My new book club and the mysteries of the human mind

homer-and-langley

Recently I joined a book club. I’ve always wanted to belong to a book club, but have just been too lazy and antisocial to do much about it. Finally, I got up the motivation to attend a book club meeting at my local library. I chose this particular group because I like the fact that they read current and classic novels and that they read a wide variety of genres, which will hopefully help keep me from getting too bored.

Today was the second meeting that I have attended. I am probably the youngest member by at least 25 years, but I don’t mind. I’ve always tended to bond better with people older or younger than myself anyhow (a common Aspie trait from what I understand). The book we were discussing today was last month’s read, a novel entitled “Homer & Langley” by E.L. Doctorow. As we debated points about the book, we turned to the subject of the lead character, Homer. Homer happens to be blind and the book discusses how he has a special kind of “spatial awareness” and can tell where furniture and other things are located just by sensing them.

We happen to have a woman in the book club who has been blind from birth, so we asked her about this whole “spatial awareness” idea. She explained that she believes it does happen, because she herself can sense where things are by hearing sounds vibrate or bounce off of objects around her. This idea intrigued me because it sounds a lot like the process of echolocation, which is commonly associated with bats and dolphins. Thinking about this made me wonder what other latent abilities we humans may have that we don’t notice or develop because we don’t need them to survive. The human brain is always amazing, but it is also a mysterious thing.

By the way, one other thing about this lady really caught my attention. She hadn’t been there last week, so this was my first time meeting her. I never guessed that she was completely blind until she herself confirmed it. After she shared this fact, I looked at her and was impressed by how colorful and coordinated she was for someone who had never been able to see. She wore perfectly matching clothes, with matching jewelry and even had matching fingernail & toe polish! She looked more put together than I ever do! I wondered why someone would put so much effort into little visual details that they themselves couldn’t even see. I never really came up with an answer, other than maybe the female desire to look attractive still exists even if we can never see ourselves. I guess that is yet another fascinating mystery of the human mind for me to contemplate.

I don’t know this lady well enough yet to form a complete view of her personality and lifestyle, but I look forward to getting to know her and the rest of the book club. Perhaps I’ll even discover some new things about myself along the way.

Guest Blog: The Lighter Side of Foster Care by author Maranda Russell

marandarussell:

Check out my guest blog post for this great website!

Originally posted on A Woman's Wisdom:

550625_430016483699383_966475502_n

In the past, I have shared the frustrations, problems and emotional damage that the foster care system can cause in some of my other writings, so when I was given the opportunity to do this guest blog post, I decided to focus on the funnier, more heart-warming moments I experienced during the years I was a foster parent. I use the past tense because I had to give up being a foster parent about a year ago due to some severe autoimmune issues that I am still fighting today. It was a tough decision to give up fostering because I truly love the kids and want to help them. My hope is that now perhaps I can still help foster children through my writing by drawing attention to the issues they face and the joys they bring.

When my husband and I first became foster parents, we had absolutely no…

View original 1,952 more words

Those magical little moments that make life worthwhile

my-one-line-a-day

For the last few days, my husband and I have been out of town, attempting to squeeze in a little vacation before summer ends. We didn’t go too far away from home, just enough to see some new sights and break up the monotony of our normal routine. While away, I bought a new book entitled “My One Line A Day”. The book is similar to a journal or diary but is set up a little differently. Each day for the next three years, I am supposed to write one line about my day in the appointed spaces in the book, leaving an interesting record to keep and reflect on after the three years are over. Honestly, I’m not sure if I will remember to write every single day, but I figured since I only had to write one line every day, that I could hopefully handle that.

I am currently on my third day writing in the book and I have noticed something interesting. First of all, it can be hard to sum up an entire day in one or two sentences! For this reason, I have decided to focus on the “highlight” or “happiest” thing I remember from each day. Interestingly, I have found that the highlights I remember are not the big things. What made me happiest the last few days wasn’t the tourist attractions, the big events or acquiring new “stuff”. Instead, I wrote about spotting a snapping turtle in a tiny runoff from a nearby creek and feeding sparrows bits of my bagel at an outdoor café. I haven’t written my line for today yet, but again I think it will probably be one of the smaller things, such as seeing my cats again after being away for several days or the delicious decadence of enjoying a chocolate covered strawberry.

I am definitely interested to see how this little project keeps going over time. It is amazing when you truly pause to think about what made you happiest on a particular day. I would encourage everyone to try something similar and see what you come up with. You may be surprised to find out what brings you the most joy and what doesn’t seem to matter that much at all by the end of the day. If you want to get one of these books for yourself to chronicle your next three years, you may be able to pick one up at your local bookstore or you can order one from Amazon or another online retailer.

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?