Finding Kansas: Revisited
(Do note that this intro was written after the segments that follow so there could be repetition, but I trashed the original intro to write a fitting one on the anniversary of the events that changed my life)
So here I am, 10 years later. My house has changed, my profession has changed, I’ve traveled more than I could have ever imagined and I’m of all things a public speaker. Ten years ago, however, things were much different. There was no realization of hope and my days consisted of nothing but whatever the hottest video game was. Life was simple and yet life was something unfulfilled. I mean, who was I? Why was I here? It had been nearly 15 months since I got my Asperger diagnosis and everything in my life had fallen apart. My girlfriend? Gone. Jobs? Ha! Friends, what friends? I was alone, isolated, and outside of my house, and bowling team, my existence was a confusing one.
I had stayed for fifteen months in a deep depression because the only thing I knew about Asperger’s was what I read online and it said, “people with Asperger’s will never have a job, never have friends, and will never be happy.” With that being said I wondered what the point of life was. If failure was a certainty what was the point of trying? However, in realizing this I was stuck with knowing that I was a person with potential, but I didn’t know how to express it vocally. I’d have a crying fit at least once a week, sometimes more, in which I would try and express something, anything, to my dad and I would just repeat the same thing of, “I… I… hurt…” but when asked I could only say, “The core… which is… I… don’t… know.”
Then, right before midnight of February 8th, 2005 I had had enough. I don’t know if you’ve ever been pressed to a point of such internal strife that existing hurts and you’ve got all these emotions but no means to express yourself. I was still reeling from breaking up with my girlfriend on Christmas via text message. I mean, who does that? How could I express what had happened and why? How could I explain myself? How could I make it so that the world wouldn’t hate me as much?
I was playing Project Gotham Racing 2 and the song “You Don’t Mean Anything to Me” by Simple Plan played and something happened; I felt this newfound motivation to explain myself and I looked over my should to my computer and I inched over and opened up Microsoft Word. My hands trembled as I looked at the screen and a blank page. Where could I begin? What would I say? I started simply by putting my girlfriend’s name as the title and I went from there. Since then every chapter and blog post has been written with the same and I start with the chapter and I work from there. So here now, is Finding Kansas: Revisited. Please note that, the first chapter in my book was not the Emily chapter but rather a piece I wrote from my college comp 101 class which was a great lead in to the potential I had and the strife I was in.
The Best Day
The first chapter in Finding Kansas wasn’t written for the book but rather was a paper I wrote in my college composition 101 class in 2002. This class was difficult for me because writing had never been something I enjoyed. I could do it, though, as my 7th grade my teacher found out when she had an assignment of, “Write about your favorite topic” and I ended up writing a 78 page, single spaced, history of motorsports.
Other things written in school, at least in the lower grades, often was not written by me. Who wrote them? Let’s just say my dad didn’t do the most pastorally thing by being a very good ghostwriter. He had been a newspaper reporter and television journalist, and wrote countless sermons so writing single page papers for me was no problem. Was this the right thing to do? Well, um, no, but sometimes I got what I deserved by his habit of not proofing a paper and in fourth grade I (he) had to do an article about the liver. Sadly, his keyboard had become defective and the “L” key had become numb. When talking about the liver the letter “L” is important and, well, let’s just say I had an amazing article on “The iver.” I got a C+ on it, or he did.
Anyway, time had moved on and in this college comp class I no longer had ghostwriter privileges and I was confronted with an assignment akin to “Write about your favorite topic” as it was, “write about your favorite day.” This was easy for me as I chose the time I ran my first race.
To this day that day feels just as fresh as today and after reading the chapter I can still see in my mind the track (it’s now gone and I have blogged about it in the past) and sense the anticipation. Honestly, I had never awaited something more than that day. It was odd writing that chapter though because, for the first time in my life, I was enjoying writing. The words simply flowed from my mind to the computer screen without thought and without effort. I’d write a paragraph, then another, and I had no idea where these words were coming from.
The major part of “The Best Day” is the ending. When I wrote this chapter racing was still plan A in my life, and was the only plan. Autism, Asperger’s and anything of the sort was a world I had never heard of. And what did it matter? What did anything matter? In my life the only thing that mattered was tenths of a second and whatever kart was in front of me on any given race weekend. I don’t actually remember why I did that semester of a college to be honest, it might have been pressure from Emily as STLCC Meramec was where she had gone for two years, but I wasn’t fully invested because, as I end The Best Day, I was set in my eyes and I had proven that I had a God given talent to race and nothing was going to stop me from reaching the Indy 500. It wasn’t long before all my hopes and dreams came to crashing halt with the words, “You have Asperger’s” and with that The Best Day was forgotten and I descended into darkness which is where the rest of my book was born.
I’ve been excited to do this project minus the first two chapters I first wrote because, well, I don’t really want to revisit them, but if I’m going to do this project properly I can’t omit them.
It had been 15 months removed since I got my diagnosis of Asperger’s and, on the night I got my diagnosis, I read that fateful website that stated, “People with Asperger’s will never have a job, will never have friends, and will never be happy.” This wasn’t written in the chapter because it was still so sore, so fresh, and I didn’t want to acknowledge it. However, before I wrote about Emily, I had to start writing so what was the motivation? Before that February night I wouldn’t write about anything because I saw it as a waste of time. Besides, if there’s no gain, why do it? On top of that writing often deals with emotions and emotions were something I didn’t want to talk about or acknowledge. At the same time I was being destroyed from within. I was frustrated, alone, isolated, and hopeless and I wanted someone, anyone, to know who I was and that I was alive and in this world. I wanted to go from invisible to visible and also I needed an outlet to prevent this internal destruction I was feeling so, at 1AM on a hideously chilly night I sat down and, in 18 point font, put the chapter title at the start of the document and I was off.
When writing this chapter I put on the song, “You Don’t Mean Anything to Me” in a futile effort to convince myself that the song title was true about Emily.
Who was my intended audience when I started writing? Here’s the beautiful thing; there was no one. At first I didn’t know if I’d even let my dad read it because it was so personal and I never would discuss anything regarding anything remotely close to emotions. However, as the hours ticked by and the words kept coming I thought that this would actually be a way for myself to communicate with him to let him know who I was and why I was.
After my diagnosis I felt shame. Why couldn’t I just be normal? Prior to the diagnosis I was unaware of the challenges I face which might sound like a better place to be than where I was but in the long run it was much better to get the diagnosis, but at that point in time I was just in a state of shame and self-hate.
I finished the chapter of Emily four hours later and the original version of the chapter was much, much longer. I was overly specific on many things and VERY long winded. One thing that impressed me, however, was the fact that I would write a sentence that would bring a tear to my eye and the next sentence I’d give a witty remark. Again, all this was done without effort. These words were simply just there and why wouldn’t they be? I had be in a living hell for fifteen months assured that my life would amount to nothing and the only thing I had was this relationship and I ended it by breaking up on Christmas via text message. Seriously, who does that? Going back to the “Best Day” chapter, that college comp teacher said, when giving a lesson it what people want to read, “Look people, whatever you write remember one thing; no one wants to read a breakup story. It’s been done before, it will be done again, and chances are you won’t add anything to what’s already been said.”
The teacher’s words were actually in my head as I wrote about Emily and as 5AM came I just about hit the “delete” button to destroy the previous four hours’ worth of work. Then I thought, “Who is going to read this, anyway?” After that thought I realized that the memory of Emily was left in just her phone number. At the moment I realized I had an associative memory system for the first time and as I came to the conclusion of the chapter I wrote that which was, perhaps, the major step towards continuing to write because I didn’t just write about fact but rather I came up with an abstract concept and I began to understand myself. Truly, the words, “number: phone numbers” might have been the most important words I have ever written because without those this, the book, and who I am would not be here in this capacity.
So what about Emily now? There hasn’t been much change. I will cover these minor changes, including a reference about her I heard from someone at jury duty, and the most recent time I talked to her in 2008 after I hit the horse with my car. However, last year, when I received the Polish Edition of my book (Odnalezc Kansas: Zespol Aspergera rozszyfrowany) I sent her a picture text of the dedication and she sent back a “?” Okay, so she has no idea the impact that her being had on me and that’s fine, but when I first wrote her chapter I had no idea people all over the US, and Poland, would read about our story. I had to dedicate the book to her though and I secretly knew this after I finished her chapter. No, I didn’t have aspirations to write a book but if, just if, someday somehow I did I knew it had to be done.
I didn’t care if I heard the line that, “no one wants to read a breakup story” because I felt this was different and I had added something that hadn’t been done because, seriously, who breaks up on Christmas? For those that like sequels I can assure you there will be no such chapter in the future, but seriously, and back on point, an hour after I finished the chapter I was in bed and debating on if I should delete it, but instead I got up, printed it, and placed it on the stove for my dad to read in the morning and I went to bed nervous having no idea how my dad would receive it.
I left the previous post on a minor cliffhanger and that was on purpose. The next morning I got up and saw my dad, well, I say morning but it was actually afternoon, and when I saw him he didn’t immediately say anything about what I had written. Moments went by and I said, “Did you see it?” and he replied to the positive and I asked, “Well, was it not bad?”
“Was it not bad?” became the routine for me. He then encouraged me to keep writing because it, “was not bad” so the next night I wrote a chapter that was actually harder to write than Emily. It was odd because I had known Emily for almost four years and Linda I had only seen in person for about 12 hours.
I do realize that it can be confusing to read my book in terms of things being in chronological order because Linda occurred before Emily. However, as I sat down at my computer at 1AM to write again I figured since writing about Emily was easy I’d tackle the biggest burden I had ever felt.
Why was Linda harder to write than Emily? I’m not sure. Perhaps it was the fact that this was a new experience, and as I mentioned in the chapter that I never thought I’d be even somewhat likable.
Reading this chapter, for me, was just as hard as writing it. It’s amazing how an event 15 years ago can hurt just as much as it did then. Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t envision that we’d get married or anything like that, but there was a connection I had never experienced with a person. Ever. It was this that hurt so much after the fact which made writing it so difficult. I felt as if I’d never experience that again.
There were so many events within this chapter that shaped who I would become in life. And, as with Emily, my original writing of it was rather long-winded, something like 25 pages single spaced, but I did give a lot of useless details (well, useless to you meaningful to me.) The biggest series of events were all the violent situations that had occurred and close calls I had experienced. And, one thing that I did notice and it had to be an editing error, was that in the book it was mentioned that Greg Moore died in an Indy Racing League race when it had been a CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) event. I think I read a review somewhere on the internet that slammed me for this, but I would never make such a mistake.
Okay, as proven by my mini-tangent in the prior paragraph, I’m trying to avoid talking about this chapter. If this experience in my life were a chess match it’d have been one of those games where you get checkmated in four moves as I did everything wrong. I didn’t know about Asperger’s, I didn’t understand life, and the only thing I did know was racing. The moment in the chapter, the one where we hugged and she disappeared into the throng of people is a moment that is still as fresh now as the moment it happened. If my book ever gets made into any type of movie I’m going to be very particular about this moment because it’ll have to be perfect as I remember each step. I don’t know if when I wrote it originally, or if this post will give it justice in terms of just how devastating it is to have felt cut-off and isolated forever and for just 11 hours over two days to feel a connection; a true connection. Whether it was caused by me or her is irrelevant because the fact of the matter was that there was a connection and as fast and as spectacular as it was it was not.
I do wish a bit that the unedited chapter was out there because there’s more to the Linda chapter than Linda herself. I may have written about her but the chapter is in full essence about myself and the way an event can stay with a person for a long time. My dad after this would say, “Aaron, don’t worry about it. Time heals all wounds” and no words have ever made me more frustrated except, “I understand.” I didn’t have the understanding when I wrote this in that everyone doesn’t have the memory I do. I thought everyone remembers everything to the detail I do so I couldn’t fully explain how this was frustrating me.
So what about Linda now? In my 2nd book, I think, I give a brief update but the way I ended the chapter in my book is the same as it is now. In 2008 I did find her on Facebook and I sent a message simply apologizing yet again but it was never responded to. The words, “Have a good life and please never try and contact me again” still echo. Again, this isn’t about her but about me and a person I had a connection with I drove away and by the way, one thing I haven’t mentioned is that I sent the final message mentioned on page 29 on Valentine’s Day so yeah, I’ve done both with Christmas and Valentine’s Day for final messages. Moving forward, again, there will be no sequel to this chapter as I think I’ve hit every holiday that make the worst breakup days. I do wonder though, if maybe, just maybe, I will get a message someday saying, “Hello, do you remember me?” After 15 years, however, I don’t think I will but I still wonder whatever happened to her.
The next morning (afternoon) was a repeat of the morning after I wrote about Emily. My dad didn’t make reference to what I had written so I once again, “Well, was it no bad?” and each time I asked that I asked with a severe trepidation because I was sure I was going to be yelled at for expressing myself. Yelled at? Yes! That’s what the punishment was in my mind about expressing my emotions because, when expressing emotions, I had no idea how the other person would react hence why I would avoid it all together. Catastrophic thinking? You bet it is, but that’s the mindset that I have to deal with and it was dealing with these thoughts on the day after I wrote about Linda that spawned the next night’s chapter.
It was once again 1AM and I had to explain my trouble about speaking about emotions without coming out and saying it forthright. To do this I thought about how I struggled with the rules of engagement when speaking about emotions and the blindness I had to the response and how this is the opposite of playing a game.
As I began reading this chapter I found the first major difference between then and now and that is the line of, “it isn’t winning or losing that’s important, it’s the game itself.” Back then I was so satisfied with playing a game because playing a game was rare. When I wrote this I hadn’t been on Xbox Live for a full year and I playing games with friends was an uncommon thing. As the years have gone on, and I’ve become more competitive, I play the game to win. Becoming #1 at whatever I do is the only thing that matters and in my 2nd and 4th book, and 5th book that I am writing I talk about this. (Note: Only Finding Kansas is published at this time)
However, when I originally wrote Game Theory, the only thing that mattered was the game itself. I used to, and still do in open ended situation, struggle with the timing of a conversation but within a game there’s more rhyme and reason to the steps of the proverbial dance that is a conversation.
During the progression of writing Game Theory I once again, albeit briefly, allowed myself to think that maybe I was not just writing but creating something special. As fast as that fleeting moment was I went back to writing and I truly directed this chapter to my mom who couldn’t understand why I’d spend an entire weekend away from home to play just one game of Monopoly. With the internet it’d be much easier now, but in 2003 it was my only social outlet. It was an environment that I felt normal because the rules put forth a stable environment.
I knew I craved rules long before I knew I had Asperger’s and I knew I was different in this regard to others. It’s becoming more and more obvious that people on the autism spectrum are drawn to games and that makes me even more proud about this chapter because an article about a research paper I read stated everything I had written long ago.
There are other aspects of Game Theory that are critical as the seeds of coming up with Alias and the Kansas concept were planted in this chapter. This also amazes me because this was just the third chapter I had written, but I had so much confidence to push the limits (remember, these were my limits and I still had no idea how anyone would react to me expressing myself) and tell it like it is.
Game Theory is such a critical component of the autism spectrum, in my mind, that it plays a major part in my presentation. I have a much better understanding of this concept then I did when I wrote it and I made reference to not understanding the social rulebook and in my presentation I present it like this, “Within rules everything is known and I love Monopoly but shame on any of you who plays with house rules such as a Free Parking jackpot or double the salary for landing on ‘Go’” I do say that jokingly… somewhat, “Look people, their called the official rules, please read them. Thank you. I say this because of this, if everyone in the entire world plays Monopoly with the official rules then no matter where you go, whether it is Estonia, Lithuania, Italy, Spain, Brazil, or where you want to go the rules are going to be the same. Now granted, the languages will be different, but the colors will be the same, the dollar amounts the same, and the pictures on the cards will be the same so you can be 6,000 miles from wherever you call home but you’ll be able to play the same game.” Do you know how comforting of a fact that is? For there to be a constant is for there to be heaven on Earth. When it comes to social rules it is entirely different as one minute the rules are this, then they go to that, then this go back to this, then they go to this and that. Since those on the autism spectrum typically have issues reading social cues and can sometimes fully miss non-verbal social cues how can we be expected to have any idea of what is going on? In a world of a game those misunderstandings are often omitted because within rules everything is known.
The previous three chapters were written in less than 26 hours of each other and the following day I didn’t write. Again, I had no motive or any inkling of what these writings would become. Besides, who was going to read these words? Actually, a leading doctor at the time would.
My dad had sent the first three chapters to a doctor on a Wednesday and, surprisingly, the doctor quickly responded telling him that my words had a high value and were quite valid. My dad in turn told me and the next night I had another writing explosion writing three chapters and “Work” was the first of them.
While reading this chapter the memories of all the jobs mentioned flooded me. I still treasure the nights spent at the bowling alley. I truly do. Was it glamourous? No. Was it tedious? Yes. Was dealing with the occasional drunk who blamed me for their inability to bowl fun? No, but when you’re 16 and you have your first job there’s something ambitious about it; this concept of starting at the bottom and the sky is the limit beyond that.
The bowling story in there about Carol is true; she did mock any person who was a “donkey” (not exactly the word she used) but the 858 three game series I bowled still haunts me. In the book I mentioned I had not had a 300 but seven months after writing the chapter I would bowl a 299 to get a ring and a year after the 299 I would finally meet perfection and have a 300.
While the bowling alley was the first job, and the video duplicator which was briefly mentioned was the 2nd job, the job of relevance is the video game store. As with “Game Theory” I started coming up with the “Alias” and “Kansas” concept without knowing it as I wrote about my ability to sell.
As with the days at the bowling alley I look fondly on my time at the video game store. In my presentation I do not talk about the loss prevention guy as that experience was one that took a very long time to recover from. With the staff turnover the new staff had no understanding of me and in my presentation I do say those there became rude and they did. I had zero social awareness and I went to work to work and those that were there with me didn’t want to talk about work (or work for that matter) and couple that the fact that each time I went to the backroom I had a flashback of being asked, “Do you want to go to jail?” it was too much and I threw my name tag on the ground and I quit.
I then worked at a bank, but that job wasn’t a good fit and then I remained unemployed for many years. In my 2nd book I will talk about this desire to work and it was great, but the trouble starting a job, and fearing the inevitable and what I believed to be a guaranteed failure scared me. Did I need money? Yes, but at the time the pain of the job wasn’t worth it. Mind you, it was after the job at the bank that I found out I had Asperger’s and after that money didn’t matter because nothing mattered.
One point, going to the start of the chapter, was how I started flagging. There are so many people that got me to where I am today and Frankie the flagman was one of them. I wrote in a somewhat negative tone in my book about him such as how his age was affecting his abilities and how, literally, the club was worried for his health on hot days, but those Sundays at the track with him and hearing stories from USAC, motorcycles, to even boat racing was a treasure. I don’t remember his last name as it was a long German name, and if he were still alive he’d be in his 100’s I’m sure, but he gave me my first job and in the list of people in my life I’d like to thank he’d be in the top three.
As you know, things have certainly changed from when I wrote this chapter as I do have a job now. Could I have ever imagined having a job like this? I mean, I even have a title! Autism Ambassador for Easter Seals Midwest. If you would have told me this when I wrote the chapter of “Work” I would have simply laughed at you. “Hope?” I would have said, “You expect me to have hope? Did you read the chapter? Seriously, did you? You honestly think I have the ability to have a job, and it be full time, and that I’ll have it for many years? That’s a funny story!” But my, oh my how time can change things!
I have to be honest, the only thing I remember about writing this chapter was speaking about my ability to see all the racecars on a television screen and be able to see trouble long before an incident occurs. This has since gotten better since I’ve flagged many more races than I had when I wrote this. As I say in the chapter, “Ask my dad how aggravating it is.”
So yes, I don’t remember this chapter but it’s amazing that the chess metaphor is exactly what I use in my presentation. One thing, at this point in time, is that I did not understand the processing component of being on the autism spectrum. I talk about the delay in understanding and I asked the question in the chapter on whether or not I’m overanalyzing and I now know that this is the truth.
Another thing is that I still make the same chess mistakes to this day. I’m a member on chess.com and as the moment my I write this my ELO is 1322 and I have 452 wins, 322 losses, and 26 draws. I am above a 50% win ratio, but the games I lose I lose because of the reasons stated in this chapter.
I think this chapter was my starting to understand the concept more commonly known as, “Theory of Mind” or as I call it, “I think therefore you should know” which will probably be the title of my 2nd book, but in chess, or socializing, there is a need to be able to see the other person’s side. For myself, it wasn’t there. Has it gotten better? A bit, but there are still situations where I will be blind to what is going on and as I end the chapter, I still would give anything to have the ability simply to see the other side.
--à Writer’s Note: It’s been five months since I wrote the above so I may repeat myself in future chapters…
It’s been a while since I last worked on this “Finding Kansas: Revisited” project and I don’t remember what I’ve said so pardon me if I repeat anything. That being said the next chapter up is Fear which was written the same night as “See.” Reading this chapter, well, it was difficult. I think this chapter was the first time I turned a corner so to speak in that this was, I feel, the first time I went completely under the surface and gave the world the true inner struggle I have to deal with.
Some things have changed since I wrote that. The most major of them all is that Emily and Linda are simply a long ago memory. I wrote somewhere, and maybe it’s in a future chapter in the book, that I feared I’d be stuck with the same memories of them forever and I’d never move on. The thing is, though, whenever I feel any emotion that’s the way I feel which makes it rather difficult to understand that things do, even if it takes time, get better.
Other things have not changed. My birthday is still a traumatic experience and the fear of loss is still crushing. Another aspect I have is the fear of losing what I have now. I fear going back to where I was when I wrote this chapter; alone, isolated, jobless, and feeling hopeless. Again, this is the fear of the fear. I now word it as saying it isn’t the storm itself that is difficult but rather the anticipation of the storm. Often times the anticipation is far worse than the storm itself, but if fear starts to run wild then it will run unimpeded.
All in all I can’t believe I wrote this chapter so soon in my writing journey and to read it, and to experience it again, was difficult and so much so I don’t want to add anything more to it because this chapter is something I deal with to this day.
It was twenty days from the time I wrote “Fear” to when I wrote “Trapped.” Writing comes in phases and also a bunch of exciting stuff happened in the middle. One was watching the yearly Speedweeks coverage of NASCAR at Daytona, but I also had a meeting with a production house that did ABC’s Indycar coverage in working a few events as an intern of sorts. I was really excited at this prospect, but it feel through at the last moment due to changing of intern policies.
Another thing that happened was that I was preparing to go to Kenya for the first time and when I got my yellow fever vaccination I had some sort of reaction when the needle came out and my blood pressure dropped and so do I. I’d lose and regain useful consciousness for the next two hours at the ER before I finally stayed awake but it’d take a full week before I regained my energy.
To make matters worse the highly anticipated title of Gran Turismo 4 came out so that too took up a great deal of my time but then when March 2nd happened I started to write once more. It was actually playing GT4 that inspired it, as noted in my calendar journal above the fact that I wrote this chapter I put, “Why am I not racing in real life?”
So this chapter of Trapped was the first time I used my motto of, “change is bad.” I actually had forgotten that the story of the St. Elmo, Illinois water tower was in my book and I still do wonder whatever happened to that 1988 IHSAA final four team.
Another point of this chapter which still ring true is not remembering people. I can still recall that hotel lobby in Lithuania but the people there are blurred out. I wonder what this chapter would have looked like had I had the awareness I had now, and the knowledge I gained from the time I ran my Sunglasses Experiment.
As I finished this chapter I reflected that the challenges I have with time and change have remained; the difference is in that they aren’t consuming me as they used to. Another factor is that other challenges and events have replaced those mentioned in this chapter, but the challenges are still there. Somewhere along the way I got stronger. Maybe it was writing. Maybe it was accepting that chapters like this, and the way they play out in my body, are simply a part of me and I can either fight it, or accept it and deal with it. I think I used to deny the feelings which always led to bottled up emotions.
This was another chapter that was hard to read. I probably mentioned this but I have never read any of this and reading it has been difficult. I am astonished and what I knew back then, and the old me has actually made the current me think about things. I don’t know if that means I’ve regressed, or if my views have just broadened so much that I’ve forgotten where I came from, but again this chapter was a little unsettling to read.
I wrote this chapter write after “Trapped” but in terms of this Finding Kansas Revisited project several weeks have gone by. I actually write this on the 10 year anniversary of writing “Emily” and if it weren’t for this anniversary I am unsure if I’d ever have finished this project. Reading “Trapped” was a rough experience for me and I don’t exactly mean this in a bad way. It’s just that I feel as if I haven’t written anything as relevant as that chapter. I probably have, and I’m about to read tomorrow and will write on that, but that’s why I’ve feared reading my own works.
I was right. Just reading the first chapter continues the true essence of the struggles I face with having Asperger’s. There’s a glimmer of hope as I wonder if that magical racing ride would happen and my life would begin, but I see much more negative in what could be. Also, in the second chapter, I already have isolated the fact that I don’t remember people but oine thing that I do, and forgot that I do because it’s so much a part of me, is that I do remember people in my dreams. My dreams were, and still are lifelike and as vivid as watching something on television. To be honest, many of my book titles and blog posts were born in the middle of the night while I was sleeping. However, I still fear each morning as there’s no telling what atrocities may have occurred while I was sleeping.
The fourth chapter… it was the essence of where I was when I wrote this. It was March 2005 and time was ticking. I know I cried as I wrote the words that, “there’s a youth movement and already I’m considered old.” I didn’t know it, and couldn’t conceive it, but what I was doing was setting up a new life through the words I was putting down.
The following chapter is yet another thing I live with the quote of, “I am oblivious to any notion that good will come tomorrow.” I live in the now. I know now. Now is a constant that time erodes. With time comes change and change is bad therefore tomorrow, and an hour from now, it’s all unknown chaos. I knew that then and I still know it to this day.
The final paragraphs may seem confusing, but it’s more of the “core” that I wanted to explain. Part of my severe anxiety to life is this fear of change, and tomorrow has more change than anything. I planted the seed of knowledge within myself on this chapter. I didn’t exactly say it, but there’s a hint on understanding the fear of change within itself is, or can be, worse than the change itself. It would take a while, but I’d eventually be able to write that, but beyond that point this chapter is another one that I feel is part of the core and essence of who I am.
There’s been two versions of my book. The first was a self-published version and then in 2011 Perigee, a division of Penguin, picked me up and rereleased it in 2012. There was some editing, okay, a lot of editing done and many of my repetitious things got cut. In one way this was good because I was extremely long winded with chapters like “Emily” (26 pages single spaced!) and I repeated myself many times along the way. This, for one reason, was because there would be a few weeks that would go by between chapters and I wouldn’t go back and read what was already complete. There was another, and main, reason for this and that was that I was feeling the same emotions over and over and over again. Just because I’d written one thing one way one time didn’t mean those emotions were gone. This is one confusing thing I’ve heard from parents and that is, “why does the same thing bother my child over, and over again?” The reason is that, whatever is now is forever in our minds and in this chapter of “crash” there hints of this as I repeat several times, as with the chapter prior, hoping that I would get that call and know that my life as a race car driver had begun.
Outside the repetition there are other tidbits of knowledge that are important in here and one of them is the way I describe the feeling as the final checkered flies. I feel this same feeling to this day but it isn’t for the reasons mentioned in this chapter. I’ve come to the conclusion that, now mind you, I feel 100% mentally and physically exhausted at the end of a race day because… wait for it… because I am. I put more effort into waving flags than most and my mental ability to pay attention to everything does wear on me but not until after the fact.
As I wrote this chapter I’d never envision that I’d be a national flagman for not one, but two series and can say I flag the largest karting event on Earth with the SKUSA Supernats. That’s like an NFL referee knowing that they will be working The Super Bowl each and every year. Also, I have all the travels with USAC and the .25 series. However, if you want to see me at my most emotional state, find me after a race because, chances are, I have experienced this crash phenomenon I state because I am tired, but I’m also having a coming off the mountain experience. This too happens after presentations by the way.
Oddly enough, the day after I wrote “Crash” I would have a major social disaster happen at bowling which I am unsure if I blogged about it, or if I wrote about it in this, or one of my following and yet to be published books, but if it comes up I’ll reference back to this.
Also, and to conclude, it would be 17 days until I would write my next chapter and that chapter would be written in room 312 of the Imperial Hotel in Kisumu, Kenya and would be an experience that would change my life forever.
The next two chapters were written in Kenya. I do have a chapter about that coming up, but the reason I had writing time was that I had stayed back in Kisumu as my dad went to the Masi Mara region because I had come down with some weird virus and was feeling under the weather. Due to this I slept a lot, but it was a unique feeling being on my own in a foreign country. Everything I needed was at the hotel so I didn’t leave, but there also wasn’t all that much to do. Writing never occurred to me up until I had had enough with the television options. For one, there was a channel that showed American movies. Sounds great, right? Nope! Instead of big blockbuster offerings it was a constant barrage of movies like Glitter (there’s a reason why its Metacritic score is an abysmal 14) and the other channel was a soccer channel. I could’ve gotten into soccer, but the commentary was in French and I don’t speak French. All that being said I decided to start writing and the first chapter I wrote was this one entitled “School.”
As I started reading this chapter it felt as if I were just reading the transcript of my presentation. Also, it was like hearing all the stories I’ve heard from other parents who have had a child with Asperger’s go through the same struggles I did.
I should’ve elaborated more in first grade about what I meant by time, but that’ll come in a later book. There is something amazing though that I hope you take note of. I’ve written about Mrs. Jendra several times in all the good things she did for me, but while I was writing this chapter I was unaware of it. I do mention the games we played in which I always became the “retired” champion. This did infuriate me at the time, and also when I first wrote it, but I now realize I am who I am because of that. I mentioned in this chapter that, “I’d much rather play the game than be the emcee” but being the emcee has allowed me to host many more games, ahem, presentations than I ever would have otherwise thanks to the public speaking experience I garnered then. I didn’t realize it when I wrote this in Kenya, but as I say now, “with Asperger’s it’s like planting seeds, you’ve got to give it time to grow.”
I’ve continued reading this chapter and when I got to the homeschooling section I did shake my head at my choice of words in that, “There were no annoying idiots in the class (except for my cat)” I wouldn’t use those choice of words now, but when I was in school at that age that’s how I viewed others who didn’t follow the rules. You either were right, or I viewed you as one who does the wrong things and, well, as I wrote in 2005, “annoying idiot.” Can I get an edit of that word in a future edition? My cat though, yes, he was annoying and he always got sent to the principal’s office. Seriously, if I tried to do any work he’d lay right down on the paper so it was always a trip to the basement for him. It was okay, he liked it down there.
When I got to the final chapters I, well, I felt as if ice water had flowed through my veins. I was right in that, had I stayed in college, I’d have been in graduate school at the time I first wrote this chapter. Here’s the thing that got me, though, and that was, “What pains me the most is realizing how smart I am and knowing what positive things I could do in the world, but this hatred of school will block any major thing I might want to accomplish outside of racing.” Okay, again, we’ve got repetition, but that sentence is the hole I was in when I was writing this. I thought I’d never amount to anything and a job, a profession, a career, and any glimmer of hope or happiness was impossible in my mind. If I have ever written a line that was a bigger fallacy than the quote I’ve quoted in this paragraph I’d like to read it because, in life, we have no idea what lies tomorrow. Yes, I did cover my fear of tomorrow which fueled my belief that hope was dead, but here I am, a decade later, stating just how far I’ve come and that while hope may seem elusive, dead, or a thing that isn’t reachable, it is.
It was fitting that I wrote this thousands of miles away from home and while my dad was hundreds of miles away in a foreign land with no means to communicate because the start of this chapter captures the essence of what it is like, for me, to have Asperger’s. It’s weird writing a book report of sorts on my own material, but I still can’t believe I was so precise so early, but the metaphors I use to describe the loneliness is nothing short of spot on.
The next section in which I speak about starting things made me laugh because I’ve blogged about this several times and had no idea I had already written about it in my book. Again, I don’t remember what I write word for word and outside of the concepts I don’t remember how I worded things in my book so it did make me chuckle that I identified this problem long before I re-identified the problem in a blog post back in 2011.
The next section, about the practice session at the SLKA, was a great learning experience. There’s a reason why no one starts out at the top of their game and that is the fact that a person isn’t ready. While that practice session went off without a hitch, I learned that I had to be more assertive and at that point in my life I feared the consequences of every action I took. The following year I would be voted in as race director and my ability to make decisions, which sometimes were difficult (you try and tell a nine year old that they are DQ’ed for the day after heat 2), became easier and easier. I never could have imagined (I know I’ve used that a lot in my Finding Kansas Revisited series) that I’d reach a point where the challenges I wrote about would ebb, but with working with USAC and SKUSA I am now firm on when I make a call I voice my opinion about it. I could share many stories about this, and I’d love to actually, but I’ll spare you the excessive race talk.
Still in the same segment I realized and isolated the issues I have with time-lapse and processing delays. What I didn’t know then was that this issue wasn’t because I was “slow” but instead it was because my brain was/is going too fast. A lot of people have talked to me about my wordage and issues at bowling with coming up with the right thing to say only to find that a few hours have passed and that I’m driving home. During those few hours it isn’t that I’m slow, as I’ve said, it’s that my brain is going so fast trying to come up with the right thing to say so I’m coming up with thousands of possible responses then I’m trying to think of what the response to my response is going to be. It’s an infinite platter of possibilities that can’t be predicted and yet I’ll try and predict the unpredictable thus my response time can be greatly delayed.
I finished this chapter by writing about my experiences in Kibera which I referred to as a, “mega-slum” in my book. I’ve kept the picture of me there in my presentation within the “Alias” section because it was writing this section that the seeds of my future were planted. While writing the Kibera section I thought, “What if someone, anyone, out there is going to read this in the future? If so, I need to explain where I am, and what it is like. This was the first time I allowed myself to think that what I was doing had merit.
There were many more chapters I wanted to write but sadly, shortly after finishing “Scream” my dad’s laptop computer power supply cord shorted out and I was stuck with no computer and only bad American movies or English soccer in French. As bad of a situation as that was nothing could prepare me for what was coming four days later.
Shortly after returning home from my trip to Kenya I had to write about it. I had been on one international trip previously with just four months prior I had gone to Lithuania, but in the time I grew in just those few months I appreciated all the little aspects a little bit more. That, and when a mob of homeless boys holds you captive, well, it proves for some writing material.
My appreciation for airports begins this chapter and I still very much look fondly upon the Amsterdam airport. I would go through there two more times after writing this chapter and I often look up airfare to Amsterdam just to experience the airport. I love travel, I love airports, and there’s nothing better than a five (or more) hour layover in a place you’ve never been. What, you don’t agree?
I was 22 years old at the time and the drive I talk about on the road up to the camels was one that was just full of awe to me. I had done some traveling across the US, but I had never been this far out of my element and to see so much different landscapes in such a short time furthered the process of my eyes opening to the world.
The story mentioned after the camel may not be over a page long, but in my life it has been played, replayed, lived, and relived over and over in my brain. I wish I had been a tad bit more long-winded to describe the terror experienced during the mob ordeal. However, unless you’ve gone through an episode like this, I don’t know if any words, no matter how complex and awesome of a vocabulary one has, words are useless and irrelevant to describe what it was like. Since then, and I’ve blogged about it almost yearly on the anniversary, it stays with me and when I saw the movie “Captain Phillips” it was too real for me and I broke out in the coldest of sweats.
What is highly relevant in this, and I didn’t write about it because I was unsure about the relevancy of my words, is the fact that not only did I survive, but I survived at a point in time that I allowed myself the iota of a notion of a thought that maybe, just maybe more words did have a hint of relevancy. If that sentence sounded unsure I made it that way because that’s where I was, but the fact that I survived something so dramatic and so dangerous and the same point I was about to dedicate myself to my writing work allowed myself to go even deeper within the depths of my brain to come up with more and more material.
The Kenya chapter may read like a, “what I did on my summer vacation” type paper that I remember I had to write every school year, but make no mistake that the five pages that plays host to this chapter are sacred in my life and without that story the rest of the story would never have been written.
Right after I wrote Kenya I wrote what would become my first mission statement ever. I don’t know how to follow this chapter up as it’s self-explanatory. What played out in Kenya, and what I had written the month and a half prior, had led me to this decree that, “All I want is for someone to care, to know, to understand. And maybe, for that brief moment, I will be free.
Two Hundred Forty-five Boxes
This piece is written for all the people I wish I could tell my story to.
An interesting title is the first thing that caught your eye. What could 245 boxes mean? If you’re a warehouse worker, it may mean your worst nightmare. Then again, if it’s Christmas, it may be that you are really loved or come from a really big family. But in this case, it deals with the calendar. The time span this piece covers is 245 days, and as my journal is in box form via a calendar, that is how I came up with the name. What is one box (or one day) to a normal person is just another day gone by, but these past 245 have been memorable for many different reasons, and the word “normal” can’t be used to describe any of it, so here we go.
I hope if you are reading this you have read all my prior writings; if not, that’s okay in this piece because there won’t be too many references to prior events, and if you have read my writings before, some things that happened in 2005 will be rehashed.
We start with December 15, 2004. Besides the fact that my calendar mentions that Hanukkah ends on that date, it is the start of the 245. On that day, I had what you could call a date with a girl by the name of Rachel. I had met her on the Internet, and the day prior, I spent six hours talking to her via the Internet. On this Wednesday, I met her at my favorite pizza place and we talked, then I went bowling in my late league. This date was noteworthy because it was my first date in over a year and even more noteworthy because I actually initiated the contact.
The story of Rachel only lasts five boxes, as she was a bit too out there for me. As she put it, “Beer has killed too many of my brain cells.” But the end of that story leads me to the start of the Winter Solstice and the start of my overseas travel.
December 21 is the date that I will remember forever because one of my life’s dreams was fulfilled. I finally was going to travel beyond the borders of America. My fifteen minutes in the fifty-first state, ahem, I mean, Canada, doesn’t count (just kidding, Canada!). With my great memory I cannot recall what time we left, but I do know we flew from Lambert to O’Hare in Chicago. I wasn’t in the least apprehensive about any of the travels, but in O’Hare for a short time, I didn’t know the whereabouts of my dad. I quickly became panicked, as I did not have my cell phone on me, and my brain started to think of every bad scenario that may have taken place. It wasn’t long before I found him, but for some reason, he was a bit on edge, which, in turn, put me on edge, and then we disagreed on something, so at the start of this trip, there was a bit of tension. Oh, I forgot to put where we were going. Not too many people are traveling out of the country for Christmas unless it’s family related, so I guess I should mention where we were going and why.
My dad is a film producer/director/writer type of person, and he had a project to do in Lithuania. For those of you geographically challenged, Lithuania is east of England and was part of the former Soviet Union.
The tension quickly died down, not because we resolved it, but just because there was so much to think about and to prepare for. For me everything was a new experience, and I wanted to take it all in. In fact, I can’t even remember what we disagreed about, but whatever the case may have been, after the four-hour layover, it was off to Frankfurt, Germany.
The plane ride was a peaceful one, probably because of the destination than air currents. Traveling anywhere, when it leads to what one wants, always tends to be smoother.
We arrived in Frankfurt as the sun was rising, and while looking out of the plane on approach and taxiing, there was only one thing on my mind, Which way is the Nurburgring? The Nurburgring is a famous track in Germany that the public can drive around at any speed for a certain price (I think about twenty dollars a lap). As much as I pondered that, it was time to get off the plane. I was shocked and almost afraid, as we had to exit the plane and get off on the tarmac and get into a bus that would take us to the terminal. It was a very eerie feeling exiting the plane and being so close to the massive turbine engines. I conquered that short fear and entered the bus, and we were headed toward a place that in my mind is one of the most compelling in the entire world, and that is an international terminal.
Writer’s note: There are many different stories or pieces that could be written by themselves in this time period, but this will just be one long one with everything being covered that happened in that time period. I may write more about one topic or another and may provide more insight on something, but I will not be throwing anything out like a “game theory” or something of the sort.
On that Wednesday, the twenty-first of December, I got my first taste of an international terminal. It was almost to the point of sensory overload for many reasons. There were shops that had products I had never seen before, there were at least a dozen dialects being spoken, and the sheer size of the terminal was almost breathtaking. But what really struck me was the sense of goodwill in the air. My experience was, that it is a place of peacefulness even through the chaos of hurried and weary-eyed travelers.
After the layover there, it was time to fly to our final airport destination—Vilnuis. As we taxied toward the runway to take off and leave Germany, my thoughts were on that for the short while I was in the same country as a friend I used to know, Ashley. But as much as I dwelled on that, I had a book to get back to and it was a short flight (well, short if you consider the length of the flight from O’Hare).
We got to our destination, and what first struck me while we were taxing toward the terminal was the coldness of the airport. What I mean is that at the end of the runway, it looked like a prison. The architecture of the surroundings had as much life as a cemetery. The wall between the airport and the road was a three and a half feet-thick concrete wall with enough barbed wire on top to kill an elephant. This was a definite sign that this country was once under Soviet rule.
As we got off the plane, we met the pastor that would be our guide of sorts, and thankfully for me, he spoke English quite well and was more than eager during the stay to answer my questions about Lithuania.
That first day we spent in the capitol city and my dad did a couple of interviews, one being the head bishop of the Lutheran church of Lithuania. The church that this bishop was at was in the middle of a very highly populated area, and the density was astounding. The roads are small and packed, and the last place you’d expect a church to be, there it was. What was even odder, there was a beauty salon connected to it and was essentially part of the basement.
We didn’t stay there at that church too long, but long enough to hear the story of how the Soviets had trashed it during the Soviet era and how it was, and still is, being rebuilt to its former glory. I also tasted coffee for the first time, and I can tell you, I’m never trying it again. Even though my dad said it was a very strong brew, I’m still not going to try it again.
From there, we drove around the city for a short while, and it was during this short while that all the day’s travels finally caught up with me. I started to fall like a brick from a high-flying plane. I was awake long enough to be scared to death a thousand times by psychotic European drivers (trust me on this, if you think Chicago is bad, you haven’t seen anything). So psychotic, in fact, that in a thirty-minute time span, we saw the aftermath of no less than five fender benders.
From Vilnuis, we had to drive about five hours to the city where we would be staying. I don’t remember that ride because I was fast asleep once we left the city, but my dad said I didn’t miss much except a drunk driver that nearly killed us.
After that drive, it was finally time to sleep in a bed. We were staying in the resort town of Palanga that’s nestled right off the Baltic Sea. We were dropped off, and as soon as I could, I was asleep in the bed, and it was a very comfortable bed as well.
The next day we got up early, and we had a busy day ahead of us, but first we had to eat breakfast. We ate at the hotel restaurant, which would become the norm for us while we were there. I can tell you ordering food in a foreign land is quite interesting. If you order bacon and eggs, that’s exactly what you get: bacon and eggs as one. But besides the actual food topic, during this first day of breakfast, I heard a very familiar song. In the background, there was this song in a language I do not know, but I knew the song. It took me about fifteen seconds and then I realized that the song was in the game of “Project Gotham Racing2,” so now any time I hear that song I am instantly taken back into that hotel restaurant in Lithuania in the wintertime.
Like I said before, we had a very busy day. It was the day before Christmas Eve, and we had many different places to see and do. One neat thing I did was walk over the Baltic Sea on this pier-like thing. While doing this, the waves were very choppy and the clouds coming ashore were quite ominous. A whale of a sleet storm backed up their ominous appearance. We quickly took shelter under the pier, but it quickly passed and we went back to the car. We visited with many different people on that day and saw much of the western part of the country.
That night we went to our guide’s children’s Christmas party/play. It was an odd sensation to see a play and all the interactions but to not understand a word from anybody. It was neat to see that the interaction between parent and child is the same there as it is here.
After all the walking, we were very tired that night, so we went to bed expecting to sleep until morning. We were both wrong on that assumption because around 3:00 a.m., that wonderful thing called jetlag hit both of us. Somehow my dad knew I was up, and he asked me if I was and I replied that I was wide-awake. Instead of fighting it, we decided to stay up and read the books we had brought. To a tourist this experience may have been a bad one, but those two and a half hours were some of the most memorable of the entire trip. Maybe it was the sense of safety in that hotel, or maybe it was the fact that I finally realized I was halfway across the world, but whatever it may be, I will always remember those hours reading and being with my dad.
We finally got back to sleep, and we got up and it was Christmas Eve. We ate breakfast again and the same lady waited on us. My dad asked her how long she worked because it seemed like, regardless the hour, she was there. The answer she gave was shocking. She stated that she worked from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. six days a week! In all the places I’ve been, it is the people stories like her that I wonder where they are as I write this. Is she still working sixty-hour weeks? How can someone do that and appear to be as content as she did? I could go on and on with those type of questions, but there’s more of this trip to talk about.
Once again, it was Christmas Eve, and after eating breakfast, we went with our guide to this house where a birthday was being celebrated. But this wasn’t just any birthday. This was a birthday for a woman who was turning one hundred. That is just mindboggling for me, because she would have been alive for the pre-Soviet era, the Soviet era, and the current state it is now. Those eyes would have seen so much. And I better not forget they also saw WWII. At this party the people were quite friendly toward us American strangers. They asked us what it was like in America, and this one older woman was very intent on wanting to know why American movies were generally violent. All in all, it was a very memorable experience. Also, of personal note, that party was the first time I drank anything with alcohol in it. I had a glass of champagne. I didn’t willingly drink it, but when handed something and the person seems quite intent on giving it to you and you don’t speak their language, I thought it would have been quite rude not to accept. Only later did I know what it was.
That night we went to our guide’s church service (by the way, our guide’s name was Darius) and I felt almost ashamed that I wasn’t paying attention in church, but I had to keep telling myself that even if I paid my fullest attention, I would be unable to understand a word anyone spoke. So after that I went to the side room and continued to read.
After the service, I was in the back of the church just observing, and again I was shocked on how the interaction between people is almost identical to ours over here. Not that I was expecting a polar opposite or anything, but it was very weird to see a parent care for a child, but the words make no sense.
After the church was locked up, we went to one of the elder’s houses and had Christmas dinner. The family was very nice to us and, for the most part, all spoke English. It was very intriguing to see Christmas customs of another country. The niceness of those people made me wonder why America isn’t as warm. The sincerity of the people is something I have never witnessed before. That warmness from people would be experienced on the next day as well.
Christmas day was just like the day prior, except the hotel restaurant was closed, so that was a bummer. Thankfully, Pringles taste the same over there as they do here, so I munched on those, and the Cherry Coke’s taste is also quite close (don’t taste the Sprite though!). During the course of the day, which would be our penultimate day, we went to three different churches and saw the place where a very big church used to be, but it was destroyed in the war.
It was indeed Christmas, but for me it didn’t feel like Christmas at all. Christmas for me is all about routine and being with the same people, so while the calendar said it was Christmas, it didn’t feel like it. In fact, not even the temperature felt like it, as it was considerably warmer there than it was in my home in St. Louis.
The next day would be our last full day in the country. Sadness started to creep in, as I am very much sentimental and every little thing I saw I knew it would probably be the last time I saw it in that place. For instance, that morning would be the last time I would have those bacon and eggs; that night would be the last night that I would walk into my room.
That day would bring news of the terrible tsunami, but hearing the news reports in a different language kept us from knowing the full effect of the disaster.
The last day we did some more touring and videotaping, and we also went to the Amber Museum. That museum was one of the weirdest I have ever visited; not so much because of what it is, but because of its surroundings. Its location is in the middle of this large park, and on this cold, snowy day, there were no people about, but in the middle of this park, there was a massive museum. Behind the very large and heavy doors were actually people who work there. It was just very odd, because it was about a half-mile walk to the place, and not a soul outside was to be found, but inside there were people. It was just a bit strange.
That night we had our final dinner in Lithuania, and what a dinner it was. We ate at this pizza place that isn’t more than a quarter mile from the beach, and let me tell you, it was the best pizza I have ever tasted. If I ever have a lot of money, I may have a spur-of-the-moment urge to buy myself a plane ticket and fly over there just to have that pizza. It was so good, it should be outlawed! During that great meal, it was fitting that the sun was setting, because the sun was also setting on our journey. In less than eight hours, we would be headed back to Vilnuis to board a plane for home, but as that meal lasted, it was such a fine end to such a wonderful stay in a wonderful country.
As I walked into my room for the final night, I silently got misty eyed, but my tiredness let me fall asleep fast enough before I broke out into full-blown sobs.
After a short five-hour sleep, Darius was there to pick us up, and I said goodbye to my bed, and room, and hotel, and then to Palanga as the lights fell behind the horizon outside the rear window of the car. I slept the rest of the way to Vilnuis, and as the sun rose it was time to enter the airport and start the long trip home. Our first stint would have us fly to Warsaw; then from there we were back to Frankfurt.
Our layover was to be just two hours long, and because we were going to be flying back on a 747, we barely had enough time to finish our McDonald’s meal. We got to the gate right as it was starting to board, and we were set to make our final voyage back to home…or so we thought.
We boarded the plane normally and then we started to pull away normally, but then I noticed that a lot of little lights were flashing above all the steward stations. Then I noticed that all of them were on the phone, and I knew that this wasn’t a normal situation. I quickly thought worst-case scenario: Was it a bomb? Had we been hijacked? What was wrong? We started to creep back to the terminal, and I told my dad something was wrong, but he quickly dismissed my fears. They were found out to be somewhat grounded, as the captain came on the PA and said that there had been a small fire in the air-conditioning duct. The repair time was only an hour and a half, so after that we were back up in the air headed to Dulles.
When we got back to American soil, we quickly had to get to our gate because of the prior delay, but thankfully we made it. But then, because nothing for me can ever be normal, our plane we were on for the last leg of the trip wouldn’t start. After another thirty-minute delay, we were finally taxiing toward the runway. That’s when the captain came on the PA and said some very unnerving words, “Okay, folks, as you noticed, we wouldn’t start and we were able to fire the right engine, but the left won’t fire. I’m hoping as we go full throttle the air will kick-start the left and everything will be fine. This is a normal procedure, but you may feel some tugging as we go down the runway. Like I said, this is a normal procedure. I haven’t done this before, but we should be in the air momentarily.” I know people like to tell it like it is, but did he have to say that he had never done this before?
As you can tell, we made it because I’m writing this, and after a long trip we were home, but my luggage was not. Somewhere it got lost in between Dulles and Lambert, and it would be three days before I would get it back. In my luggage were the mementos I had been given from Darius, so I was very nervous that they would be lost, but thankfully, I received them with my luggage. The mementos are in a white box that was taped at the Vilnuis airport, and I have yet to open the box because I fear it would be too painful, because the memories of when I received them were of such joy that I don’t know if I could handle the memories now.
Jetlag hit me bad, and the next three days are somewhat blurred. I bowled in my bowling league on the twenty-ninth, and then for some reason I drove to Indianapolis to see my mom, who was visiting my brother. I had slept from noon until eight the day prior, so I was awake enough to drive, so at 1:00 a.m., I decided to go.
It was a very foggy and nerve-racking trip. The fog was dense enough that from the right lane you would be unable to see the median, and all the while I was being passed by trucks and cars who were doing at least twenty miles per hour more than me and I was doing sixty, so I quickly picked my pace up because I would much rather do the hitting than be hit.
I made it safely to my brother’s house at six in the morning, and my mom was up to meet me. Later that morning my mom and I ate at IHOP. We talked and I talked about my trip and all that had happened since the last time I had seen her. I really wanted to see the Brennons, but contact could not be reached so my hope that the prior Christmas could be relived was dashed (Okay, I made one reference to a prior piece).
That evening, due to the jetlag, I went to sleep at 4:00 p.m., but because my brother’s place is rather noisy, I was awakened at 10:30 at night. I knew that I would be up for some while, and I didn’t want to sit and do nothing for the entire night, so just as spontaneous as my decision to drive to Indy, I made another one to drive back just twenty-one hours after I started my way there. My mom didn’t like this, as she wanted to be with me for New Year’s, but like I said, I didn’t want to do nothing all night, so I left and headed back home.
Something happened on that drive home that was most unexpected. My former girlfriend, Emily, called me and we talked for a good forty minutes. As she started to go, she said she would call me back after she ate, but in true Emily form, she never did, and to this day I haven’t gotten that phone call back.
That brings us to the end of the turbulent 2004. Will 2005 be any better?
As 2005 started, jetlag was dogging me much like a mosquito that keeps buzzing your ear. I just couldn’t shake it or get my hours back on a somewhat decent track. On January 4, I slept an astounding seventeen hours, and then I finally regained some control of normality on my sleep schedule.
A week and a half later, my dad talked to the Linger Production Group. They are the ones who produce ABC’s telecasts of the Indy Racing League races and the Indy 500. He talked to them about getting me an internship of some sort, and on first talking with them, it seemed like something could be worked out. Five days later it was said that I would be working the St. Petersburg race.
January 30 would mark the day that I would start to really take my writing seriously, and after that day I have been firing off pieces left and right.
February 4 marked my twenty-second birthday, and in true typical Aaron fashion it was a rather depressing day. For me nothing is more depressing than a birthday. It’s one more year toward the end, the end of what I don’t know, pick something and that’s what’s closer to the end.
Eight days later I would be watching Speed’s coverage of the ARCA race from Daytona. It was a crash-filled race with several red flags and one extended red flag because a car destroyed the catch fence and it needed to be repaired. Later in the race, on the next to last lap, the screen flashed quickly to a car upside down sliding down the backstretch. As it slid, it got back into the grass and started to tumble, then it was hit hard by another car, and immediately after that happened, the shot changed and the angle was now looking straight down the backstretch. As the angle changed again, more cars could be seen flipping, and one car flew as high as the top of the catch fencing. It was, to put it mildly, a horrific scene.
Speed’s coverage of the aftermath was horrible. Not a mention of the crash in the post-race interviews, and they went to their NASCAR pre-race show as if nothing happened. This scared me, as in the racing world no news is bad news. Had a driver been killed? Or more, did a car off the screen fly into the lake or into the stands? What happened? The Internet sites were mum about it, and for the next hour and a half there wasn’t a single word about. I went absolutely crazy in fear that something horribly bad had happened. In the end, just one driver was moderately injured, but that time of anxiety was very, very great.
Four days later, it was confirmed that I would be going to Kenya later in the year. This was great news, because I was getting very depressed because I wasn’t doing much of anything and there wasn’t really any progression of any sorts on any topic, so this was much-needed news.
That weekend saw the running of the Daytona 500, and it was a very depressing time. It was the first time in over six years that I would be watching the race alone. Prior to 2005, I either saw it with my dad, or from 2001-2004 I watched it with Emily, but since she hated me, and my dad had a business obligation, I was relegated into watching it by myself.
Two days later, though, all that would be forgotten, as my dad and I were headed to Indy to have a meeting with the Linger Group. My dad said that the meeting went well (I couldn’t tell if it was a good meeting or a bad one), but it was decided that my first work would be the Indy 500 and not the St. Pete race. This was decided because the Kenya trip would interfere with that race.
Two days after that, on February 25, it was time to get my shots for Africa. Prior to this day, I had a streak of 386 days without a hospital visit, but this day would see that streak end, but not of my own doing.
I don’t remember much about that day, and the first thing I remember is grimacing in pain as the yellow fever vaccine was injected into me; then suddenly everything went black. I don’t know how long I was out, but as I awoke temporarily, I thought I was getting out of my own bed to go get the shots, so it was quite the shock when I was dressed, sitting in a chair, and the lights were on. I simply asked, “Dad, where am I?” and before he could give an answer, I was out again. I have snippets of memories of that time and the time I came fully aware of my surroundings in the hospital. It wasn’t a pleasant experience at all, as it felt like I had been awake for a week with no sleep and no food. What had happened was the needle had hit a nerve and it triggered a very long medical term but, for space’s sake, it caused me to faint.
Not much of note happened between that incident, and it was time to go to Kenya on the twenty-first of March.
At this point in time, please refer back to “Kenya.”
I probably saved myself three hours by doing that, but I’m sure if I had rewritten it, it probably would have been the same anyways…
At this point in time, please refer back to “Kenya.”
I probably saved myself three hours by doing that, but I’m sure if I had rewritten it, it probably would have been the same anyways…
As hectic as December to March had been, the first three weeks of April were very dull in comparison. Bowling on Mondays and Wednesdays was about my only excitement, minus the weekends I flagged.
The twentieth saw me to see a coworker I knew six years prior. Her name was Carol. It was very nice to hear how she was doing, but it was also saddening because I instantly remembered all the memories I had. And when I mention memories, I just not only remember the time working with her at the bowling alley, but I remember the entire time era that I knew her. So Linda was remembered, and the days I would go over to my dad’s apartment and play “Grand Prix Legends” and the afternoons where I would go to play golf at Forest Park. It’s amazing what one person can do to unlock so many memories.
Two days after that meeting another incident would occur. I was flagging a practice session, and at the end of it the primary race director wanted to chat about where the next race’s starts would be, so he got this flatbed (not a pickup, imagine a golf cart, but without a top, longer, and with just one seat), and we were going to drive out to the finish line. As what I mentioned in the parentheses, it only had one seat, so I was seated on the flat part. Bad idea! As he drove toward the track and made the turn onto the track, the vehicle was traveling too fast to hold me, and I was flung off much like a rodeo rider is bucked off a bronco. I landed on the ground, thankfully feet first, and I was able to take about five steps before falling, and those five steps let me land on grass and not asphalt. But in the end, I had a sprained ankle, and another trip to the hospital would be necessitated.
The prognosis was good, and it was only a mild sprain, but the hospital visit would prove to hold more boxes of my calendar than just April 23. The trooper that I am, I flagged the next day; granted, I was hobbling, but I did do it.
May 2 would be a day that would shape the rest of the year so far. Before this date, I was still looking forward to working for the Linger Group and being at the Indy 500 as an intern. But on this morning, I would wake up with a phone call saying that ABC had taken over the dealings concerning interns, leaving me cold and in the dark. It was a very bitter day for me. I had been told that it was going to happen, and as so many things have happened before they fall through.
Three days later, I went to a baseball game with my stepbrother, Mike, and normally a game itself isn’t worth putting in something like this, but during this game, the other team had runners on first and second with no outs, and Mike said, “Boy, a triple play would be nice in this situation,” and no sooner than he finished the word of situation, a triple play had happened. Not too many people can say they have seen one of those.
May 9 was the day I completed reading A Tale of Two Cities, and I’m not much of a reader, but that was a really good book. It was very depressing, as I saw myself in one or two of the characters (too bad for you, I won’t mention who), and it was a rather bleak book. The next day I would start to get very sick, a sickness I will never forget.
May 10 I woke up with what I can only describe as a pimple on steroids on the back of my neck. On this day, I would think nothing of it except some mild discomfort, but the morning of the next day would prove to be very bad. I woke up with a fever that eclipsed the 104-degree mark, and I woke my dad and we went straight back to the hospital (this is why I mentioned prior that the hospital visit would be in more boxes).
I was admitted to the ER, and the ER doctor lanced the bulging abscess and then put me on IV antibiotics, and for the first time in my life, I was admitted to the hospital for an overnight stay. I wasn’t feeling like myself at all, so I didn’t care where I was so long as I was getting those nice blue pills that were killing all the pain, but what I don’t understand is why they wake a person up, like myself, who has just fallen asleep to give them medicine to help them go to sleep. Also the constant bothering of checking my blood pressure and what not got to be very annoying, but I guess it’s their job to make sure the patient isn’t dying.
The next day my fever was still persistent, and my primary care physician was actually going to discharge me, but my dad called the nurse, and since I wasn’t getting any better I was going to be kept another night.
The second night into the third day was one of the most depressing times of my life. My dad was headed to Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and I talked to him at 4:00 in the morning, but after that, I couldn’t sleep. I thought of how many people I used to know and how they would never know if I died there on that bed. At the time I didn’t know what was wrong with me, and even if I did, with all the pain and pain pills, I probably could not grasp whatever condition I had, but sadly I did realize how lonesome I was. I wondered if Kyle would ever know, or Emily, or Ashley, or anybody. When the mind has nothing to do but think upon itself, it isn’t a productive experience.
On that morning I was scheduled to have my next dose of all-important painkillers at 6:30. The nurse shift change started at 6:15, and 6:30 came, then 7:00, then 7:30. Each quarter hour I buzzed and said that I really needed the medicine because the pain was so great that there were times that I wished that I were actually dead or in a coma. As bad as the pain was, either of the two would have been just fine. Eight o’clock became 8:15, and then finally, finally after hours of pain that no one should endure, I got the medicine. At the same time I was told that the reason I was so sick and had a big mass of something on the back of my neck was because of a staph infection. A doctor looked at me and then said she would do surgery in the next two hours, and sure enough, I had a surgery. While I remained awake for it, it was rather painless except for the pain-numbing shots that were injected. And some of those needles went in about an inch!
They needed to go that deep because that’s how far she made the incision, and not only did she make an incision, but she took out the entire mass. The mass of infection was about the size of a U.S. quarter and the depth of approximately one inch.
After the short surgery, I was back in my hospital room, and Mary, my stepmom, was on her way to pick me up. I had not seen what my neck looked like, and at the time I was not aware of the fact that part of my neck was gone. But as she arrived and as the nurse was telling her how to pack the wound, I knew it was bad, because when the nurse took off my bandage, she looked like she saw a ghost. When I got home and saw in a mirror what my neck looked like, I could not believe my eyes.
The falling apart of the internship may have been a blessing in disguise because had I been up in Indy, I may not have said that I needed to got to the hospital for fear that I may not be able to work. So what does this mean? I probably would have just dealt with the pain, and that could have had fatal consequences.
Even though I still had a hole in my neck, we went up to Indy to attend the 500. It was a great race and a great time all around, as we went to two races the day prior to the race and also saw Star Wars Episode 3. So many good memories abound from the end of May.
The entire month of June was mainly wasted away playing “Forza.” During this month, I was the number-one rated player in the world, so I had to maintain that status. I did apply for a job in this month, but I think I’m glad that they would just keep my application on file because the more I think about it, the more I believe that a normal job could kill me. Oh, the application was to the bank that I formally worked at.
The start of July was more like what I’m used to with that being stuff outside the norm. July 2, my best friend, Kyle, got married, but I wasn’t invited to it, so I don’t really know what that means, if anything. But after that, not even a week after, a hurricane was brewing in the gulf. It was less than nine months removed that Hurricane Ivan ravaged Pensacola, and this new storm with the name of Dennis was on the same path. So what do we do? Well, since I guess we hadn’t had enough adventure in the previous nine months, we went down before the storm so we could be in the storm.
Dennis, when it was 150 miles out, was a category-4 storm bordering on becoming the worst category of a five. We were somewhere near Mobile, Alabama, when it hit, but we were on the west side of the eye, so we didn’t get any severe weather, but we got winds that were still over fifty miles per hour and torrential downpours.
Somehow I made it through without getting injured, and thankfully for the citizens of that area, the storm weakened and it wasn’t as bad, so on July 12 we got back to St. Louis.
After that, once again, there was a lull in any noteworthy activity, until August 1.
On August 1, I went to the baseball game and I was expecting a good game, but I wasn’t around to see the first pitch. Of course, something bizarre had to happen to me. I was walking back to my seat after getting a bottle of water and this vendor passed me and said, “Excuse me,” then as soon as he passed me, he cut in front of me stopped suddenly. I tried to avoid him by walking left, but I made contact with him, and as my luck would have it, I slipped on previously spilled Coke and ice and I went backwards into a wall with my head; in the end I suffered a concussion and whiplash. I can’t even go to a simple ballgame without an episode from bizzaro-world hitting me.
I spent about six hours in the ER and was released around 2:00 in the morning, but I don’t remember too much about that. Since that time, my short-term memory has been a bit shaky, and the dizziness and headaches were brutal. They are slowly diminishing, and I hope that they will go away in full shortly.
So what does the future hold? Today on box 285, I wrote that I heard from a friend I had not heard from in ages (Josh), and also that I have a meeting with a man who owns a sprint car. Will the boxes in the future hold good things? People live their lives looking so far ahead (I know I do), but sometimes one has to look within four lines to see a box and realize that there are days, and within each box a life-changing experience can happen.
Part of my development as a writer stemmed from a doctor I was seeing. My dad was seeing him first learning about what Asperger’s was an eventually I too saw him. It was easier to write about things than talking so that to spurred the creative juices. In the first version of my book he wrote the forward so here now, was the original forward to Finding Kansas…
I have been asked to write a brief description of my impression of the “clinical” value and importance of Aaron Likens’ writings. I feel honored by this opportunity. At the same time I also doubt if I am capable of providing anywhere near a comprehensive interpretation or analysis of the value and meaning of Aaron’s truly remarkable writings. However, there are a few observations I feel confident in making: These writings are of prodigious value to anyone interested in autistic-spectrum disorders, especially Asperger’s Disorder, whether they be a mental health professional, researchers in the field, family members, or other persons with similar disorders. There is always a desire to secure some exacting definition of a particular disorder such as Asperger’s, a tendency to see each person as part of a more or less homogeneous group. This categorical thinking has been yielding (especially in the conception of autistic disorders) to the notion of a continuum, which may be fore descriptive and individualistic. In this regard the term autistic-spectrum disorders has increasingly gained acceptance.
As a mental health professional who has specialized in the field of autistic-spectrum disorders for nearly twenty years, the only apt comparison I can make of Aaron’s writings is the effect of
first book, Emergence. Her personal
account of the “experience” of autism was a revelation. It shattered many myths and previously
accepted “facts” about autism. Her book
permanently changed the previously limited understand of autistic
disorders. Temple Grandin
I believe Aaron’s writings have the same potential regarding Asperger’s Disorder. He reveals depths of emotion, social comprehension, nuances of cognition and perception, and especially the potential for something close to “recovery.” I believe its potential benefits are invaluable and capable of changing lives.
One of the changed lives has been my own. Aaron’s writings and our conversations have granted me clinical insights, a new understanding, and subsequently more effective care for my other clients with autistic-spectrum disorders.
It is difficult to keep this introductory statement brief because of the broad range of subjects he addresses; the questions raised by his intensely personal observations and analyses have implications beyond this field and the expertise of this professional.
First, I think it is important to note that unlike most current books on the subject of Asperger’s, this is not a “how to” (treat symptoms, etc.), but a “how did” book. It is Aaron’s intensely personal journey, begun half unconsciously, its purpose emerging intuitively. The process has been self-healing, but the product, like many literary journeys—from Homer and Dante to James Joyce’s re-visitation of Homer’s hero in Ulysses—Aaron’s writings speak to us all. When he came to realize its potential value to others, he unselfishly decided to share it.
Aaron presents his writings as a series of essays arranged in chronological order (in keeping with the typical preoccupation with sameness, order, and predictability that is a hallmark of these disorders). In many ways his descriptions and observations about himself reflect those made by
as well as other observations and testimonials regarding the autistic experience. His personal experience and even the words
used to describe these experiences are often strikingly similar (although Aaron
has never read her work), but beyond sharing certain clinical symptoms (as one
would expect), Aaron has written a very different document. Temple Grandin
Aaron has subjected himself to a rigorous self-examination, using himself as the subject of this “study,” a study of the nature and experience of Asperger’s Disorder. He has bravely exposed us to his inner world. He queries himself relentlessly about the nature, meaning, and implications of his thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. In the course of this self-examination, he diligently applies logic, metaphor, analogy, and self-reflection to this “question” of his life, which most compels him.
In the course of this personal odyssey, however, he becomes much more than a clinical study of Asperger’s, for his personal queries eventually pose the same strenuous questions about the human experience that have challenged philosophers since antiquity: What is the meaning of our lives and actions? How do we reconcile our experience with that of others? Where does the Truth lie? What is Love? Does freedom equal love?
Aaron does not ask these questions casually or as a kind of intellectual dalliance. (He is no dilettante.) He poses these earnestly, for he perceives this is the only place where his personal salvation may be found. This is one of the most fascinating and unique aspects of his writings to me.
Aaron examines everything with the tool of reason and logic. This is the fateful manifestation of autistic preoccupation with sameness, predictability, and cognitive inflexibility. Aaron is compelled to seek according to this method, applying “reason” to all matters and questions. This seemingly innate methodology makes for a unique, self-made form of “philosophical inquiry.” When I say “self-made,” I mean this literally, for Aaron reads very little and is completely unacquainted with the discipline or any of its most notable contributors.
The unfortunate aspect of this comprehensive philosophical mode of inquiry is, of course, the fact that our lives, our personal problems, and experiences can be only partly (even marginally) resolved by logic and reason. Aaron’s cognitive inflexibility may be seen as a manifestation of the autistic tendencies as mentioned before and the pressing need to abolish ambiguity. In Aaron’s case, owing largely to his extremely high intelligence, this preoccupation with order goes beyond arranging routines and establishing and imposing order on his environment. He imposes this philosophical mode of thinking as the sole means of understanding himself, the world, and others. The result is a kind of “tyranny of reason.” In Aaron’s words, he “asks questions on paper to come up with some reasoning for someone who lives in a world of contradictions and paradoxes that have no answers or resolutions…a world within a world; a prison, chained by one’s mind.” The expression “being on the horns of a philosophical dilemma” acquires a terrible disproportion here, a metaphorical “goring” of human potential and experience that is particularly bloody.
Aaron loves metaphor and hyperbole such as this. It is one of the elements that make his writing so enthralling. He has a marvelous sense of irony and a prose-style that is rich with emotional revelation, wit, and a wonderful absurdist sense of humor. An incipient depth of emotion is given greater weight and meaning more often by implication rather that explication. This is especially the case when he writes of the death of a friend (his cat) and his romantic experiences. But his writer’s flair is also evident when he examines the value and torment of his prodigious memory, his work experiences, his fears, and his despair. He is often given to morbid recollection, doubt, and hopelessness, but there is also the zest and excitement of release, joy, and peace, and even moments of serene and blissful happiness.
Where does he find this illusive “happiness” we all seek? On answer he discovers is in playing games such as Monopoly. In asking himself why this is so, he finds compelling answers regarding his Asperger’s mentality; the fact that games have clear rules that temper the “unpredictable,” that “there’s no better feeling that the unpredictability of a game set with predictable rules.” He sees he is temporarily “free of my mind…of all the other mental anguish…the chains that make me overanalyze life, the critical mind…The real world and my world coincide, and happiness is found through the medium of the game.” These observations and conclusions correspond with our current understanding of autistic-like mental processes.
But a more comprehensive, even profound fruit arises from Aaron’s study of himself. It is an existential, even spiritual observation that “within rules comes knowledge of boundaries and limitation…[that] I am free because there are limits…” The notion that in order to find life-sustaining meaning and true freedom we must know our limitations, Aaron concludes that limitations set the boundaries in which we can truly know ourselves.
As I caution previously, I had difficulty keeping this concise. There are so many other aspects of Aaron’s writing and of our therapeutic relationship left untouched. I hope I have this opportunity at some point.
I know that the general “rule” regarding getting a book published is that, well… “That isn’t going to happen.” On the other hand, I find hope in one of Aaron’s many pithy aphorisms, “The rule that saved my life was the rule that there is an exception to every rule.”
Mark A. Cameron, Ph.D., M.A.
St. Louis, Missouri
It may not seem like a pivotal chapter in my book, but looking back on it this chapter was one of the most pivotal experiences in my life.
There were some of my stories omitted from this chapter, such as the issues I had with Emily on the days leading up to my journey west, but it was the journey itself that makes this story so pivotal.
I wrote that this was my first solo trip with no family and I can’t stress how important this was for me. It was this trip which later spawned my “Relocation Theory” concept which maybe someday will get a closer look.
In this chapter I mention that things got frozen in time and indeed this was true. I saw my first Nissan Skyline in traffic as the NASCAR Busch series, then Nationwide, now Xfinity series was about to race at the new Kansas Speedway, and I also vividly remember the gas station where I mention the airmen with US GOVT plates. In the three other times I’ve driven across Kansas I’m always anxious to pick out the landmarks of my 2003 trips.
One thing I didn’t write about, and this is what makes this chapter so pivotal, was that this month of my life was the month prior to getting my diagnosis. So think about this; in this chapter I go on and on about feeling free and slowly opening up to the world. But on top of those two points I am a professional race car driver! I was driving cars, and being paid more per day than I could ever have imagined, so this was my life starting. Granted, side story, my amount of driving got drastically cut when I flew the checkered flag one time. Once management saw me wave a flag I often was relegated to flag waving detail. That was fine, though, the pay was the same.
Another thing omitted from the book was the story of Tony Renna. Tony was an up and coming Indycar driver who had just signed with the best team and was doing some off season tire testing and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when a freak incident occurred. What occurred? No one knows how or why, but the end result was Tony’s car hit the top layers of the catch fence. The debris field was compared to an aircraft accident and Tony was killed instantly. The reason this is relevant was that Tony was still an instructor at the Derek Daly Academy and he was also was a co-instructor of mine when I went to drive as a student a 2nd time.
It was a somber time at the Academy and every news outlet in Vegas was on the property interviewing staff about what type of guy and how much talent Tony Renna had. I had never been at a place that had experienced a tragedy and I remained as flat and as emotionless as possible.
The return trip home, and I wish I had used better words than what’s in the book, was the hardest drive of my life. How does one leave paradise? How does one leave living a life they had always imagined? Outside of one day in Florida in which I drove a Late Model Stock Car I have not been in a proper race car since. It was fitting that my dad waved the checkered flag when I got home because, and neither of us knew it at the time, it was an end of my career as a professional racer. What I thought would be the end of my life got worse the month after as I got my Asperger diagnosis and of course I read those infamous words on the internet and the depression hit full blast. But what if I had not had my Vegas experience? What if I hadn’t experienced the life of an up and coming racer? Would my diagnosis have been taken as badly? I don’t think it would have. To have lived life at its fullest and to finally, and naturally, start opening up as with the example I used at the Boulder City Golf Course, and to then have a world view of no hope is a stark difference, and it was this difference that amplified the diagnosis experience. Of course, had I not had the time in Vegas I doubt I’d be presenting today and I doubt I’d ever have started to write because the diagnosis wouldn’t have hit as hard. Then again, it could’ve worked the other way. I may not have fallen off that table and knocked myself out on the Goodyear tire and I may have been asked to come back which may have led to a ride in a feeder series to Indycar or NASCAR and had that happened, well, all that I am now and all that I’ve done would never have happened.
The presentation version and the print version of “Film Theory” are different. As important as my presentation version in which I boldly state, “whatever happens first always has to happen” takes on a much deeper meaning in my book.
I can remember the evening I wrote this; everyone else had gone to bed and it was near 2AM and I decided I had had enough of winning races on Forza so I went to brush my teeth and in the process, in which I spit into the sink, the way it hit the sink reminded me of when the space shuttle Challenger exploded.
When the Challenger disaster happened I wasn’t even three years old, but I saw it live and I somehow knew what had happened. Getting me to brush my teeth afterwards, for quite a while, was difficult due to spit hitting the sink looking like the moment the big white cloud of the explosion happened and as I was reminded of this in the wee hours of the morning it hit me out of nowhere. I can’t explain it except to see the entire concept of Film Theory entered my head instantly.
I rushed to my computer where the words just flowed. Writing, at this point in time, was getting easier and easier and as I wrote this I knew the words I were writing had merit. I didn’t know if anyone would ever read it, but for myself the depth of understanding myself grew with each paragraph.
In this chapter is also the groundwork for understanding that sooner is better in terms of diagnosing. I make several references to that. However, the moments I mention in this blog, from CBS’s closing of the Nagano 1998 Winter Games, to that game of Risk I still remember to this day, are sacred to me to this day and the concept put forth in this chapters is one that dictates a lot of my life.
The most profound thing, for myself, in this is my obvious fear of the future. In my upcoming books, along with many times on my blog, I’ve written about this. It’s a major fear because what we have today may not be what we have tomorrow and what we have tomorrow most likely won’t be what is in 30 years. That’s the way my brain thinks; I’m constantly afraid of change. Change can sometimes be good as look at the difference in where I was after my Vegas chapter to the person I am today. But change can also be bad, with change can come loss and I don’t know how well equipped I am to handle such things. It’s a major fear of mine and one that can’t simply be turned off. As with the “Trapped” chapter I don’t want to say too much on this chapter because it’s still fresh, raw, and something I’m afraid of. Although, since I still do it and it is mentioned in the chapter, I still use 18 point font for chapter titles.
“My goodness!” was my exclamation as I read the first four chapters of my book. Then I said aloud, “Did I write this?” It’s an odd feeling to read something so deep and have no idea how I came up with that. I do agree with myself (that’s a VERY odd thing to type) however and the question of, “is there a me?” is profound beyond the level of the autism spectrum. I actually didn’t know if I were reading something I wrote or something I’d expect to read in a deep philosophical book.
I cover many things that were developed in the darkroom and one thing mentioned is that there’s a chain of stores that had sticky floors. I can attest to the fact that the one by my house, which is 275 miles from the one my dad mentioned as having sticky floor, does indeed have sticky floors.
There’s other comments though and I think it right to revisit them:
Mediocrity is the end of life. To be mediocre at anything is unacceptable. My feeling on this has changed, but only slightly. On my blog last month I mentioned my obsession with going after certain pinball world records. In that regard it isn’t just mediocrity that is unacceptable but anything less than the best. However, and here is the aggravating part, once I achieve the record there isn’t a sense of glee, or fulfillment, but one of an empty celebration as if to somewhat sarcastically say, “yay?” In other aspects I’m okay with not being the best. On iRacing I’m one of the better Indycar drivers on ovals, but on tracks that involve turning right I am midpack at best. I’ve finally accepted this and going into those types of races I find enjoyment in battling people that are running similar speeds to those that I am running so instead of battling for the win the battle for 14th can be just as fun.
Money is the key to happiness and also the root of all internal fears. Not much has changed on this one showing just how strong “firsts” “film” and this “darkroom” are. When I was writing I never had more than $300 in my bank account. Things have changed and I’m in a better place now, but the fear of money and the fear of the future are just as strong now as they were. In a way it’s almost worse now because I don’t want to go back to where I was, but should a series of events happen and I become jobless with nowhere to speak and nowhere to flag I know exactly how many months it would be before I’m back in that place. My brain is brutal to myself on this front and the cycle of thought is neverending.
Winning isn’t required. Respect from the competition is the real way to win the game. This too hasn’t changed. I had a blog from about three years ago about an iRacing race in which I tried to pass someone below the double yellow lines at Daytona and I wrecked the person which gave me the lead. The crash brought out the yellow flag and I was going to win, but I could not accept victory under those circumstances so coming to the checkered I pulled down pit road and relegated myself to a 5th place finish. When I blogged about this a friend of mine told me that blogging about such a thing was just being on my high horse but I disagreed and said something along the lines that, well, winning does matter but the way one win is just as important and the post wasn’t about me gloating on a self-penalty, but rather I was willing to take a win away from myself and I hope other people would have the same mentality.
I am complete unlikable, for reasons unknown. Would you believe me if I said I still struggle with to this day? No? Well, I do. I don’t know when, or where, but somewhere along the line this film got developed. At the start of every presentation I hold my breath as I fear that this statement is going to be proven true. I’m over 600 presentations and it hasn’t been proven true, but there’s still that nagging voice that tells me I’m not good enough and never will be.
Bad things happen to me by the bucketful. If you’ve read this far into Finding Kansas, have followed me on Facebook, or have read my blog, you know it’s true. However, if this weren’t true my life would be rather boring. Could you imagine my blog? “Yeah, well, today I got up and everything was average, like, you know, normal… Yeah, that’s it.”
People in general aren’t good; evil is everywhere because the rules aren’t followed. My black and white thinking shines through here. It’s a very logical, albeit drastically harsh view of the world. Logical? Well, yes since if rules were followed there would always be order and with disorder comes change and chaos which are difficult to handle therefore those who don’t follow rules brings chaos which was deemed as not good. If you have to remember that, as I was writing this book, I had minimal interaction with anyone outside of a bowling alley or a race track and even then my interactions were minimal. I still was under the impression of being unlikable and since, as I viewed it, the world hated me therefore all was evil. I know I’m using extreme words, and in my 2nd book I’ll cover the reasoning as to why words are often to the extreme (I can’t wait to use this concept in a presentation… I know, this is a BIG teaser, isn’t it?)
I end this chapter with the mentioning of hope and stating that I don’t know what it is. I often close my presentations by saying that, “I used to be the messenger of ‘no hope’” and here is proof of that. I hadn’t quite turned the tide yet in feeling hopeful for the future, but that’s okay as if I had the rest of my book, and the previous parts of my book, never would have taken place. I guess the main thing is that one can go from feeling hopeless to getting to a place where hope is in the dictionary and is experienced.
I had another “oh my goodness!” moment reading this chapter. This chapter is, again, filled with so much philosophical angles that I don’t know if this is about living life or if it has to do with Asperger’s. Well yes, it is Asperger’s, and I found it neat that there are so many usages of words I used in this chapter that I still use to this day and in these words are the motivation to keep doing what I’m doing today because there are those stuck in a world of “maybes”.
It was a very late night when I wrote this and I was in a dark place. That would be metaphorically speaking, not literal. The chapter is short but the resounding theme is waiting for something, anything, to make my life better than it was. Here’s the thing though; I still feel this to this day. Measuring gains in life isn’t something that can be seen instantly although I try. I mention awaiting a phone call and I’ve received many of those, like getting my job at Easter Seals Midwest, and yet there’s still this awe of awaiting the next day and that maybe things will get better. What does better mean? I don’t know; it isn’t job related, it’s just the constant thought of “what if” and the like. Maybe it’s because I was in that mindset for so long it is ingrained in my brain and I can’t help it. Perhaps it’s because, as mentioned, it isn’t easy to measure long term growth. Why not? If we take a snapshot of each day the days run together. However, if we look a picture from 10 years ago, and 8 years ago, and 4 years ago, and then today it will be easier to notice differences, but life isn’t like that. Life is lived on a day to day basis and seeing changes, at least for myself, are difficult. Maybe tomorrow will be the day I finally see this.
What Does It Mean…
I have to be honest and say that I don’t remember writing this chapter. I remember the concepts, not the words and this isn’t a concept chapter so reading this is like looking back on a long lost personal self-written journal…
To survive… By the words used in this segment I wrote this very close to writing the previous chapter and at the same time the “living life on a daily basis” is working against me because I was so far behind financially that I was sure I’d never get out of the massive credit card hole I had dug from being unemployed for so long.
To love… It isn’t in the forefront of the book, but all of my work was centered around this question of, “can I love, and if so, what is it and what does it look like?” Again, this is something everyone may ask of his or her self, but for myself it was confusing. Perhaps it was because I was longing for the endless summer days Emily and I spent together doing nothing, or maybe it was because I had 18 months of isolation and I was sure no one outside my family would love me and the world would always hate me therefore I convinced myself there was no love. I now know differently and this is a very complex thing. I believe I cover this in a few more chapters down the road, and I look at it intensely in many more chapters in my unpublished books, but the way I describe it at presentations now is like this; never let a speaker say that all people on the autism spectrum are incapable of emotions or love. Here’s the thing; imagine a busy road from one town to another, but here’s the catch as there’s 545 accidents and 3,497 brick walls lining the route. That being so it isn’t easy to navigate and get to the destination. That’s what it is like in my brain when it comes to this matter. It was much easier for me to say and accept the fact that, as I put it in my book, “I’ll miss you if you were gone” but, using my road example, the part of my brain where I experience it to that part where I express it is like the road. All the emotions are there, but expressing it is often a difficult journey.
To be happy… More repetition here as I struggle with the fact that I’m not behind the wheel of a race car. The last two paragraphs of this segment were a bold statement in that I was so angry and people assuming things about me because I didn’t have a job nor was I in school. There was, and maybe still is, such a social stigma about this. Essentially anything socially ended right then and there if it got brought up. The thing that is different now is I would not take that offer to stay at home forever. The world is an infinite place of wonders, possibilities, and places that need to hear my presentation.
To be good… I still struggle with this to this day because being good is something that can’t always be measured. I just talked about this in a blog post before setting out on the Finding Kansas Revisited project and when it comes to something like a pinball game on the Xbox I know exactly where I stand and if I know I have the skill on a certain table to take the world record I won’t quit until I have it. This is a measurable feat, but when it came to the jobs I had I would quickly experience a burnout when I saw through the logic and realized that my performance meant nothing. This was a big struggle when a person who slacked off and did nothing while I carried the store in sales and yet at the end there was no pat on the back, no bonus, and we were equals quickly made a job senseless in my mind.
There’s several more segments in this section but as I realize that my newest book I’m writing is very much like this chapter, and this chapter is very personal for myself to read, I’ll leave all this to that.
There isn’t too much to add to this chapter except to state that I further wrote out my understanding that I may have, as the DSM-IV called it, “an inappropriate attachment to objects.” What’s amazing about what I wrote in this chapter, and all chapters really, is that at this point in time my training on the autism spectrum was nil. Truly, the only autism literature I had read was the initial website that told me to give up. As I have progressed in this series I am truly amazed that my words do not contradict the other literature out there.
A Friend Gone
If there’s been a chapter that I’ve written that has required more tissues than “A Friend Gone” I’d like to hear the nominations because I’ve been told time and time again that getting through this chapter, whether you’re a cat person or not, without needing a tissue for a tear or two is a daunting effort. I learned this the day I wrote it as I took it to my bowling team on Monday night and the two older ladies on the team, well, we had a chance at first place at the time and all that became lost as they could not think straight the rest of the night with tears a plenty happening.
Myself, reading this chapter, it was hard; perhaps the hardest chapter I read thus far. I talk about the associative memory system, and not remembering people, but I also do not remember my pets. I mention Amsterdam, the cat that was put to sleep in this chapter, and I mention Siam, whose story comes to an end in my 2nd book, and for both of them I don’t remember them. I remember of them, I remember the antics of their kittenhood, but of them, exactly, is just a blur. I have a picture of them as little kittens alongside Missy the Maltese and that’s the extent of my memories.
The other side of this comes at the ending in my inability to walk her to the Humane Society for, well, I don’t know how to put it. Truly, I don’t. How do I put it? Her demise? Her ending? Her death? Just those words alone, just the thought of it, and I shudder. Anyway, I was unable to take her and to this day I’m deeply saddened by this, but at the same time I’m thankful someone else was able to because I don’t know, at that point in time in my life, if I would’ve been able to have held her as she drifted away. That moment would’ve lived on, and on, and on in my brain and I don’t know if I ever would’ve been able to erase that memory. My final memory of her is her tenacity to give me a final meow and go away without fear. This coming from a cat that was afraid of everyone except me and in this moment she showed no fear. That’s my lasting memory of her.
Why is this chapter in the book? For one, and I didn’t know it at the time, this chapter blows away any misguided expert who may claim, “people on the autism spectrum have no emotions and are incapable of caring.” I didn’t know there were such people, but they’re out there and I hope they read this chapter. Secondly, I wrote this as a way to deal with the situation. Had I not written it all the emotions associated with this would have stayed bottled up and I would have had a hard time dealing with the emotions, but I wrote a magical chapter fitting for such a great friend and ever sense tissue makers have seen an increase in business… Okay, I can’t make that claim, but for anyone who has ever had a pet and anyone who has had to make that decision that the quality of life just, well, isn’t life will understand this chapter. I was almost cold in my understanding that it was her time, but it was and emotions would have just made the logical choice more difficult. You see, this chapter is in here because it’s an event anyone who has ever had an aging pet has had to deal with and I give my story. My story, and any other person’s story isn’t that far apart. If I can give a story that others can relate to, and I can do a decent enough job to describe how I feel and why I did what I did then that’s the fastest way, I thought, for others to understand the autism spectrum because it’s something anyone can relate to. There’s good news for tissue makers though, as great (or as sad) as “A Friend Gone” is the chapters of “A Friend Found” and “Saying Goodbye” in my 2nd book will see another increase in sales… Okay, okay, okay, I can validate those claims but I can’t wait for you to get the chance to read those chapters someday.
This is another chapter I don’t fully remember writing but is yet another chapter with so many of the hidden issues that are often well below the hidden depth of Asperger’s. I will say, however, I very much agree with myself and I don’t know what spawned it but my distaste for people that think they know everything is easy visible. I have always been that way; if a person is so sure about something without the ability to see it from any other angle, or a person who is so sure about something that they mock any opposition to their idea has always annoyed me. Now there is a flip side to this as, well, I’m sort of that way.
The third and fourth paragraphs state something that I think has changed since I wrote this; I wrote in this chapter that people I’ve met have been, “tight lipped” about it in that it was something they wanted hidden. From giving my school presentations I can say that I am sensing a swing the other way now as awareness goes up. I ended a paragraph by saying, “understanding is the only thing I want” and I believe we are on that way.
Further on I talk about the trade off in life in that we can be good at something but for each thing we are good at we were be equally bad at something else and that there will be thing that I never will be able to do. It’s fitting I write about this chapter now because yesterday I had an experience that would’ve been an even that I thought I’d never would have done.
I was in Ste. Genevieve giving a presentation and in the segment of my presentation that I mention I pull my car keys out I didn’t feel them. No worries, I thought, as I assured myself that they were in my coat pocket. I would’ve made a joke about this during the presentation but I was trying my best to keep my voice and not chough so I omitted it. Anyway, after the book signing segment I went back into the auditorium to get my computer and coat and as I put my coat on I reached for my keys and, GASP! they weren’t there. I walked swiftly to my car and used my flashlight and there were my keys, sitting on my bowling balls on the back seat seemingly mocking me. They were so close and yet unobtainable. I walked back into the performing arts center and gave my coworkers and the person from the school district who helped set this up and I was fearing some sort of angry response from them and I was worried the building would be locked and I’d be waiting for AAA out in the cold. My fears were ungrounded in fact and no one left. In fact, what I thought was going to be a miserable experience waiting in the cold quickly became one of my favorite memories from being on the road as the five of us chatted nonstop for the hour or so it took. On my drive home I figured that I’d have a chapter coming up in my book on this series that this story would fit in, but I can’t believe it fits in so nicely now because what I did tonight, having a conversation with four others the way I did, was something that I thought I’d never do and here I was doing it.
As this chapter goes on I talk about memories which lead me to think about this never thing. I actually feel I will never have an experience like I had last night. I don’t know why my brain is like this, I don’t know why I’m a “worst case scenario thinker and good things will never happen to me” mentality. History has shown otherwise but this is my default setting. Why is this important? Good things can quickly become bad memories. How so? Imagine your best day ever. Imagine having a day that everything clicked, you achieved every single life goal, you impressed every person you came across, and you set records that can never be broken. After such a day how could any day ever live up to that? Yes, this is sort of how my brain works and why when something really good happens it turns into a negative emotion after the face. It’s hard to understand this; this notion that a positive turns into a negative, but if you experienced something so blissful and perfect and were convinced that it would never happen again then maybe you’d understand this.
The final segment of this chapter talks about my bowling achievement of rolling a 299. Before you ask, yes, I did eventually bowl a 300, but on this night I threw a 299 there wasn’t a great deal of celebrating. I was happy I was finally getting a ring (back then a bowler got a ring for a 298, 299, or 300 game or even the rarer 800 series) after bowling for seven years, and I was glad I conquered the wobbly knees (once you get the first five or six strikes in a car the wobbly knees hit and with each subsequent strike standing straight and having a solid approach shot becomes harder and harder) once and for all. However, I didn’t get to relish in the normal fanfare of a 290+ game. Typically, when one is going for a 300, there’s this great hush that descends among those around the bowler. It’s almost a sacred moment in that speaking becomes a sin, bowling beside the person becomes a sin, and as so much as mention a three with two zeroes following it is of the utmost taboo. I didn’t experience this, though. I had bowled in this league for four years and was virtually invisible. Whereas others came to bowling to socialize and to, well, drink, I went to bowling to simply bowl. I didn’t chit chat, I didn’t small talk, and I was the last one to congratulate an opponent. I wasn’t a bad sport, but I wasn’t a good sport, I guess you could say I wasn’t a sport at all and just went through the motions of bowling because it was something to do. The framework of this all (haha!) led to an isolating experience as I threw my 12th shot for the 300 and I rolled a beautiful ball that hammered the pocket and the pins scattered but the headpin bounced off the wall just glancing the seven pin and no other flying pins hit the seven so I came up one pin shot of perfection. I stood there, defeated, somewhat glad I was getting a ring but devastated that I had been robbed of perfection. I turned around and there was nothing. You should see it, when a bowler throws a 300, there’s applause, accolades, and a sense of belonging to an elite crowd. This, though, was not meant for me.
It’s amazing how a positive experience can be perceived as a negative one, but for some of us on the autism spectrum that’s exactly what can happen. As I mentioned earlier in this series I still struggle with self-esteem issues and the experience last night with chatting away for an hour was an amazing experience. I never thought I’d be glad to have locked my keys in my car, but I felt as if I got to experience normal last night. Again, I’m under the belief there is no such thing as normal, but to keep the talk of paradoxes alive (I use that word A LOT in this chapter in my book) that’s exactly what it was; I don’t believe in normal but I experienced it last night and since I am convinced it will never happen again I look at last night with almost a tear in my eye. Why did the tow truck driver have to come when he did? He could’ve waited, right? Just a few minutes more, right? To be so close to normal, to be on the edge of it being able to have it within my grasp, and to have it yanked away is, well, it’s the essence of having Asperger’s.
This is the title chapter from the book and writing this chapter I knew, if my work would ever be made into a book, “Finding Kansas” would be its chapter.
I wrote this chapter late in the evening of April 30th, 2006 after coming up from race directing and flagging the Central States Super Series in Carrolton, Missouri. Now Carrolton isn’t a town most people know of so on the race schedule we put Kansas City. Why is this relevant? Because my book came real close to being “Finding Carrolton” as when I started writing this chapter, instead of using a state name, I used a much smaller place and used a town instead. This, I thought, made the world way too narrow so while thinking about it I pulled out a sheet I had in my pocket which was a protest someone submitted earlier in the day (as race director I handled protests and this protest was protesting me. I denied the protest) and on the flip side was the series schedule and once again I saw Kansas City so I deleted the town name and put Kansas City, but again that was too small of a place. I wanted a place that was large and that anyone could relate to so I dropped the City and made it a state. What was the inspiration for this chapter, you ask? That answer was a couple weeks in the making.
I was still at a point wondering if my work had any relevancy despite the one doctor whom had wrote the endorsement earlier in this series I shared saying so. My dad then sent my writings up to this point to another doctor out of New York City, and she would write the 2nd endorsement of my book, and she was intrigued in all that I had done and said my work was, “highly valid.” This gave me slightly more confidence that what I was doing was worth it. Worth it, you ask? Writing, while it came naturally, was a difficult thing. Yes, I wanted to express myself but I was now 14 months from the first time I had started to write and expressing so many emotions was tiring. However, the day of April 30th made me realize that I had something to offer the world.
It’s a shame I didn’t use the inspiration story behind this chapter in the actual chapter. What had happened was this; during the race day I was in my “Alias” (we’ll get to that chapter later) and I had no problem making decisions and having conversations with those around me. Yes, I may have been protested that day (I was protested for not cutting laps with impending rain, but that’s what rain tires are for!) but during the lunch break two drivers came up to me and I was in a jovial mood and had no problems conversing. We talked about flags, the history of flags, karting, races from years ago, and it was just a good ole fun conversation. I allude to this conversation by saying, “if you met me just in Kansas you would assume nothing was wrong” or something along those lines. However, if you saw me outside the borders of Kansas then that’s when you would see it and at the end of the day, after I had been protested (the rains never came) and after the time period that I was the race director had come and gone, those same two drivers tried to talk to me and they got a much different person. Gone was the enthusiastic historian of races of yesteryear replaced by a person who could barely make, well, let’s forget eye contact and say in eye gaze in the general vicinity of these two guys. They asked me questions and I said, “I don’t know” to most of it. Several minutes of this came and went and one the drivers, and they weren’t trying to be a jerk (I hope) said, “Are you sure we are talking to the same person we were talking to earlier?”
Imagine hearing that question. Imagine having limited times where socializing is possible and after having no problems imagine being asked this. It’s no wonder I left it out of this chapter because at the time it was too raw and it was from this pain I knew the world needed to know this.
As I read this chapter I can remember the thoughts I had with each paragraph as if I was still in the midst of writing this chapter. It was a lonely night when I wrote this as I didn’t remember the successful race weekend I had put on, or the six hour drive home with Greg, whom I’d eventually work for, and the adventure with the flat tire in Kingdom City, Missouri, or the fact that I had just been named race director for another series as well. Nope, none of that mattered. What mattered was someone called me out on not being normal. Again, they weren’t trying to be mean and I use this example, without naming it, when I say in presentations, “It had to be so confusing for those to see me in Kansas and then see me out of Kansas.”
The first bit of a true hope statement comes at the end of this chapter as I realized all was not loss. When I first started writing this chapter I had a depressed tone, but as I progressed through it I didn’t focus on all the other 49 states, or North Dakota as I refer to it in my presentations, instead I looked at Kansas itself and my final sentence may very well have been my very first mission statement. At the time I didn’t know what this meant, exactly, but I knew it had a significance that I didn’t quite understand at the time. The statement holds true though, and maybe I should incorporate this into my presentation because, “when I’m in Kansas I don’t just run, I fly” and little did I know just how much Kansas would allow to me soar.
My first reaction to this chapter was that I’m 99% sure I’ll offend any music teacher out there when I say that my music theory isn’t as boring as talking about half-notes and treble clefs. So to all you music teachers out there, I’m sorry.
Anyway, apologies aside, I was certainly onto something on this chapter, but compared to what I know now about this subject it is much deeper than when I first wrote this. This could be because music is easier to have now. When I wrote this chapter YouTube was something that wasn’t widely known, and I never had any device capable of playing music outside of a portable CD player in my car. It wasn’t until 2011 that I got an iPhone that could actually play music and since music has taken on a larger role in my life.
I’m still protective of my music choices because I was right in this chapter that music is a pathway to the associative memory system. If I admit that I like a song it’s like letting you in on all the memories associated with that song so for instance if I said I like song X then you’ll know song X equals airport Y when I was going to race Z and then you’ll know every thought, word, and action from that trip and it’s not like anything odd, weird, or wacky happened on that trip, but in my mind, being all or nothing, there’s no end to the amount of knowledge you’ll have about me.
With the advent of the 32GB phone I now have 1,152 songs on my phone and many of them are, well, to take a phrase from the previous paragraph, “odd, weird, and wacky.” The oddest selection I have on my phone is a 10 minute remix of the McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish ad. You know the one, the fish is on the wall singing, “give me back that Filet-O-Fish, give me that fish…” To anyone that has heard it you’ll know 10 seconds is too much, but try 10 minutes! FUN! Anyway, funny story about that song, just over a year ago I was in southwest Missouri and I was riding with the southwest director of Easter Seals Midwest to a presentation and this director loves giving me a hard time. It’s all in good fun so I thought I’d return the favor by slyly starting that song on my phone without warning. I did so and she was unfazed by it. She simply gave a half smile and said, “Aaron, if that song isn’t silenced within a few seconds I’m dropping you off on highway 60 right here and you can find your own way to your presentation. If you don’t make it I’ve seen your presentation enough that I can do it. Got it?” I did, and I believed her! Then she asked me, because she knows about this associative memory system, “Aaron, what on earth does that song represent and right there the defenses went up and I uttered a half-believable, “I don’t know” because again, if I give just one percent of the story she’s going to know the whole story and then some.
This chapter may seem small, or almost irrelevant, but what it represents is much larger than music itself and maybe someday I’ll give a full rewrite to this chapter to give it the impact it deserves.
When I wrote this chapter I couldn’t have imagined that I would be traveling more than I could ever have imagined. I wrote this chapter after traveling to cover a couple hurricanes and visiting two countries. That alone is a lot, but since then, having my job, I’ve put on tens of thousands of miles. Also, when I wrote this, I could never have imagined becoming a flagman for not just one, but two series! Last year I flew over 25,000 miles!
As Autism Ambassador for Easter Seals Midwest I’ve done two national tours and these were with driving, not flying, and I’ve got to say that the description of liberation I describe in my book was amplified and if I had a top five memories of my life both of those national tours would be in the top five.
I don’t have too much more to add to this chapter. I think a lot of my future concepts about change were born within this chapter, but this chapter is so honest, pure, and right that it is timeless.
What Has Become…?
This chapter is beautifully tragic. On one hand I talk about being cold, but on the other there is this deep desire to be a part of the world and to know what has happened to those around me.
The world is a much different place than when I wrote this thanks to social media. The originating inspiration to this was wondering what had become of Linda. With the ability to find anyone with a Facebook account it is possible to find out what has become of people. In 2008 I tried messaging her, but she never responded. I expected as much.
To show I’m not the only one on this I had a fellow classmate from 3rd grade recently track me down to wish me a happy birthday. This elated me as I did go to his sleep over birthday party, but I didn’t last the night due to the stress of it all, but it was a major thing to know that other people too has this.
As with so much that I’ve written there’s so much that I have built upon from this chapter and the issues with memories really shines through in this chapter. I’ve used the example of driving down the road and having things follow many times in presentations.
Again, as with the previous chapter, there isn’t too much more to say because it’s such a precise and perfect chapter. One thing to note is that it’s at this point in my book my chapters really start shortening up. I started feeling more confidence and I could say exactly what I wanted to say in fewer words. It made for completing a book more difficult, but filler became something that I just couldn’t do anymore and to this day being long-winded is something that I just can’t do.
Fear Versus Fear
Again, this chapter is so right, so precise, and filled with so much of the emotions that are hidden well below the surface. Early in this chapter I talk about money and the amount I was talking about in this chapter was having $1,000 in the bank. That was it. I had been flirting with being at $0 so often that my mind would always, ALWAYS, be worried about the next credit card payment.
When I wrote this I never could’ve imagined being able to make a car payment, or a house payment. While I am at this point now the fear vs. fear concept is still there. The stressors may have changed, somewhat, but fighting fears of daily life remain. How long will I have a job? Will I ever be in another relationship? Can things truly be better? These questions go on, and on, and on. They repeat and then repeat the repeat. As with the other chapters recently this is another one that I can’t add too much on because I still consider them right and there’s nothing more to add except that the game I quoted at the start is now tied for amount of innings played, but a game between the Giants and Nationals in last year’s NLDS in the sport of baseball had a longer amount of time played.
You want a short chapter that summarizes where I was? The chapter “Sentence” is it. I still couldn’t tell the story of the first website I found, which said there was no hope, but the firsts that came from my first few weeks of knowing were awful.
This is where I hope there is true change in this world. The battle I’m fighting is in essence born from the way I felt and the way I described my life in this chapter. When I wrote this I felt as if my life had already been lived and that there was no possibility of anything ever becoming better. It’s still a battle I face, myself, and I have to constantly remind myself that these thoughts are wrong. It’s difficult, I can’t lie, but deep down I know these words are wrong.
One of the battles here is the media. The media can very easily create one of these sentences that I refer to. Before I get to that, I’ll explain I feared that my diagnosis was a life sentence of solitary confinement and there would be no changing that regardless of how hard I tried. Now enter the media; when a news story happens and all people on the autism spectrum are lumped together and generalizations are made and there are no mentions that, “if you’ve met one person with autism you’ve only met one person with autism” it is very easy to create a sentence in one person’s brain.
Awareness and understanding are the way to combat this and one of the many different reasons I do what I do is because of this chapter. This may read as one of my most depressing chapters, and it very well may be, but it’s still there because I’m here now. When I wrote this hope wasn’t in my dictionary, vocabulary, nor would it be something I’d ever imagine and yet, here I am. That’s where the hope lies. We are all going to take different paths, and no two people are going to have the same story, but even though things may seem and appear hopeless things can change. What I saw as a sentence that all but guaranteed that my life would never amount to anything was actually a calling, not a sentence, and now I wouldn’t trade what I have for anything in the world.
Crippled in Addiction
In reading this chapter I thought, “Gosh! I sound like a jerk!” Then I got to the part where I mention this. It was difficult for me to know that something shouldn’t make me mad and yet be powerless to do something about it. And herein lies the problem; I know what the problem is and yet it continues on.
I use a new term now instead of the title of this chapter and I say now, “Whatever is now is the only thing that matters.” Another phrase I’ll use is “hyper-Kansas” when something gets to that level.
I’d like to take a shot to rewrite this chapter and yet at the same time my words in this are so honest and pure. My struggle is obvious in this chapter, and this struggle continues. I find it so odd that I dreamt of a life of going from place to place like that I mentioned a race car driver would have and yet I’ve got that at times and I was right! I was right in that with a constant change of scenery there isn’t the ability for things to get to a routine basis. Sure, I have my favorite places to eat across the state of Missouri, but here’s the thing; from traveling so much my routine at home isn’t as rigid as it used to be. I’m not sure if this just happened by coincidence, or if I really knew that this would happen, but whatever the case I’m glad it did and while I still like my routines, the addiction I word in this chapter isn’t as over encompassing as it used to be.
Where do I begin with this one? What I put forth in this chapter is, about word for word, the same as today. I haven’t talked about this chapter, and I don’t remember writing it, exactly, but I do remember the concepts I used in it.
I take that back, I do remember writing it because I wrote it a week or so after claiming the #1 spot on Project Gotham Racing 3 and I was puzzled as to why I felt nothing. Truly, nothing. As I put forth in the book the amount of hours, hard work, and disappointment were staggeringly high but I achieved a goal that I put many, many hours in and in the end, when I was the best in the world, there was emptiness.
To this day I still fight this. In the history of my blog I have several stories whether it is pinball world records, or my struggle to become #1 at Bejeweled Blitz, there is certainly a pattern here and the results are the same when I reach the pinnacle. There could be several reasons as to why I feel nothing, and I’ve thought about these in length. The first is maybe it isn’t the destination that excites me but the chase because it becomes a hyper-Kansas and everything else ceases to matter. As emotional as I got when there were set backs this paled in comparison to the struggles of real life and when I reached the top I was left with, “now what?”
A second thing could be that being #1 is a solo experience and when reached there is no fanfare, no ending, no accolades outside of a screen that proclaims to the world who is the best. What does it mean to be the best, though? For those outside the top 10, or maybe 100, nobody cares. Maybe, for myself, this attempting to be the best in the world was trying to replace a void that was there from being isolated? Perhaps, but even in my previous relationship I would still have times where my mind was set on being a champion, set world records, or to be known as the best in the world.
Further on in the chapter I talk impulsive buying and my mentality when it comes to purchasing is, “don’t thing about it, just do it.” Not the wisest of ways to shop, and the songs I mention in this chapter on Karaoke Revolution I, um, well, I bought them and NEVER used them once. I’ve tried to curb this and think, before buying, “Am I actually going to use…” whatever it is that I am purchasing. It’s difficult, however, because once something gets in my mind on needing, or “must having…” it doesn’t simply go away.
With everything else I’ve written in all ties together. While all chapters are their own self-contained world they are all intertwined. Film Theory can stand on its own, but when one understands the Crippled in Addiction, and Must, it all becomes clearer.
The Hazard of “Firsts”
I froze while reading this chapter. I have no recollection at all of writing this, but it didn’t read like where I was in 2006 and much more read like something I’d write now. This was haunting because it’s clear that the groundwork is being laid for me to do more than write random essays to my dad. It’s strange, though, as my “cement theory” which I state in my presentation and will be in my 2nd book was somewhat in this chapter but not fully realized.
It’s weird to say I love a point I made, but seeing how it was almost ten years ago I think it’s right to say I agree with myself on the safety of sameness. The topics I wrote about as what could be a potential Kansas haven’t changed. I wrote this chapter in 2006 and a 1955 Chevy is still a 1955 Chevy and the 1911 baseball season is still the 1911 baseball season. Whatever our Kansas could be it’s often going to be heavy in facts because if we are talking about facts we are talking about something black or white and facts rarely change.
With each chapter it’s like I’m turning a corner coming closer to realizing there’s more to this than just my story and with this chapter I’m turning a corner coming closer at maximum velocity.
Media and “Firsts”
This was almost a prophetic chapter, to be perfectly honest. I don’t know, though, if we are going the right way or the wrong way.
This chapter deals with the fact that I believe that the interaction between various forms of media and those on the autism spectrum can be a hazardous situation, yet at the same time can be positive.
When I wrote this Facebook was still years from going mainstream, and Minecraft had yet to unleashed on this world. When it comes to Minecraft I don’t know if there has been or will be anything as major as it in terms of generating interest. You should see it when I present at a school and mention Minecraft is the #1 Kansas those that I know are on the autism spectrum instantly light up.
Now, with the same thing I put forth in this chapter, is this a good or bad thing? I think there is no one answer and the statement of, “If you’ve met one person with autism you’ve only met one person with autism…” holds true here because for person it may be their social outlet and their way to build team skills. For another it may become a world that is so safe, so awesome, and so perfect that leaving it will be impossible.
Another thing that is different is the way the news is delivered. My fear when I wrote this chapter was how a growing person would process their world around them when exposed to the media. In the media’s frenzy to be the first, or perhaps most shocking, the amount of gruesome violence has gone up by a margin I don’t even know how to measure. Is it real? Yes. Should it be shown? I don’t know, and that’s not for me to decide. What I do know is that witnessing things on the television when I was three, four, and five years of age troubled me for a long time. Maybe times are different, maybe people are stronger, and then again if exposed to so much violence one could be desensitized to it. Maybe yes, maybe no.
This is topic where there is much debate, autism spectrum or not, and I’m not going to say one way or the other except the questions I put forth in this chapter. These questions and these thoughts are becoming more and more relevant each day as media becomes more and more accessible and seemingly intrusive. I go back to an example I use in my book about what life was like 100 years ago. There was no media and the only “firsts” and “musts” there were was survival; that was it, there was no status updates, no checking in, and gruesome crime scenes from around the world weren’t seen. Times change, and maybe people change, but for people on the autism spectrum is this a change for the better, or a change for the worse?
I’ve written short blog posts longer than this chapter but provided in this short chapter is yet another example of the true struggle of what I was to deal with. I find it interesting that I used the word “predicting” even before I knew that those on the autism spectrum crave prediction.
As with other chapters I don’t have too much to add to this. My thoughts haven’t changed and the fear of the future remains. Well, I will say that perhaps my struggle has gotten worse. Worse? How so? When I wrote this my future was rather bleak and I didn’t realize the possibilities of life nor the places and people that I would see. My fears back then of the future were fears that one would have in a very small world. My world is larger now and the variables of the future are greater. This isn’t a bad thing because without it I’d still be stuck in a tiny bubble, but it is something I do have to deal with. I’m not “cured” as some people may think. I still struggle with things and these things have grown as I have. It’s a challenge, but one I must face and one I must conquer.
One Thousand Outcomes
Perfection. That’s what came to mind reading this chapter and much like digging a time capsule out of the ground I have been reminded of examples I used to know. This is a major chapter, for me, because it was my declaration that, “I’m not slow or dumb.” I struggled with those thoughts before writing this and I wanted a way to explain why I was different in certain social situations.
I went about it in a most complicated, and mathematical way, but I explain that it isn’t that I’m slow, but I’m too fast in social situations. The thing to understand is being too fast creates a slower response as I process all the potential outcomes and as I’ve made more and more social mistakes I take my time even more truly analyzing the potential outcomes.
Other than that I can’t add more. If you have my book I would suggest you to read this chapter once more as the daily grind can’t be explained any better.
The Conscious Coma
This was the chapter that started my dream of being a presenter even before more than a dozen people had read any work of mine. As I wrote this chapter I had dreams of maybe someday being on a stage, perhaps in Germany, and traveling from town to town presenting to anyone and everyone about this concept. Alas, this concept isn’t in my presentation as it’d be too difficult to describe orally, but there’s more to this chapter than that.
A week prior to writing this Temple Grandin was in Saint Louis and my dad took me to see her presentation. I must admit I protested because I still was proclaiming that there was no hope and blah blah blah. My dad didn’t give me a choice and I went under protest, but we met her before the presentation and then, in seeing how many people attended the presentation, I began to wonder if someday, maybe someday, I too would present to just a least a crowd 1/20th of that size.
That night was monumental because that was the first time I got any outside information about the autism spectrum, first time I heard a speaker, and first time I saw how many others were interested or affiliated with the autism spectrum. A few nights later I wrote this chapter.
The Conscious Coma is abstract and I have no way to quantify its existence other than to say I experience. The night I wrote this I put the song “Zero” from the video game “Ace Combat Zero” on repeat and I wrote the most difficult chapter to this point. I’d written things that were more personal, yes, but I felt as if for the first time I was getting to not just the “what is” but the “why it is” in terms of my ways of being on the autism spectrum. This scared me in a way as I was diving into a world that was new and foreign to me.
It’s fitting that I mention that I dreamed of giving a presentation in Germany because on this day that this post is up I’ll be passing through Germany (pure coincidence, I swear!) but this chapter allowed me to dream. It wasn’t just a dream, though, it was a dream that could be realized. From recently seeing Temple Grandin present I knew that there was a chance that could be me someday. Was it a large chance? No! I was shy, quiet, and had the public speaking skills of, well, I don’t know how to end that comparison but standing in front of a group terrified me, and yet, just four years after writing this chapter, I would be in front of groups and not only that I would be on a panel with Temple herself!
I can’t add anything to this chapter than this back story. I still feel this concept is not only valid but is something I struggle with and can be a cause as to why I may be apathetic to a change one minute, day, or month, and then at one moment down the road care with all my heart.
This chapter was written after having a night of vivid dreams. I do mention in the chapter, and I’m still reminded of this in presentations when people ask me about dreams, in that I remember them in realistic detail. I thought everyone had this.
There is an update from when I wrote this. I explained, when I first wrote this, that I felt this to be a curse because there was no running away from a memory. However, I feel this is one of my biggest blessings now because so many of my future chapters in my upcoming books, or some of my greatest blog posts, were born in my dreams in the middle of the night. I guess my brain is always working on ways to better describe the autism spectrum.
I’ve heard from others that have this and unless you have dreams to this level I doubt you can appreciate the fear that going to sleep can have. When I have repetitive dreams, and it’s been a long time since then, thank goodness, the moments before sleep are terrifying as I’m sure I’m about to lose a person again, or relive a scary or socially awful event. Now though, as I mentioned, I wouldn’t give this up as I’m the writer and presenter I am because of this.
This chapter came to me in a flash and an interesting sequence of events set my brain to come up with this. It was June 10th, 2006 and was a Saturday. My dad and I had planned to go across the river to Illinois and watch the midget races at Belle-Claire speedway, but also that night the Indycar series was racing at Texas Motor Speedway and was always one of the better races of the year. We decided to stay at home but before the race started I entered this free poker tourney online. Thousands of people entered, close to 8,000, and the top 18 people won a prize for free. Hours went on and I remained, and when we got down to about 50 people I didn’t have many chips left and I was dealt pocket 10’s. I pushed all-in and I came up against pocket aces. If you don’t know poker this meant I was dominated and I will only win about one in eight times. After the flop, or the first three cards of five that come out in Texas Hold ‘em, I was even in worse shape as an ace was on the board. I now only had a .1% chance of winning the hand and that was if two 10’s were the next two cards and sure enough the impossible happened and I stayed in the tourney.
Later on there were 19 people left and I was in 10th and I was dealt two aces so I went all in. This was a bad move because whether you got first, or 18th, the prize was the same. I should’ve been patient but this guy, and I still remember his username to this name, called with two duds of a card, but he won, I was eliminated, and I sat there in shock. Then, out of nowhere, this chapter popped into my head. It was an impossible sequence of events and if just one thing had been different the ultimate chapter of not just Asperger’s but perhaps what it means to love, wonder about love, and to be human never would have been written. As you can tell from my lead in I remember this chapter extremely well. If anything, as other chapters were building the groundwork for my future, this was the sending off party.
In this chapter I don’t shy away from my fears, I don’t make mincemeat of the issue, and I tackle the subject of love head on. A person can change a lot in a decade and in my future books I explain a lot more about love.
When I started out on this chapter I was afraid I was going to state, “it is impossible for me to love” but I hit a major point that is my belief today that the emotion is so powerful that I try to deny it. I wish I could skip ahead to my 5th book and the views I share in that, but without the context it wouldn’t work.
At the end of my presentations I sort of give a nod to this chapter. I don’t state the word love, but I state that, “anytime a tragic event happens with the autism spectrum there will be misguided experts that get on the news and proclaim that people on the autism spectrum ‘have no emotions and are incapable of caring.’ Never listen to them. We have all the emotions in the world and that part of our brain where we experience to where we express it is like a clogged interstate with more accidents and brick walls than you can imagine, but trust me when I say the emotions are there.”
Yes, I have grown since I wrote this and this was the dawning of wondering what makes a human a human. What is love? Is it a myth? Is it what the media teaches us? There’s so many confusing messages about it that how can I know that my emotions are normal? And on top of all that, emotions are overwhelming to begin with so how can I be sure I even feel what I feel when I try not to feel? I’m thankful this chapter happened because I don’t know if I’d be where I am without it and not only that, this chapter set off a quest (fitting, considering the title is named the same) that hasn’t ended, but isn’t this what being human is? The pursuit, the chase, the bewilderment? Would this mean that these questions, while stated in a book about Aspergers, is simply normal?
Tomorrow Is an Eternity Away
I mentioned this several chapters back, but it’s rather odd to agree with myself so passionately, but the words within this chapter were true then and they hold true now. I do believe my concept of time is different and this occasionally will come up in the Q&A segment of a presentation. It is a hard thing to explain because what does this mean? Students from 3rd graders to seniors in high school, to even police officers, take notice at presentations and ask, “Aaron, just how good is your memory?” I can be asked a question I’ve never been asked and give an answer I’ve never been given because I can access the memory and it’s like it happened right now.
This is a gigantic strength and can be a big weakness as I put forth in this chapter and if you have my book this may be another chapter that, at first glance, may not seem all that relevant but the words within that chapter are highly vital and could be a key as to what’s going on underneath if a person can’t simply “move on.”
If I Were Dying of Thirst Would I Ask For a Glass of Water?
This chapter was inspired by the events of being in Marshalltown, Iowa on the weekend of July 21st, 2006. One side note about that weekend, I had one of the oddest red flag situations on the practice day as deer overran the back straightaway. Deer aside, the stories from that Sunday are prime examples of, “I think therefore you should know” which I didn’t have that quote then, but this concept of not asking for water if I were dying is due in part to, “since I know I need water than you do to!”
There’s two other examples of this, one was with Greg, the kart shop owner, at a race in Michigan. We were loading the trailer and I was pulling the karts in and he was pushing. We got to the end and my back was against the shelves but he kept pushing not realizing. This hurt extremely badly as I had 600lbs of equipment being pushed into me but I didn’t speak up. I was stuck in “1,000 Outcomes” in that, if I spoke up, how mad would he be?
Even after I started presenting, I was working a race in 2010 and it was dry, hot, and windy. A perfect combination for dehydration and in a break someone drove by and asked, “Hey Aaron, you need a break?” to which I thought about it and said, “No.” Why would I say no? I needed that water, and my book title prophecy was very much trying to become true, but I said no because since I knew it he already knew it and he simply didn’t give me the water. Several minutes later I broke the prophecy and I did ask for water, but I use this example in presentations to teachers because if I need help then you already need it. As with other chapters this may seem like a simple chapter, but read it again to get under the surface and understand the elements in play.
This was a prophetic chapter and I say this in every presentation that I use this concept in. I know I did skip ahead several chapters, but my thoughts on those chapters were just more of the same of material I’ve already covered.
Anyway, the story I use about not having fuel at the race is something that still holds true at races to this day. Well, not having fuel isn’t an issue as I only flag, but if I asked to go get a certain tool from any given crew I clam up. I can display the flags with vigor and passion, but if you ask me to be put in a position where I need to interact to acquire an item it’s difficult. This is due to “Alias”. I can play a role just fine, but if it’s personal I mat struggle.
In presentations I state this and say, “If you see me off this stage you may not recognize me.” I don’t know if people believe me when I say this, but for those that have they do believe it. It also had to be confusing to my coworkers when I was worked, or my classmates and teachers when I was in school.
When I wrote this I never imagined that I’d have a stage alias but un life sometimes we don’t know what we are capable until after the fact and even then sometimes we may wonder how we do the things we do.
In The End
What a fitting place to end! It was October 14th, 2006 and I was back at where I first thought about my writing journey having relevance. That, and the first time I was in that room I had such a close encounter were death, and here I was over a year later with so many thoughts about who I was, who I am, and who I was going to become.
I lied in this chapter, though. I said my “Quest” was over but it wasn’t, and still isn’t. I realized halfway around the globe that I was and am capable of love. I realized I was different but everyone is.
When I finished the final sentence and put the final period on my work I froze. I had achieved what few do. It’s easy to start a book, but to have the follow through and get all the way to the end was an accomplishment. I then cried. I cried unlike I cried for some time because the journey was over (or so I thought). And what a journey it was! I couldn’t have imagined shifting from simply my story to using concepts to describe who I was and why I was. I had questions though; what would become of this work? Would anyone ever read it? Was it any good? And with so many things in my life, like claiming the #1 spot on a racing game, I felt this void. What did I actually achieve? The emotions then quickly went back to hibernation and I didn’t allow myself the thought that someday, someone, somewhere would be able to download my book, or drive to a bookstore and read it. I didn’t allow myself to imagine that I would continue to grow and continue to come up with even more ideas. I didn’t allow myself to think I’d have a blog that has visitors from all around the world. I didn’t allow myself the thought that I’d someday be on a stage giving a presentation and actually making people laugh, cry, and think. I didn’t allow myself the notion that I would ever amount to anything.
It’s odd that I called this chapter, “In the End” because I thought it was the end but little did I know it was simply the beginning.