Admit that you can be prejudiced…

43c-prejudice

I know this is a sensitive subject, but I want to be honest about it. First off, I know that the last thing anyone wants to admit to is having a racist or prejudiced thought. For some reason, we think that if we have a wayward thought or idea about this subject even once in a while that it automatically puts us in the company of the KKK or other hate groups. However, I believe that if we live long enough, all of us will have at least occasional prejudiced/racist/stereotypical thoughts or ideas. It is unfortunately a part of living in the culture we exist in. By pretending that we never have these ideas, we are actually making the problem worse, not better. If we could identify our prejudiced or stereotypical thoughts and recognize them for what they are, then we could consciously decide to change those beliefs and ideas. That is the way we could really get rid of the damaging effects of prejudice.

For instance, most of us have at least some stereotypical beliefs. Even positive ones (like that Asians are all super smart or that African Americans are better athletes) are still stereotypes. I admit that I occasionally have stereotypical beliefs, so when I do, I have to consciously grab them and think them through to decide whether they are really true or not. For instance, watching the news makes it easy for me to think that all conservatives look down on the poor and are greedy. Of course, this is not always true, but it is a stereotype I see frequently. On the other side, I know many people stereotype liberals as being wimpy and lazy. The trouble is that most of the time these beliefs are not critically analyzed and we only look at one side of the story (the one we happen to agree with). We are all victims of bias and perception, but we refuse to see it.

As a child, I honestly do not remember prejudice or racism. I grew up in an urban Indiana neighborhood that was very much a melting pot. My elementary school was probably at least 50% minority, although back then I never even thought about that kind of stuff. My mom dated guys outside of her race and for a while one of those guys was like a second father to me and lived with us. My older sister’s first real boyfriend was from a minority as well. I think my first real look at prejudice came around the age of 11 when I moved to a small town in Georgia. In this small town minorities were rare and in my middle and high school, racism definitely existed. Most minorities stuck to their own kind. There wasn’t a lot of intermixing and the town was almost set up in a segregated fashion (clearly marked minority neighborhoods and even a separate cemetery for non-whites). This new culture was certainly a shock to me, as were some of the hateful comments I heard. Of course, these people would have denied being prejudiced if confronted, but behind the scenes they were definitely not shy about their beliefs.

As an adult, I definitely try to be open-minded and not stereotype people or groups, but I will admit that I am not perfect. For instance, one night I remember my husband and I going to a local White Castle and noticing that we were the only “white” people in the crowded restaurant. I hate to admit it, but I experienced some momentary discomfort and just felt kind of “out of place”. However, as I sat there, I thought about the fact that minorities probably often find themselves in this kind of situation. I’m used to looking around and seeing lots of other people who look like me, but many others don’t regularly have that experience. Thinking the issue through, truly gave me an entirely new perspective and made me sympathize with those who often find themselves surrounded by others who are different from them in some way.

I’ll also admit that the first time we took in a foster child from a minority that I was a little more anxious than I should have been. When we accepted that foster placement, we didn’t even know he was from a minority, so when I first saw him I was surprised a bit and also a little worried. My first thoughts were to question whether I could do a good job raising someone from a different culture, however, once the child moved in and we got to know him it was soon clear that underneath the exterior differences he was just like every other kid we had taken in. Soon I was going to bat for him against others who were stereotyping him or treating him like he didn’t exist.

In the end, my point is that when we do have thoughts or experiences that bring out the “prejudice” or “racism” hidden inside of us, it can be an opportunity to learn and grow if we face it head on and think things through. However, if we just sweep it under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist, we only help to perpetuate the problem.

Autistic meltdowns…adult style

HiRes-2
Probably any parent of a child with autism will tell you that meltdowns suck. I agree, even though I am coming from a different viewpoint, that of the person having the meltdown. If you met me and got to know me as a casual acquaintance or even a relatively close friend, you would probably think I am a fairly calm, low key, easy-going kind of person. And most of the time I am (although those who know me best can attest that there are a lot of emotions under the surface that most people just don’t see). However, even though I am not proud or eager to admit it, I do still have occasional autistic meltdowns.

The funny thing about autistic meltdowns is that they can occur over seemingly ridiculous things or over obvious stressors. For instance, I had a meltdown today. I know that it had actually been building for a couple days because of some major stressors going on this week. Yesterday I was a sobbing, depressed mess. I walked around like the living dead, wishing that I could just hole up somewhere and hibernate for a while. Today, things kind of came to a head when I was doing a puzzle to try to relax and couldn’t get the pieces to fit quite right. In my head I heard myself say, “you should get up and leave right now before you lose it”, but of course I didn’t listen to my wiser self. I kept trying to make the pieces fit, getting more frustrated by the moment. Eventually, I slammed my hand down on the table (which hurt like heck), tore the puzzle apart and then threw the pieces all over the room. Not exactly mature I know. Then I burst into tears when my husband heard the ruckus and came to see if I was ok. Of course, none of this really had anything to do with the puzzle.

When I was a kid, meltdowns were worse in many ways. I would sob so uncontrollably I would start to hyperventilate. No matter how hard I tried to calm myself down, I couldn’t until it was over. I would also often scream at people who made me mad and if they didn’t live with me, I would throw them off my property. Not the nicest I know and I’m sure glad at least I did outgrow that! By my teen years I had calmed down some and didn’t have as many meltdowns. The ones I remember most during those years were related to Algebra. I was not good at Algebra – in fact, I hated it. Partly because I saw absolutely no point in learning it (and still don’t honestly). When I would get really frustrated with my algebra homework I would often throw the textbook on the floor and stomp on it over and over or just throw it around the room. That kind of makes me laugh now, but back then it wasn’t funny, it was incredibly frustrating.

Luckily, as an adult, the meltdowns have become relatively rare. However, it does still happen if all of the stars align just right, bringing the wrong circumstances together at the wrong time. Luckily I never have been (and hope I never will be) physically violent. When I do have these occasional meltdowns, I can see why Asperger’s is often misdiagnosed as bipolar or some other kind of mood disorder. Having an older sister and a mother who are bipolar, I have seen that there can be many similarities between bipolar meltdowns and high-functioning autistic meltdowns. I consider myself lucky that I don’t have meltdowns as frequently as my bipolar relatives though.

Unfortunately, I think meltdowns will likely always be a part of the autistic life, but I do want to give both parents and high-functioning autistic kids some hope by saying they do sometimes get better and less frequent with age. Of course, it is important to remember that all autistic people are different and meltdowns can manifest in many different forms and can range from mild to severe. Often I don’t even know at first what is triggering a meltdown, but it is usually a lot more than what is happening on the surface. I know that my husband will probably never understand why I seem to have meltdowns over things like not being able to do a pilates exercise the right way or because I can’t figure out how to change the color of something on my laptop…but that is just me. It is a part of who I am rather I like it or not, so I guess I might as well accept it and learn to deal with it. Luckily, I receive a lot of love and understanding when dealing with these issues. I wish the same was true for every autistic person, because that support can make a world of difference.

A Sad Tribute to Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Last weekend my husband and I visited the Paul Laurence Dunbar House here in Dayton, Ohio. Being a poet myself I have wanted to check out the historical site for a while. When we arrived, I was happy to see quite a few others there, including several kids. I noticed that we were the only “white” people there (other than the tour guide), but I hoped that was just coincidence and didn’t mean that people from different ethnic backgrounds ignored this part of history. I have noticed over the years that many people tend to only care about the history of their particular heritage, which I find sad. There is so much to be learned by experiencing different cultures and studying the lives of people from all kinds of backgrounds.

Before we toured Paul’s house, we all watched a mini documentary on the life and times of Paul Laurence Dunbar. As the film went on, I began to feel worse and worse. They talked about how Paul was highly educated for his time, even becoming class president and the founding editor of his high school newspaper, but was still denied jobs in the fields he studied, because as they put it, “an uneducated white man was still considered better than an educated negro”. Paul eventually had to take a lowly job as an elevator operator. They went on to explain how even though Paul did eventually gain some notoriety as a poet, he was truly saddened because the public refused to notice his deeper, more thoughtful poems written in standard English and instead only celebrated the lighthearted ethnic “dialect” poetry. Even worse, they used his poems to back up their belief that African Americans were not as smart or important as “white folks” and even worse, that they had actually enjoyed being slaves.

When we walked over to the house, the tour guide explained that Paul and his family were the first African Americans to move into this nicer part of town (much to the dismay of some in the neighborhood). Most of the people of his race were forced to live in the “ghetto” in little shanty homes that were nothing more than thrown together huts. As I listened to all this I looked at the faces of the sweet, innocent kids around me. I felt awful that they have to live in a world where this kind of prejudice once existed (and still exists), even if the circumstances have gotten better since Paul’s day. I know it isn’t my fault and that I didn’t cause it, but I felt awful that my ancestors were likely a part of the society that so mistreated (and continues to mistreat) an entire race of people.

I could write about some of the other unfair things that were talked about, like the Dunbar family’s slavery background or how African Americans soldiers were considered “good to stop a bullet” but not good enough to be appreciated…however, I think a few of Paul’s words capture the frustration and unfairness best -

I know why the caged bird beats his wing

Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;

For he must fly back to his perch and cling

When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;

And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars

And they pulse again with a keener sting -

I know why he beats his wing!

NEW paperback version of popular foster care book “From Both Sides”

From Both Sides Cover

I am proud to announce that I have just released a NEW paperback version of my free verse memoir ebook about foster care entitled “From Both Sides, A Look into the World of Foster Care From Those Who Know it Best”. I have gotten quite a bit of positive feedback about the ebook, mostly from current or former foster youth and foster parents. Some of them have requested that I release the title in traditional book form so I finally decided to do just that!

For a little bit of background, this book is actually written from two different perspectives. The first half of the book is written from the point of view of children in foster care. The latter half of the book is written from the point of view of foster parents. While writing this book, I used my own experiences as a foster parent, as well as the experiences of many current & former foster children and other foster parents. Many of these poems were inspired by things that were told to me while I did these confidential interviews. The result is a book that tries to be brutally honest and create further understanding of the many struggles, frustrations and occasional joys that go along with the foster care experience.

I wrote the book in free verse style because I think that makes the emotional impact of the messages it contains stronger. It is almost like reading a diary or journal in some ways because it is so deeply personal. Writing in free verse also made it a short, simple book which I figured may make it easier for teens in foster care to read. I know many times it can be hard to get a good education while being moved around in foster care, so foster kids may sometimes struggle with reading. The book does contain some more mature material, so it is recommended for ages 12 and up.

If you haven’t checked this book out already, I hope you will! It is currently available from Amazon for only $5.39! It is still available in Kindle version too for only $2.99.

PS…I am looking for ways to promote this new book, so if you happen to have a website/blog or some other public platform and would like to feature me or this book in any way, feel free to contact me (contact information can be found on the “About Me” page of this website).

How I wish there were sensory friendly hospitals!

hospital
Recently I was admitted into the hospital after two trips to the ER in the same day. At the first ER visit they decided I just had a virus, but when I got home I got much sicker, so sick that when my husband was ready to take me to the ER again, I couldn’t walk on my own and even collapsed in our foyer on the way out. At this second ER visit they noticed my pancreatic enzyme levels were through the roof, so they admitted me for pancreatitis. Once admitted, after more testing, they realized I had colitis and a nasty case of C Diff (an intestinal infection) as well. So unfortunately, I ended up staying there three days.

This was my first time being hospitalized since I was 10. Back then I was hospitalized for one night after being hit by a delivery truck while crossing the road. I sustained some internal bleeding and nerve damage from that accident, but was extremely fortunate to walk again as the doctors told me several times. I don’t remember much of that first sleepover in the hospital except that I hated the IV, got to eat lots of popsicles and had my mom room with me for the night because I screamed bloody murder every time she would try to leave.

This last hospital stay I definitely remember well though. And at times I thought I was going to lose my Aspie mind there. Hospitals truly are sensory hell for us autistics. The constant beeping noises may have been the worst thing, especially the machines attached to me that would beep loudly and relentlessly every so often (and it always seemed to take way too long for someone to come turn them off, even though I knew they were busy). I could hear other patients’ machines beeping too, as well as the noise of everyone watching tv and talking in the hallway. That kind of constant stimulation is not pleasant at all for those of us sensitive to it.

In addition to the noise, there was the unpleasantness of fluorescent lighting everywhere (which is a trigger for many autistics and can give us severe headaches or migraines and make us dizzy and nauseated if exposed for long). Next, you can add the physical discomfort of being hooked up to things. Now, I know that I had to be attached to an IV because I was extremely dehydrated and needed IV drugs, so even though that was extremely uncomfortable (and I really wish they hadn’t put the needle in the crook of my elbow) I dealt with it and didn’t complain. However, when they came in to hook me up to a heart monitor and told me themselves there was no real reason to do so, I was irritated. Eventually I just told them to remove it, that I was refusing to wear it. I was kind about it and they totally understood since none of them knew why I needed one at the time.

Another thing I hated about the hospital is the fact that no one lets you sleep. I was constantly woke up for more shots, blood tests, equipment going off, people being loud, etc. It is enough to drive you crazy! Sleeping in those hospital beds is also extremely uncomfortable if you are a side or stomach sleeper (as I am).

Of course, I do realize that some of these things can’t be avoided. Medicine is necessary and so are machines and tests at times. However, I do wish there were hospitals made especially for people with sensory issues. Maybe some that do a better job of limiting noise and avoided hooking you up to stuff you don’t need. Maybe other kinds of lighting in rooms for those with autism or sensory processing disorders. I know I’m probably dreaming here and that the funding is seriously lacking, but it sure would be nice. Being in the hospital is hard enough for us Aspies just because it is so out of routine and nothing is familiar there, adding all this extra sensory stress can’t be good and I doubt it is conducive to healing.

Maleficent movie review – Disney keeps heading in a good direction

Angelina Jolie in "Maleficent"

Angelina Jolie in “Maleficent”

Recently I went to see Disney’s new film “Maleficent”. At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see it because I have never been an Angelina Jolie fan, but the movie pleasantly surprised me. I love the backstory – getting to see Maleficent’s childhood and why she grew up to be a “villain”. I have always adored stories of revenge and redemption, and Maleficent definitely fits into that category.

Probably my favorite thing about the movie though is that Disney continued their recent trend of not relying on the prince to “save the day” or to save the “poor defenseless female”. Looks like Disney finally has caught on that many women and little girls want to be strong, independent, feminine and loved all at the same time.

Like “Brave” and “Frozen”, “Maleficent” features love that is both redeeming and sacrificial…but it isn’t a romantic love relationship that appears the strongest. In “Brave”, the most important love relationship throughout the movie was Merida’s relationship with her mother. In “Frozen”, the love of sisters took center stage. I won’t spoil “Maleficent” by revealing too much, but once again, it is not romantic love that saves the day. I am so thrilled to see that other loving relationships are finally getting the attention they deserve. I have nothing against romantic love, I am happily married myself. But I have always believed that other kinds of love can be just as strong, if not stronger. Acts of true love between family members, friends, pets and occasionally even strangers can make as much of an impact on a life as any romantic relationship.

I hope that Disney continues to explore love in all its many forms. As for “Maleficent”, if you haven’t seen it yet, I would definitely recommend it. It is surprisingly sweet and funny, with good acting and lovely visual effects. Know that it does not follow the earlier Disney version of Sleeping Beauty exactly, but it is an interesting and magical story on its own. Don’t think of it as “replacing” the old classic, but instead, just telling another side of the story.

Why I would not go to a Michael Jackson hologram concert

Michael's hologram performing on the Billboard Music Awards.

Michael’s hologram performing on the Billboard Music Awards.

Did you see the Michael Jackson hologram perform on the Billboard Music Awards a few weeks ago? Sounds like now they are thinking about taking the hologram out to do worldwide concerts. However, I will not be one going to see it. Why?

Well, first off, let me explain a few things. I am a HUGE Michael Jackson fan and have been since I was little. He was probably one of my first Aspie obsessions, after Sesame Street and My Little Pony. I love many things about him. His voice, his unique sense of style, his love for children and child-like things, his desire for world peace and harmony, his generous and charitable heart, his incredible dancing, his drawings and writings…and lots more.

Now, that does not mean I am blind to his flaws as well. He could be immature and did seem to lack common sense in many areas. He definitely lacked some idea of correct boundaries and what was socially acceptable. He was stubborn and didn’t want to listen to reason sometimes. Many have hypothesized that he may have had Asperger’s Syndrome. I tend to agree. He definitely had the obsessive interests, “eccentric” behaviors, the social awkwardness, extreme loneliness, the emotional immaturity and naivety, the habit of stimming when nervous (like in interviews), the tendency to make friends with those much younger or older rather than his own age group and the savant talents that some Aspies are said to have. Personally, I do not believe he was a child molester, but that is another subject entirely.

Anyhow, now that I have explained my feelings about Michael, let’s get back to the hologram. Why would I not want to see Michael Jackson’s hologram concert? After all, it might be my only chance to ever see him “live”…however, that is the problem. It would not be “live”. No matter how great technology is, it can never bring back the essence of someone who has gone. Yeah, they can mimic his old movements and expressions, but it will always lack the magic that he could create on stage. There will be no new creativity. No new moves. No improvisation. There will be no growth as an artist and person. The very thing that made Michael who he was would be lacking.

I know that many people want to bring great musicians back to life. I wouldn’t be surprised if soon there were Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Freddie Mercury and other famous holograms giving concerts. However, I feel that in a sense we should feel a loss when the truly talented die. Rather than trying to recreate them electronically, we should treasure what they left behind and introduce that to the next generation. We should realize that truly exceptional talents don’t come around everyday and that they aren’t so easily replaced. Doesn’t it seem likely that Michael (or any of the other great performers who died too young) would rather be remembered and sincerely missed than to be artificially recreated?

Book Review – ‘The Misadventures of Edgar & Allan Poe’ middle grade series

Misadventures of Edgar & Allan Poe

It has been quite a while since I posted a book review, but I just love this new series so much I had to share my thoughts about it! So far, “The Misadventures of Edgar & Allan Poe” book series (written by Gordon McAlpine and illustrated by Sam Zuppardi) consists of two published books. The first volume is entitled “The Tell-Tale Start” and the second is called “Once Upon a Midnight Eerie”. As you can probably tell already, the author loves a good play on words (as do I!).

I was initially drawn to this middle grade (ages 8+) children’s series while browsing the children’s department at Barnes & Noble. The cover and title of the first book immediately captured my attention because I have always loved Edgar Allan Poe. When I studied the book further, I found the premise quite original. To sum it up, the books revolve around Edgar and Allan Poe, twelve-year old identical twins who also happen to be the great-great-great-great-grandnephews of the famous horror/mystery author. One thing that makes these twins unusual (and help creates some of the drama) is that the boys have a telepathic communication ability and pretty much function as one person. In both books, there are significant threats to the lives of both main characters, so it is full of action, suspense and a touch of morbid humor for kids who like that kind of thing. Of course, since it is a middle grade series, Edgar & Allan always manage to foil their enemies and survive.

I think the best thing about this book series though are the parts where you get to see Edgar Allan Poe himself in the “great beyond”. It is hilarious to see our poor Poe having to work for the seemingly grumpy and narcissistic William Shakespeare in heaven. Poe constantly finds himself in trouble in heaven because he is always breaking the rules to interfere in the lives of his nephews on earth. Of course, being in trouble is nothing new to Poe, seeing as he was quite used to it during his earthly life. I also love how in the second book, Edgar and Allan are joined by a pair of twin girls named “Em” and “Milly” Dickinson, who happen to be the great-great-great-great-grandnieces of the famous spinster poet Emily Dickinson (more name puns there). I look forward to seeing which other literary greats (and their descendants) may be written into the story in the future.

I realize that not all adults like to read children’s books like I do, but I hope that if you have kids in the middle grade age range you will have them check out this series and see if they like it. I am hoping it will become popular enough to go on for quite a while because I want to keep reading it!

Abstract Art Kick – Delving into the Dark

Lately, I’ve been on an abstract art kick. For several reasons. The first and foremost reason is probably because abstract art is just pure fun! It often feels more like playing than work. It is a great way to rediscover that childhood sense of wonder and vivid imagination that we all once had but may have left behind.

It can also be a low pressure way to try new things. With abstract art you don’t have to worry as much about whether it turns out good or not. Even if it does turn out badly, just put some more paint on and keep reworking it! I’ve done that myself quite a few times and ironically, those “bad” artworks often turn out to be some of my most popular pieces. Go figure.

Lastly, I believe I am drawn to abstract art because I find it to be the most efficient way to express deep emotions and feelings in a way that transcends simple, realistic imagery. With abstract art I find it easier to delve into subjects like depression, anxiety, rejection, anger, hurt and fear. For some reason I find that the happier emotions can be easily expressed using realistic or figurative art, but the seedier side of life and human feelings can be harder to portray. And to be quite honest, I’ve always been fascinated by the dark side…even though I strive to live in the light as much as possible.

Here are a few of my recent abstract paintings, hopefully they make you feel something. If they succeed in doing that, than I feel like I have done my job as an artist -

"The River of Envy", acrylic 5.5" x 8.5"

“The River of Envy”, acrylic 5.5″ x 8.5″

"Quick to Turn Away", acrylic 5.5" x 8.5"

“Quick to Turn Away”, acrylic 5.5″ x 8.5″

"Deep Space Abstract", acrylic 5.5" x 8.5"

“Deep Space Abstract”, acrylic 5.5″ x 8.5″

"Floating Through Life", acrylic 5.5" x 8.5"

“Floating Through Life”, acrylic 5.5″ x 8.5″

Seeing kindness, sacrifice and love in a Wendy’s dining room

Image

“Simply Love”, watercolor 6″ x 8″

I must look like an approachable person, because I often get random strangers coming up to me and starting the oddest conversations or just saying random things out of the blue. This often happens when I am having lunch at a fast food restaurant for some reason. I have had strangers come up to me and say all kinds of things, from the construction workers at Arby’s who accused me of skipping school and wouldn’t leave me alone until I showed them some ID, to the elderly man at McDonald’s who came up to me and said that he just had to tell me that I was “one of the most beautiful girls he had ever seen in person” (I must admit when he said that I thought he might need new glasses lol). I’ve had other strangers start random conversations with me about religion, politics, food, cats…and lots of other stuff I just don’t remember right now.

However, today’s chance encounter at Wendy’s was even odder than many in the past. I was sitting in the Wendy’s dining room, eating my french fries and working on puzzles in my word games book, when I noticed someone standing over me. I looked up to find an older African American gentleman who was dressed a little eccentrically (he had thick chains hung in an X shape on his chest over an old faded rock t-shirt). He handed me a quarter, smiled and walked away. I looked at the quarter and at his back – a little confused. Never had a stranger just walked up and handed me a quarter unless I had dropped one or left it laying somewhere. A few minutes later, I noticed him standing over me again. “Are you a school girl?” he asked. “No, I graduated,” I answered (not bothering to say that I had graduated about 13 years ago). He handed me another quarter. I thanked him and told him he was very kind and he smiled and walked away again.

A few minutes later, I was about to throw the rest of my food away (just some leftover fries) when he stopped me and asked if I was going to throw the fries away. I answered yes and he asked if he could have them. I started to hand them over, when another man (a Caucasian businessman from the looks of him) overheard our conversation and asked the elderly man if he had any money for food. “I had fifty cents, but I knew that wasn’t enough to buy anything to eat, so I thought I would give it to this sweet young lady in case she needed it,” he answered.

I was a little stunned by the whole exchange and not sure what to say, but the businessman jumped up immediately and took the old guy up to the counter to get him some lunch. I looked at the quarters and realized that even though I had wondered why anyone would give a stranger two quarters, that this had been all the man had to offer and he had wanted to give me something as a gesture of kindness. I thanked the businessman for his kindness to the elderly man and headed out for my doctor’s appointment which was next door. When I told my doctor about the encounter, he was pretty sure that he knew the older man. He explained that the man lived nearby and had some mild to moderate mental disabilities. You just never know who you will meet in this world or how they will impact your day.