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Friday, February 28, 2014

Final Thoughts on my First 1,000

Starting on Monday I will be running the #10 blog posts of my first 1,000 and that will last for two weeks, but today I am reflective on just how much has changed since my first blog post.

I've tried to do an adequate job on writing the history of my blog but there's no way I could, really. I think of all the places I've gone, people I've met, places I've seen, and stories I've heard and there is no way I could rightly make a history out of that. Why? How could I possibly, in one or two posts, give justice to four years of my life that have, truly, been four years of transformation and growth?

There's been so much I'd love to share from my blog, so many stories that stick out which is why I will feel as if I never did a good enough job on this "history of" series. I could share the stories of my biggest crowds, or biggest social hurdles, or the posts of dedication of those that were lost in these 1,000 posts but if I started with just a little I'd keep going.

To some a milestone of 1,000 posts would be nothing; perhaps just another number. I'm milestone-minded and I was proud when I hit 100 so this thing of a thousand is huge. Perhaps it's this that is making me hard to put into words what it means for me. 1,000 is a big deal, right?

I've been stuck for about half-an-hour trying to come up with something semi-coherent and nothing is coming. This, truly, is one of the most difficult posts I've ever written because I know there is no way I can do it. There is no way I could express my shock in having a project go on this long, and there is no way I could express my appreciation to all of my readers around the world. Honestly, I can't believe so many people from around the world take time out of their day to read a thought from just a guy who lives in Saint Louis, Missouri who, five years ago, was unemployed and was essentially hopeless. What a transformation, right?

With that I think I need to end this, but before that a final thank you to every person who has read my blog, a big thank you to all those who opened doors to get me here, and to those that are no longer with us but helped me get here, well, you are not forgotten. Each day I think about you and am grateful. And here's the thing, if there's one thing I take away from my first 1,000 posts it's this; I'm just one person but the impact that these people in my life had were huge. We're talking about the difference between where I was five years ago and where I am now. I'm sure they didn't think that what they were doing would have any sizable impacts, but it did. From the person who let me give a presentation about racing to Matt, who gave me the floor when it came to speaking to doctors which grew my confidence as a speaker allowing me to get to the level I am today. From those still here, to those who are alive in our memories, I want to thank every one from the deepest part of my soul. If anything, these first 1,000 blog posts, if read from start to end, would be a perfect way to witness the transformation from human potential to human doing, but I didn't do it by myself so thank you all, to my coworkers, to my readers, and to those that comment. All I can say is that it's been an incredible ride and who knows where I'll be over the course of the next four years and the next 1,000 posts!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Racing and My Blog

From the onset of my blog racing has been a prime fixture, as I mentioned yesterday in the origins of my blog on how excited I was to blog when I traveled to the San Fransisco area to flag a race and then I was able to blog about it. Well, when the 2010 season started I just had three events I was scheduled to do but then May happened and I became a starter for USAC and in one of my first events I got to assist at the Hoosier 100 which I called the, "Best Experience Ever."

At the 2010 Hoosier 100 I met a man by the name of James who was the USAC Developmental Series Director and he asked if I'd be interested working the .25 series. I said, "sure" having never done an oval race and less than two months later, in my first event, I was working the largest event of the season, the Battle at the Brickyard.

My first outing was somewhat rocky with a minor mistake that haunts me to this day, but I didn't do too awful because I was invited to work an event in Columbus where I got to work with Tom Hansing once again (he's one of the Indycar starters) and that day was a big thrill.

As 2010 went to 2011 I got word I was the starter for the entire season of the Generation Next Tour which meant an additional 11 weekends to the 3 SKUSA weekends and all of a sudden my travel schedule ballooned to something I never could have imagined.

Right now, as I'm in the midst of the off-season, I can feel a big difference within me. I have no doubt that my working at race tracks, and the process of traveling there, as well as the interactions I have has furthered my ability as a presenter, and my confidence as a person. Another thing it has done has provided me with many things to write about, like this experience at a Mongolian BBQ place in 2011.

I've also had some fun making video blogs at tracks as shown by this in 2011:

And what does it look like when the race starts?


I firmly believe I would not still be presenting without my times at the race tracks. Confidence is so vitally important and that's what all these travels have done for me. From the time I found out that I became the SKUSA chief starter for the Supernats to traveling many miles with James and Kyle with USAC who would constantly push me it's been an important part of not only my professional career, but my personal one as well.

In 2012 the amount of events I worked went over 20 and one of those events was my first USAC National Midget Race and my dad was there to capture it and, in his fashion being in the video trade, made this video:



By the end of the 2012 season I was worried that I was working too many races. I went coast-to-coast twice in 2012 as well as having two ER visits (I'm not sharing that video again, you can go to Youtube and look it up yourself!) but in the offseason I was pining for a flag in hand and cars on track.

For myself, racing in a balance to my presentations. Presenting, the way I do, takes more out of me than I think anyone outside of a performer could appreciate. Also, a presentation to me is almost sacred as I know what's on the line; I know that my words have the possibility to shape a person's future, or give a new level of understanding that needs to be there. That being so there is a lot of pressure on me, or at least that I put on myself, and while working a race has more split-second pressure and any mistake can prove to be disastrous I live for that pressure. It's odd because this shouldn't be the case, but when I'm on the stand (or track if it's a kart race) I am at my most relaxed state. That's why, as the 2013 season began, all that exhaustion that had built up disappeared.

2013 started with a bang with a new miss in Tucson, but my eyes were firmly set on Indy and May. While this wasn't the Indy 500, it was practice for the Indy 500 and I got to start the activities with my green flag which I promptly retired:




What does the 2014 season have in store? I don't know but even before I have flown my first flag I've had an impact with my Blue Wave campaign which is great because I can now bring about my two worlds.

I could write on and on about this, and I know I've only scratched the surface of what racing has meant for me over the course of my blog, but I am eternally grateful to those at SKUSA, and at USAC for giving me the honor of being their chief starters. Above all though, my origins of flagging began all the way back in 1990 and I would be doing Duane a disserivce if I didn't share this video blog from 2012. In fact, a moment like this deserves to be the ending of this post because the history of my blog, and the process of me becoming the person I am, began much sooner than this blog.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Origins of My Blog

The start of my celebration leading towards my 1,000th post has begun and to begin I thought I'd give you the history of my blog as I never intended on being a blogger, really, but with everything I've become it just sort of happened by fate (and maybe accident.)

I was hired full-time with TouchPoint Autism Services (now Easter Seals Midwest) four years ago come March 2nd and, when hired, I was hired on not really knowing what, exactly, I'd be doing. I don't think anyone envisioned that I'd be to the level and the numbers of today, but back then it started small with a lot of time in the office and constant presentations at the police academy. Since there was looking to be a lot of time at the office the question was what I should do with the time. Ron Ekstrand, the CEO at the time, suggested that I start a blog.

"A blog?" I replied with a voice implying that this was the last thing I wanted. I mean, a daily blog? That means I'd have to come up with something each day and who would want to read about my daily experiences? What would I have to offer? I tried to debate, but in the end I was told to start a blog so I went to my office and sat down and then it hit me.

When I write I always, always ALWAYS start with a title and work out. In all my book chapters and blog posts I have NEVER changed a chapter title after I started it. This is my style and when I sat down the title of my blog hit me and I knew I was now a blogger because the name, "Life on the other side of the wall" had such a ring to it. So, knowing nothing about blogs, I ventured to do a Google search of starting a blog and I found Blogger and after setting the templates up my first blog post was up.

My first month's worth of blogs were fun to write because this was different from the book chapters I was used to writing. Also, it was neat writing real time because, when writing a book, one doesn't know if anyone will ever see the words written, but this was instant! On the other hand, I still didn't know if anyone was actually reading my blog outside my friends on Facebook and those at the office.

April 2nd was a big day for me as I wrote this post on how I got my mission to raise awareness instead of being a race car driver. A couple hours after writing this post I noticed my followers were going up faster than ever. 25, 35, 40, 60, 75! What was going on? I then went to Facebook and saw that Autism Speaks had published my blog on their wall and I now had a huge inspiration to keep my blog going because people were actually reading! I had no idea if anyone was, really, and I was getting frustrated but this gave me a new vigor to provide a daily look at life on the autism spectrum.

The first of what would become many travel stories happened later in April as I worked the first event in the new SKUSA Pro Tour. Sometime this week I'll give an in-depth look at the history of racing on my blog.

As 2010 went on I wrote a lot of blog posts that were good enough to be book material and I used a lot of concepts put forth in that year's blog into my third, and yet to be published, book. When June happened, though, I discovered a new way to get people to find my blog and I know a considerable amount of you found my blog this way, was through Facebook advertising. Sadly, this form isn't as cost effective as it is now and don't get me started about having to pay to have posts be seen on my author page, but back then $20 in advertising would equate into about 1,000 new people finding my blog. I never had a blog sponsor and I spent everything out of my own pocket, but whenever I'd write something that I felt would help people I would advertise. I don't use this method now, as since they've gone public the pricing model doesn't work for small person like me, but all in all I spent WAY TOO MUCH on this but the amount of people that learned something from my posts made it all worth it.

By August my blog felt natural and I no longer worried about it. Oh yes, there was a lot of worry in the beginning as I'd wonder if I could come up with something to write about. I guess you could say there was a lot of pressure, but the pressure increased in 2010 as I would be on a panel with Temple Grandin! I can still remember the nerves I had going into this, and a couple blog posts prior to the one I linked to, I did some video blogs leading up to and then following the panel, but it was so great to be able to share this experience with all my readers.

As I continued to advertise my audience grew and grew and I couldn't believe the global audience I was attracting. Using stat tracker I could see that I had readers from every continent every day (except Antarctica... those penguins are hard to impress!) and I had diehard "fans" from Australia, The Netherlands, England, and Brazil. And from this growing audience it was how my current publisher, a division of Penguin, found me and rereleased my book, Finding Kansas.

The years went on and here I am now nearing the verge of 1,000 posts and I can't fathom that I've come this far. I can still remember the meeting in Ron's office where he suggested this blog and I protested adamantly, but if it weren't for his insistence you wouldn't have read this, or any of the 900+ other posts, Penguin never would have found me, and who knows because, perhaps, I wouldn't still be doing what I'm doing. I may have ended as the Community Education Specialist just a couple months after starting instead of now being the Autism Ambassador and having done presentations across America (twice) and have reached almost 40,000 people spoken to. To think it all started from a simple, "Welcome" blog post, well, it just makes me smile because who would have thought it'd grow to this?

As the week continues I'll share some more on various aspects of my blog and next week I'll start a two-week run of the top 10 posts of the first thousand.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Highs

In watching the Daytona 500 yesterday and seeing the onboard camera of Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrating his win I thought on if there's anything I've done that could compare to that jubilant elation that was obvious on his face. I do mention in my presentation that, if I were racing, I would not be helping anyone or having a true impact. 

As I thought about this some more I thought back to the nearly 500 presentations I've done looking for "the highs" as one might experience in winning a race. In thinking on this I realized my memories are a foggy haze when it comes to the presentation itself. When I present I'm in autopilot mode and because of this there is no enjoyment because, I think, my brain has to go there to allow myself to not overthink and to overcome my shyness. However, there is a moment that I do remember above all others. 

It's odd; I don't remember the interior of the venues I've presented at nor do I routinely remember the questions that were asked. My "highs" so to speak are the moments where I walk out of the building and towards my car. These moments are amplified if I'm walking with a coworker or the person that sponsored or facilitated the event. This isn't to say I'm happy to be getting out of the presentation as one might be if they're clocking out of a 14 hour work day. No, this feeling I have is the only time I savor what I've done. Within minutes of driving away my "Alias" is gone and I fear if I will "ever present again" and my endless amount of worry returns. 

I'm about to present again as I'm writing this from my phone at the Willard High School and I can remember the feelings I had last year when I presented here. It's odd though, as I look towards the school, that I don't remember the interior. If history repeats itself, in a couple hours, I'll have the feeling of achieving something when my presentation is over and I'm walking back to my car. But, as I start to make my return trip to home, the same feelings will overcome me. Perhaps this is what drives me to keep going. If I'm not presenting I don't have a sense of who I am or what I can do therefore I constantly have this feeling of needing to do more. Then again, maybe it's a small tragedy in that I can't enjoy or take pride in what I do outside those moments as I open up the door and walk to my car. Whatever the case it must be working because here I am, in Willard once again, about to present and raise the awareness and understanding of the autism spectrum. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

The iRacing Daytona 500

Every year iRacing holds the simulated Daytona 500 and each year my luck in this event is, well, horrid. Two years ago I took the lead on lap 163 and that also was my last lap ran as a car that had previously been damaged lost control in front of me. Last year the first 113 laps went caution free and then on lap 113 I was caught up in the first yellow. So last night I was looking to change my luck and wanted, more than anything, to see what the 500th mile felt like.

I started from the 13th position and I didn't know whether I should stay up front or play it safe and fall to the back. Both strategies have pros and cons and I went in thinking that I would fall back, but as competitive as I am I just couldn't convince myself to do so. Thankfully, the first 40 laps were rather calm at it essentially was 32 cars nose to tail in a 200mph parade.

Before I continue on my recounting of this race I should tell you that iRacing is the premiere racing simulator on the PC and for myself it is about the best thing possible to not actually racing. I said I'm competitive and iRacing allows me an outlet to compete with drivers from all around the world.

The cars may be simulated but they also have simulated amounts of fuel so near the lap 40 mark it was time for pit stops. I don't drive the cars of the NASCAR series all that often on iRacing as I primarily drive the Indycar, but stopping a stock car from 200mph to the pit road speed of 55 while in the midst of a crowd was something I was sure I was going to screw up. Thankfully, I was able to slow down, but I did so too much and then the whole process of stopping in the right pit box wasn't the easiest of things and in the end I lost abo
ut five seconds.

On the next run I was running with three others about five seconds behind the leaders. We were positions 22-25 and in need of a yellow flag which would bunch the field up. This stayed this way for another 40 laps when the three cars in front of me all pitted without warning which left me on the track by myself for a lap. It's hard to explain for those that don't know, but racing at Daytona is all about the draft and two cars are faster than one, three faster than two, and if you are by yourself you'll lose about two seconds a lap. I was in that position so I pitted the following laps and I came out by myself, all alone. My race was not going the way I envisioned it.

I fell back to about half-a-lap down when another driver in the same boat as I got together and started drafting. Then, near the halfway point, the first yellow flag. This was a relief for me as I was now back in the race with a chance. During the yellow it was time to pit again and the entire field made their way on and once again I had pit issues as I missed my stall and had to come in the next lap. This wasn't that big of a set back because I was already going to be in the back as is.

On the restart the racing was a little bit more intense and about 10 laps after the green came out trouble! I saw smoke in front of me and here was my view of+ the incident.
Call it luck and maybe a bit of skill, but I was able to get through that and as amazed as I was it was time to refocus. On the restart I was on the move. 15th, 12th, 8th, and then somehow over the course of the next 20 laps I made it to the lead.

Ah, the lead; remember that I said two years ago my race ended when I took the lead and this was in my mind. It felt great leading the race though, but after several laps history nearly repeated itself (I'm the #3 car)



Whew! that was a close one and I still, today, have no idea how I didn't end up with a race ending incident after that. Because of this incident, though, there was now a five second gap between the front five and sixth place and thankfully I was part of the top five.

The final fourth of the race became intense as even though those in the top five had a big gap the drivers around me were not content to just stay in line. This was allowing the cars behind to slowly start the reeling in process. Then, as they were just about to catch us, the yellow came up on lap 160 which meant there would be no green flag pit stops to decide the race.

I knew the final segment was going to be intense and the positions were changing every lap. I'd make it to the lead, then fall back, and one lap you'd have a friend and the next lap they'd dump you for someone else. Speaking of being dumped, with 12 laps to go I was pushing this guy and I pushed him all the way to the lead and then, instead of waiting until I could come into the low lane, that driver just turned hard left and left me with no help on the outside and no one came to my assistance. After being so close to the potential race lead I was bleeding positions. 3rd, 5th, 7th, 8th, then 10th.

I began by saying that I wondered what the 200th lap felt like but after being so close to the lead I was now highly driven. This was unacceptable! I had a chance at this win but now it felt like such a difficult task to reach. Then, with nine laps to go, I saw smoke.



Yet another close call which could have ended badly for me, but with all the drivers involved in that crash I'd be restarting 3rd with six laps to go. I now had a very realistic chance at not only finishing this race, but winning it.

On the restart I got clear of the driver who started 2nd and now I had to decide when and how to make my move. The leader was defending his line and was somewhat blocking, but all his moves were legal. Each time off of turn two I'd look high but only to have my line impeded. So, with four to go, coming off of turn two I looked high, but then I took a page from the movie Days of Thunder by faking high and going low. This worked! I was alongside the leader and in the process of making a pass when I saw in my mirror another crash. "Come on car... come on !" I yelled as I knew the yellow was going to fly at any point in time which would freeze the field thus ending the race and then, there it was, the yellow flag.

I was in shock. I fell short of taking the lead by just one or two seconds. The gap, as seen by this photo, is what I lost the Daytona 500 on iRacing by. To work for three hours and come up that short hurt. Sure, I finished ahead of 30 other drivers and I can say I ran a near flawless race, but I had a chance to win! I wasn't in this race for points, this race was all about the win and the last few laps of green in this race was the most intense I've felt, in terms of competing, since I was racing in a real race at Road America in a kart six years ago. Because of this, after the race, I was still rather intense and it took several hours before I could finally go to sleep as I kept replaying that final lap under green and then I kept reliving lap 200.

What was lap 200 like? On one hand I was proud, I'm not going to lie, that I was able to finish 2nd, but it was a bittersweet lap as we came to the finish line because I had to wonder what this lap was like for the driver in front of me. It's something I may never know, but for all the trouble I had to avoid I should be happy, right? to finish 2nd. But that's not me, I came so close and fell short. Typically I'm content with 2nd if that's all I had, but this... I should have had this. This will be the one race I always think of as "the one that got away."

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Routeless Destination

Stop me if you've heard this one; a person on the autism spectrum doesn't want to do a specific subject in school because, "they'll never need it because they know what they want to do in life." I've heard this many, many times but have never had the best way to describe the reasons as to why it is there. Then, as I was thinking about yesterday's blog, I realized that the way I feel now is similar to the reason why a certain subject in school will be simply omitted by a student's brain.

I wrote yesterday's blog out of fear, panic, and frustration. I have so many ideas and these things need to happen but I'm overwhelmed by all that has to happen to get there. How is this in any bit the same as the school example? We both know the destination but getting there is the uncertainty. This can play out two ways; we either know exactly what we want and will hyper-focus on it exclusively, or we will see the destination and realize it's a million miles away and become overwhelmed on the trip to get there. In both examples the destination can be seen but the way to get there is full of fog, you don't have a GPS system, and when you look it up on a proverbial Google Maps the response you get is, "good luck?"

It can be highly difficult to know exactly what you want the destination to be and be oblivious to all that needs to be done to get there. Looking at it from a strict logic standpoint it makes sense, right, that if a person wants to be a mathematician why then should they sit through semester after semester of science, and chemistry, and world history? There will be no sense of direction through this routeless destination because the destination is already thought of, and known, so why worry about the now when the destination is already known and accepted? It will be lost that grade averages are cumulative and to get to a good university they are usually needed.

On the other hand, this too can operate the way it operates within me and that is becoming overwhelmed by everything that has to happen to get to the destination. Of course, remember, if you've met one person on the autism spectrum you've only met one and it's great that this concept can be used in two different ways. Anyway, so many times in my, when there's a project to be done, I become overwhelmed by seeing everything all at once. A good real example is this; now we can use a GPS system that will speak out to you each small step on a long trip so you, as the driver, won't have to worry about turn #32 unless you really want to. However, when I drove to Las Vegas in 2003, my dad printed out a thing from MapQuest and it broke down every turn and I had three pages of it. In the end it's the same system, but my ability to see everything at once made the trip a little bit more intimidating. Thankfully, driving and real directions comes easily for me but this driving metaphor is a perfect example of the potential issues seeing everything all at once. Quickly, I can see every turn, ramp, and exit all at once and the way to get to the destination is as impossible as driving over Mount Everest. I may know where I want to go but getting there seems impossible because there's just too much stuff and everything has to work just right and since we may have the mindset of, "whatever is now is forever" we may never see a way to navigate through the routes to make it to the destination.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Emotions and The Perfect Storm of February 2005

So far this year there have been two questions asked with a frequency unheard of. One, which I won't be covering in this blog post, is, "Can people on the autism spectrum have fantastic memories?" and the 2nd one is, "Do people on the autism spectrum have emotions and if so, how strong are they?" Last month I actually blogged about this topic but as with most things, when I write about the same topic, I'll add something new.

The reasons I'm writing about emotions is, well, my emotions are strong right now and I can't figure out why. In a way I feel the same as I did back this month in 2005. Never before, or since, has a month had an impact as February did nine years ago.

Nine years ago I was in the worst pit of depression possible and as I look at my calendar journal there are so many days with entries such as, "did nothing, am nothing" and, "alone. simply alone" but there are also other entries such as, "wrote Game Theory" and "wrote Work, See, and Fear."

For me this month is about as sacred as they come. For one, yeah, I was born in it but I'll say I was born twice because of a perfect storm of emotions that enveloped me back in 2005. I had been depressed and in a state of utter hopelessness for 15 months and I was reaching a breaking point. While I was depressed I did everything I could to occupy time and not think; my goal was to get up as late as possible and stay up until just before the sun came up to minimize social time and I'll admit that I got rather good at it. A person can only run from emotions so long before they catch up and nine years ago they did. I realized that who I was expecting to be wasn't going to turn out and for the first time in my life I understood that I was directionless. What was I going to do? I tried talking to my dad but I could do nothing except repeat the same lines over and over and I could not speak what I was truly feeling.

What inspired this blog was a question I got yesterday in that I was asked about a situation where something small occurred and the response from a person with Asperger's was severe. Thinking back to myself in 2005 it was sort of the same way. So often an event can happen but it isn't the fact of what happened then that is the problem but it is the final drop of water that overfills a bucket and after that everything comes gushing out. The next question then was, "what can be done about this?" to which I have no easy answer as not everyone is going to find my path.

After being alive for 22 years and doing everything I could to avoid emotions I held my breath, sat down at my computer, and started to write. I had no destination, no envisionment of writing a book, nor did I think I'd someday be a speaker but the proverbial dam had burst and it was either express these emotions and to deal with the question of, "Why am I alive" or I was going to be consumed and possibly destroyed by these emotions and questions.

This is why I say I had a rebirth nine years ago because all that I was changed, or rather started to change. There is a thing though and that is, while some things changed, some things stayed the same. I'm still my biggest critic and I still have bouts of feeling as if nothing is ever going to change. I often feel down, sad, and as if the world has won. I also, rather frequently, have a feeling of such that I am not doing enough with my blog, book, speaking, or any other aspect in my life. This is a strength and a weakness because I am unrelenting in my cause but I don't know, or am incapable of understanding any sort of impact. Unless you're on the autism spectrum, or maybe experienced this in your life, I doubt you can have any appreciation as to what this feels like.

I'm looking down at my calendar journal right now, as I mentioned, and I can remember putting each day's ink on this month and I had such a yearning for the world to understand me. Now, nine years later, I have the same sensation but it isn't about me but it's now others. I know others are where I was; I know there are others that just want someone, anyone, to say that they aren't alone and actually means, "I know how you feel" when they say it; and I know there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people that are in the midst of being at that moment in life where the bucket is filling with water and since I was there, first hand, nine years ago I feel this pressure of indescribable weight to do more. How can I do more? I don't have that answer but it's something I must do. Just as there was a perfect storm in 2005 I feel that February 2014 may have the same effect on my future because, while it's not myself feeling emotions, I've heard more and more of the dire need out there in the past five months and to put it simply, I have got to do more.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Blue Wave Page

This is a follow up to yesterday's post. If you want to see the page that the video is on, or want to buy one of the flags, please visit http://www.dyndez.com/bluewave.html

Friday, February 14, 2014

Waiting

I was hoping to get it up today but hopefully I can share something that I hope will turn out to be very exciting so perhaps I can share it this weekend. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Other Side of Interviewing

In the past I've shared some of the interviews I've been a part of on various news media. In all those, of course, I was the one being interviewed but on Sunday the roles were reversed. For those that don't know, I serve on the commentary team for a racing league on iRacing and I had no idea I was going to be interviewing the winner of the race until Wil, the main announcer, threw it to me.

The reason I share this is this; I have an incredibly difficult time asking questions. If I don't understand something I won't ask, "What do you mean?" If I need help I won't ask, "Could you help me?" I'm probably one of the worst question askers except in this realm because, and this falls under my "Alias" concept put forth in my book Finding Kansas and that is I'm not asking as myself, but rather the race reporter. So take a listen to this interview because it was given by the world's worst question asker.


Monday, February 10, 2014

To Like Something New

For my entire life it has been nothing short of a monumental challenge to get me to try something new; especially when it comes to foods. I talked about this during my Sunglasses Experiment when Olive Garden changed their menu. But yes, ask my parent about food and they'll just shake their heads as I would want the same food over and over and over and over again.

It's rather difficult for me to try a new place or something new because there are so many unknowns. Will I like it? What will I order? Will I stumble in my speech trying to order because I don't know what I'm getting? There's more to trying a new food, at least now in my life, than just the food itself. There is safety in knowing I already like something. However, what happens when I try something new and like it?

About a month ago I got my flu shot at a Walgreens and afterwards I was rather hungry. My food supply at home was low so I was going to get something out. Across the street was a burger place but I'm trying to cut back on that type of food. Then, I remembered that there was a sub shop next to the Blockbuster video I had taken a picture of (and blogged about it) so I decided to go there which was an odd thing because, well, I hate subs.

This place was a favorite of the former USAC Developmental Director and I had gone once in Indianapolis the night I flagged a late model race at Lucas Oil Raceway Park so perhaps there was some associative memory system playing into my reasoning for going. However, I hated what I got the first time so why I went back, well, it was close to Walgreens and I was hungry.

I walked in and saw the gigantic menu and was instantly overwhelmed. There were cold subs, which I despise, and warm subs but nothing looked the least bit appetizing. I remember why I hated the place, but then my eyes scanned left and there was a section for wraps and I looked at each one and then I came across the Baja Chicken Wrap which has, obviously, chicken but also salsa, lettuce, and jalapeno peppers. I've hated spicy things my entire life but I decided to try it and I ordered something completely out of character.

The cook grilled the chicken, then wrapped it all up, I paid and headed home with this new food. I got home and took out the wrap which at this point I was scared. Yes, scared is the right word because to try a new food brings about fear as the thought of a new sensation of taste is, for me, on the brink of being overwhelming. I fought through the fear and took a bite and chewed a bit and thought, "Oh my goodness, this is heaven in the form of a wrap!"

I probably devoured the wrap a little too fast and it was gone too fast as I never have enjoyed a food as much as I enjoyed that wrap. It was new, fresh, and something I had never tried before. When it was gone the spice was enough to bring tears to my eyes (also might have been tears of joy... okay, probably not) but I didn't care as this was something so refreshingly amazing that I wanted more so the next day I went again, then again, and then again.

When I like something new I don't just like it a little but really it becomes like everything else in my life; it becomes something I want to exclusion of everything else. It's now to the point, in just these several weeks, that when I enter I'm asked, "Baja Chicken wrap?" as they know my order. Here's the thing about liking something new though; just because I tried something new once does not increase the odds of me trying something new again. Look at this Baja Chicken Wrap, I've been to that sub shop now at least a dozen times and I've ordered the same thing each time and I have zero interest in trying anything else on that gigantic menu because I know what I like so just because I try something new once you can't use the logic of, "Aaron, you tried that new wrap and loved it so why don't you try this instead..." It just doesn't work that way because when I like something new quickly becomes a routine so since I love that wrap more than I have loved any other food from a restaurant I must ask, "Why would I want to try something new? What was new is now the best, I know what I like so why venture out?"

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Olympics

It's here once again! The Winter Olympics are set to begin in Russia and for myself the Olympics have always played a major part in my life when they occur. I firmly remember Peter Jennings reporting from Calgary during the 1988 Games and those images have always stuck with me. Then the music played during the 1992, 94, and 98 Games by CBS would become ingrained in my brain to the point that in the mid 2000's I tracked down the composer from the credits of the broadcast I had on a VHS tape (remember those?) and e-mailed her requesting a recording. She didn't have it but she did send me the sheet music which is one of my more treasured tokens I have acquired during the years.

If anything though the most major Olympics happened just four years ago and was my first relevant blog. The Games in Vancouver, in a way, changed my life. Sure, I got great picture (no, really, I did! Don't believe me? Here, take a look...)




Okay, so I got sidetracked showing photos I took, and let me get sidetracked one more time as you can watch that whole competition but if you pause it at the 12:34 mark you can see me in all black just left of the guy in the yellow vest.


So where was I? Ah yes, four years ago my life changed with the Olympics as I gave my first true presentation that was an audience that wasn't expecting me. I had give about eight presentations to officers but a few days after this event I spoke at a Rotary meeting and from that I was given confidence that has budded into who I am now.

But besides four years ago why do the Olympics play such a major role in my being? I've wondered this even going back to the Albertville Games of 92 and maybe it's just the random fact that the Games have happened at a major point in time in my life. Then again perhaps it's that, for two weeks, all the world has a "Kansas" in the games. When the Lillehammer games of 94 ended I cried for days; truly days and it felt as if a close loved one had perished.

Another possibility is that there's a routine to it with an Olympics every two years (don't get me started on when they made that change in 92... I was so upset, well, until I realized I'd get an Olympics every two instead of four years, but at first... Oh boy!) and having an associative memory system it is much easier to recall the events of life during the Games because the two will boost each other. It's not so much to have a memory, but if a memory happened the same day Tommy Moe won the gold in the downhill in Lillehammer that memory is going to be amplified which is how I remember the whole ordeal of the car that parked in front of our house that freaked both of my parents out because of the loud music it was blasting while at the same time I was playing with my new Micro Machines town and then a half-hour later a whole fire truck brigade made a call to a house across the street. Yes, having one memory boost the other helps both.


But perhaps the biggest reason, and I stated it once, is that so many people will be focused on one thing. For myself, who likes the Olympics (I've been giving my girlfriend a crash course in my favorite event which is short track speed skating) it gives me a simple and easy common ground to be involved in a conversation. Let's put it this way; if I, here in Saint Louis, tried to talk about the sport of curling in the summer of 2012 I'd get, well, I'd get stares as if I were speaking a language native to the planet Neptune, but speak about it in a week and others will understand, or maybe even complain about the "skip" as to the reason a team lost. Because of this I feel a part of the world because the world is enjoying something I dearly love. I have my interests and they aren't going to be influenced by what other people think, but when the world comes and takes an interest in what I find to be two of the best weeks a person could ask for and then, well, memories will be made as usual.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Home: A Year After Closing

Going back a year, on my 30th birthday, I closed on the home I'm living in and today, well, today marks the one year mark of bringing the first batch of my stuff into this place I now call home.

I can't believe it's been a year and I still sort of feel as if Maryland Heights is my home. I loved the place I was in and the view out the back patio was amazing. However, a move couldn't be helped and I found an amazing place at a staggeringly amazing price with a not so bad view out the front and here I am.

If you remember from the end of this month last year my issues with my home were immense as sensory issues were starting to become a major issue. There were multiple issues with the first, and most major, being the fact that one of my neighbors (I'm in a town home) started listening to music at 4AM and any bit of noise louder than the noise of air coming through the vent will wake me up. Thankfully, as soon as April hit, I was so busy that I was rarely home so this really didn't become an issue. Later in the year I noticed the noise had stopped and when I returned home from my nationwide tour in October I saw a "for sale" sign. Since then the place was sold and I've got a new neighbor who has much better music etiquette at 4AM.

There was another issue in play, and it still is in play to be honest, and that is this radar-like system I have in my head. When I lived with my parents I knew where everyone one at all times. Imagine a 2D image of a home, much like a map in a video game, and a small circle representing each person as this is what goes on in my brain. There was/is no off switch for this and at home it became tiring as I quite simply could not turn it off. Why is this bad now? Having creaky floors makes it where I can hear my neighbors at all times in terms of footsteps so I now have this system with people I've never met in a home I've never seen and there is no turning this off.

Despite those issues my time in my home as been, for the most part, great. It did get better when music player neighbor left and I have become somewhat accustomed to hearing the faint sounds of other televisions. I didn't think I could build up this tolerance but I have and it's okay now. Secondly, I can't believe I haven't burned the place down in some sort of freak accident or punch a major hole in the wall by mistake.

Because I was gone so much last year my place never felt like a home but rather a hotel between hotel stays (except housekeeping DID NOT do a good job on keeping up with cleaning!)but maybe it was my mom staying here for a week, or maybe it was just the fact that I've been here enough to enjoy it, but whatever the case may be this place that I closed on 366 days ago now truly feels like home.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

31

Today is the day I fear most all year as it is my birthday. I worry and fret about this day all year long and here it is. And why is it bad you ask? I explained it a post I had last week, but there's more to it than that.

I believe a birthday is a day of self-reflection and I'm sure I'm not the first person to ask questions such as, "Why am I here?" "What's my purpose?" and, "Where am I going?" All those are valid questions and as I hit the age of 31 I feel I am now, officially, in a state of being between eras. Turning 30 was difficult for me but this feels worse for some reason and I've been thinking the past few days as to why this is and I keep coming back to one thing.

My 30th year on Earth was one that had some supreme highs (personally and professionally) and some strong losses, but never had I traveled so much, spoke so much, and flagged so much. All in all great, right? Here's the problem that I once again realized while at a business meeting last Thursday; it isn't what I've done that counts but only what is in the now. I can't rest on what I've done, I can't take pride in what I've accomplished in my first 30 years. Every day the slate is cleaned for me and because of this I fight a battle that comes to a head on my birthday.

Perhaps one of the reasons as to why some of us on the autism spectrum have this perfectionistic drive is this very reason. The past four months have been highly difficult for me as I had a bubble of sorts burst. It had been a long time since I had been exposed to any sort of lapse in the system, or rather "horror story" if you prefer in terms of families having major issues then all of a sudden I had an influx of such and each time I feel as if what I'm doing isn't enough. Right now I have the drive that I wish I could go on a 100 day speaking tour spreading awareness and understanding to a countless number in the high thousands. Of course, I essentially have done this but on this day it doesn't matter.

What does matter? For me, the only thing that matters is what is now and right now I feel as if I am doing nothing. It's a horrid feeling and one that others on the spectrum have told me they share. Again, that's why we may come up with tremendous ideas because we aren't looking at what we've done but instead we're looking at what we can do, or how can we make it better.

I have no idea what my 31st year holds. None, and I think any person on their birthday that says so isn't telling the truth because life can't be scripted. There's no way I'd have come close to any prediction from any of my years going back a decade and even with this record of having things turn out much better than I expected I still feel sad on this day.

Have I done enough? Why am I here? Will everything be okay? Of all days I feel the smallest on my birthday and on other days I feel as if I can change the world, but for this one day I just see the world as an unchanging and cold place and I am powerless to do anything. It's amazing that one day can have such a staggering amount of power, but that's what this day is. Come tomorrow this will probably pass, but for today I'll be lost in thought wondering what's next and whether or not I'll make an impact in this, my 31st year alive.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Final Day of 30

Tomorrow I will have officially lived another year on this Earth and my annual birthday post will take place. These two days, the day before and the birthday itself, are always two of my hardest days of the year so excuse this short blog post as I prepare for tomorrow's.