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Friday, October 31, 2014

The Pursuit of the Perfect Presentation

Have I mentioned I'm a perfectionist? I think I have and when it comes to presenting I take everything beyond serious. Actually, whilst presenting, I'm analyzing everything I'm doing which all in all probably isn't a good thing because I'm always aware that I have fallen short in my pursuit for perfection. 

This perfect presentation is about as cherished as a perfect game pitched in the World Series. Regardless of the reception I get I always think of that one line, or that one point I wanted to make and didn't. This, actually, is tough to live with because I never feel content on what I did but only see what I didn't do. I feel this is one of the essences of having Asperger's. 

I've come close to perfection several times, specifically at school presentations, but always there's just one thing I feel I could do better. Yes, this is difficult to live with but at the same time this is what motivates me to keep going and to keep refining my craft. If I accepted the way I presented when I began I'd be rather bland and would not have developed the way I have. So in a way this is good and bad. It's bad because feeling satisfaction is difficult which can lead to a high level of frustration because perfectionist easy to ascertain. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Excited

Not much to write today other than I'm getting closer to filming my upcoming YouTube series. I've had the script done for a while now but it's going to be an unique experiencing filming in front of the camera. I know I can do it from when I limed the blue wave video earlier this year, but at the same time it's going to be different because with that I used a TelePrompTer but this series is going to be done with a script outline but also improved. It's should be good and I can't wait until you get to see it. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Umbrella Fail

A little over a month ago I had a presentation in one of the tall buildings in downtown Saint Louis. It was an early morning presentation which I have noted that, one more than one occasion, I am not a morning person. Anyway, it was a rainy morning, downpouring actually, and I walked to my car from my house without a second thought, or even a first thought, of an umbrella.

I pulled away from my house and got a mile or so away when I realized I'd have to probably walk at least a block or two to get to the building and it wouldn't look so great if I walked in to the place I was presenting if I were completely soaked. However, I didn't bring an umbrella so this was going to be an unavoidable fact.

When I got to the parking garage I even posted on Facebook something along the lines of, "Guess who didn't bring an umbrella even though it's raining hard? That's right, me!" I waited for the rain to let up and it didn't, but thankfully the way the winds were blowing there was some protection provided by the tall buildings so I didn't get absolutely soaked.

Now, why am I telling you a story from over a month ago about my inability to bring an umbrella with me? Actually, as I found out last week, I did have an umbrella with me; three to be exact. You see, I was so confident that I had failed because I didn't bring an umbrella I didn't even look in my car for them. I mentioned I had three and they were all out, clear as day, on my back seat but, since I accepted that I had failed, I didn't even look.

This is such a great example of things in my life where I accepted failure in advance of the fact. The fail-set mindset is something I've struggled with in my life which that is, "if I've failed once, and then failed the 2nd time I am assured failure will always be the outcome no matter how much I try." That being said I typically will forget an umbrella and with that being said I didn't even look for one.

It was shocking to see that I had three umbrellas in my back seat just sitting there waiting to be used. I could have stayed dry on that day and would have had a choice on which umbrella to use. But, since I was so sure that I didn't have one, I didn't even make the effort. This event can be played out in many different ways but, since I was sure of failure, the effort wasn't made. I'm to quick to accept the worst case, to accept failure, and to accept the fact that there's nothing I can do about something. This, for me, is the way the fail set plays out and it's difficult to just not think this way. It comes naturally to accept failure to the point of not even trying even if it is something as small as wondering if there was an umbrella in my car.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Not So Typical Week

Since this is only my 2nd post of the week I feel I need to give you a rundown of the week because it was most interesting (at least to me, no guarantee you'll find it interesting) and it started Sunday night.

For three weeks now I've had moderate to severe foot pain and I'm not sure what the cause was. It could have been the incident at the race track, might just be natural, but whatever it was I went to go get it looked at Sunday night at an urgent care place as I wanted to make sure that whatever it was, it'd be better by next month's Supernats in Vegas.

Some X-rays were taken in fears that it could be a small stress fracture and thankfully there was none, but from what I described the doctor diagnosed it as Plantar fasciitis and asked if I minded having a really big needle stuck into my foot. Without waiting for my answer he got the needle ready and for myself, it was a no brainer because next month for the five day race I'll standing and flagging for over 50 hours.

The cortisone shot got ready and as big as the needle was it didn't hurt anywhere as bad as other shots I've had (the yellow fever vaccination I had in 2005 was awful) at the time but as the night wore on my foot felt like a watermelon and I couldn't put any weight on it. No problem, I could rest, right? Well, resting in terms of sleep became impossible as my brain began to rush. I didn't know the cause and midnight turned into 1 turned into 2 and around three, and the fifth time I attempted to go to sleep but to no avail I looked up on the internet and other people claimed to have had sleep issues after getting a cortisone shot. Now whether or not that was the cause I don't know. As you probably know, I don't put too much faith in what the internet says regarding things medical, but whatever the cause I've never been so wired, focused, and not tired and 6 A.M. ever. It was downright awful!

Finally, somewhere in the 7 o'clock hour I got to sleep and it was nice, peaceful, 90 minute rest and then I was wide awake yet again. It was rather unsettling to be so awake knowing that I should be tired. I stayed wide awake all the way until the third game of bowling in league that night when I hit the proverbial wall and my body said, "no more."

I may have been wide awake but I couldn't do anything useful with it as I was rather tense and stressing about everything. I started writing a blog no less than a dozen times on Monday and never could get into the writer's mindset hence why the blog was dark on Monday.

Tuesday was a busy day as I drove to Park Hills, Missouri to deliver a C.I.T. presentation to over 20 police officers and from there I drove to Joplin as on Wednesday I would be returning to Nevada, Missouri (for those of you outside Missouri the town name is NOT pronounced like the state. It's pronounced Ne-vay-da and should you not say it this way someone will let you know you said it the wrong way. Missouri has more towns like this than I can even care to count and I've been corrected more times than I care to remember) and I was nervous. My blog earlier this week talked about being nervous returning to a couple schools I had just presented at 14 months prior.

It was rather neat, though, on how I got invited back down. Earlier this year there was a dance competition in Nevada and a couple that was in it used the money raised to get me to come back down. This was a huge honor for me and because of this I didn't want to disappoint even though I was so nervous before my first presentation of the day.



The morning presentation was, by my standards, shaky. Nobody else picked up on my nerves but I fought through them and that first presentation, pictured above, was big as it put me over 10,000 people spoken to for the year.

Later in the day I spoke at the middleschool and I felt a lot more confident for some unknown reason and I feel that this presentation was one of my strongest school presentations to date. On top of that the questions the kids asked were, as always, amazing and I keep getting asked more and more technical questions from kids so I'm going to have to do a better job staying up on research because, well, middleschoolers are reading a bunch of research papers as I'm finding out.

That evening I was back at the high school and I had an open to the public presentation which about 50 people attending which was a healthy number considering that parent teacher conferences were going on and game two of the World Series involving the Kansas City Royals was being contested. After the presentation I was given one of the most profound compliments and yet at the same time it was words of, well, I don't know how to exactly describe it.

So this compliment/something else was this. This person came up and told me, "Aaron, that was the most fantastic presentation I have ever seen and the best explanation of Asperger's I've ever heard. Should you ever quit what you are doing you will be doing a disservice to every person on the autism spectrum."

There are moments where the scope of what I am doing hits me, and when I was told this that was one of those moments. I lose track of the impact and I feel this is perfect because if I was fully aware, or I let myself feel what I was doing, the pressure would be unbearable. Being reminded every so often, however, is something I need because I do get frustrated with myself. I often wonder what I can do to write a better blog, to get my 2nd book published, and to reach bigger audiences. 

So that was my week and it will be a week to remember. The evening presentation in Nevada was my 100th of the year, 570th overall, and I'm now just 724 people away from reaching the unimaginable milestone of 50,000 total! I still can't believe this is my job, career, and passion and while the title of this post is, "A not so typical week" it would seem this is, actually, just another typical week in the life of an autism ambassador.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Going Back to School... And I'm Nervous

I've got a full day of presentations coming up and I'm closing in on five complete years of being a presenter but today's presentation has me nervous. I don't typically get nervous but this is an unique set of circumstances as I'm going back to the schools in Nevada, Missouri.

What do I mean with, "going back?" This wonderful photo to the side was taken last September when I was at the schools there but I was such a hit that I got invited back. And that's the thing; I'm going back.

My school presentation, if you haven't seen it, is only about 25 minutes long and the rest of the time is open for questions. That being said I also have to say that it actually makes me nervous for people to see me a second time. I don't know why that is and I've had several parents come to five or more presentations. I do have to add that, if you have been to a presentation before, please don't let this comment stop you from coming. This issue I have is with myself as I have always hated to repeat myself and today I'll be repeating myself twice. Sure, more students have come to the school and students have moved up, but the majority will have already heard me.

How long have I been fearing this? I've known about this since April but I did get a boost of morale a few weeks ago when I presented at Parkway West Middle School in the Saint Louis area and a bunch of students had seen me present at Mason Ridge Elementary just several months prior. This brought about a sense of dread going in but the questions segment students asked about stories that were omitted, or asked questions to get to the stories that can only be given if the right question is asked. Afterwards there was no sense of, "Oh, why did we set through this again" as I fear. Oh, yeah, that's my fear. My greatest fear is to bore the audience and if someone has heard me once I am sure I will bore them the next time. That's just the way my brain works. Perhaps this is because if I've watched something once it's hard to watch again (unless it's stupendously amazing) therefore I know/assume everyone else operates under the same system.

I guess it's good to be knocked out of my comfort zone every once in a while. Now, next time I am out of my comfort zone please don't say I said it was a good thing, but on my way down to the area yesterday I thought of different ways, or different stories I could use in my presentation to speak the same points but with different stories to further the understanding. I'll see how that works out, but today also is a big day as I will exceed 10,000 people spoken to in the calendar year of 2014 so even though I'm nervous there is a small part of me with a slight smile as another milestone year has been achieved.
 
 
 
 

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Season's End, Then and Now

I originally came up with this blog post idea on Sunday, October 5th in the morning during the USAC .25 race I was working but the incident that found its way to me changed my writing schedule. That being said I originally wanted to write this on the plane ride home which would have made the format awesome, but hopefully I can still make this worthwhile...

It's the final weekend of my race season, 2005, and I'm at a loss. The only thing that has kept me going this year has been these 11 events at I-55 raceway with the Saint Louis Karting Association. It hasn't been the best of years for myself. I'm jobless, have had more misadventures than I care to recount, and the future is bleak.

I sit here in my office now awaiting the final race weekend of 2014. What a season it has been! I haven't just flagged one series in completetion but two! The USAC .25 schedule wrapped up two Sundays ago and the SKUSA Pro Tour will wrap up with the biggest event I work all year next month.

As the sun sets and the final checkered flag flies on the SLKA season I feel a sense of dread. For me, I feel as if this is the last race I will ever flag. With club elections how can I guarantee that my services will be required next season? After all, everyone is replaceable. I surely hope this wasn't my last race.

Today I look forward. Where will next season take me? Sure, this season isn't quite over yet, but there's the thrill of what next season will bring. Where will the events be? Will the Blue Wave be bigger in April? Can I come up with an excuse to introduce yet another new flag to my arsenal of flags?

I can't let this day end. I truly can't. I take my time rolling my flags up and making the walk from the finish line to the pits. To make this day last longer I decide to do something I haven't done all season, or ever actually. I decide to hang around and talk. I feel very much out of place and it shows. Socializing is not my thing, at all, and the EMT I think notices this and he asks if I want to help do a little clean up and then park the golf carts in the garage. I agree.

This has been my 20th season of being in the flag business and each event I do now I cherish. At the end of each event, as I roll my flags up, I have a feeling I think an artist would have after finishing a work of art, or a conductor of an orchestra after a perfect production. Unlike a decade ago I don't have the fear of socializing after an event. It's been an odd progression, but I know if it weren't for becoming the SKUSA flagman in 2008 and the USAC .25 flagman in 2010 that I wouldn't have 10% of the socializing skills I have and I would be nowhere near the presenter I am today.

The sun is now beyond the horizon as the EMT and I finishing up cleaning the grounds and the realization that this is it; the season is now over. There will be no "next race" and nothing to look forward to. I feel as if this is it; this is the end of everything I've loved. I park the golf cart in the grid area to soak in the final moments of what has been an amazing run, now my 10th year of flagging, but this is it. It's over. The final trailers are pulling out and the headlights of the cars which had been leaving have left which the few lights were there are gone making the place pitch black dark. A perfect description for how I feel.

I still fear that each race I do will be my last race. Stuff can happen and who knows, I may smash my hand with a bowling ball or, well, things can happen and I worry that, with leaving each track I do doing a year, I fear that this was it. Even after 20 seasons I still feel the rush, and childlike giddiness, when I arrive to a track. Maybe when I don't feel this it's time to retire from flagging, but I still do and with each year it seems to get stronger.

It's time now. I drive the golf cart towards the garage on the far side of the property and there's maybe just a handful of people left whereas just hours prior there were over 120 drivers and countless more spectators, crews, parents, and workers. It's rather cold know which has made the tears all the more bitter. I walk slowly to my car knowing for certain that this will be my last footsteps on the grounds of a race track ever. And why shouldn't I feel this? Everything in my life has fallen apart and just over a year ago I got this diagnosis of Asperger's which all but eliminates me from ever having anything remotely considered a life so I'm sure that losing the SLKA flagging job will just continue the streak of unfortunate things that will happen to me. After those thoughts I get into my car, close the door, start the engine, and leave the only place that has made me happy for the entire year of 2005.

What a difference nine years can make, right? In 2005 I was hopeless and flagging was the only thing I had outside of the random writing that I was doing but I was sure that wasn't going to lead to anything. Oddly, it was those writings that became my book Finding Kansas and even though I was in the worst emotional crisis of my life the seeds of hope were being planted even though I was oblivious to it. As it would turn out, I would be invited to flag in 2006 and not only that, in one of the biggest events that shaped who I would become, I got elected as race director AND also because flagger/race director of a regional series AND I became the writer of the press releases and race recaps.

This was an easy blog to write, in terms of writing as if it were 2005 because I relive that night frequently. It's hard to explain, unless you've felt it, what losing something you have enjoyed doing your entire life. That's where I was in 2005 and it was partly the flagging but also the fact that EVERYTHING in my life had fallen apart. I don't know what I would've done if I didn't have the 11 weekends spread out across 2005, but the feelings of that day still resonate to this day and fuels what I'm doing both with flagging and presenting. I find it so odd that I went from feeling hopeless and proclaiming to all the people I didn't know that life was hopeless and now I'm out in the world proclaiming that there is always hope. Life has so many twists and unique turns, but on the ride home I thought about how awful the future was going to be. I don't like admitting I'm wrong (because I'm never wrong) but that evening I was and any other time I thought all was lost I was wrong and thank goodness I was!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

3 Years...

Today is a sad day as it was three years ago today Dan Wheldon's life came to a premature end in a race in Las Vegas. I was there that day and the images are something I wish I could forget. I think back to that day a lot; not by choice but when one sees something like that it's hard to forget. It's somewhat harder this year, for me, because of the timing of a presentation.

First, I didn't know Dan, I never talked to Dan, and the only communication I ever had with him was through my flags at the SKUSA Supernats in 2008, 2009, and 2010 so I can't imagine how hard it is for people that actually knew him. That being said, anniversaries like this are hard for me regardless how well I knew a person because of my associative memory system and last night I presented at the Special School District which was my last presentation and last thing I did in Saint Louis before Rob, my friend from Vancouver, and I hit the road to Las Vegas.

I've presented at SSD each year since I began and each year since 2011, when the presentation is over and I head out to my car, I can recall the thrilling excitement of the drive at hand. It was 9PM and Rob and I had to be in Vegas within 34 hours which meant no hotel a straight drive. I took the first leg which was to Kansas City then I, knowing Kansas all too well, went to sleep and let him tackle the vast expanse of blandness that is I-70 through Kansas. He still reminds me of this to this day that he certainly got the short end of the stick on that one. It was a thrilling experience I think a lot of twentysomethings, or those in college, have an experience like that and as we left on that night in 2011 it was as if I were doing something completely normal and I felt alive.

Along the way I even filmed a video blog



The reason we had to rush to Vegas was that I was working a USAC .25 race on a track outside the big oval at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This also brought back memories back then because it was October of 2003 that I was instructing at the racing school of the Derek Daly Academy. So this whole trip was a voyage, a pilgrimage of sorts and again, I felt so very, very alive. Then Sunday, the 16th happened.

It's one thing to witness something from afar, or on television and have the, "oh my, that's not good" feeling but to be there from start to end from the moment I knew there was going to be trouble (I knew about 2 seconds before the first contact was made) from the time the last car crashing comes to a stop, from the moment the red flags is displayed, from when the medical chopper took off is a different experience. It's one that has stayed with me and for about a full year it was something I had a difficult time talking about. Time has somewhat lessened that outside of the timing of this year.

Last night I was up until 4AM trying to go to sleep but I couldn't. I relived each mile of the roadtrip, each conversation I had with the USAC group, the great racing at the .25 track (see photo on right. Three wide finishes aren't common and that was spectacular!) and the lead up to that fateful race day.

Again, as I began, I'm writing from my perspective and I know family and close friends have to have today be much worse than how I feel. I don't want to write a blog that is a, "woe is me" because I was just a witness to the event. That being said I do want to have a point to this blog and it is to explain the way the Asperger mind can work. Remember, if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person so this may or may not be true for the next person, but the brain, well, my brain being so visual can replay events over and over... and over again. That being said it is hard to move on from things because memories are always fresh as if it just happened. Before I was diagnosed I can recall instances where people would tell me, "Aaron, it's been so long, just get over it!" While time may have actually been passed for myself it was as if it had just happened. And that's where I am today.

While struggling with this last night I went to YouTube to not relive the events of October 16th, but to relive the final lap of the Indy 500 of 2011 which Wheldon won in the most unexpected of ways. I think in 100 years this finish will still be talked about and that's the way I'm trying to battle the memories of the road trip, sleeping through Kansas, stopping on the side of the road (which I am deathly afraid of) to film a video blog, from the time spent with my USAC friends, to flagging the great .25 race, from our hotel room, and the drive to the Speedway Sunday morning. I want to forget it all. I'm not alone on that, I know. Today is a bitter day for anyone in the open wheel community and is a day many would like to forget. For all those that were there, each of us have a story. This is mine as a witness from afar.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Island Problem

I'm sure at some point in time I've made a metaphor or two involving an island and, once again, I'm coming up with yet another island metaphor. It's going to get difficult to remember all these islands I'm creating...

In the midst of this period of feeling down I've done a lot thinking, too much probably, but I've noticed an unique pattern that I can only explain using an island as an example. I don't know about others with Asperger's, but for myself I feel like I'm on an island. I used to say a deserted island but I have come to learn that this island actually has two bridges connected to two mainlands. These two mainlands represent two different worlds. On the bridge leading to the right we have normal. Now remember I don't believe anyone is normal, however wanting to be more normal is something I feel and there is an illusion of normal all of which are on that island. As we turn to the left and see that bridge it leads to a place that is rather uninhabited. It's a place that often times I feel I want to be and herein lies the problem; both mainlands don't feel right and I spend my time on the island in the middle always thinking that the place I came from isn't as good as what lies on the other side of the bridge.

This island in the middle is a place of deep thought. When I spend too much time in the land of normal I get tired with the constant conversing, socializing, and random encounters so I look across the sea and think back to the mainland that is empty and yearn for it. I mean, how great is it to go through life without interactions? When I've spent too much time on the land of normal this is how I feel.

When I get frazzled from normal, or not fitting in within the land of normal, I make the trek across the bridge and get to the island where I quickly cross the second bridge to the land of emptiness where I am sure I will find happiness. Each time though the happiness is fleeting and I look back across the bridges which I came and think about how great it would be to be a part of the land of normal.

After a while this journey across the bridges gets tiring and this island in the middle feels like home. I'm not on either land and yet I'm a part of both. It becomes difficult to decide if staying on the island is the surest bet or if I want to venture out into the world of normal. When I think about how great the land of emptiness would be I think about how much I would have missed had I stayed there. I certainly wouldn't be presenting, I wouldn't have met such wonderful people within the SKUSA and USAC series, and my life wouldn't extend much outside the walls of my house. However, when I get exhausted, when life gets overwhelming, or when a major social disaster happens I think about how safe the other place would be. Hence why there is this island problem and staying on the island often times isn't so much a choice rather a necessity.

This metaphor has been made in so many different ways, but as I was thinking last night about a new way to present it I came up with this and I could visually see this island in the middle and it felt perfect and writing this, and I hope I did a good job of writing it because it sure made sense as I thought about it, has just confirmed just how apt this is. For others I'm sure it is different but for myself this is the best way I can describe to you the feelings that go through my body and how I see the way my life is.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The October Blues

This post builds on what I wrote on yesterday and maybe yesterday's post is contributing to the way I feel today, but the only word I have to describe how I feel today is miserable.

Is this exhaustion? Maybe. Is it frustration? Maybe. Is it the change in seasons? Perhaps as I look back on previous years and it seems there's always this type of post in the October/November time frame. Whatever it is I hope it passes soon.

The way I am feeling now is making everything seem impossible and when this happens it is easy to forget who I am. If taken literally that would mean I have amnesia, but I mean this in the sense that I don't have the ability to see who I am, what I've done, and the accomplisments I've had. All that is lost in this tempest of negative emotions which leads me to see who I am not, what I haven't done, and what I will never do.

Perhaps everyone feels this from time-to-time and perhaps Asperger's amplifies this. I'm not everyone so I can only describe this feeling from my point of view. From my point of view, though, this is awful. The aspects of life this has an impact on seems to be all. Sleep is difficult to obtain which when I am asleep waking up is hard to do. Daily activities are hard to get motivated to do and there is this dense fog in my thoughts and all the while, in the back of my mind, are these thoughts of not who I am but of who I am not.

I've used many metaphors to explain this such as "The Slow Moving Pendulum" in which I described this feeling as a pendulum that, when it reaches a certain window of its path, I feel like this. Then, when the pendulum swings out of that window all returns to normal. There have been others that I can't recall right now, but I'm always amazed at how severe these feelings are when the pendulum is in that window.

There are times I forget where I was five+ years ago. The way I feel right now, with the tenseness and anxiety, was an everyday event with no respite. Feeling this now is a reminder of those days and is a loud reminder of why I do what I do as a career and calling. Life is hard, yes, but without understanding life is much more difficult and the way I feel today was the way I felt everyday all those years ago because there was no understanding. Now, when I say understanding, this is a multi-tiered thing because it just wasn't society in general I'm talking about but understanding within myself. When I would feel bad I'd feel bad about feeling bad which just through more gasoline on an already intense blaze. I didn't understand that this, for me, is just a natural phase much like a storm passing and I can either try to weather the storm outside resisting all of it's ways or I can accept it and wait for it to pass. Getting upset about feeling down just makes things worse. Also, every bit of my great chapters and concepts have come when feeling this way so actually, in a way, feeling like this has led me to do what I do.

How long will this last? I'm not sure but in the meantime I've got to just stay strong and keep moving forward the best I can. I know presentations don't suffer when I feel like this; actually, I think I present better when feeling like this because it allows me to speak closer to the heart than others. Not to say that I don't speak from the heart when I'm feeling good, but when I reference stories of how I used to feel the emotions are more raw because I'm not talking about how I felt rather I'm speaking about how I feel. That being said I am looking forward to my annual presentation at SSD here in Saint Louis tomorrow night. Until then I'll continue to weather this storm the best I can.