The Knot.

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Bag of hair supplies that has been my friend for the last week. / Photo by KidZond.

 

Honestly? I have not had a good summer. A perfect storm of events derailed all of my plans. It hasn’t been the end of the world. Just minor incidents that alone, mean nothing, but together added up to a summer of stagnation.

This was going to be the summer of getting things done. I was going to write and edit a book I had been working on for four years, get some needed repairs in the house, spend the summer doing things with the kids and just, well, just enjoying the summer.

I had started a new job in February that gave me four days off a week. Just so you know, I pay for it on those three days I do work. So much so, that my first day off my shift, I am basically useless. I should also stay off Facebook after my work cycle, but that is another story.

Nothing I had planned happened this summer. I wrote my book, only to find out because of the subject matter, it might not be well received. So, I shelved it and wrote another. Editing was definitely out. To edit a book, you need time, space, and above all…peace and quiet. I didn’t have peace and quiet this summer.

Instead, I had children. Ah! Wait for it! 

I have two children at home, and we watch our 5-year-old niece. This is all well and good. No real issues there. But, we have a really cool playhouse in our back yard. A beacon for all of the neighborhood kids. I would spend many days this summer watching out back as groups of kids played in my backyard. It was fun, entertaining, and gave my two, and my niece, friends to play with. So, while not a bad thing in itself, you really can’t do much when you have a backyard full of kids. Usually around 7 kids in total. All little psycho’s.

But, it killed projects. Hard to redo things in the house that requires my undivided attention and just let monsters roam your backyard. Plus, I was on band-aid duty all summer.

Books, work, and depression.

Writing is very cathartic for me. I love to write, and will get lost in it. The entertainment for me is the creative part. I wrote one book, some 120K words, only to find out that the subject matter may run afoul of the MeToo movement. It shouldn’t, but it could. Not something you want to put out for the world to take wrong. So, I shelved it and wrote another story I had floating around. But, I can’t edit right now, so both books sit collecting dust waiting for me to edit them.

Work has been a paradigm shift for me. For the last 11 years I had worked with only one partner. Now, I work with a group. The dynamics are different, and so are the multiply personalities. I am not exactly fitting in, and have questioned if this job is worth it.

Which unfortunately, has led to feeling depressed. Now luckily? I have dealt with depression before. Years ago when I was going through a horrible divorce. So, I know the signs, they symptoms, and when to seek help. Not there yet. How do I know this? Because of a knot.

The Knot.

The knot first appeared shortly after school got out. It was an annoyance that turned into a festering little animal that would not come out.

My daughter Alexis, who is 10 years old, is a High Functioning Autistic. With autism comes little complications. One of them is tactic issues. Essentially, Alexis doesn’t like her hair brushed, nor brushing it herself. It hurts. Not like it would hurt you or me (you know, if I still had my hair). But it hurts in a dramatic fashion. True physical pain.

For the knot, we sought out professional help, and the knot was gone. Only to come back with a vengeance. What was a little knot, now was a big as my fist. It was a snarled mess of tangled hair that had a life of its own. Attempts to remove it were disastrous. Seeking professional help was out, since although the hairstylist who help us before was wonderful, the pain and trauma meant utter refusal. So, we tried at various times to remove the knot, to no avail.

Unfortunately, we had to wait the knot out. Even though I came to the unfortunate conclusion, we would have to treat it like the famed Gordian Knot, and just have it cut out. Needless to say, that option was a nuclear option. Not well received at all.

Then, everything changed in the last three weeks. The knot, which Alexis had ignored, did not want touched, was suddenly asked to vacate its home. She wanted it out. We began the task of removing the knot.

With help from a good friend, and oils from a good hairstylist, we begun the task. Using a hair pick, patience, and oil. The knot that was the size of my fist is now down to about three fingers. It’s coming out, slowly, but it will be gone before school starts this Monday.

And you know what? The knot has taught me a great deal about this summer. I work on the knot for a good hour at a time, days in a row. Trust me, getting a 10-year-old to sit still for an hour is a task in its own right. The knot is not coming out in one felled swoop, but little picks, little pulls that unravel the complicated entanglement of hair. It requires breaks, different approaches, and above all, the knot requires determination.

I realized I have a tendency to micromanage my life. I like order, I want things to go my way. Most of us do, but I know I tend to go overboard. This was not this summer. Nothing went my way.

Yet, if I work at it, pick at it slowly to untangle the issues that are stymie my current situation in life, then much like the knot, it will slowly become manageable. The problems may even go away. As long as I keep picking away at them.

 

 

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Civility Redux.

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We leave this tiny blue dot to small hands. Let’s keep that in our thoughts and actions. / Photo by KidZond.

 

Let us talk you and I. Let us sit and converse about a subject of our choosing. One that maybe we differ on opinion. We may raise our voices, we may shout with glee, and laugh or giggle at our comments. We may get serious, may glower at each others points, wave a dismissive hand.

Yet, we will not make it personal. It will not spiral into name calling, or shouting in anger with our faces red and spittle flying from our mouths. We will not threaten each other with bodily harm. We will not seek vengeance against opinions that differ from ours.

Because in our discussion? All points are welcomed. The silly, the insane, the humble, the thoughtful. We are ignorant, and being ignorant? Is a good thing.

Ignorance is lack of knowledge. Everyone is ignorance on one thing or another. It’s part of being human. We can’t know everything, even those of us who are well versed on many subjects will admit their ignorance on a subject they know little to nothing about.

One thing that defines a good conversationalist, is knowing their ignorance, and doing something about it. Listening to others points of views, then doing a little research to find out more about the subject. Then the conversation can begin anew, with more detail to discuss the point.

On the opposite end of ignorance is stubbornness. Those that stick to a point despite evidence to the contrary. On opinions? This is fine. This is your opinion. Have at it. Yet on those subjects based upon facts and knowledge? The easiest way to deal with those that remain stubborn on the subject it is to remember the line from Max Ehrmann’s poem, Desiderata.

“Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.”

And with a smile and nod, bow out of the conversation. For it is better to let the conversation die than to argue with a fool. That fool being you, who is arguing with someone who will not see reason. We’ve seemed to have lost this train of thought in the social media age.

On Social Media.

If for some reason you believe the current troubles with civility are new, sorry, history is not on that side of the argument. Ancient Egyptian artist use to draw very unflattering pictures of their bosses to show their displeasure. Ancient Greeks and Romans wrote nasty, but very witty, comments about those who displeased them. When the printing press came along, that just upped the game. Pamphlets and even books were dedicated to tearing down ones foes. And let us not forget one of the most famous smack down letters, The Declaration of Independence, which, when it comes down to it, was a ‘stick it’ letter to King George III of England.

Yet with the advent of social media, our desire to shame those we do not agree with, to slam those who have different opinions has reached new heights. Gone are the days when you had to wait for the printing press. Now, the simple touch of the ‘Enter’ key will suffice.

Social Media is just a tool, it is not the cause of uncivil behavior, just the enabler. You can hide behind a false name, a fake account, and lash out at those you disagree with. Things can be said that you would probably never say to someone’s face in person. You may not even know the person. Personal attacks are rampant, with the full knowledge that accountability is not there.

Those who seek popularity or attention from social media can be the targets of the most vicious attacks. With horrible consequences as stories of online bullying and suicides from social media attacks grow.

The issue, is simple. It’s fast and numerous. Back in the day, bullying was only done by a small group, at school, the neighborhood, or work. It was more personal too, you knew your attackers. Unfavorable as it was, you could avoid those bullies. Now? They come from all over, nameless, faceless voices over the internet. While you may have had five to ten bullies at school, now there are hundreds who pile on you.

Of course Politics are going to enter this conversation.  

(Full disclosure: I love politics.)

In the United States of America politics are nearly a sport. We have our sides, many of us root for our team as we oppose the other side. It gets heated, and this is not new at all. Over our history we have had some doozy of arguments in the realm of politics. Many with disastrous consequences. In truth, the lack of civility in politics is common. Yet as of late, it has spilled over from the usual ‘rooting for our team’.

Enter the world of social media. President Obama was really the first social media president, and he was pummeled many times on social media, most stories were exaggerated claims to make him look like a tyrant.

Social media existed prior to 2009, but really took off during the Obama presidency. When President Trump came along in 2013, social media was in full swing. And things got weird quick.

So, if the other side won, do you think social media would be kind to President Hillary Clinton? Probably not. This begs the question, what will become of our next President? President 46? Will they get a pass on social media? Or will erroneous stories abound? I think if the trend continues, the next President is going to be tar and feathered every day they are in office, probably even after they leave office. In politics, civility is not just lacking, nor dead, but a zombie horde that hungers for brains of the masses.

Our Conversation. 

Let us talk you and I, but let us avoid those subjects that might cause our stubborn sides to come out. So, we will not talk politics, we will not discuss climate change, nor shall we immigration. And, for the love of God, we will not discuss plastic straws. We shall not converse about Monsanto, nor abortion. Let us…well, let’s just not talk at all shall we? We shall not discuss those things that matter, those things that need our attention. Because we can’t talk. We can post memes to show our dissatisfaction. We can go on our Senators and Representatives Facebook pages and call them names. Saying vile things and even making personal threats. Because they aren’t human are they? They lack feeling and compassion because they have a different opinion than ours. We’ve become the zombies, and they have become the tasty treat for us. We do not offer our opinion, or a solutions or ideas. We offer contempt, hatred and damnation. How dare they, whoever they are, have a different opinion than ours.

Discussion is dying, and not a slow death, a quick one.

This is the price we pay for being uncivil. We shut down discussion and discourse. We stop the exchange of ideas and thus turn our ignorance into stubbornness. We are slowly killing ourselves because it is more entertaining to be snarky than it is to offer solutions.

And finally

On social media I came across a cartoon. The cartoon was about a jeopardy style show where the correct answer was wrong because it offended another player. A social commentary on how our culture is changing. Honestly? Sometime being offended by other’s opinions is a good thing. It makes your defend your opinion. As long as it is done in a civil manner, there is nothing wrong with it. So, I leave you with my answer to the post:

Offend Me.

Tell me I am wrong. I want you to articulate your argument so it challenges my status quo.

Never shy away from an argument (good discussion). Don’t be afraid to make your point.

I will not learn from stodgy ideas I have accumulated over these 55 years on this world. I will only learn when others challenge my point of view. And have me defend my views.

Be Nice. Be Courteous. Understand not everyone shares your views or opinions. Don’t succumb to pettiness and name calling.

Rise above that.

Challenge Me. ALWAYS.

 

Of course, this post is just my opinion. Tell me yours.

 

Take this stick and swallow your feelings.

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A diagram showing the difference in Male/Female arguments. / Illustration by KidZond – don’t laugh.

 

It was one of those conversations that stick with you. I was in my late twenties, over at a friends, who was in a rocky relationship with his spouse. We were discussing relationships and he drew a diagram like the one above. A very simply diagram.

The purpose of the diagram was to explain how men and women argue, or discuss issues that affect their relationship. Men tend to argue linear. They build on point A to point B, to point C and so on. Women do the same, yet point E may be vitally related to point B, and even point B may involve point Q. Women’s arguments tend to be interconnected.

I was amazed by this revelation, it made so much sense to me at the time. Of course, this diagram is a very broad generalization. Not all men argue in a linear fashion, nor do all women build their arguments like a spiderweb. I’ve often wondered what the marriage therapist was trying to tell my friend and his spouse.

I will say, that over the years, the idea that men and woman look at things differently has stuck with me. I have had discussions with women in my life that I saw the spiderweb, knew I was going to lose the argument and eventually be rolled up in a silken web only to be devoured later. I have also had these conversations with men, usually managers, who find ways to make sure it is your fault.

For the most part, I don’t take credence in the diagram anymore, it’s cute, a generalization, but not accurate.

 

Inside Out

 

Yet the other day the diagram popped back into my head. I had a different perspective on it. One I am still pondering about.

We were at home watching the movie Inside Out again. If you never have seen this 2015 Disney/Pixar movie it is a much watch film. The story revolves around a tween girl named Riley that is uprooted by her fathers new job. They move from Minnesota to San Francisco California. What makes this simple premise work is the little people inside Riley’s head. Her emotions that live inside her head and operate the control room.  For adults, there are a myriad of little gems in the story that will elicit guffaws. From the Train of Thought, to memory of a jingle that just won’t go away. An earworm from Hades.

But what really caught my eye were the Islands. Called the Islands of Personality in the film, these little places were meaningful things in Riley’s life that became so special they have their own place (island) in Riley’s mind. Each island is connected to Headquarters (control room) and the ‘little voices’ inside Riley’s head can look out on the Islands of Personalities. I noticed that the islands were connected by a straight line, like a conduit or synapse to headquarters.

Looking at those connections, and watching my autistic daughter giggle at the movie, made me think about something she has recently started to say. And I wondered, are those connections really a straight line of thought with her?

 

Swallow your feelings

 

About a week ago, my daughter handed me a small stick and told me to “take this stick and swallow your feelings”. She giggled, and so did my son. (I did not swallow the stick, just so you know.) I did asked where this phrase came from. Did it come from a cartoon? A video game? A friend. My son told me that Alexis just said it. She made it up he said. Honestly I am not sure that is true, but wherever it came from, she had taken a liking to the phrase.

She used this phrase most of the week, then on Friday we all sat down in the evening to watch a movie, Inside Out.

That is when the old diagram and the conduits to the Islands of Personalities started to merge in my mind.

What you will find often enough with young autistics, is that when you ask them a question, there is a delay in response. In school, this can sometimes be seen as not knowing the answer to a particular question, but in reality, it is processing time. Autistics seem to have a delayed response. This, I should note, is the appearance to us Neural Typical people. Not necessarily what is going on inside their heads.

With High Functioning Autism, I have found more and more there is scant research and information as to how they think. Most of the research is devoted to making them behave like us, conformity. While that isn’t wholly a bad concept, I personally think it’s a little off. Personally, I would rather they would work with Translation than Conformity.

Translation works like this. My daughter has emotions. She isn’t dead inside. In fact she is vibrant with emotions. She just can’t get them out for you to see. Or when she does, she selects the wrong one. Her islands of personality do not have straight paths, in fact, they are a spiderweb of paths. She has to sort through the tangle web to find the correct response. Sometimes, the paths get crossed, or intertwined. Yet while the character Riley from the movie had Emotions that controlled her from Headquarters via a console, in Alexis’ case, the console is a little glitchy. She may select one emotion, yet another comes up. Much to her chagrin.

These are the things I work on with her. Helping her learn what is the ‘normal’ response to a situation. How to deal with emotionally charged moments, and to seek out the proper response. I don’t force her, I guide her. I ask questions, and if the response is incorrect to what society expects, I do my best to explain. It is not a perfect method, it is time-consuming and well, frustrating at times for both of us.

The common method now is conformity. Basically taking away and giving, to make an autistic conform to societal rules. This method may work better for some, I’m not knocking it, have used it to a degree, yet I don’t feel the carrot and stick method works that well with HFA. They will outsmart you, and use it against you.

 

Spiderwebs

 

It was the combination of the movie, and my old friends diagram, and her new catchphrase that gave me a new insight into my daughters mind. What exactly the stick represents, I really am not sure. Yet swallowing one’s feelings? I have a hunch that is how she sees our world. That maybe, more often than not, she has to swallow her feelings rather than express them. Because expressing her feelings is hard, yet swallowing them? That is easy for her. Better to leave them inside rather than select the wrong emotion.

Yet, it comes with a price. Like the stick in the metaphor, to swallow a stick would be a hard thing to do, getting stuck in one’s throat, tasting nasty and dry. Leaving you with a bad taste, and a sore throat. Emotions, and our ability to express them correctly, is hard enough for those of us that do not fall into the Autistic Spectrum. For autistics, the wrong selection could be catastrophic. So, swallowing the stick is sometimes better than selecting the wrong emotion.

 

 

In the Course of Human Events.

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The three faces of Thomas Jefferson. 2004-2006. / Photo by KidZond.

Do me a favor.

Take out a piece of paper and a pen. Sign your name. Take a good look at it.

Now, I want you to be afraid of that signature of yours. I want you imagine that sometime in the very near future armed men are going to come to your house in the wee hours of the night to break down your door just because of that signature. They will drag you away, and bind your hands. Then, without a trial, without any recourse to defend yourself. They will put you on the end of a wooden cart pulled by a mule, place a rope around your neck and while a drummer rattles off a drumroll, move the cart and hang you till you are dead. Your signature just cost you your life. Also cost your family their freedom, their home, all of your property. Your friends will be harassed, maybe even arrested just because they knew you. Extended family member also. Just because you signed a nasty letter to the leader of your country.

We tend to forget history in the United States of America. It’s not one of our strong suits as Americans. Ask any high school kid which subject he or she finds the most boring, they will most likely tell you History.

I wasn’t that kid. I had the good fortune of having one Mr. Ronald Beam as my history teacher. A short stocky man, with red hair and freckles. Mr. Beam was a lover of history, he passed on that love to me and others. He made history funny, entertaining, and mostly, he made it come alive.

Maybe on purpose, or by his sheer comedic style in class, he let me imagine what it was like during important times in my nation’s history. He let me put on those historical figures proverbial shoes.

So, I think about my signature. And so should you.

We have all signed documents of importance. Buying a car, maybe buying a house, or maybe enlistment into the armed services. While important, not one of these documents would brand you a traitor. None of them would put you on a short list of individuals who must be caught and hung for the crime of treason.

Yet a group of men did just that. Put everything on the line for the stupidest of reasons. An Idea.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” 

Of course, this isn’t true. If anything, all men (and women) are created unequal. Even back then, the idea that this line applied to women, native Americans, and black slaves, was untrue. Yet the Declaration of Independence, wasn’t just this document. It was a letter, addressed to the King of England. And that line was critically important.

King George III was the King of England at that time. He was also a very religious man. He was also rumored to believe in the ideology of Divine Rights of Kings. Even if that was not accepted in England anymore. Still, the Revolutionaries knew how to push buttons, and by calling for all men to be equal at birth, was a jab. And a good one. The King, they contended, was no better than them.

We miss that in our study of history, and the importance of the document. It was a letter, to a far off King who was above reproach. A King that believed in absolute loyalty to The Crown, and not disobedience of a bunch of Colonials.

We The People…

If you look at the first 10 Amendment of the United States Constitution, you will find what is called the Bill of Rights. Each of these 10 amendments are reactions to Colonial rule. They are guaranteed rights to freedoms that were taken from us under English rule. From the right to complain about how the government is run, to the right of a fair trial. You don’t have to belong to The Church of England to hold a political appointment, nor do you languish in a prison cell awaiting a trial that will never come. You definitely will not be hung for saying you dislike or disagree with your political leaders.

This concept, that regular people, fellow countrymen are our leaders, because we choose them to be, was rather unique back then. That the People, not the government, was the ultimate power. That We the People decide our fate, not Kings in a distant land, nor a Parliament which didn’t represent us directly, but told us that they did.

We The People…well, we kind of forget that from time to time. That those men who signed a letter, put everything on the line, did so, so we can decide our own fate.

A little Revolution now and then, is a good thing…

I’m sorry to inform you that the Revolution didn’t end at Yorktown. Actually, it’s still going on. One unique quality of the United States of America is that we are in a constant state of revolt. Every four years we reshape our collective vision for our nation. We go from Right to Left, from Up to Down. We find those servants willing to direct us in a way we desire. And if they don’t follow the vision they lay out? Well, we can peaceable remove them in the next election.

At the time, this government of the people, by the people, for the people. Was unique in the world. An experiment to see if people can rule themselves. That, we are, under our Constitution, created equality among ourselves. No one is above the law we set forth to govern ourselves.

It’s not perfect, we’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. We have also owned up to many of those mistakes and strive to put them right. Our nation isn’t perfect, yet we strive to be. We strive to do our best, improve our lot in life, and the lot of others around the world. We, revolt, and we have never stopped from day one.

So, take a look at your signature. And by doing so, consider those imperfect men who wrote a letter to their King and said he was King of them no more. That they would govern themselves.

And as you look at your signature, consider what they put on the line to sign that letter. The price of failure. And ask yourself this simply question.

Would you have signed it? Knowing failure would have cost you everything? And if not, what would have become of us if they didn’t?

 

The Misandry of Fatherhood.

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Nick with sparklers. / Photo by KidZond.

This is a little odd for me, but I want to talk about a father that many people I know say is a wonderful Dad.

Me.

For the last 26 years I have been told this by family and friends. That I am a wonderful, caring, dedicated father. That through adversity, a horrible divorce, I stepped up and raised my two eldest daughters. I have been told, by my own mother nonetheless, very Motherly. Wasn’t exactly sure how to take it, but I was pretty sure it was a compliment.

Being a parent was something I had always wanted to be. I can remember being a teenager and fantasizing about being a father one day. Yet, it really wasn’t my initial plans.

I was going to be a paleoanthropologist. Teach at a great university, go on digs during the summer months, write tomes of works dedicated to the field of primitive man. Yet it never happened. Life got in the way. I never went to college for anthropology, I only took silly courses that amounted to nothing.

At 28 years of age, I became a father, and for the last 26 years, I added to my brood and now have four children. At first? I had no clue what I was getting into. I had never hung around babies, nor small children. My cousins, and nieces and nephews, were all around my age. Being the youngest child of a family of four, with nearly 17 years difference between the eldest and me, I never experienced children that weren’t close to my age.

So, I was an idiot. Had to learn on the fly. Yet I had good teachers in my parents.

When I split with my wife in 2000, I suddenly became something I had always dreaded. A weekend father. It was rough, very painful, and the thought of giving up was very real.

When the weekend father part ended, and I became a full-time single parent. I was so overwhelmed that first three weeks that I want to run off and hide under a rock. But I didn’t. I stuck it out, got the girls in school, and made all the arrangements from changing my shift at work, to having a neighbor watch them after school till I got home from work.

What I didn’t expect, was the misandry. In case you are wondering, misandry is the hatred of men. Or contempt, which I got all the time, being a father (Male) with two daughters (Female).

I had experienced this before, since I took my daughters to many of their doctors appointments by myself before the divorce. This was done by design, since my wife at the time worked days, and I worked nights. Made it easy.

Yet the question of when my daughter’s birthdate always came up, and my quick answer was ALWAYS met with the surprised response from the nurse that I actually knew it. This little misandry grated against me, yet it was nothing compared to when I was a single dad.

Because dad’s can’t raise daughters by themselves you see, we are incapable. We just don’t have it in us. Then of course there were the side-eyed looks, of why I would be in a house with two little girls in the first place. By myself, without a female there to guide me.

Teachers would say disparaging remarks about me, either to my daughters, or within earshot of them. They would talk down to me, be contemptuous, and overall ignored any concerns or cares I had.

“Have you talked to their mother? Could she come in and see me?”  Was a line I was given over and over. As if talking to dad was beneath them.

I did my best not to let it get to me, but honestly? When my youngest two came along, and went to the same school district? I was jaded at that point. Untrusting of teachers and faculty. But, to their credit, the school personnel that I deal with now, are very nice. Then again, there is a woman at the house, my wife, and mother of my youngest two.

Don’t think I don’t wonder. Don’t think I don’t have that little fear in the back of my mind that without my wife, once again, I am nothing.

Both of my eldest daughters are grown, they are mother’s themselves. They had a rough upbringing, stories I will not repeat here. Yet…

They are respectful of me.

They say Please and Thank You.

They are not hooligans and in and out of the correctional system.

They both have jobs.

They both contacted me for Father’s Day. To tell me they loved me, and were thinking of me.

I worked a 12 hour shift today at my work. It was a hot, miserable, humid day. I work outside. Yet on my breaks, I saw the messages from my oldest two. When I got home, I was greeted by ‘Happy Father’s Day Daddy’ and cards. Hugs and Kisses all around.

I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, think I am the best dad in the world. I would give that honor to My Father, gone these 22 years. Yet I know so many good fathers, those with partners, those without. I see the single father’s struggle, know their plight.

Being a good dad, a great dad, is simple. You just have to care, and let your children know you care.

And to hell with the naysayers.

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.

…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.