Tuesday, 23 April 2013

World Book Night- Why You Should Read!

Tonight, the 23rd of April, is World Book Night. World Book Night is an event to celebrate reading and books which takes place every year on this date. The 23rd of April is a significant date in literature as it is both the date of Shakespeare's birth and death. 397 years since his death, this year world book night is being celebrated in the UK, Ireland and the USA. At the heart of the event is giving books and encouraging reading in those who don’t read regularly. But it is also so much more: it is a chance for communities to get together to share stories and the love of books. Each year 20,000 book lovers are recruited to spread the written word amongst their communities and this year that figure includes myself and Mum. 

Twenty titles are up for grabs including "Noughts and Crosses" by Malorie Blackman and "The Knife of Never Letting Go" by Patrick Ness. Tonight we will be giving out "The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency" a great read by Alexander McCall Smith. With twenty copies in a brown paper package (how wonderful) we will be heading to several local venues to give out the books to members of our community. 

What people often forget is how lucky we are for physically being able to pick up a book and have the potential to understand it. Figures in this spreadsheet show that in some countries people aren't as fortunate. For example in Afghanistan only 28% of people are literate. 'Literate' is defined as the ability to read and write. This basic skill that many overlook, or even choose not to use, could be detrimental in changing a country such as Afghanistan. 

Here are ten reasons why you should pick up a book today (no excuses):

  1. You do have time. Why waste another minute on Facebook scrolling up and down and waiting for something to happen when you can watch a full play unfold in your head? 
  2. No annoying casting errors. In your head your word is law. Take that film industry!
  3. Escapism. You can go to a foreign country, sail magical seas and even befriend mythical creatures. Disappear down Alice's rabbit hole into a book and let your imagination run wild. 
  4. Knowledge. People who read are wordy. When was the last time you dropped a word like tintinnabulation in a conversation? If you have a brain box of a protagonist this could indeed be you. 
  5. It's portable. Surely waiting half an hour for a film or latest TV series to download to your phone or tablet just so you can go out is a bit extreme? Pop a book in your bag and off you go. 
  6. Social. After a certain point in a friendship books are going to come up in conversation- it's inevitable. Though you may ignore the Biblio blighters they are there and other people enjoy them. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to discuss, or openly debate, about a plot line in your favourite book? 
  7. It can be free. Don't be a shelf snob- head to the library and pick some books you will enjoy. There are even people in there who will help you find a book you might like if you don't know yourself. Also, you could come to one of the many World Book Night events around the country! 
  8. Improves empathy. Though you may have very little to say about your best friend's extreme blisters and struggle to emphasise as she struggles to her seat, you might read a book with a character in the same scenario and gain a whole new perspective. Put yourself in those imaginary shoes and get your friend some plasters!
  9. The perfect way to spend a rainy day. Who's going to tell you to do something 'more important' than reading? You are brainy, and feeding those brain cells with information. Who could object?
  10. Because you have the ability to read this list. May that be with your eyes, fingers, or ears you are understanding what I'm saying. Reading isn't just for your eyes- get an audiobook or another alternative format if you prefer. One in eight people in the UK cannot read standard print and only a small number of the 130,000 books published each year only a small figure are made into accessible formats. Go to Right to Read to find out more. 
Happy World Book Night! What's your favourite book?

Sunday, 21 April 2013

My Second First Bike Ride!

As I climbed onto the saddle I was reminded of being a small child again who had stabilisers on her 'ice princess' bike wobbling up and down the cul-de-sac. Or maybe like the time when I took my cycling proficiency test at primary school and failed miserably- twice. Cycling has always been a source of great enjoyment for me but I am not particularly brilliant at doing it 'properly'. Gears are just handle bars you can turn in my opinion and as for 'correct braking'... if you need to brake you just yank on them until you stop. It has been a long time since I last rode a bike because I was too nervous with my sight deterioration. Maybe the fact that I was told to: "Just act like you can see over your left shoulder" during cycling lessons was a contributing factor- considering I have always seen nothing on my left side so traffic assessing would be... tricky.

Picture of Guide Dog Laila watching authoritatively as a man, dave, blows up a tire.
Laila and Dave MOTing the bike!
Today I was offered the chance to ride my bike for a bit. I surprised myself by jumping at the opportunity and soon my tires were pumped up and my saddle was deemed low, but not too low, after all these years. This was the first time in roughly four years that I had ridden a bike since developing my eye condition. It was terrifying, tense, worrying but overall amazing, fun and liberating. Sure- for the vast amount of time I was either crashing into things or riding in circles- but it felt pretty great!

Myself, Mum, and Dave used a variety of methods to get me moving better after this video was taken. The most effective being a 'follow my voice' technique which worked well but it was rather difficult to judge handlebar positions when I needed to turn. We also discovered that it is difficult to use the 'small child' approach of holding the back of the bike when a blind fifteen year old is riding it as Mum found out. The problem arose when I thought right was left and Mum -after shouting "TURN LEFT"- did so, and I went my own version of 'left' which happened to be 'right'. I cut in front of her and she fell over... I feel a bit bad about that still.

I was riding a single bike as apposed to a tandem which maybe was not the best option if I wanted to be serious and directional with my peddling. However, it certainly added the adrenaline factor of not being able to see where I was going. I can be seen in the video below, recorded by my laughing mother, crashing up and down from curb to curb and at one point into a tree. It really was fun! I am going to look into tandem groups for the visually impaired because I would like to do some more cycling but maybe the more 'travelling' kind! Considering the cycling proficiency failure I am not sure if I will be much good, but surely it has to help if someone who can see beyond the handlebars is steering!

Me narrowly avoiding a car looking surprised on my black bike

Friday, 19 April 2013

Wonder - R.J Palacio

Auggie wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. He does ordinary things - eating ice cream, playing on his Xbox. He feels ordinary - inside. But ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. Ordinary kids aren't stared at wherever they go.
Born with a terrible facial abnormality, Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents his whole life. Now, for the first time, he's being sent to a real school - and he's dreading it. All he wants is to be accepted - but can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, underneath it all?
WONDER is a funny, frank, astonishingly moving debut to read in one sitting, pass on to others, and remember long after the final page.

My Summary:
This book made me laugh and cry so much that I listened to it over and over again. It is the story of Auggie, a young boy who has a facial disfigurement, who has to face what many people who find themselves as 'different' have to face- "What is it to be normal?". The story follows him as he goes to a typical school and encounters for the first time the 'real' world away from his parent's control. It is scary, and inevitably he has to face the relentless wrath of questions and bullying. Will he get by in school where he can't wear fancy dress to escape his differences? 

This book has multiple engrossing narratives from the family and friends of Auggie which allows an amazing birds eye view of the plot. I found the thoughts and feelings of others affected by his disfigurement interesting, such as his sister who will tirelessly attempt to support her brother despite her own problems. Then there is Miranda, a family friend who would secretly love to have Auggie as her real brother. I really enjoyed this book, however it was slightly uncomfortable reading at times. 

I found it in audio format on audible.co.uk. 

Wonder cover- a bright red background with a boy in a space helmet which covers his face.
Four Stars!  

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Your life: A Motivational Synopsis.

Description:  A brightly coloured comic strip in blue and yellow. The drawings are basic but professional. Each bullet relates to one image in the strip. Here is something true, one day you will be dead.   Here is something false: you only live once.  It takes about seven years to master something.   If you live to be 88 after the age 11 you have 11 opportunities to be great at something.  These are your lifetimes.   Most people don't let themselves die (stick man): "I've always just known I am good at organising spreadsheets".  Some are afraid of death: "I'm only trained to do one thing and if I'm not doing it... then what am I?"  Some think they are already ghosts: "I was good at basketball, but then I hurt my ankle. Now I spend most of my time mentally stimulating a reality where that didn't happen."  But you have many lives. (thought bubble): "Two years till I die, I wonder what I'll do next."  Spend a life writing poems. (In script): "True wit is nature to advantage dress'd what oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed."  Spend a life building things. Man 1: "It's a hoverbike!" Man 2: "Because..." Man 1: "Because hoverbike!!"  Spend a life looking for facts. (Looking at molecule diagram): "How?"  Spend a life looking for truth. (Looking at the same diagram): "Why?"  These are your lives.  Use them.

Whilst doing the sometimes uphill battle which is writing a fifty thousand word novel in a month you go through several thought processes. One of which is: "I'm going to fail. There is no point. Why have I done this?!". Right after this stage comes developing a psychosomatic cold, flu or plague which 'unfortunately' stops you writing for a while. Sure, doing this one month writing challenge is only a penny in the bank of success. It is only one month out of the eighty-four which this comic identifies as 'a life'. When you put it into perspective- why does anyone even bother doing anything?

However, as I curled up on the sofa, cradling my laptop, willing my hands to move- I realised something. Sure, there are things in the world that I might enjoy doing more right now than trying to breathe life into imaginary people. I could waste the day online and sleep, but that would be exactly that: a waste. I set myself a goal: "five hundred words and you can sleep Imi", but I overshot it with enthusiastic ambition. Maybe I wasn't that tired after all! It was touch and go whether or not I would meet my word count target but I am so glad I did. Now I have 1,667 new words on the page and that will make today easier than if I had given in to my laziness.

The truth I'm learning is: Everyday is part of your life, so make every moment count. Do things that will make you feel good in the long run even if it's less enjoyable in the short term. "When you're walking through hell keep walking"- this can apply to anything and everything. Waste time intentionally instead of by accident by making sure that it's what you want to do with your day first. Don't let social networking steal your time: you don't belong to your friends list on Facebook or your twitter followers either. Your life belongs to no one but you. What I am trying to say is do something that makes you happy so that you feel you have achieved something by doing it. Even if the only thing you achieved is happiness. So many people at school say they have no hobbies, no skills, no talent. They sit and write their CV's in lesson with the teacher telling them what their qualities are. Learn what is good about yourself, and make that an achievement in it's own right. There are too many talented people in this world who don't realise their skills.

Graphics courtesy of SMBC comics.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Coloured Cane Controversy

A picture of me wearing light purple doc marten lace up boots, a dress, brightly patterned leggings and a denim jacket. I am also holding a bright yellow cane.Today I had the delightful experience of receiving a parcel in the post. Who doesn't love it when that happens? It's like a present to yourself has magically appeared on your doorstep. My excitement escalated when I realised it was my bright yellow mobility cane from RNIB via Ambutech. I ordered it a month and a bit ago; but it took it's time to arrive because the canes are custom manufactured in Canada. I ordered the cane itself for use where my trusty guide dog cannot help me out, such as noisier films at the cinema, my hopefully upcoming trip abroad, and more commonly to help me to and from science labs at school. The cane itself is a lovely ultralight graphite model with an excellent grip on the handle. However delighted I was on it's arrival there was a part of me that knew that the cane wouldn't go down well with everybody.

When in the past I, or friends of mine, have talked about coloured canes on social networks we have been met with a variety of opinions. It is one of the newer topics in the visually impaired community to cause controversy and some people feel very strongly about it. Coloured canes have been produced for children for quite some time, but have only in the last few years started gaining popularity with adults and young people. I can understand the viewpoint of some of the arguments presented to me: a white cane is used worldwide to represent visual impairment and is a statement as well as a practical aid. The main point here is: "What if people don't realise your disability by the change in colour?". I understand why this might be a concern, but I can't fathom why people should oppose to coloured canes as a whole because of this. In my opinion the use of these canes is not making visual impairment any more difficult to understand to the public. A skill that is important for anyone with any kind of disability is being able to accept and ask for help when you need it. Otherwise, you should just try to be as independent as you can however you feel most comfortable! Though the general public can be rude, patronising and challenging at times I think this argument is giving them less credit than they deserve. Anyway, why does it matter how strangers perceive you?  If you want to support the symbol of visual impairment, then use a white cane by all means, but what about people who don't want to?

Where as I am not shy to admit that I have a disability and to raise awareness by talking about it I do not want to be, and fight against being, a walking representation of sight loss. I am a teenage girl, who loves words, series box-sets, Doc Marten boots and the colour yellow. However, to the outside world I am seen regularly as 'the blind girl' but I refuse to think about myself in that way. I am Imi and I am visually impaired. Not: 'A visual impaired person who happens to be called Imi'. This article is my personal opinion on my own situation only, I know a lot of people who shine with confidence and the colour of a cane makes no difference to. 

A picture of me raising my new cane in a sword like manner.Anyway, I ordered the cane in yellow because I thought it would be fun and look nice. Nothing more to it than when someone buys a pair of shoes. A mobility aid is something which you use a lot, and so why should you use something you don't feel comfortable with? In my opinion it isn't anything more than a freedom of choice and if you are happy using a white cane then good on you! The cane that lives in school to get me to and from science is a large, stiff and clunky white cane. When people see me walk towards them they will a) move out of the way and b) be reminded of the fact I am visually impaired. I don't think using a coloured cane affects this much because anyone sweeping for objects and navigating with a cane clearly has some kind of difficulty in seeing. The only thing that it adds for me is personality, which is something that sometimes people forget I have in the midst of my disability. And although I still have a white cane, and I understand the situations where it's representation to my sight loss is valuable, I am proud of the fact I have made a choice which will make me more confident in my appearance. I would encourage anyone struggling with the image of being a cane user to try a coloured cane because it could make a huge difference to your self esteem. The canes are available from phone order from RNIB and custom orders are available from QAC. 

Monday, 1 April 2013

Camp NaNoWriMo April 2013

Today is the first day of Camp NaNoWriMo, and the start of a new challenge. National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) ritually takes place in November every year. Participants challenge themselves to write a fifty thousand word novel in one month. The quality may be questionable, the morale may be low at times, but you can't fault the commitment of the NaNoWriMo troopers. I've never taken part in the event, though my best friend did it last year with concerning side effects. She became invisible, a slave to her keyboard, and ever since has been permanently addicted to writing. She beat NaNoWriMo though, and has an awesome t-shirt to prove it.

I know what you are thinking, no I haven't lost my calander or been living under a rock, I am aware it is not November. However the people at The Office of Letters and Light (the NaNoWriMo wizards) have caught on to the fact that people like my friend start getting withdrawal symptoms from the challenge around spring time. That's why they put in camp NaNoWriMo, it's exactly the same challenge but this event takes place throughout April and another during July. I was planning on doing the July camp, but I am pretty busy anyway in July and wanted something to liven up my april. I also have a bleak hope that spending time writing will draw me away from Facebook (which I despise the concept of more and more everyday).

So here I go, with one idea, and 50,000 words ahead of me! I've got several youtube playlists full of instrumental songs, perfect for writing, and plenty of teabags! I have found my cabin mates, a trusty group who are also casting aside their april in the name of creativity. I plan to blog or vlog my progress during the challenge. Good luck to any other NaNoWriMo-ers!