behaved itself was one thing; flying and bouncing vegetables and cans was another. People scrambled to grab whatever they could. Safi had spotted something interesting as she hit the table. It was a netted bag of something—round things that looked orange or yellowish through the netting. She deftly scooped it up.
The man in the brown coat was bellowing. He had grabbed a length of stick and was swinging it against the crowd that was all around him now on hands and knees, grabbing whatever they could.
Get in, get out. Maximum chaos. That’s what Seth had said.
Safi clumsily hugged the netted bag to her side and leaped away from the table. She had lost sight of Rami and Moe, but she wasn’t supposed to worry about them. Seth was going to cover, and her job was to get out of there as fast as possible.
Safi knew about crowds and about riots. She knew that such a disturbance along Market Street would cause chaos, so when she leaped for the gap and found herself outside the crowd she knew something was wrong. Even as she heard the two-part whistle that meant danger, she saw the second Blackshirt.
For a fleeting second she wondered where he had come from. There wasn’t supposed to be a second cop. Seth said he would case the streets before the raid, and they weren’t supposed to have gone ahead if it hadn’t been clear.
But there he was—the second Blackshirt. And this one had a baton in hand, and he was running straight for Safi.