24 Minutes

24 Minutes. Or it was when I set out to write this, but it took three minutes to get the page opened and now I'm feeling a little pressured, honestly. Okay, 21 minutes and I'm walking out that door and going to work. I don't teach till 8:30 but I've got work to do, things to create and print and copy...plans to make. These things take time and time seems to be slipping through my fingers. I've been up for over two hours...was wide awake two hours ago and could fall right to sleep in my chair now with no effort whatsoever.

19 minutes and my mind swirls over and around the lecture I'll give this morning and whether I'm right to completely upend the way I teach psychology, and I'm teaching my last of psychology, after teaching it for five years, and I'm more than fine with that--it's hard to maintain twin focuses and I've got so much work I want to do in English that letting go of teaching intro psyc is such an easy thing to do. But not yet.

No. In one hour and shit that's subtraction...ok, in a little less than two hours I'll be teaching the first day of this semester's psyc class. And I'm going in without the aids I always used because I decided I know this shit and power points can be distractions and when I first started using power points not every one did (and not everyone does), but who needs the power points, really? I always used them to keep me on track, but students would want to take notes, and they'd want me to slow down talking, and repeat, and what the hell is that? That's silly. The book's there, for goodness sake--read that. Besides the tests are take home open book. Just listen to me and laugh now and then. Offer your own jokes. Let's have fun. I don't need a power point for that. Put me in front of the class. Really. I'll do the rest.

And now it's 13 minutes and I'll walk out the door and do all the things at work to get me ready for next week, but that won't, not really. and in less than two hours I'll begin the first lecture of the last time I intend to teach intro psychology.

I'll make fun of Watson and Freud today. Tell jokes. Rib Skinner some. Giggle at some of evolutionary psychology's gems. I'll discuss science and where and why psychology so often falls short but can and could and should do so much better...

I'm the devil's advocate. Really. I will talk about psychology's power to do so much good but I will point out just how dangerous it can be in an asshole's hands or, even worse, in an incompetent's hands, one with the power to make decisions about you or your children and why knowledge is power. Knowledge may help you protect yourself and your loved ones from the dumbasses you'll encounter in fields where psychology is involved, and dude, that's everywhere.

I'll talk about how psychology, really getting to understand people and how they tick, will enable you to change the world for good or bad. I can help you make yourself the ultimate con man or the most empathetic and understanding friend, partner, parent.

Knowledge is power. And now it's 7 minutes and I must decide on shoes. Heels? Flip flops? Hot pink or bright yellow?

And now it's 6 and I need all those minutes and more....


Full Classes, New Faces

Tomorrow...50 new students to meet and greet and teach and mystify...

I woke up grinning this morning. Grinning. I can't tell how long it's been since I woke up smiling. Depression does that to you--robs you of joy when you wake up and realize it's a new day.  I'd say depression is definitely on the retreat, chronic sorrow tucked back away out of sight for now, and I'm excited and happy at the prospect of a total of 143 students, most of whom are brand new to me.

There was a time that the thought of all new faces, that many new faces, would have terrified me, had me physically ill. I can't help but laugh out loud at the realization that this is no longer true of me. How much does that rock? I can't wait. I plan and plot at night, ready to go. I mentally tweak the lectures and smile as I finally fall asleep, only to dream of work.

I am so lucky to have the perfect job for me, to be exactly where I want to be career-wise. What a tremendous relief. It's silly the difference a title can make, but going from 4/5ths instructor to tenure track professor makes all the difference. I'm all the way in, finally. I've been teaching at my college since 2005, working hard to get where I wanted to be, and I'm here finally. And it makes me giggly.

So at 8 am tomorrow 25 of those new faces are going to see a middle aged lady with bright pink hair, decked out in matching bright pink shoes and shirt and scarf (Lily's helping me be stylish), giggle through the opening day's lecture....hah, I can't imagine a better way to start the day. :)


Confessions of a Middle-Aged Pink-Haired Broad with a Penchant for Quirkiness

This will sound silly given how long I've been doing this but there are times I wish I were less vibrant, less noticeable. See, I'm used to being pink haired and different, but I'm also used to being in an environment where those differences are generally celebrated.

(the girls and I exploring hats)

When I go shopping, I am fairly visible, and I get stares. I used to get stares because I am often accompanied by my three kids, and it was their differences, their autism, that garnered the looks and whispers. I can confidently say that those looks and whispers are now about me, not them.

And I'm conflicted. I do my hair different colors and spiky because it is just that: attention-getting. My kids had a hard time with change. There's nothing like changing hair styles and colors dramatically with dye and/or wigs to break them of that resistance to change.

My girls adore my hair. They love it pink and no other style but spiky will do for them (okay I may have to keep changing it if they are stuck on this one hair color and style). To them, I am spectacular and unique and there is something so incredible about that kind of unconditional love and support that makes my conflicted feelings feel wrong.

To be fair, I have never had a person come up to me and make fun of me. All I've ever received is compliments. But I've seen those looks, looks that a decade ago I would not have noticed, having trained myself to ignore strangers when Bobby and I were out and a meltdown happened. I learned not to notice, not to see, not to engage. But as a teacher who often sees her former and current students out and about, I've learned to look around again, and that means I sometimes run across those snickers by strangers...

It takes me a moment, but then I'll catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror in the store I'm in and even I take a second look. It always takes a moment. It's me. I'm always surprised by how neon my hair is. I have a strong hunch I really have no idea just how bright my plumage is. And, on balance, I think that's a good thing most of the time. After all, how many people get surprised by their reflections when they are out and about?

Making funny faces at the camera.
And I wonder why I get double-takes?
Embracing our silliness.


Wednesday Morning Sleepy Thoughts

I went to bed early last night, worn out. I was up at five, though, throat aching, a raw, sore mess that wouldn't let me sleep any longer. So up I got, started coffee, sucked on ice cubes while waiting for the heat of the coffee. I read my facebook feed after showering and dressing for the day, noting that Elmore Leonard had passed, and my obsessive nature kicked in and I had to wonder how many of his books I didn't have and of course now need. Thankfully, I got distracted before I could add them to my amazon cart. Not to worry, at some point today I will get to it. And thankfully, I do own much of his work.

See, me finding out I don't have ALL of the books of an author is NOT a good thing. I had to get all of JA Jance's work this spring. Then I realized I needed James Patterson's books. Dude has written a lot of stuff. Then it was Brad Thor and Steve Barry. Then I realized I was missing a few of Preston & Child's books. It's a never ending scramble. To my credit, once I get all the books, I diligently work my way through them, but it still makes for a formidable to-read pile.

This ignores all the literary books, the non-fiction books, the textbooks I feel compelled to read, as well as my need to go back and reread every book every one of my kids reads...

They need a book lovers anonymous, except it wouldn't work--it would only feed the obsession. Besides I'm not sure of 12 step programs--having gone to a couple AA meetings, I honestly walked out of there wanting to drink. And I'm not an alcoholic.

But I digress...I think that's okay given the post's title, but still...

The coffee (and pain meds) have worked to blunt most of the throat pain, although I do have some gravel in my voice....I am still sleepy but I have to go help students register at 8 this morning.

Did I mention my ears feel like exploding? sigh...it's fall semester already in full bloom before the first class day. Thank heavens for pink spiky hair and big jangly red and gold earrings to disguise the sleepiness..


Mantras Worth Repeating

"And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep." Kurt Vonnegut

One of the things about teaching the same novel dozens of times is that lines reverberate in your mind, come to you unbidden, like whispers on the wind.

Time is a tricky thing. Billy Pilgrim, in Slaughterhouse-Five, has come "unstuck in time." He slams around willy-nilly, unable to control the experiences, unable to do more than passively observe himself and the action that  swirls around him. Vonnegut once alluded that he too was unstuck in time, and perhaps that's a part of getting older, of getting stuck in one's past.

And yet, the wisdom of the opening quote hangs there like a jewel twinkling. Vonnegut may not have been able to hold onto that wisdom, to keep himself in the present, in the moment, but he knew that was where we are supposed to be.

The reality, though, is that even if we immerse ourselves in the moment, even if we exist fully in the now, it still slips into the past so quickly. The trick is to slide along with the moment into the next one while letting the past slip from us. It informs us, creates us, but does not have to bind us. We can choose to continually reinvent ourselves by holding onto this moment and squeezing it for all it's worth.

Vonnegut's question is a mantra worth repeating each day. None of it and all of it is mine to keep. And that, that realization empties me of baggage and lets me engage in the moment, free.

I hope, at least, and will keep repeating it until it becomes so.


Summer Endings/New Beginnings

This child, who just last year insisted she wanted a SpongeBob wedding dress, mentioned the other day that she was over her Spongebob obsession. She claims she's moved onto new obsessions. My response to her was that you don't let go of old obsessions, you just add to them. She immediately changed into SpongeBob jammies and came to show me. My obsessions obviously feature prominently behind her, plus the wicked cool blurred photo of Val, our white dog.

The girls watching a lecture on the Iliad, with critters in attendance.

My Rosie.

My Lily.

Reading is fun, if the right book is found--Rosie is easily upset and so we spend considerable time finding books where the conflict is not violent and characters don't get hurt. Not an easy task by any means.

 My Bobby.
 The kids love playing D & D with their dad.
 The artist with her work: ponies and Doctor Who.

It's hard to believe that the summer is over for us. I go back to work full-time for the fall semester (although I worked all summer, through yesterday, so it's not like I had much of a break). New students, new challenges, a new year (isn't it funny that my new year is the start of the fall semester?).

Fresh starts are lovely things, aren't they?


Life Lessons

"I was taught: Dream big, work hard and you could have whatever you wanted" --Kris Jenner

Dream big.  That's a wonderful thing to teach your children, a wonderful way to live. I have a feeling it means something different to Jenner than it does to me, though. To me, it means to look outside oneself and to dream of a better future for all, to dream of making a difference.

Work hard. Absolutely. Dreaming big without working hard is just a bunch of hot air. In order to make those big dreams a reality, you have to have a plan and then follow that plan, adjusting when you realize the plan needs adjustment.

Have whatever you want. I believe that the first two things, dreaming big and working hard, are cornerstones to having a good life (good as in meaningful). However, teaching your children that if they do the first two they can have the last is not a lesson I would teach my children. The reality is that you can do the first two but having whatever you want is not realistic. Setting our children up with the idea that they can have whatever they want is setting them up for unhappiness. The greater the distance between their ideal selves and their real selves, the unhappier they will be. Instead, we should teach them to dream big, work hard, and create a life that is meaningful to them and beneficial to others.

Dream big. Work hard. Play. Love yourself and others.  Share. Help others. (And break for ice cream).

on our way for an ice cream treat last night.


Taking Stock: As Summer Comes to a Close

The summer had a rocky start as well as a rocky middle, but as we go into the last month and I prepare to go back to full-time work and the girls prepare to ramp up their studies to include all the relevant subjects, I can at least say with confidence that the end of summer is so much better than the beginning or the middle.

It's not fair to paint the last two months in a negative light, though. Much about them was good; I was just too tired and too sad to see the good clearly. Looking back, I can see it. The kids had a wonderful summer, and are happy and healthy. That alone is enough for me.

I finally found a term for those episodes of sadness involving Bobby--chronic sorrow--and have been reading Susan Roos's book on it. It's helped me recognize the universality of the episodes, that they are normal, expected, and reasonable. That makes it easier to tuck it back into the box in my mind that I keep it in. Plus, my son's happiness makes that sorrow all the more unnecessary. It's a clinical work, Susan Roos's book, and it's one that may have parents and individuals occasionally wincing, as chronic sorrow was first elaborated in relation to parents of significantly developmentally delayed children. Here in autism land we're supposed to be past that--how dare we grieve publicly and give voice to our sorrow? Or, heaven forbid, voice jealousy?

It's one of those things that makes the chronic sorrow a person's feeling even heavier as guilt is added to it. Look, it's entirely reasonable for me to look at my son at 23 and feel sorrow that he's not experiencing the things that other 23 year olds are. It's NOT reasonable for me to wallow in and make him feel like crap. He honestly doesn't know any other normal than his. And it's that realization--it's his normal and he's happy, he's satisfied with his life, that makes me okay again, happy for him. We have to learn to not compare. It's not fair to anyone.

I suspect the sorrow weighed so heavily because Lily has moved forward to being his helper, his reminder. She does it with hand on hip, but not meanly, and my son is relieved that he has someone who can help him navigate the day. And I feel a weight lifted now that I'm not the only one helping Bob navigate. If they're both happy with this paradigm shift, then who am I to feel sorrow over it?

The three of them got along well this summer, had animated, interesting conversations about anime, movies, books, philosophical questions, and even discussed ancient history, with Bobby impressing us all with how much he remembers and remembers correctly about ancient Egyptian history, making me feel satisfied that all those years working with him truly did leave a mark. They also talked about their futures, with Bobby telling Lil to be ready for when he was in a wheelchair and wouldn't be able to do litter or walk the dogs. Her rejoinder--they'd have only one animal--a house-trained dog.

The summer is coming to an end with me coming out of my depression (admitting I needed to increase my antidepressant and then doing so made a huge difference in how my body felt), tucking that chronic sorrow away, and looking forward to what the fall will bring.

I suspect I may even have the energy to make my hair pink again finally, having remained red haired for several months now--which is totally not like me.


No, a thousand times no: Autistic Men are Men

Eustacia Cutler, Temple Grandin's mother, has written a piece at The Daily Beast that is beyond awful in its wrongfully accusing autistic men of being (1) children who want other children to show them about sex and (2) unempathetic computers who "cannot distinguish the relevant difference between a misspelled e-mail address and bringing a gun through airport security. Nor can a computer deal with random. At best it carries a program that imitates random. Ditto those on the autism spectrum."

Add to that awfulness, Cutler then blames absent fathers and throws around a made-up but prevalent statistic that suits many autism families' narratives: that 80 to 90 percent of marriages where autistic children are involved end in divorce. This isn't just irresponsible and damning to all family members, it's flat out wrong.

Several writers have deconstructed and countered Cutler's piece and their takes on this and the damage it does to autistic people. Emily Willingham ably tackles it, writing that "It’s evidently not enough that autistic men must deal with a public perception that they are unempathetic, that they are violent. No. Now people must also, by allusion and innuendo only, imply that autistic men also are pedophiles, at least at heart, and infantile pedophiles, at that."

Not only is there no evidence to support a link between violence and autism, there's no evidence at all that autistic men, or autistic individuals as a whole, are sexual offenders.

Dave Wilde dissects Cutler's claims and notes that the essay itself doesn't gel well, with a swat at Tony Attwood being thrown in at the end and whether he's ever helped an autistic male avoid suicide.

C. S. Wyatt counters Cutler and discusses the need for guidance and education, as does Wilde and Willingham. In other words, people in the community, both those who are autistic and those who are parents of autistics agree that talking about sex with children about what is and is not appropriate is a key part of parenting. Let's be honest. It's not just our autistic children that need that kind of frank and open discussion across their development; it's all children.

My children.

My son.

This wonderful young man who Cutler would have you believe has been abandoned by his father, his doctors, his community, and his mother, so that her conclusion is inevitable. I can't even put her words in connection to this sweet, honest, moral young man who would be horrified by what she thinks him capable of, what she thinks autistic men are like: unempathetic computers who are inevitably on the path to being sexual offenders.

He has enough on his plate without people reading and believing Cutler's dangerous misinformation. Thankfully there are many more writers in the community countering this attack against autistic men.




One of these things is not like the other.

 dog in a dress
Cross species grooming