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Thursday, May 31, 2012

My L.A. Odyssey Part II: Exactly Where God Wanted Me to Be

Thursday morning, the conference starts.  There are a whole lot of people.  I sit next to a spirited, outgoing woman in her 50s who is a bit of a mother hen to me.  In light of the huge crowd, extra drinking water at a distance, and speech at which the information comes at us, I accept her doting gladly. 

James is a dynamic speaker and right away, my brain is cooking, coming up with ways to implement his advice to my own situation.  I’m having ideas like never before.  Just as I suspected, a clearer picture of my future starts to gel.  Not only are all the parts taking shape, but I’m getting the sequence it should come together.  By the end of the first day, I feel like I’ve learned a week’s worth.
During the breaks, people spot my cane and offer to help me get around.  They’re interested in my life story and my plans for sharing it.  For the first time, I realize my visual limitations make me more interesting, not less so, like I believed for years.  Here and there, I get bits of advice, which breed even new ideas.  I’m totally in my element.  This was one of the most sublime times of my life.  Why?

Because I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be, doing exactly what I was put here to do.

Telling my story, telling the stories of others, giving hope, and really making a difference in the lives of thousands--it’s was God has chosen for me to do and when I’m doing it on a larger scale, the feeling is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.

Finally, I was getting usable advice about how to market myself, how to think on a much larger scale than I have before.  It was an up-close look at a future that is both easier and more successful.

On the second day, Cuba Gooding Jr. speaks about having a mission.  It was a good talk but I’ve already had mine in mind for a while.  I donate 10 percent of the What Makes Us Stronger line to charities and organizations helping people recovery from a life crisis.
Later, Steadman Graham speaks on the importance of defining our unique self.  This resonates with me.  I’ve only recently come to terms with my extremely unique life and how I don’t fit into any category.  Not long before flying out to L.A. I realized there’s more freedom than isolation in that because I get to define what a middle-aged legally blind ex-diabetic writer with a kidney/pancreas transplant looks like.  Me.  I own it.  I define it.

At the conference, I have a light-hearted self-acceptance I haven’t felt since college.  The notion finally hits home that, even legally blind, middle-aged, with two transplanted organs to take care of, I can still have off-the-wall kind of fun I hadn't had since I was younger and I had better eyesight.  It turns out a long-lost side of myself was hiding at the LAX Westin.

Streadman Graham gives me plenty of things to write down.  This would be the high point of the Boot Camp.  How ironic that my sitiation would take a huge plunge.

Next: Seismic Jolt 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My L.A. Odyssey: Part One

It was a strange couple of week even by my standards.  I’m certainly not the first one to be transformed by a couple of weeks in California, but this was all more than I bargained for.  Hold on tight, this is probably the wildest ride I’ve taken you on yet.  I’ve broken it down into a few easily digestible parts.  You’ll be glad I did once you’ve finished reading all of it.

I went to L.A. for James Malinchak’s Big Money Speaker BootCamp.  To save money on air and hotel, I booked it all through Allegient Air.  They only fly between LAX and XNA (NW AR Regional Airport) twice a week, so it gave me a couple of free days before the conference.

My friend, Johnnie, put me in touch with his firend Kerry in L.A.  He had heard about all the plot twists and turns of my life through Johnnie and had wanted to meet me for a long time.  We hung out one evening and went to Venice.  We found a plce to eat, walked on the pier and I got to feel/smell the ocean breeze.  He said there were surfers in wet suits not far from us, but they were beyond where I could see.  It was nice just to be there and I was determined to enjoy it my way—by taking in a much as possible with my hearing, sense of smell, and touch.  It all confirmed I was in California and not the Ozarks.  I’d forgotten what no humidity felt like.

It was nice hanging out with a laid-back Texas native who lived in Dallas at the same time I did, though we didn’t know each other then.  He’s been in L.A. since the 90s but that accent is still intact.  Maybe I would do the same thing if I were him.  It turns out a lot of people out there think it’s charming.

On the way back to the car, we stopped and patted a blue parrot sitting on a rail between the sidewalk and an outdoor dining section of one of the many restaurants.  He was very tame and I figured he’d probably been photographed more often than some Hollywood celebrities.

It was a Wednesday night, so the usual myriad of oddballs parading around Venice Beach weren’t there.  I was looking forward to seeing as much of that as I possibly could.  We drove under the Santa Monica Pier.  By this time it was getting too dark to walk out on it.  I was glad to get a little taste of L.A. before getting to work.

It was time for me to get back to the hotel and preregister for the conference.  I didn’t want to deal with a mob the next morning at 8:00 am.  It was time to get in gear for the conference, which I was sure would be intense, informative, and tiring.  But I knew I was taking a giant step toward the future I want.

Do me a favor--please follow me on this blog.  You'll get automatic updates on new posts and my L.A. experience has lots of surprises as well as life lessons.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Ghost of Vision Past: The Pain of Remembering

Over the weekend I attended a conference in Memphis.  It was the first time I’d been there since 2001, when I lived in Little Rock.  Some friends invited me along for an overnighter including a show at the beautifully restored Orpheum Theater, followed by some nightlife fun.  If you like architecture and you get a chance to see a show there, do it!  Even if you’re not interested in the show, it’s worth it.  I don’t get over there often.  It’s at least a five-hour drive from this part of the Ozarks.

It was one of those conferences with “breakout” sessions going on in different meeting rooms.  You look at a schedule and decide which one looks like your best bet or take a break if none appeals to you.  You can mingle in a common area and nibble the finger food set out on a long table.  Sounds simple enough, right?

It was simple for me back when my vision was better.  Now I have to use a high-tech magnifier (it cost $600) to read the schedule and get help finding the room I needed.  Finding a seat wasn’t hard, but seeing Powerpoint presentations was impossible.  Sometimes I could tell what the speaker was was talking about on the screen, other times I couldn’t.  I needed help identifying food set out on the snack table and again during the buffet-style meals.  People were happy to help, but it made me self-conscious to slow down a line of hungry people behind me.  I made it a point to get in line early, not only because view a buffet line as prey, but also so I could find an unoccupied seat without having to roam around a crowded dining room with a plateful of food.

While making polite conversations with others at my table, I also had to identify food, spear it with my fork, and mind my table manners.  At one meal, the salad was overloaded with olives, which I hate.  I had to eat several because they were In my mouth before I knew what they were.  By the end, my food was jumbled up together on the plate and I thought back on the brief phase I went through when I was a kid, when I didn’t want any of the food to touch each other.

But, the biggest and most isolating change that happened when my vision wosened in 2003 was losing the ability to recognize faces and expressions more than a couple of feet away.  Because of that, I can be very alone in a crowd—even when people are extremely warm and friendly, like they were last weekend.

I have an excellent sense of direction, an internal compass that almost never fails.  But, in order for it to work, I need to get a good look at my surroundings.  To get to my room from the elevator, I had to make a couple of sharp turns and it left me disoriented, then frustrated, then angry because I can remember when things were easier.  Sunday morning, I wanted breakfast and remembered the nearest restaurant was across a four-lane street and was buffet-style.  Not worth the risk.  I found a small room on my floor with vending machines.  The one with food was framed in bright lights so I had to lean in and squint even more than I usually do.  This particular machine had a flashing keypad, though.  The bulb didn’t have a short.  It was designed to light up a row at a time in quick succession, giving it the look of a slot machine that paid winners in sweet and salty snacks.  Do they really need to lure people—particularly Americans—to a vending machine with flashing lights? 

I gave up and went back to my room, glad I had snagged a cookie from a table the day before and saved it.

I wanted to look around at the urban landscape of a bigger city, even if we didn’t drive through any particualry interesting parts of it.  I wanted to be able to navigate the common areas without it feeling like an expedition.  I wanted to find the Men’s Room all by myself like a big boy.

Yes, people find me inspiring, and I hope that continues.  I’m comfortable around the house and around the town where I live.  Being in unfamiliar places is more work for me now.  I work harder to see things.  I have to commit things to memory faster.  I come back from a two-day conference exhausted, physically and emotionally—because I can remember when life was much easier.  I was legally blind before, but barely.  I got around with little trouble.  Even my friends occasionally forgot I had vision problems.

Today, I’m starting to feel like myself again.  I’m at the brink of an exciting future that includes speaking engagements, a published memoir, an inspirational web site, a YouTube channel, and probably more income to go with it all.  I’m focusing on that as best I can, letting The Ghost of Accomplishments Future save me from The Ghost of Vision Past.