Me and my computer

So let’s see if I can explain this. I got so frustrated with my computer that I couldn’t finish the last post. I was trying to write a simple blog entry, but my computer chose to erase whole sections and mix up everything else.

I have a special computer. It is a standard PC, but it is equipped with all kinds of bells and whistles because I am legally blind. I have a very large monitor, and on top of that I also have software that increases the size of the print and also allows me to magnify anything on the screen. If you want to see what it’s like, go to aisquared.com and try the free demo. The software I use, which they call Zoom Text, is rather expensive, about $1000, but there is not a lot of competition to draw down the price. I have bought several versions of it to keep it upgraded. Fortunately, at least now I can afford it. When I first got it, not so much. One person described it as looking at your computer screen through a toilet paper roll. You can only see what it wants. But that’s not the problem. My eyesight has gotten worse since my stroke, and I might have graduated out of Zoom Text. I might need JAWS, which is for people who are totally blind. I would really rather not do that. Besides having to pay for the whole thing over again, I am not quite yet ready to give up the eyesight I do have. At 65 I’m not sure I want to have to learn to use new complicated software. But at least for now, Zoom Text will do.

The other problem with using Zoom Text is that my eyesight has taken a blow from the stroke I had three years ago that complicates seeing at all. I can look at a page on the web and just not see whole sections of it there. Either part of my central viewing, which is gone, just doesn’t work to compensate for missing data. For instance, I am looking at part of the paragraph I just worked on. I can see from the word “work” “for” and then again from “am” the first two letters of the word “C”. And just now the next line of that starting with “letters” to the C. If I move my mouse takes me around to the rest of what I typed, but for a couple reasons that’s not the easiest thing in the world. My mouse likes to jump so that I am not sure whether I’m in the same section anymore. Let’s just say moving around gets really complicated.

I have a bad feeling that even though I’m trying to explain this logically, none of it is making any sense to you. Maybe I will try to videotape a session.

Okay, you know about my vision. My hands also don’t have the facility they used to have. I might have a touch of arthritis or something like it. So when I try to type, which I know how to do, I constantly hit the wrong keys. This, of course, means words are misspelled, but it also means I’m constantly opening software I didn’t mean to. I might open the calculator. I might hit and try to save what I’m doing. I constantly misspell words with “b” like cut or but or vulture instead of culture. I constantly open the calculator. Or I start to do some other program that I didn’t even remember was there, but I couldn’t see when the screen was open to what I was trying to type.

And you can imagine that I occasionally highlight whole sections of what I typed and managed to hit a key and erase every bit of it. If I don’t catch it fast enough, I can’t undo it.

Now add the need to use software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking to the mix. The fact is that you can’t write intellectually and verbally at the same time, at least I can’t. I am struggling as it is with nonfiction prose. One idea I heard was to tape-record my stories and then let Dragon transcribe them to text, but that doesn’t seem to work the same as typing a story. I remember when I was learning Braille, I was able to listen to a recorded book and read the braille at the same time with my fingertips. Clearly the information got into my brain in different ways, but that doesn’t seem to work with narrating or dictating.

Believe it or not, I am not complaining. I am simply trying to explain why I’m having so many difficulties. I am more likely to sigh and shake my head than acted bitter or angry when I describe all this. It’s frustrating and exhausting. I know if I kept trying and got more practice that would be alleviated to some extent. I am getting better at dictating. I don’t know how far I will be able to take it. I have a short story I have to write for the second volume of TIMES RAINBOW and will be able to see how things are going when I type that up.

So those are basically the problems I’m having with the writing. I think I can still come up with the ideas in the content in my head, and it is therefore the process of actually writing it down that I’m having trouble with.

Do I want suggestions? Oh yes I do! The hardest thing for you with this will be understanding what it’s like to have low vision. It’s not seeing black all the time. In fact, blind people don’t see black; they just don’t see anything. I used to train volunteers and one of the things I did was have everyone put their hand behind their head. Then I said, “Look at your hand without turning your head.” I said you don’t see black. You just don’t see your hand. And that’s as close as I can get telling you what it’s like to be blind. The difference is that with my spotty vision I’m not seeing black where I don’t have the needed rods and cones. I’m seeing either smudges or just not clearly enough to identify the letters that make up the words. There is more to it than that, but that’s it in a nutshell.

Take a look at this picture:

Picture1

It is a poor effort to show you what macular degeneration is like. The tree is too big to really mean anything to you about my own vision. For one thing, my eyes constantly move around so that that big dark section in the middle is constantly moving to other parts of the tree. And what I’m talking about is looking at a computer screen, which has a lot more information on it. But it might give you an idea.

My purpose in writing this is just to explain my frustration and what actually gets in the way of my accomplishing any writing. I could also tell you that when I’m cooking I can’t see what’s in the middle of the frontal. I can’t read packages. I can’t read cookbooks. But for the most part, I can still manage to cook. So long as there is not a large spider in the middle of what I’m starting, we are all okay.

So I invite you to ask questions or make suggestions. I’ve had this vision problem since I was about 16 or 17, and I am now 65 so very little is going to get me excited or make me feel insulted.

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Rebuilding a sense of my identity

When I decided to transition to a transgender male, I basically said good-bye to everything that had made me who I was before. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I’d realized this earlier. I am not sure anyone could’ve warned me that taking testosterone injections would cause a bleeding stroke that would obliterate my writing ability, a good deal of my already poor eyesight, and my whole sense of myself as a writer. But although I did write two novels right after my stroke—and got them both published—either more has happened or I simply now am unable to pursue this. Earlier in 2017 I thought I saw some hope thanks to my neurologist’s efforts and explanations, but this does not seem to be the case. I feel as bereft and impotent as ever. I don’t even really know how to go about establishing a new identity for myself and decide what to do.

I sat down to write this blog post intending to explain what is going on in my brain when I am trying to write fiction or any other kind of prose. The more I think about it, the less I feel up to this. I will save it perhaps for a better day. In the meantime I have Sandra, my assistant, who can proofread what I write and post it for me on the new blog.

 

Explaining what’s not working

Anyone getting an email for me these days will puzzle over all the typos and other problems I have.  Theoretically I should be able to type a paragraph without problems. Although I am legally blind, I do have fancy software that is supposed to allow me to access the computer and word-processing software like anyone else. Just at the moment I have the font set to 7X, but sitting back in my chair I can’t read a word I just typed. Or should I say Dragon just typed. Even if I lean forward with my elbows in front of my keyboard, I can see letters and identify them but the holes in my vision take away a great deal of any meaning. However, theoretically, that should not be an issue since I can hear everything I’m typing.  Let me try putting the mouse echo on, making it repeat every letter. Oh dear, that doesn’t seem to work.  Hmmm.

Let me try to explain how this process works for me. I open Dragon to allow it to start typing whatever I say into the microphone. After opening the word-processing software, I start to talk. That seems to be working just fine, although I had thought that the mouse echo would make every letter get read. I will have to try some other things to see if that will work. Maybe typing echo is what I want…  let me type a few words to see if it works. Nope, it only works when I’m actually typing. Anyway, as I am speaking, the words are showing up on the screen that I almost can’t see. I should be able to go back and copy and paste what I’ve written into the clipboard and read it that way. That will be the only way I can proof what I’ve written.

That’s where Sandra comes in. She is my proofreader. I send pretty much everything I write to her to make it perfect. I pay her and she’s worth every single penny. Lately using websites is getting more and more difficult for me. If I’m looking at a line of words on a website, I don’t really necessarily understand or see every word in a sentence. That used to not be such a problem. Something about my stroke must’ve changed that. It’s like the meaning of a line of words just doesn’t make it into my brain properly. As a result I wasn’t able to set up a blog and had to have Sandra do it.

It is tremendously frustrating having used a computer all this time, basically 25 years, and always being able to make sense of everything. Even if I needed help figuring out how to use a product, I at least could read it. It is quite the new experience for me to feel so illiterate. Any idea I had of ever writing again without learning how to use Dragon or other software that will help me write this is pretty much out of the window. I still want to write the transgender people in history book, but I’m going to have to use more software to figure out how to do that. It will require research which shouldn’t be hard, and then the actual writing. My brain can compose, but transferring that composition to a computer application is another question. I think I will spend the rest of 2017 trying to figure all that out.

It’s funny, but I can’t seem to find any nonprofit that handles this sort of disability. There must be something like that and I just need to know about it. I don’t know. And I’m not sure where to look. Most of the organizations I have tried to contact work with technology but don’t seem to know how to apply it to a blind person. I suppose asking blind people might be my best bet. I don’t know how to characterize it. When I talk to anyone it’s like they only have the most elementary concept of what it is I’m talking about. I guess I can start with Kate, my counselor.

I know that it will involve being able to articulate what I need more clearly and fully. I should ask Jim to help me put the verbiage together. All asking for ideas on how to find organizations via the web. I know if I try to call the community information line they will just refer me to Sight Connection which I already know is hopeless. It would be like when Jeffrey came over and I told him about my background was Sight Connection and I was so far beyond his own experience that it was like talking to somebody from another planet.

If anyone is here or reading this who has any ideas or suggestions do please drop me a note at ChristopherHMoss@Gmail.com

 

 

Starting Over

It has been three years since I had my hemorrhagic stroke. I managed to write two novels in the year after my stroke, but now I am finding so many deficits are preventing me from continuing to write properly that I have to do some reconsideration of what I do and who I am anew. I have been going to Dr. K. to try and figure some of this out, but it seems like there is no answer. I still have back trouble, which I may be able to resolve through surgery, but Dr. K. seems puzzled as to what is stopping me from writing.

In a nutshell, it’s a combination of my eyesight and my brain. I can open a webpage and stare at it and make a little sense of what I’m looking at. Similarly I can try to dictate prose, but often it just gets jumbled or overly simple or something. Those are the two things about writing that seem to stymie me

So I am thinking it is time that I retire. I am 65, after all. And while I am at it, I think I will just refocus my life and my career.

I am setting up a new Evernote folder specifically to get me in the habit of working on specific kinds of things on a daily basis. The following can be the focus of my work: writing book reviews, writing this blog, and other things I will come to as I try to get reorganized.

I could still use Dragon to do all this. It has its roadblocks—mainly deciding I need to open my calculator or save what I’m writing without my specifically requesting either. But if I try to type I am going to make a million mistakes, and it just won’t be worth it.