For Robert.

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Here sits a lump of clay, ready for me to shape. / Photo by Kidzond.

 

I’ve been reading a book this week. Sort of a horror/dystopia story about vampires. I have about another 90 pages to go before the end of the story.

I didn’t like how the author started off the story. The setting was cool, but he seemed to lack focus on what the issue was. Hints to, but never explains what the real issue at hand is.

Despite the grammatical errors, hiccups with elements of the plot, the two main characters are good. I am truly curious as to what their fate will be. And that has to be the best part of the story. I actually care as a reader what will happen next.

Yes, this is my story, my first draft of my ‘first’ novel. Why quote marks? Because it truly isn’t my first. I wrote a novel a few years back and sat down to read it, like I am doing now. My father’s ghost tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear.

“That truly sucks you know. What are you trying to even say? What is your point?” I could only look over my shoulder and nod, placing the pages into a manila envelope and dooming the novel to sit upon a dusty shelf for all of eternity.

This book I am reading? It may actually see the light of day. I hope it does. It is still a lump of clay, but has a shape. A structure that I can look at and say, “I see where you are going here.” and take out my tools and start to shape it into a book that will keep some up past their bedtime, turning the page to see what happens next. That is my hope, the hope of every wannabe author.

Stories rarely just pop into my head. Usually a scene does, one that I think on, expand upon, and if good enough, commit to paper. I normally hand write out my stories, then sit at my laptop and tap them out.

This story, came from an oxymoron. We went swimming at a local pool years back. I was sick, so I did not want to get into the water. My youngest children were kiddy pool age, so I sat and watched them. It was on July 14th, Bastille Day for the French, that will become germane in a moment.

So, sitting down, watching my wife and kids splash around in this public pool that is only opened during the day, I notice they had lights. A really good lighting system. New. But why?

“Well maybe it’s for the vampires.” I mused. Swimming on Bastille Day, a short story, was born. I wrote it down, then I tapped it out on my laptop. It sat. I tweaked it, it still sat. I had in my cloud, and thus on my phone. By now, almost 3 years had passed. And every once in a while I would look at it. I had the good luck to look at on the flight back from our family vacation. It caught the eye of my sister-in-law’s fiancé.

“What’s that your reading?” He asked.

“Oh, short story I wrote.” I said.

“Really?” He said as I handed him my phone. A half hour later he handed it back. He liked it, but had so many questions. In the end, the story didn’t make sense to him. I needed to explain it more.

I think I rewrote that short story a dozen times, cursing at each draft. It was not going to happen as a short story. Maybe a Novella? Wasn’t sure.

The novel was delayed by a conversation with my brother Jay. Who stated that everyone wrote about vampires. Which, is absolutely true. Stick a fork in the genre, it is as crispy as a vampire in the sunlight.

As I turned away from the novel, and life interrupted me more than I wish, drawing me farther away from my writing, I considered something. Is my story about vampires? Is any story just about its genre? No, it’s about the characters. How they react to the situation they are in.

It took me 45 days to write the first draft. Countless interruptions, coffee breaks, smoke breaks, potty breaks, and life’s general interruptions.

Then I started to read my book. I frowned a lot at the first 70 pages, had to do my best not to pick up a red pen and attack it. I reminded myself this is the critical part of writing. Do you like your work? Are you, as the author, curious as to the ending. Even though you know the ending? Like re-reading your favorite novel again? Does it still peak your interest? So far, yes. I want to know what happens to my characters.

While writing a story is the fun part, the nuts and bolts of creating a novel really intrigue me. I am doing the first read of the first draft. I will edit my novel. Then, hoping it won’t cost me a small fortune, get with an editor I know. Have her go over it with a nit comb. Then after that, have it proofread again. Finally have a few people read it.

One person that I hope will have the time to read my story is the person who looked at me on that airplane flight and asked so many damn good questions. Yet still said, they liked it. My brother-in-law Rob. He’s a bit of an asshole, which is fine, because so am I. We argue, discuss, and love each other fiercely. We truly are family.

Yet I would be remiss to say I don’t dread his reading of my tale. For while others will tell me they like it, yet secretly harbor dislikes, I will not get that from him. He will simply hand me back the printed pages and shake his head. “Nah, didn’t like it.” And that will be the truth. It is rare to find an individual with his bluntness. It is also alarming and scary.

However, if you want to succeed at anything in life, you need a Rob. You need someone to tell you if your work is good, and to give you constructive criticism. To ask the hard questions and have you explain yourself. And, like he did on that flight, when I explained a point to my ill-fated short story.

“Why didn’t you say that in the first place then?”

So, with so many people I will have to thank for this novel when it sees the light of day, I could think of only one person to dedicate it to. My harshest critic.

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Moms.

 

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Michelle with Alexis. (I think, might be Nick.) / Photo By Kidzond.

 

I use this line often.

“Women have periods, Give Birth, and menopause. Men live 10 years less than Women. And I am okay with that.”

Moms are a special lot. Kind of unique to our species. It doesn’t detract from those women who are not mothers, but even they would have to concede, their own mother is rather unique.

For one, the simple fact that we spend the first 9 months of our existence sharing a body with this woman, who will at the end of this journey be our mother, is a monumental task. If you think about it, it’s a small miracle in its own right.

They will endure heartburn, swelling feet, cravings that may or may not be satisfied, and overall, go through a purgatory to bring you into this world. Others, may breeze through their pregnancy and birth without the slightest complication. And if they are smart, keep that bit to themselves, and not tell their friends who had 32 hours of labor with an epidural.

Of course any parent will tell you, it’s what comes after that the real tests begin. Taking this new human and shaping them into a person. Guiding them, admonishing them, nurturing them, and scolding them.

And as my own mother said, you never quit being a mother.

Some mothers do the most challenging of tasks, take on children that are not biologically their own. For a variety of reasons, these women will adopt a child and take on the honorific of being called Mom. It is not an easy task, a complicated road of lawyers and judges, fears and tears, all to give their undivided love to a child. What magical, wonderful women they are.

Not everyone is cut out to be a mom. Many women I have known over the years elected by choice not to become a mother. I think I shock them when I tell them ‘Good for you!’ Because it is not the reaction they expect. But good for them, they know themselves well enough that children are not what they want. They are selfless enough to know that becoming a mom just to fit into some mythical role, is not what they want in their life. Sadly, too many believe the myth, and give it a try. (See the paragraph above for the lucky children.)

Now of course I am not a Mom. I’m a Dad. And I was told by my 10-year-old daughter the other day that I was “The best Daddy in the world, and Mommy is the best Mommy.” And that is why I am blogging about Mothers today. Because nothing makes a parent feel loved than to be the Best in their child’s eyes.

But I did tell her that others think they have the best parents in the world. She didn’t quite agree with me.

 

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Betty Anne McDonald (19 yrs of age – sans Freckles)

 

Of course to me, Betty Anne McDonald, who would become Betty Kendrick, was the best Mom in the world. Well, to me. She was a little lady of Scots-Irish decent and pushed the stereotype of a Redhead to the limit. A woman of immeasurable love and compassion that would turn on a dime if you pissed her off. My favorite story of my Mother was once saying to her “Hey Mom” and she slapped me. Holding my cheek I asked her what was that for? Her reply? “Oh, sorry, thought you were going to say something smart.”

In all the stories I could tell you about my mother, the one thing that holds them together like glue is the simple fact she was a Mom. Being a mother was very important to her. She raised us, punished us, made sure we had respect for others, and did her best with what limited experience she had. My Grandmother had died when my mother was 4 years old.

The common joke among men is to marry a woman like their mother. I believe I have succeeded in that.

Now many women take this wrong. That men want a woman who will take care of them, do their clothing, keep the house, raise the kids, etc. Pick a 1950’s T.V. mom.

But what we really want, is someone who will raise our kids like we were raised. Someone that we know, will be there to kiss the boo-boos. Yell at the kids for a messy room, proudly display a bunch of scribbles called ‘Art’ on the fridge and threaten their very existence when all else fails. We want that nurturing aspect for our children.

I am lucky, I found that woman. She is the Mother of my two youngest children. She’s a great mom. And an overall wonderful person. And I have to agree with daughter on this point. She is the best Mommy.

Of course tomorrow I will not be calling my Mother. I lost her 12 years ago. Not a day goes by without a thought or memory passing through my mind. It was 17 years ago this past March that I last seen her, hugged and kissed her goodbye. We would talk on the phone, but we lived 2000 miles apart, and try as I might, I never got out to see her again. People very close to me will not be talking to their Mothers today, for the first year. It doesn’t get easier, and yes, some years are harder than others.

As sad as it is, Mother’s Day is a wonderful day for me. It reminds me of the sacrifices women all over the world make to carry on our species. That they keep humanity going. That every human on this planet, came from a Mom, and for all they do, we should be truly grateful.

Happy Mother’s Day.

 

…Not Judgement.

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A sign posted on an elementary school wall.

 

Last week when I picked up my 5-year-old niece from her Pre-K class I passed a wall plastered with pictures and stories. In the center was this sign.

Autism is one word trying to describe millions of stories. and underneath, offer support, not judgement.

This may seem sappy, but the sign, the wall, what had been going on in my life at that moment, hit me hard. I did my best to hold it together and walked on to pick up my niece. Walking through a crowded hallway of parents and overly excited 4 to 5 year olds, who jostling each other for a turn at the drinking fountain. I signed my niece out, lead her out of the school, stopping to snap a picture of the sign. Then I thought about writing this blog. But I didn’t write. I thought about it for nearly a week.

I fully feel the support. From friends, family, school teachers and professionals who help us with Alexis’ Autism. It is a wonderful feeling, and I am truly grateful.

Yet at times, I feel the judgement. For many, Autism is just an unknown. They look at it from the outside and see…well they see a new car. See, I thought about the sign for nearly a week, and found an analogy that made sense.

 

Analogy Time!

 

Lets say, for the sake of analogies, Alexis is a new car. Snazzy, looks great on the outside. Sunroof, all the new fangled bells and whistles. I drive this car everyday. So I know this car well.

On occasion I give people rides. They like my new car, say it works like every other new car they know, looks like a normal car to them too. But they don’t drive it everyday like I do.

See, every once in a while, my navigation system won’t talk to me. It is very frustrating. I really need it to work sometime, but it doesn’t some days. Selective Mutism.

Then the fuel system doesn’t work, and my car vapor locks on me. Just stops.  Getting it to work again can take days. Sometimes, I have to take it into the shop. Gastrointestinal issues.

The sun roof is stubborn too. It will open, but refuses to close. Hangs up and the navigation system complains it hurts too much to close. Tactile Issues, Hair.

But everyone sees this awesome car on the outside, and they don’t understand the issues I have with it. I can tell them, and they will listen, but then they look at my new car, and shake their heads at me.

“It’s fine, what are you talking about. Can I have a ride?” They ask.

“Sorry, not today, the fuel system is backed up and the navigation system quit talking to me about it. Sunroof needs an adjustment too.” I tell them.

“You know? You complain about that car too much. It’s fine, you just need to drive it like everyone else who owns a car like that. You probably don’t know how to operate it properly, it looks just fine to me!” I hear. And all I can do is sigh.

Silly as this analogy is, unfortunately it is accurate.

Alexis has issues that come with Autism. Even as high functioning as she is, there are still issues that seem to baffle people.

In her case, Autism is expressed by extreme anxiety. Yet this anxiety is quirky. Things that freak other people out? Like roller coasters? She’s fine with them.

She loves roller coasters.

Yet a word, a phrase, a look can push her anxiety levels to nearly catastrophic levels. She will go mute, she will lash out, she make odd sounds and nervous tics. Then she will become constipated due to her anxiety. Which, a little TMI, becomes a nightmare to deal with. From as little as going through ten pairs of undergarments a day, to doctors visits when it gets severe.

There is also the impression that she needs to learn to behave like other children. Or that this is just a phase she will just grow out of. As if this is a cold she will shake, and I am overreacting.

She will never behave like other children, she will not grow out of it.

She will learn to adjust to our world. Find ways to cope with stresses that plague her now. She will grow, learn, become a productive adult. In her own way. I am so very thankful she will. Other who have autism, are not so lucky.

I don’t doubt her future successes, yet right now she is (and we are) in the adjustment part. Working on routines to keep life on an even keel for her. Because at this point, routines are important for her, and difficult to keep in the busy, fast paced, modern life.

I call Autism The Wicked Little Tailor, because it is. Autism truly is one word to describe Millions of stories. Each person whom it touches, it does so in its own unique way. No two autistics are alike. Each person wears their own little suit of autism, and has to cope with it.

Those of us who are the caregivers, we have to not only help them, but be an advocate for them. Do our best to teach others.

And honestly? It sucks sometimes. Teaching others. They would rather judge than listen.

Because to them, the car is new and shiny, it should work like every other car its age. They are only the occasional rider, they don’t drive it everyday like I do.

 

Vampires Suck!

 

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Although Vampires exist in many forms, a Child Vampire is always creepy. / Photo by KidZond.

 

“A story about vampires? Oh Jon, come on! Everyone’s writing about vampires! Vampires suck!” my brother said to me.

“Actually they are writing about Zombies.” I said in a rather meek come back.

However, with my brother’s assessment of my future novel, he raised the specter of my Father’s Ghost. It’s a dumb idea, Jay is right, everything there is to say about vampires has been written. What could you possibly add to the genre?

Suddenly it was pointless to move forward with my novel. So, being this conversation happened in June of 2017, the opening pages of my novel, all 22,000 words, sat on my laptop, collecting electric dust, and I moved on to other projects, other ideas. Original Ideas. Because, well, you need to be Original right? Right?

Nothing is Original. Not really.

So, my Father’s Ghost won again. I shelved the story and went on to other projects. Yet I kept thinking about my vampire story. In my mind I was adding little details, dropping plotlines, adding others. Thinking on it the whole time I was working on ignoring it and being ‘original’. Yet, nothing is original. Not really. Most stories are based off of other stories. Even Dracula was based on a Balkan Legend and a popular story from Stoker’s time, The Vamprye. 

Most of us believe a great story is original, but when asked, the Author often cites one or more sources as their inspiration. Either a story they had read, heard about, or one, recounted to them. Usually the story is a mishmash of previously known stories, with their own spin on it. Grimm’s Fairytales comes to mind. Shakespeare was well-known for taking popular legends and turning them into plays.

The concept of having to be original is, honestly, a little over the top. Yet, some storylines, genres, can beat the proverbial horse to death. Vampires have been mostly played out.

I accepted the fate of my novel, it would sit on the electronic shelf forever, never to be printed out and have me cuss over the editing process. The story was doomed.

Inspiration comes to you in the strangest ways.

My life has taken a few twists and turns since I had that conversation with my brother. I had written a few short stories, polished a couple of others, was in the market for Writing Competitions to get my name out. Yet I had to deal with a busy social year in 2017 and the discovery of my youngest daughters Autism.

During all this I changed jobs. Going from moving semi-tractor trailers in and out of docks for a Gum Factory, to doing the same at a Potato Chip factory.

I seem to be attracted to snacks companies.

And it was at my new job, that I saw something that gave me inspiration. Next to the Potato Chip factory is a Metal Work Shop. The shop causes some consternation with me and my colleagues. Huge metal plates, and small bits of metal litter the drive next to ours. Both plants share a common driveway. We have to be careful not to run over a metal scrap or drive into a huge steel beam. Yet the Metal Work Shop made me think…

“You know, if the zombie apocalypse happens, I would come here to outfit myself. You could make any sort of weapon out of this scrap metal.”

And of course there were potatoes to eat. And a nice National Guard Armory nearby. What a great place to hide out when the poop hits the rotating oscillator…

…or a great place for two child vampires to hang out.

You see, my story isn’t original. But it’s mine. It is my take on vampires. It may follow certain guidelines, certain rules of a storyline, but it’s mine. And that is where I vanquished my brother’s advice and my Father’s Ghost this time. Because while vampire stories have been played out. Glitter & Sparkles, Day-walkers, Assassins of Werewolves and even Diaries. No one has read mine. No one has seen what I have to offer. So, with a new angle, a fresh view, a great idea for a location, I wrote 4500 words of my tale last night. More to write tonight. And the next day, and the days to follow till I have the tale told.

Now, it may end up on the electronic bookshelf. It may die during the editing process, or suffer a worse fate. Sitting on the Cyber-Bookshelf without any takers.

But it will be done. I will have told my tale.

Because I have my story to tell, my version of vampires. Characters for you to explore, to laugh with, cry with, hate and love. It may revolve around vampires, but it will be the characters that drive the story.

While vampire tales are not original, my take will be ‘original’.

See, I let self-doubt and the fear of being lost in the crowd stop me from writing my novel. I was held back because I feared my brother was right, that my Father’s Ghost was right. But they weren’t.

Each of us, whether you are a published author, or a wannabe like myself, brings our own unique perspective to our tales. So, don’t be afraid to write what has already been written. Some of the best novels, best movies, even best t.v. shows are new versions of the same tired genre.

It’s not the lipstick on the pig that matters, it’s the shade of lipstick that matters.

 

A Letter from a Little Brother.

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My brother Jay and I. 1967/ Photo by KidZond.

 

I have no shame. This blog today is my birthday gift to my Brother Jay.

Just so you know.

Figured it was best to be honest.

However, I write about family relationships mostly. And what could be more family than siblings relationships?

I have three siblings, fairly spread apart in ages. Jay is my closest sibling in age, 7 years older than me. Then my brother Gary who is 13 years older and my sister Karen who is 16 years older. Till I was 11, Jay had been a constant figure in my life. Not always for the better I should say. Being the bratty younger brother was a special talent I cultivated when I was little.

It took me years to get to know Jay, many years actually. As kids our favorite pastime was taunting each other. I would always pull the ‘Mom Card’ and rat him out, which you know, probably wasn’t the best thing to do. He’d find ways to get me back.

It’s funny, but back then the taunting, teasing, being mean to each other was so dramatic and a tad terrifying at times to me. Now? That time in my life are some of my best, definitely  funniest, memories.

Although we didn’t know it at the time, being the youngest two we had a lot in common. Our childhood was at a bad time for our Dad. He was in the manufacturing industry, making screws, nuts, bolts. That industry took a dive in the early ’70’s. So he went from job to job. We, being the youngest, and still at home, moved along with our parents. I had the luck of being 7 years younger. I could make friends easier. But when you are under 10 years of age, back in the 1970’s, all you had to do to make friends is hold up a football.

During a phone conversation, we counted how many different schools we had gone to. Jay had been to 8 different schools, I had been to 7. Jay was always the new kid in High School. Sometimes twice in one school year. This instability in our lives wasn’t good for us, it isn’t good for anyone actually. Adjusting to such instability was harder on Jay than it was on me. I didn’t understand it back then, only when I was older did I get it.

When Jay was 18 he joined the army, I was living in Mexico at the time with our parents. He wasn’t allowed to come to Mexico. A fight between our father and him. I don’t know the full details. Yet that parting was when I was only 11 years old. So I had known my brother as a child, not as an adult.

Years went by, and Jay came to back to the midwest to live for a while. We actually got to know each other as adults. It was a little odd at first, I think for both of us, I know it was for me. However I think we both aged well, and for the first time, really enjoyed each others company.

Back then when he first moved back (it would only last about a year before he moved back West) we could talk to one another, as adults. We moved on from being siblings to being friends. I guess that is the best thing I can say about my brother. I would pick him as my friend even if he wasn’t my brother. Lucky for me, I can have both.

Now, we talk fairly often. Easily once a month, sometimes more. Unfortunately we live thousands of miles apart. He lives on the West Coast, I live in the Midwest. So visits are not simple. Whereas his kids are grown, I still have a young family. Not easy for me to just jump on a plane for a weekend getaway visit.

Time and distance can be cruel when it comes to love ones. I have entertained the thought of moving closer to my West Coast family, our sister lives out there too. Yet my roots are here in the Midwest. As are my wife’s. His are west of the Rockies, where he lives with his wife Leslee and their cats.

We did get together last year. It was a fun time, and that week will live with me till the day I die. Especially one night we talked and drank, talking about Everything.

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From Left to Right. Karen (My Sister) Leslee (My Sister-in-Law) Some dude whose birthday is today. / Photo by The Annoying Baby of the Family.

 

When I think about relationships, family, friends, and even co-workers. I look very fondly upon my relationship with my Big Brother Jay. He’s one of those people who fall into the Real category. If you ask his advice, he’ll give you it, straight forward, no-nonsense type of advice. He will state his opinion if he needs to, remain silent when he thinks he should. We don’t always agree on everything, but we both are okay with having different opinions. If you think on it, that’s kind of rare in siblings. People in general for that matter.

Over the years I have found a deeper appreciation for our relationship. His wit and humor that reminds me so much of our fathers (without the bite to it). His complains about his receding hairline…I just shake my bald head at him. His love of cooking, which he has perfected to an art form. His love and respect for our sister, who at very low times in his life, was his rock. And his love and appreciation for his wife Leslee. A woman, who upon after our mother met her, said to him bluntly “She’s a nice girl, don’t screw this up”.

We are also in the same business, Trucking, so it nice to get advice on matters from someone who has your back. Knows the trade and can give you pointers.

What I wish most for my brother is for him to know he’s a great guy. Not prefect, not even close. It is his imperfections that make him perfect. Life has beaten the crap out of him at times, yet he keeps going. He does what makes him happy, and keeps it real.

Life isn’t easy, nor is it close to being fair. We all have regrets, we all wish things would have been different. Yet those things, those choices we make, shape us into the person we are. Many I know would have given up if they went though half the things my brother Jay has gone though. I doubt I could have been strong enough.

I told my oldest daughter Jenelle what my father’s thoughts on my brother Jay were. That my father said “Jay alway took the harder path, even though the easy path laid before him”. I disagree with my father’s assessment, yet my daughters reply was most eloquent.

“The harder path is more interesting.”

 

 

I should just be an Author.

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Part of my HUGE pile of stories and plotlines. / Photo by KidZond.

 

“You should just become an Author.” My 7-year-old son said to me today. I was taking him to school, and we were discussing my new job and my new hours.

I told him that I took my new job because it’s days, and it also gives me more home time. The ‘price’ I pay for this is working Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Long hours, yet the free time, and being home with the kids to see them off to school and pick them up is worth it.

Then I added, “And I can write more, you know, become a famous author and we can travel the world. You know, so I could see new places and meet new people for my stories.” That’s when Nick had the simplest of solution. Just become an author.

If it was that easy.

I have been writing seriously for the last 10 years. Working on plots, styles, narrative methods, dialog, you name it. It’s been a fun journey. Yet the serious part always seems to elude me. I’ve submitted, been rejected, didn’t take it personally. I’ve read hundreds of articles on how to be a better writer, thousands of inspirations memes and quotes, listened to famous authors opine upon their craft and still…yeah.

Over time I have come to the conclusion I write like a sculpture. How so? Easy. If you have ever sculpted in clay (which I have) or know of the process, it’s a little weird. You start with a hunk of clay and pull parts away. Molding those parts to become the basis of your work. You will add this, take that, look at that small piece off to the side and maybe put it on, like it and keep it on, or hate it and remove it. In the end, you will have a round pile of ‘useless’ clay that will become another project. And hopefully you will have a finished piece. Or cover it in plastic to get back to later.

But it is that round pile of useless clay that may spark a better sculpture. One that you will really love. Sometimes, the small pieces become larger works.

Either way, you become attached to your sculpture. Even if after it is done, and you put it on a shelf, you will one day go back to it and smile. Thinking to yourself  “Wow, that sucked, but was fun” or “I should rework that piece, maybe paint it, or add this or that.” You rarely toss it in the trash. Because, well, you made it. It’s got a whole bunch of you in it.

When it comes to writing, advice is always nice. Honest opinions better. Yet I have found that the best advice is my own.

I can’t write for money. It would be nice, just to sit back, watch my works sell at an insane rate and have to hire a financial advisor to help me with my oodles of royalties. But I’m not that kind of writer. I tried that on a few stories, geared them for commercial success, but they didn’t have any heart.

It took a while for me to realise that I have to write for myself, and hope what I, like others, will too. That is a gamble, a big one. Yet if the story is going to go anywhere, I have to love it first before anyone else will.

Not good enough.

Like all writers, I suffer from self-doubt. That of course is what is holding me back. Well that and a little ‘Dad Issues’.

My father was a voracious reader, as was my mother. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t see a book in one of their hands. My mother was such an avid reader that she would get a quarter way into a book and put it down. When I asked her why, she told she had read it before. Dad was mostly into histories and biography’s. Thick tomes that he would stay up to the wee hours of the night reading and smoking his Mores cigarettes, a pall of smoke above his side of the couch, as he quietly turned the pages.

Yet my father was one of those people who belittled the achievements of others. If you had a great idea, my father had either thought of it, or told you why it wouldn’t work. It was this odd ‘Not good enough’ attitude that I believe has seeped into my brain and stops me from completing my books.

Even those novels and short stories I have finish, sit. Put into file cabinets or xerox boxes waiting for me to take them back up again and breathe life into them.

Yet my father’s ghost haunts me. Wandering through my mind to give me an excuse not to finish any of my works. I’ve cheated his ghost several times, yet those submissions fall under the umbrella of commercial works, going for that mythical Financial Advisor, just to have them tell me, that I may want to keep my day job.

“You know, Dad was pretty hard on you.” My brother Jay has told me often. He was right, dad was hard on me. I’m not certain why.

I find myself wanting to feed my father’s ghost. Find reasons to despise my own works. Even when I have finally convinced myself that I need to write for Me first, Readers second, his “No one would read that.” pops into my head. And I put my project aside.

Over the years I have conquered many of my fears, psychoanalyzed myself to the point I know where my arachnophobia, relationship problems, brussel sprouts hatred and fear of white rabbits with black eyes all come from. Oh, and Japanese Silky Chickens, the Hens, they give me the creeps.

I get myself, for the most part. Always something new to learn about yourself, yet for the most part? Yeah, I get me.

Except for my father’s ghost. That is still with me, and I still struggle to conquer that fear. That I will never be Good Enough, no matter how hard I try.

It is a totally irrational fear, one that should not have a hold on me. And maybe, from the proverbial mouth of babes, I should just be an Author.

 

Even if my works aren’t good enough.

When I first saw an Autistic Cycle and took a couple of steps back.

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Ponies in a row. / Photo by KidZond.

 

The conversation went like this:

Me: She’s doing really good about getting off to school. We’ve been making it to school on time for the past week and a half. I think we’ve turned a corner.

My Daughter’s Consular: Don’t be shocked if she cycles, have you heard of that? They sometimes regress.

Me: No, never heard of it. As of now, she seems fine with going to school.

My Daughter’s Consular: Hopefully that continues, yet autistics do cycle, they seem fine, but then a trigger happens and they regress back. Sometimes it feels like one step forward, two steps back.

 

Wow. Was she ever right. I had never heard of “Cycles”. I wasn’t prepared for what that entailed. One reason I had never heard of cycles is that many call it by another name. Meltdown. Some autistics have bad ones, sensory overloads that tax their brains so hard that the only recourse is to ‘throw a fit’ and shut down for a ‘reboot’. It can be terrifying for all involved. The parents, friends, other family member, and especially for the autistic person themselves.

Yet, autism, being that wicked little tailor it is, never does the same thing to each person it afflicts. Some may meltdown, others may shutdown. Still others, like Alexis, require a restart. She has to go to a start point, then work her way out of it. She rarely cries, or screams, never have I seen her throw herself on the floor or hurt herself. We’re lucky in that respect. Yet when she restarts, we are usually confused. What caused this behavior? She was doing just fine, but why now?

Give me a moment to talk about myself.

I got a new phone. A Samsung Galaxy Note8. Pretty sweet huh? Yeah, it’s not an S9, but hey, new phone.

It sucks. Damn thing has been nothing but problems since I got it 12 days ago. Tried to take it back today to be told it was just me. It’s not me. I may not be the most savvy person when it comes to ‘Smart Phones’ but still. The thing is annoying as hell. Totally froze on me today. So I went back to the store to trade it.

But…

I waited a bit. I was pissed, angry, using words that with ‘uck’ a lot. So angry I entertained the thought of using my 3 lbs sledge to solve the problem. However, that wouldn’t solve the problem. I went outside, smoked a cigarette (yes I know) and did my best to calm down. Worked the problem out in my head. Knew what I was going to say, and then, once composed, I went to the phone store.

Came back with my phone. Told politely it was me, not the phone. It’s the phone, but hey, I can calmly work it out. I have been considering the beer in the fridge. But instead, have a diet soda, and my laptop to ‘ignore’ the problem. Because if I do ignore it? A solution will come. Usually does. It’s how I restart.

Back to the kid.

So okay, stressful day. I got upset, very upset, but I resolved the problem. Took me a good hour. The darn phone has been bugging me for a week and a half. Yet it took today to get my goat. And that lasted about an hour. Phone is still in one piece. Alexis, however, has taken all day to get over yesterday.

She had a school conference.

Now, in modern American Schools, they have come up with this fantastic idea called “Student Lead Conferences”. Which means, you can do four conferences at once. Which means, Alexis had to speak to her parents about her school work…which she is struggling with… as three other kids talked to their parents. A noisy, distracting, environment.

The conference went okay, she mimed what she did. Didn’t speak to us. Her very sweet and helpful teacher was shocked by all this. In class, Alexis’ practiced this, she did well. But now? Nope, silence, the Cycle had geared up.

Now by geared up, I mean geared up. Not begun, because the cycle had started before this. A good five days before when the reality of the conference was looming in the future. I should have caught on, but I didn’t. Hindsight of course, helps. It was that flipping idiom that should have been the key.

Idioms! Ahhhh!

Idioms can be tricky with many autistics. So can sarcasm. I use both constantly, which is hit and miss with Alexis. She actually likes idioms. Yet the other day, when she wanted to change clothes to eat breakfast, then change again for school. I suggested she change into her school clothes and eat. That way she’ll be ready, and just be careful eating. I put it like this. “That way, you can kill two birds with one stone”.

Why? For heaven’s sake, would she want to kill a bird? Birds are nice.

She was serious. She couldn’t understand why I wanted her to go pick up a rock and throw it at the birds outside our house. I was puzzled, because I had used other idioms, similar to this one, that she had no problem with, yet that day? Well it was taken literally.

It was the beginning of the cycle. She was nervous about the conference and the idiom was lost to her. She can get idioms, metaphors, jocular tales and most jokes. Yet when she starts to cycle up, things get fuzzy quick. Taking things literally is her fall back, her safe mode.

It was today, the day after the conference, that Alexis didn’t go to school. It was just too much for her to process. We tried to work on Math, a subject she has a bizarre relationship with. She is either very good at it, or very bad. I can’t tell, neither can anyone else. Math has become part of her ‘Fuse Box’. Or maybe it’s better to call it her ‘Tool Kit’. She will purposely get answers wrong, will whine about doing problems as we sit and do homework. Yet in play, she will answer questions without hesitation. Solve problems like they are a hot knife through butter.

Today? Adding 6+6 was too difficult. She couldn’t do it. Let alone multiply two digit numbers by another set of two digit numbers. Even with the aid of a calculator, she couldn’t do it.

This is the damnation of an Autistic Cycle. Things you know become lost to you. Simple task become beyond complex. The world comes crashing down and even 1+3 is impossible to answer. It’s not a game, not a joke, it’s real. Then her brain just shut down today. Trying its best to do a restart, after a day of high anxiety, and make sense of it all.

While my emotions ran high over my phone problems, I was able to find a way to calm down. To solve the problem in my mind and move forward. What an utter hell it would have been if I had been unable to do so. I can’t even fathom how that would be.

Try being a prisoner to your emotions, locked inside you, all there, all working but unable to translate them. It would be like waking up tomorrow and suddenly speaking a foreign tongue, without knowing it. How would you tell anyone the simplest of things? How would you even begin to ask for help?

The autistic cycles are a living hell for the sufferers, and just as frustrating to those who are around them. Peace and quiet, a relaxing hobby, no pressure and the cycle completes itself. Yet honestly? I’m not sure it is over. I have no idea if I will be able to get her off to school tomorrow. If she will go, or if she will refuse.

I have come to the point where I don’t take it personally, that I am not a bad parent, that I  don’t just let her ‘get away with it’ As some seem to think. Yet I have to be careful she doesn’t use this as a manipulate tool to skip out on her education. Deciphering the difference isn’t easy. Her need to avoid over stimulation does sometimes manifest itself in manipulative behavior. But, can you blame her? I don’t. I wouldn’t want to do something that would cause me anxiety at the level she feels.

So I ride a fine line, every in search of the Rabbit Hole she is hiding in. Doing my best to be on guard for the next cycle, the next trigger, and react properly so I can lessen the impact. It’s not easy, and I am not alone in this. And I am certain no expert. I hadn’t even heard of cycles till last week.

My hope is one day she will realize the trigger, learn to minimize them, control them instead of having them control her. Find solutions, a bag of tricks, to make her life easier. One day, I hope she can deal with a stressful situation that won’t push her into a cycle. That she find an out. Till then, I have a lot to learn, and teach to her, when she is ready.