Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Hazards of Rushing

After the final race at the SKUSA Streets of Lancaster, which the S1/S2 race was one of the finest races I've ever witnessed anywhere, I thought about the process that got me to there and thought back to Friday's blog about how much I love doing that. However, it was a process as was everything else I've done and been. From those thoughts I realized something; when I wanted to be at this top level of karting a decade ago I would not have been prepared for doing it.

Prepared? I had the physical skills to flag but my ability to handle the social side of life was anything but there. There will be a chapter in my upcoming 2nd book and I believe the chapter is entitled, "When Kansas Fails" which talks about a situation that arose at the club I was flagging at in 2006. This situation was brought about by club politics and a person being a complete jerk to me and at that point in time I had no ability to cope with that situation. However, being at the level that I was at there weren't any ramifications and the following event was fine.

You are probably wondering what type of situation it was and how I reacted. My reaction was just one of severe sadness and it showed. I couldn't contain my emotions. I didn't say anything nasty, I didn't do anything with regards to actions, but I it was obvious my emotions were strong and over flowing and I didn't have the ability to express them.

Now here's the thing; in my life growing up I wanted everything now. Doesn't everyone? Wouldn't it be great to be able to just reach the destination without going through the work to get there? Sadly, this isn't the way life works and if we do try to rush and skip the sections of life where we learn skills and better ways to handle social dramas then when we actually do get somewhere we won't be there long. Had that situation happened at the major events I do now, and I had done it my first race, I don't know how long I would have been kept around. Actually, one of the final chapters of my 2nd book (I wrote four final chapters) was my experience at the first Supernats in 2008 and talks about a nasty thing another worker told me. That person is no longer working with us, I think 08 was his only year I saw him, but instead of getting emotional and angry I simply let it go. I learned from the 2006 fiasco and I still felt a little sad that a person say such unkind words, but I had grown in just the two years.

What happened in those two years? After that race in 2006 that had the politics I picked up a regional series and I was the flagman and the race director. I was in complete control of the race weekend and this experience helped me with confidence and conflict management. Not everyone leaves a race weekend happy and there are times where races make contact and one spins off while the other goes on to victory. In these situations one driver is angry, one is happy, and if it was just a "racing incident" then no penalty will be assessed further angering the first driver and the race director is the one that gets to hear all the anger. Somehow, and I have no idea how, I was good at explaining what I saw and letting the angry driver know that I do understand his frustration but I wasn't going to change my mind without further angering the driver. It was in these conversations that growth happened that planted the seeds to let me handle the national events I do for USAC and SKUSA.

So here's the thing; without the growth in the middle from where you were to where you are now the skills to make it further won't be as strong. I think back to my years of hopelessness from 2003-2008 and I just wanted everything to be okay. I wanted everything to be perfect and yet if I had got it I wouldn't have been prepared for it and, if I had failed when I made it, the devastation of losing it would have been worse than waiting for it. If you had tried to explained this to me back then I would have said, "I'm ready. You don't know what you're talking about!" but looking back everything happened at just the right pace. The biggest disaster possible would have been to be where I am now, not in terms of growth but it terms of profession in being a public speaker and flagman traveling this much, because I would not have known how to handle it all. Burnout and social disasters probably would have been a common occurrence.

I hear from parents as well that they want the rate of growth for their child with Asperger's to be quicker and when talking to parents I do stress the concept of planting seeds in that it takes time to grow. I know I've grown more in the past four years than I did from the ages of 16-27. It was a long wait, but it was worth it. I never fell into a severe "fail set" mindset because I didn't have a major failure. I came close, but it didn't happen.

Look, I know there's a lot of people that want things to happen faster. I know I did! And I know for those that want it these words may be hard to understand, or maybe even called shallow, but there are times when time is needed. To not have the skills to handle everyday life experiences and expect everything to be perfect is not a good combination. I lived like that though; I had it in my mind that if I simply had a job that paid and I was flagging at the top then life would be good. I didn't realize that there's more to it than just a title and a position and the worst thing that could have happened is for my progress in life to be rushed. Sometimes people put an expiration date on hope, but sometimes hope, and progress, can take longer than we would like, but that's okay because going into something unprepared, in my opinion, would have been worse for me than waiting for the day when what I dreamt of being and doing came true.

Friday, September 26, 2014

For the Love of the Race and the Moment

So last month after the USAC .25 director and I went to a game at Camden Yards I became interested in how the umpires officiating the game got to that level of their profession so I did a little research and was amazed at just how hard it is to get to the top. A week later I would be at my sister's house where I said something like this. Mind you, these stats I'm putting are just from a vague memory and for all I know the website I read wasn't fully accurate. Anyway, here is what I said:

"So I got interested in baseball umpire and I looked it up and my goodness is it hard. A person has to start by going to an umpire school where, if you are in the top 15% of the class you may get offered a job in the lowest levels of baseball. The pay is low, the per diem is almost nonexistent, and the season only lasts several months but if you're good enough you'll get called up to double A where the pay goes up a little and the per diem pays for most meals and if you're good there you'll move up to triple A where then you're only one step away from the majors. Make it to the majors and it's going to be a healthy six figure salary, first class travel, and a per diem that would make most people freak. Here's the catch though; there's only 64 major league umpires and 256 triple A umpires and major league umpires average a 0.9 retirement average per year. And, on top of that all, if at any point in time it is determined that you don't have what it takes to make it the majors you are immediately let go and your hopes and dreams of officiating in the majors is over."

That was my speech which didn't impress my sister all that much and she quickly gave a rebuttal of, "Aaron, you call that difficult? What are you doing now going all about the country with your flags with no tiered system like baseball and the odds are against you making it to the top levels?"

I had to think about it because she brought up a highly valid point. When I read the road a major league umpire has and that it takes on average at least nine years to make it to the top I never once thought about the time, miles, and the physical toll that I am doing. In fact, in never crossed my mind. Why? I don't see what I am doing as work, exactly. Sure, I am working per the exact definition of the word, but is it work to live for those moments in a race when it comes down to the final lap and I am the first person to greet the winner?

Take this photo for example. I don't think too many people would find the position I am in to be enviable. If you are into racing then maybe, but that kart is doing about 80mph and there I am just a foot, maybe two feet, away from it as he takes the win in last year's SKUSA Streets of Lancaster race. I don't consider that work at all! I consider my work on a track to be art. Now granted most art projects don't require a person to sign a waiver, nor does it require split second decisions that could prevent a serious incident from occurring, but that's what I do and that is what I love.

I've always said my flagging and presenting go hand in hand and that without flagging I never would have had the confidence to present, and to this day flagging instills within me more and more confidence to give better presentations. However, this is a topic for another day as right now I am focusing on the race itself.

I can't remember a time that I wasn't waving a flag, to be honest, and somehow to this day I continue to, I feel, get better at it. I've always loved racing and I love perfection and the requirements of head flag/flagman/chief starter is just that. Perfection isn't expected, it's required and each race is an art in striving for complete perfection. I take my craft very seriously, just as I'm sure the umpires with dreams of umpiring a game at Fenway, or Wrigley have, and I myself have aspirations of making to the top levels of racing, but it doesn't matter what I'm flagging because whatever I am, for me, becomes the most important event in the world.

Perhaps part of the answer to my sister should have been, "Uh, because it's my Kansas" because the passion and near obsessive love, when it comes to one's Kansas, can defy what would seem to be logical. I'm not a risk taker and I lead a pretty boring life outside the fact that I'll gladly stand in front of a field of karts, with a flag in hand, and no fear in my heart, to get the job done. At the end of the day I'm not doing this to get rich, I'm not doing this to promote myself, I'm doing this to make an event that I am at as safe as possible but most of all I do it for the love of racing. I get to have the best seat in the house outside of being in the race and I get to be part of the show and I want my love of what I'm doing to be seen. No, I don't mean in terms of being the center of attention, but when the winner crosses the line I don't just want to hold a single checkered flag. Instead of that I want to make the crossing of the winner across the line a moment that the driver, and those watching, will remember. One driver, over a decade ago, said, "You make every winner feel as if they just won the Indy 500" and who knows, maybe someday I'll end up there. Many people have told me I will, but these are from people that have no say. It is a great compliment to hear, but hey, I've already thrown one green flag at Indy which is more than most people will ever do so even if I don't make it there on race day I still have enjoyed each and every moment I've had, and all the moments to come. Speaking of moments, it's time for me to finish this as it's time to create some more moments this weekend as it's once again the SKUSA Streets of Lancaster,

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Rememberance in the Air


I write this on a plane headed to California to work the SKUSA Streets of Lancaster race. A year ago on this flight I wrote with a heavy heart as I wrote about the passing of a former coworker. He passed away a year ago today and being on this flight right now has evoked all the emotions I felt a year ago.

Time is something I struggle with. Unless you have this I don’t know if you can understand, but for myself it is as if everything were now. Events of the past feel as if they are right this second regardless the amount of time that has lapsed. This can be a strength in that my memory of sequences of events is, well, if you were to ask my dad I think he’d call it, “annoying” but it is annoying to me because the old adage of, “time heals all wounds” often doesn’t apply.

As I look out at the horizon and the sun coming up I think back on the past year from this day a year ago. The sun has come up 365 times since then and yet I feel as if it were then. I think back to a year ago and the excitement I had leading up to my amazing national speaking tour. I also think back to all the days I’ve thought of this day a year ago. If I sound like a broken record that’s the way emotions sometimes are for us on the autism spectrum.

Each and every time I hear someone say the misnomer of, “people with Asperger’s have less emotions than others” I want to scream. Yes, sometimes we aren’t the best at expressing emotions but the level of emotions experienced on the inside, at least for myself, is massive.

One of the things I have struggled with this past year is the concept of time and the limit we have. I don’t know if it made the final cut of my book, but I remember writing something along the lines of wanting time to freeze because if it did there would be no change. With change comes the potential of loss and loss is something I don’t handle well.

Since a year ago I’ve had many conversations with my dad saying, “I’m not doing enough… I’m not doing enough…” and I think this goes to the concept of time. Time is limited and I know people don’t like thinking about this because if we did life would not be something to be enjoyed to its fullest but rather would be a countdown instead. I’m sort of in that place right now fearing the next event; whatever that event may be.

The ultimate thing I learned from this past year is that we, or rather I, need to make the most out of each and every day. Last year, in August, Matt had actually sent me a message on Facebook commending me on the response I had been getting at my school presentations. Not knowing how to respond I didn’t. So many times, yes, so many times this year I would have given just about anything to go back in time to simply say, “thank you.” This is something taken for granted on any given day until that commodity we have no control over runs out.
As with last year, writing on a plane, I am a teary-eyed mess and the passenger beside me is looking at me strangely obviously wondering what I could be writing that would get me so emotional. This, though, is the first time that emotions have flowed like this. I’ve tried to bottle it up, pack it away, and hope it would vanish. I’m sure though, as the plane lands in Salt Lake City, and I connect to the wi-fi to upload this, and then I fly to LA, and my focus turns to the race at hand I will be back on my game but before this window of emotion closes I have to say thank you to each and every person who has got me to where I am. Matt was instrumental in building up my confidence as a presenter but there’s been many, many more people whether it is family, current and former coworkers, the teachers I had. It’s hard for myself to express emotions. I never did before I started writing, but to this day it is still difficult. That being said don’t take that as a sign that we are apathetic to it all. As I often end my presentations I stress the fact that we do have emotions, often times to much, but our ability to say thank you, or other emotions, is often not. If you are a parent, a teacher, or anyone who works with those on the autism spectrum please be aware of this. You can go above and beyond the call of duty and do amazing things for us, or change our lives, but when it comes time to say thank you often times the saying won’t be said. Trust me when I say the emotions are there and in my case, after the fact, there’s a high level of regret that I was unable to say thank you.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Another Year of Magic

It's becoming an annual event at the Parkway West Middle School as I've presented their multiple times since 2011. The first presentation I did there was to the teachers, but then I spoke to the 6th grade class a few months later, and now each August since 2012 I've spoken to the 6th grade and once again I have such a feeling of hope for the future after my presentation.

I wrote yesterday that I was nervous, and I was. My school presentation is short at about 20-25 minutes and each story is central to the progression and I always fear I am going to leave something out. Thankfully, I did not, but the true magic in yesterday's presentation wasn't me but the questions asked.

In years past I had 50 minutes but this year it was opened up to 75 minutes because we've always ended with so many hands up and I was a bit worried that, perhaps, this would be too long. I finished my normal presentations and the first person I called on asked, "What inspired you to write your book?" What an awesome question! From there I was asked, "Yeah, I read a research paper that said that, if parents are older that the chances of autism go up, is this true?"

There were questions about me, questions about relatives, and I even asked a question to see how many people know a person on the autism spectrum and about 95% of the room raised their hands and I wish you could see that moment because at that moment a vacuum enters the room and there is a momentary silence that is unlike anything else as each person realizes autism isn't something that is isolated to their family. I then explain the number has gone from 1 in 1,500 in 1983 to 1 in 68 as of April.

The questions kept coming and I always enjoy my job, but when I'm being asked amazing questions about myself, or someone asks about a cousin they have, and it's asked with the deepest respect and has been well thought out, well, to say I enjoy what I do is an understatement. And that's where the final question led.

It's odd that it almost never fails that the last question is always a perfect way to end as a student mentioned that their mother is a teacher for those on the autism spectrum and one day she went there and after the experience she wondered if there was hope. As I composed my answer in my head I let out the biggest grin and I referenced a previous question that asked, "Why did you stop racing?" to which I had answered that I was glad that I had because, had I been racing, who would I help by winning races? After that I mentioned that just five years ago I still didn't fully believe in hope and I had, at that point, never given a presentation so, if you would have told me five years ago I would have done just 10% of things I have done I would have laughed at you and asked, "Why are you being so cruel? I'm never going to be capable of such things."

When it was over I still had 50 hands up and I wish I could've had the time to answer them all. I did have a dozen or so students stay around and ask questions for about 20 minutes afterwards which just reinforced the fact that this presentation was a hit and that, if we want to make the future a brighter place for those on the autism spectrum, we need to reach tomorrow's future today. The compassion, the quest for understanding, and the willingness to ask questions about autism impresses me unlike anything else. You should see it as when I first open up the floor no one wants to ask a question, but after one or two there's 100 hands up.

Driving away from the school I had to fight back tears because those moments where the impact is obvious is rare for me. I wasn't thinking about my presenting ability, or my ability to hold 300+ 6th graders attention for over an hour, but I was thinking back to a question that was asked in the middle of the question segment. This question went back to my "associative memory system" and the story about the soda can and he asked, "How are you going to remember us?" There was some silence because I had to get a hold of my emotions because the purity of this question was marvelous. However, I already knew the answer and I said, "By flags." The library at Parkway West has numerous country flags on display and for myself, in my memories, it is these flags that I remember the presentation to the 6th grade class. It wasn't until driving away, though, that I thought about this answer more and that each group of 300+ students I talk to will all lead different lives. Some may encounter autism, some may go into research (I can think of four students yesterday that I think want to go into the field) and others may never encounter it. Whatever the case may be they will have a better frame of reference because I'm allowed to come in and give my story. When thought about deeply, and when I think about the 1,200 total students I've spoken in that room with the flags, it's too emotional for me to express and share what it means.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

In the parking lot

After 560 presentations I don't often get nervous for a presentation but today is one of those times as it's my first school presentation of the year. 

I'm currently sitting in the parking lot of the school coming off a great police presentation this morning. This too is a dynamic shift going from police to 6th graders. 

The thing I worry about is the order of my presentation. With my typical presentation and police presentation I have a PowerPoint to guide me, but my school is done all by memory. Will I remember my order? If I leave one story out the whole system crumbles and thinking about it (and writing about it) isn't helping. But here goes, it's time to go and I hope I can give it my all. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Scary Moment, and Reliving it After

On Saturday I flagged a USAC .25 race at Eldora and I had to be home for Sunday so this meant a midnight drive back home to Saint Louis. When I got my car at the USAC office in Indy I somewhat smiled as this was the last time I'd be on I-70 Indy to Saint Louis until Christmas which, no offense to that part of the country, I've seen it way too much for one year. I thought it would be memorable for that reason but in the end it'll be remembered for something that could have been far, far worse.

The miles started to tick away and Monrovia turned into Brazil turned into Terre Haute turned into Marshall turned into Casey turned into Effingham. Passing the towns is just a marker towards getting home, or letting me know how far I still have. Doing this drive so often it is hard to keep 100% focus on the road because it's become so commonplace (and boring!) but as I neared the end of my trip and was just getting to Collinsville I got the ultimate reminder of keeping focus 100% of the time regardless.

There was a semi-truck in front of me that started drifting onto the right shoulder so I went from the right lane into the left. The truck slowed but was still traveling forward when, without signal and without warning, the truck made the hardest of all left hand turns and made a 90 degree turn towards the U-turn lane in the opening of the cable barrier. I didn't have much time to react as now the interstate was being blocked by a semi so I'm thankful I had 100% focus at this time because I quickly swerved my car towards the left and just barely eeked by the front of the truck.

I've seen lots of bad driving in all my travels but this is certainly the worst. I don't know at all why a truck would ignore on coming traffic and make such a dangerous maneuver. If I had been looking down, or maybe just glancing at my phone, I would not have had the time to react to this truck's awful move and avoid it the way I did.

I see a lot of complacency on the road and while you, or the next driver might be a stellar driving superstar on the road it doesn't mean everyone is. Just because everyone should be going the same way doesn't mean everyone does. I will probably never see a move as bad as the one the truck did, and I hope I don't to be honest, but it was a vivid reminder of just how fast life can change. Truly, had I been a half-second later, there would have been a collision and it makes me shake to think how bad it would have been.

Events like this stay with me longer than others I have learned. I play, and replay it in my mind over and over again. When I saw the truck's side I didn't experience fear as my racing instincts kicked in, but when I made it through I experienced the deepest of fears of what could have been. Yesterday I replayed this 1,000 times and last night I had dreams of this, and the other close calls I have had in my life. The thought process goes the same each time; I can see it in my mind, I think of how close it was, I think of how it would feel had I not missed it, I'm thankful I missed it, I fear the next time something like this will happen, and I think of everything I still need to do with this writing and presenting stuff and feel that I need to do more because time is something that we don't exactly have control over.

Besides replaying it over and over this has been the best reminder of keeping my eyes on the road. To be 1% distracted is 1% too much. At that moment that I squeaked by 1% would be the difference between writing this blog, or not being able to.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The "Don't Walk" Followers Concept

It's odd to start a blog like this, but let's start with a picture:



So what do you think of when you see this photo? Perhaps, "stop," or "don't walk" were the first to come to your mind. Here's another question: How often have you ignored this sign. You know, you look both ways and no traffic is coming so you go. Maybe you have, maybe you haven't, but whatever the case may be the law, at least here in America, states that pedestrians must follow these signs or, should one venture out whilst this sign is on, one would be considered to be jaywalking.

Why the lesson in jaywalking? I've observed an interesting dynamic in city areas and this sign. Typically, from observing, a person, or two, or maybe even three will be waiting because the orange hand is saying to and another person will reach the intersection. This person may be in a hurry, or may not like to wait, so they'll go past the people waiting and will look and see no traffic going and make the crossing. At this point in time those that were waiting, and following the rules, will more often than not ignore the sign and cross.

How does this dynamic have to do with anything? Ever since I wrote my Target: Autism post (which if you haven't read it you should!) it's been bothering me as to why it appears as if the incidences of people on the autism spectrum being abused, or having a prank pulled on them, is increasing at a staggering rate. Maybe it's just because the news and Facebook news feeds are reporting it. Then again, perhaps it is going up and if this is the case I have to wonder why.

In some of the stories I've seen regarding nasty and degrading pranks being pulled it's been more than one person doing it. This means it isn't just one person who might be having a bad day, or had a gigantic lapse in judgment and the disregard of another human being's feelings, rights, and self-esteem but rather a group of people. Going back to the sign, and maybe I'm making this to simple of a comparison, but could it be like the don't walk sign and since one person is doing it that means it's okay? Can people follow just one person where maybe one of the pranksters knows in their heart it is wrong but since the group is going therefore it is right and not something to be ashamed of?

I may be way off base here, but I need to know why this is happening because I don't get it. Quite simply, I do not get it but I hope that there's some logic to what I've put forth because if there is then could it work the other way as well. The other way? Yes, what if, instead of going with the group of pranksters one stands up and says, "NO!"? Who would people follow then?

Of course, I do need to say there is a big difference between those who cross against the light and the ones that abuse and prank. The concept here is that the people who were doing right followed the person who crossed against the light. So too, I wonder, do people follow that easily to someone who comes up with a sinister plan against a person? I have to leave it at that, just a question, because I don't know and maybe people are gullible and will follow one person feels that pulling a demeaning prank is a good idea. Maybe I'm just too naive, but I have to hope that it's this concept because the other is scary. So once again I ask, do people follow that easily? And if so, would they follow someone who stood up and said, "This is wrong!"

Monday, September 15, 2014

Positional Warfare: Life on the Other Side of the Mic

This past weekend I worked the final USAC .25 pavement race of the year at Columbus Motor Speedway. The race season is winding down, and yet I still have four total events remaining this year. Anyway, on Saturday morning, I got a surprise as I was told I'd be flagging at the big track that night with the program consisting of USAC Honda HPD Midgets, Legend cars, and crazy compacts.

Our .25 program had run a little long so when it was time I was rushed away on a golf cart and to the big track I went which, as I took the flag stand, it brought back memories of four years ago at the same place when I flagged my first ever big car race. As with four years ago something new was about to happen.

Hot laps began, then qualifying, and then the first HPD feature race and the race went smooth, green to checkered (meaning no incidents) and when the race was the winner stopped at the finish line for the usual interview. However, the person who had been announcing was dealing with an off track issue so there was no one there. I then heard over the radio, Aaron, do you want to interview him, big guy?" What could I say to this? The voice in my head was the owner of the track and it'd have looked silly to have a winner there expecting an interview with no interview given. Besides, I've done interviews on iRacing so how hard could it be?

Well, it isn't so much wanting to interview but it takes a microphone to do so. I looked around the flag stand because I was told over the radio it was, "near the flags" hence why I was looking frantically around my flags and stand to which there was no mic. Maybe 15 seconds passed before I heard over the radio, "No, not your flags, the American flag in the infield." With that said, I ran to the infield and grabbed the mic and headed back to Austin Nemire, whom had won, to do the interview. As I approached him I said, "This is my first interview so go easy on me" and after I said that I heard the announcer in the tower throw it down to me.

Instantly I started with the type of questions I've asked of people on iRacing after races. If it weren't for that experience I don't know if I had been able to do this interview. Sure, I've given 557 presentations to almost 50,000 people total, but I have complete control of that environment now; I feel safe speaking in front of people. In that environment there is zero interaction and when it comes to interviewing people on broadcasts of iRacing there is no physical presence and it's just voices. Here in lies the first experience of "Positional Warfare" I've experienced in a long time.

Before I continue I need to state what the positional warfare is. There's a saying out there that, "people on the autism spectrum may appear uncomfortable in their own skin" which I call this the positional warfare in that, no matter how I have my body and posture, nothing feels right. So imagine being in public and second, third, and fourth guessing the way your arms should be, your legs, your facial expressions. And then imagine having all these thoughts raging louder than the loudest noise you've ever heard with anxiety pulsing down your arms and legs.

So back to the start of the interview, I began with the start of the race and how was the car and Austin gave a great answer to which I went into a leading question which I've learned to do on iRacing. What's this? It's a question but I tell a story. I asked, "In the race you took the lead only to lose it the lap after in lap traffic and when you fell back a few car lengths did you think you had enough to get it back?" and again Austin gave a great answer and it sounded like something you'd see at a top level of the racing ladder.

So I was able to ask good questions but take a look at that picture. It may just look like me standing there, but this photo has, for me, frozen a moment of social paralysis forever. What you can't see in this photo is just how frozen I am. I could not move my left arm and it was frozen like that the entire time I held the mic. My head did not move as well and the only movement that occurred was my right arm and the microphone. That's all I could move as the positional warfare raged in my brain.

As the interview wrapped up I began to think just how difficult this had been and I felt a little bad about myself. I had just spent about 10 hours flagging and had experienced nothing like this. When I flag I am free and there are no thoughts of movements, posture, or where I am in the space I am in. I'm also like this at presentations and yet, with just one change in the environment, I become frozen in space which is why I said I am thankful to have had the iRacing virtual interview experience. With that I knew the script of what to ask, that and of course all the races I've watched for the past 30 years and hearing pit reporters give interviews, but having the experience and doing it myself I had the spoken words down. When it came to understanding the physical appearance, though, I had no experience and if it weren't for my previous iRacing experience the positional warfare would have made it to where I would not have been able to ask anything. Well, I might have been able to throw out a simple, "How was the car? Uh. Um. Yeah. Congrats?"

It was first for me once again at Columbus Motor Speedway and if I ever get the chance to give an interview like this again I'll have a little bit more experience to go by. Maybe I won't be as stiff and maybe I won't experience the positional warfare as greatly as I did. It was the first time I've experienced this in a long time as I have become a master of my environment and I've gotten excellent at avoiding situations that create this issue so it was a great reminder of just how strong of a sensation the positional warfare is.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Ever Anxious Mind

Last week I wrote about the target that appears to be on those on the autism spectrum and the potential long lasting effects of this. To compound this, and I've experienced this in a way, is the fact that my brain is an ever anxious mind. I am always on alert so to speak. What does this mean? I'm overly in-tune with my environment. "What was that noise? Is that person angry? Is that person going to yell? Am I in trouble?"

Those questions are things that go through my mind on a routine basis. Over and over and over and if you've had a traumatic experience, then the brain has more evidence that bad things happen. Case in point:

I go back almost a decade for this story and a bowling league I was on. After the three games one of my teammates complained about the way another bowler's daughter was behaving to which the daughter's dad took deep offense to it, and perhaps a few beers added to the response, but the response was dramatic. There was instant yelling and talk of, "Do you want to talk about this in the parking lot? Do you? I'll smash your head..." and the talk went downhill from there but eventually this guy started talking going after other members of the team. It took a second because I felt like an invisible observer, but then I realized, "Wait a sec, I'm a teammate!" and I froze.

The argument went on and on and at one point in time they were chest to chest, which looked odd as the size differential was massive and my teammate was half the size, but the yelling, slurs, and obscenities continued and I was paralyzed. Thankfully, and mercifully, the spouses got into the mix and the event ended and I think they even shook hands, but for me, I was stuck in that moment of supreme fear. I drove home from the bowling alley, and by this point in time it was midnight, and when I got home I woke my dad shaking. Shaking? Yes, I was shaking in fear. Absolute fear. I had never been so close to an event like that and not only was I fearing the idle threats (they were not idle to me) but here's the thing; using the concept of "Film Theory" in my book Finding Kansas, this set a new snapshot that major, random acts of potential violence can happen at a moment's notice.

When this event happened I had been writing for a month and eventually I wrote something along these lines, "I don't understand people. Why are they so loud? Why do they use such vulgar language? Why are they so mean? This being so other people are not worth knowing." Of everything I've ever written the ending of that sentence sticks out to me the most, and I know this is a bold statement, but having such an anxious mind a new precedent had been set and if this had happened once it could happen again and since it hurt me so bad I became afraid of the pain that could be.

What am I getting at? Going back to my Target: Autism post, the lasting effects of major events such as bullying, or violence isn't something that just vanishes. The above story stayed with me and the next time I bowled I stood at my front door staring out into the wild, that is the world, wondering, "is it worth it? Why should I leave the safety of this house? Why? Why? Why?" I did, and it took all the tenacity that I had, but others might not do this. The ever anxious mind just doesn't turn off. While news stories, and viral Facebook stories will talk about bullying in a tidy 30 second package what isn't shown is what happens after. What isn't shown, or can be shown in any way is the lingering fear, anxiety, shame, and potential self-hate that lasts.

There is positive in this in that more places are wanting autism/Asperger's awareness and understanding. The more places reached the more people might just understand that autism isn't something that lasts for a 30 second news bit. What might have seemed small could have life-long ramifications and this is why we have to go all out in getting to as many people as possible. To slow down, to yield, to think that "we've done enough" would be a great sin because one event; just one bully experience could destroy a life and that's why we have to keep going full speed with an unyielding vigor because just one experience is one too many.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Marathon Begins

I wanted to tackle the long list of posts I have waiting to write, but that struggle still continues. Anyway, maybe during this marathon stretch I have I'll be able to write them as today I head to Columbus, Ohio for the first of four straight race weekends. This week and next week will be in Ohio, then it is off to California, and my last race before the final race which is the SKUSA Supernats will be in New Jersey. It's going to be a marathon stretch for sure and I'm hoping it will give me the write experiences to be able to write these posts which I have the ideas for but I've got too many ideas at once.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Idea Overload

I've lost count of how many of the "best blog post ever" ideas I have had only to have forgotten it later. It took me four plus years but I've finally realized I can make notes on my phone to keep the idea. Sounds good, right ? There is, however, a down side. 

A typical blog post takes a day of thought; typically right after I finished that day's blog. I have a creative process and as I go to sleep I'm plotting the words I'll use and the next day I will write it. That's my process but now, having seven ideas waiting, the process is off kilter. Why? Instead of trying to plot one post I've got more than a week's worth of posts and they're going to be great posts, but thinking of all of them at once is overwhelming. 

This is very a kin to what school was like for myself. If you gave me one assignment I was fine, give me two I'd get a little nervous, but get over the three threshold and I'd get overwhelmed. It wasn't that I was incapable of doing the assignment but rather my brain would be working on all assignments at once which would not allow me to do any of them because I'd be preoccupied with all at once. 

When I was first told to start my blog I got very anxious because I wondered how I could keep a daily blog for a month or two and keep finding things to write so I had a piece of paper that I came up with ideas. Yes, this sounds like system of notes on my phone but this wasn't because I had ideas bit rather that I was afraid I would not have anything to write about. This paper eventually had two sides of prospective posts but the ideas were forced and weren't natural and I'd see all the posts at once and just like now I got overwhelmed.

I don't know what's going to happen to these ideas. Writing is a process and is something that can't be forced and having preplanned ideas is a different process but they are amazing ideas that have to be shared. I can't think of them all. I have to do one at a time... One at a time. Only if I had a brain that could do that without planning them all at once. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Target: Autism

I have to begin by saying that I'm angry; furious actually so I'm trying to stay positive but it's difficult as there's been an epidemic of... of... I don't know the right word to use.

The past two months or so on Facebook have been shocking as story after story of a person being abused, kicked, mocked, or some other dehumanizing act performed on them and I have gotten to the point where I am asking, "What is wrong with the world? How has our culture gotten to a point where the person or persons performing the act think that it is okay?"

Look, I realize that 99.9% of the population frown upon any sort of bullying, or worse, to anyone on the autism spectrum (or anyone for that matter) but the stories... My God! How is this happening.

I don't want to share the vast amount of stories and talk about the brutality of it as most people understand this. What is alarming to me is that these stories are increasing. Maybe it's always been this way and is just being reported. Or, is it that the autism spectrum is increasing as a target for, for, I want to write what I'm thinking about these people but you can use your own words to describe them.

I've spoken to many students on the autism spectrum, and over 10,000 students in general nationwide, and from the students on the autism spectrum that have been bullied in any form the lingering effects are, well, lingering isn't the right word because that hints of something that hangs around and slowly dissipates as the smell of burned popcorn lingers for a while. No, lingering isn't the right word because the pain these students described was as if the event had happened right then and there. In my life I've never had a bully event or something of the like (or worse) but when painful events happen they don't linger but rather they stay fresh as if the event happened five minutes ago despite the fact that years go by.

What this all means is this; whether a person plays a tasteless and humiliating small prank, to doing something that crosses every line known to mankind, there can be extensive damage. And not only that, as much as these events are showing up and being reported it is almost open season and autism is becoming the known target. Is it because we won't speak up? Is it because we are misunderstood? Odd? Quirky? How can any person deem and desire to cause hardship, pain, and dehumanize another living, breathing person? Living life on the autism spectrum is hard enough and now there seems to be a band of bullies that wants to amplify the hardships. Again, I'm at a loss when I ask, "How can anyone do this?"

With all this I'm afraid of a new stereotype. I've written at least a hundred times on my introduction about my diagnosis of Asperger's and the website I read that stated, "People on the autism spectrum will never have a job, will never have friends, and will never be happy" and for someone being diagnosed today, and seeing just how many sick minded people are exploiting and demeaning people on the autism spectrum, well, how could they think otherwise? Have all of our awareness and understanding campaigns been for not, or our some people just that way and they will find the easiest target they can find? If this is the case then does this mean we have to doubledown on our efforts? One school I presented at, and it was the first school I presented at actually, there was a student with Asperger's who was subjected to a brutal dose of bullying each day, but after my presentation enough students built a bully buffer and the problem disappeared. That's one of the events in my career that sticks out when I think about what I do, but I'm just one person and the stories of hate, and that's the word I'm going to use, the level of hate directed towards people with autism, per the amount of shocking news stories on the internet, is going up and I, for one, feel helpless about it because to the perpetrators that pull these events off they may think it's only going to cause a temporary pain, or temporary moment of humiliation, but for a person on the autism spectrum, contrary to some who think we lack emotions, that event will stay with us for a day, a month, a year, and potentially a lifetime. A lifetime, how can any person want to cause that much pain? I just don't get it.



Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Fever Effect

I woke up rather ill this morning and it made me think of this post, one of my most read, originally ran on May 13, 2010:


I don't know how to start this entry as this statement may seem odd. For some people these experiences might be very difficult, but for me I look forward to them. These experiences would be the best in the world, if not for the headaches, body aches, and the sore throat. Those side effects aside, a fever is a welcomed event.

Why is something that is so harsh on a body a welcomed event? I think I can say that the only time I relax is during a fever. It's a very bizarre sensation as my mind's habit of overly thinking about everything slows down.

Things seem to make more sense when I have a fever. Perhaps this is because my body's energy is elsewhere and my mental focus isn't dwelling on anything.

When I was in school a fever was like winning the lottery as it meant I would not be going to school. Could this be why I feel better, now, with a fever? Much like a certain aroma may remind you of your grandmother's house, a fever reminds me of the freedom of not dealing with school for a day.

I'm not so sure this is simply based on the memories of avoiding school. There is certainly a change in the way I process information during a fever. I know I smile more often and my rigidness to any and all things decreases. It's a shame that the side effects come along with the fever!

So, I do have a question of you whether you are or aren't on the spectrum; What is a fever like for you? I know I had a friend, not on the spectrum, that got really mean and almost aggressive when he had a fever. I was always confused by this because I associate a fever with relaxation.

Finally, I should say when I say fever I am talking about the 99.5-101 range. Anything above 101 has been truly unpleasant and it speeds up my mind to an unwanted level. When I had my bout with MRSA and my fever was 105 I could not slow my mind down. The unfiltered emotions I felt were to an almost unbearable level and this was weird because my strength in my body was non-existent.

So, again, does a fever change the way your mind processes information, or am I the only one who has this seemingly odd characteristic?


PS, I have known this about myself for a long time, and first talked about it openly in 2005. I never thought anything of it, but after writing this I did a Google search of "fever" and "autism" and many media outlets (webmd, Time, ABC News) all have had stories such as, "Fever may improve behavior in kids with autism".

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Dangerous World of "What if..."

Before I begin I have to state that there are two ways "What if" can go. The first is my favorite, and perhaps my dad's least favorite, as I would ask, "What if X happens during Y..." or many different variations of that question. If you are a parent with a child with Asperger's I'm going to say you've probably heard this question once, twice, or more times than you'd like to recall. That being said the other version of what if is much, much more sinister.

This past weekend I was in New Castle, Delaware flagging the USAC .25 Battle at the Bird and on the ride home Sunday night I had lots of time to reflect on the past 11 years. Somewhere past Wheeling, WV I looked up at the stars and I thought back to months right after I got diagnosed that I would go out on the front porch past 2AM and just stare up not looking at anything or any star at all but wondering "What if?"

Many questions would follow my what if, "What if people understood me?" "What if what I wanted to say and how to say it actually happened?" What if people were nice?" And always at the end I'd get to the most damaging question of all, "What if I were normal and didn't have Asperger's?"

Sure, even to this day I have that what if question, but back then that question hung wide open and I didn't have an answer because, to me, the secret to life was simply not having Asperger's. So I guess I did have an answer actually and that was a life fulfilled, happiness, a job, and everything positive in life laid in a realm that was impossible to reach because I had Asperger's.

As we drove further on into Ohio I stared up at the Big Dipper and this was something I'd often gaze at, most of the time unknowingly, back 10 years ago and my self-talk was nothing short of hate. If you could go back and interview me 10 years ago I'd have been honest and I would have told you I hated who I was and I'd give anything to be someone else. This is the dangers of "what if" because, to me, normal equalled happiness and everyone else in this world had life on a string and there were no such things as hardships, misunderstandings, or challenges. Why? Because my self-talk 10 years ago went like this;

What if I didn't have Aspergers? If this were the case I'd be happy. Pure and simple! If I didn't have Asperger's I'd have a job. Oh! how I wish I could have a job. A job would make me happy, but I'll never have one because of what I have. If I didn't have Asperger's people would like me because people don't understand me and I don't understand them. In fact, if I didn't have Asperger's, I wouldn't be scared of other people the way I am because people are random and unpredictable and this frightens me. Most of all, if I didn't have Asperger's, I could be loved.

Those were my thoughts on many a countless night in 2004. Depressing? It was and I hope what you read didn't create a sense of sadness in you as that was not my intent. Actually, far from it because as we made it to Columbus and the downtown skyline could be seen I once again played the "what if" game but it was different this time and it went like this:

What if I didn't have Asperger's? Would this make me normal? What is normal, anyway? If I didn't have Asperger's I wouldn't have the job I have and I wouldn't be able to make people laugh, cry, and most of all think and understand the autism spectrum. If I didn't have Asperger's people might not take note of me because I'd fit in and maybe I'd understand some people more, but then again I might not understand myself. In fact, if I didn't have Asperger's, I probably would be scared of public speaking as it seems most normal people are scared of it. Most of all, if I didn't have Asperger's, I wouldn't be me!

Perception and hope go hand in hand and it's amazing what ten years will do. Not everyone has the hopeful outlook I have, but that's my mission as I am adamant that, if the world knows more about us, there's going to be more acceptance and understanding. Back when I stared up at the endless blackness of the Saint Louis night ten years ago this was the only thing I yearned for! This was the motivation to start a project which was one of my most hated things in the world, which was writing, but I had to do something because the what if thoughts were destroying me.

Anyone can play the what if game so I think, and hope, you can relate to this. I'm sure there's an instance in your life that you thought, "What if I took the other road?" or something to that extent. From that point there are an infinite amount of possibilities, but imagine having just one question! Imagine thinking every second of every day about your existence and this thing you have. Of course, I got horrible information when I got my diagnosis so the prognosis was awful, but once the what if road is taken the person who I was didn't matter. I didn't see me for who I was rather I saw myself for who I wasn't. As it turned out I came out the other side, but I know there are others in that place where I was and when I get tired, when the countless miles driven and presentations given add up, I think of this. Hope is important, hope is needed, and awareness and understanding are the seeds to make this happen and as we pulled into the hotel last night I had a new found energy on my mission. It was hard to revisit those thoughts I had from 10 years ago, but I had to share them as there is hope, there is always hope, and it might take some time, but from 10 years ago to today I can guarantee you would not recognize the person from then to now.