Monday, November 24, 2014

The Day After

It's over now; my favorite five days of the year are now over. This year's SKUSA Supernats once again was a phenomenal experience and as I sit on this plane headed back to home I am fighting back tears. To some this race is just that; a race but to me it is so much more. I don't know how to describe it to be honest whether to call it my ultimate Kansas or maybe it's the length of time at five days which makes the event so great. Perhaps it's the time coupled with the fact that it is like running a marathon for myself. Or maybe it's the sheer intensity of constant action and constant radio chatter that requires 100% attention 100% of the time.

There are few moments in life that I am not stressed or dealing with a high level of anxiety. I don't write about this very often anymore, but it's still there but I've just grown to accept it. I don't try to fight it. Besides being at the tart finish line the other time I am fully relaxed is whilst presenting. Anyway, for five days every November I am in a state of pure tranquility in the midst of pure motorized chaos.

What do I mean by chaos? Nearly every session, so nearly every minute I'm working the race, there are 40 karts on track. This lends itself to all sorts of situations. Some good, some odd, some chaotic, and I have to be prepared to act, react, and be proactive on a countless number of situations and for my brain it is pure bliss.

To add to the specialness of this event this year, as with last year, my dad came out to watch which he got a photo pass so he was in my area. I probably was little overprotective on trying to keep him safe, but nonetheless it meant so much that he got to see me once again in action on karting's largest stage in the world.

Still though, as I write this, I'm fighting valiantly to not just break down and become a teary-eyed mess. With each year that goes by the conclusion to the event becomes harder and harder and accept. Yes, it's just four short (okay, long) months until my next event, but no event compares to this race and now I'm at that moment where I have to wait the longest until the next time when I get the honor of being at the start finish line, with flags in hand, and being completely comfortable with my chaotic environment and completely comfortable with who I am.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Sameness Over the Years

I write this on my phone so I apologize for any autocorrect errors. 

Anyway, today was day two of the SKUSA Supernats and between two of the on track sessions I stood at the start finish line and pondered just how much of this weekend has been the same as the previous six. This is my seventh Supernats and excluding the first one I did where the finish line was on the opposite end of the track I have been on the same spot for now 32 days of my life. The sameness is eerie, though. Sure, a few buildings on the Vegas skyline have changed, as well as an addition of one gigantic Ferris wheel, but from the smell of the hotel suite at The Rio to the order of the food at the buffet, to the location of command center at the track, well, it's so similar that it's actually a dream for me. 

Of course myself, being on the autism spectrum, I live sameness and this event and location provide that. In a way that's what also makes the Indy 500 so great because of the traditions and sameness. Sure, as with Indy and here, names change, faces change, and the crew from my first Supernats I worked to now isn't entirely the same, but the experience is eerily the wonderful sameness. 

The reason I write this is that I already have trepidations about next year as the Supernats are moving to a larger venue. This will be great for the track and competition, but I'm going to lose this routine, this place, the smells, the view. Will there be new of all those things? Yes, of course, but it won't be the same. Obviously I will adjust because these are my five favorite days of the year, but at the same time the next three days will be cherished all the little bit more because the smells, the walk from the room to the track, and all the other things associated will be changing. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Ritual of Supernats Tuesday

Today is the final day before the start of the SKUSA Supernats and this day is as special now as it was when I began in 2008. And there's a ritual about this day. Earlier today I walked the track to get reacquainted with the lay of the land and I walked to the start finish line which will be my home for the next five days. It's nice to stand there, alone in tranquility, because starting tomorrow I'm going to have some of the best kart pilots in the world zooming past at almost 100mph.

There's something really special today, and it's the pinnacle of the ritual, and that is the staff meeting this evening. I know what's going to be said and it's been about the same verbatim since my first year. And I do remember my first year at that meeting. I hung on every word spoken by Tom who told us that this is the biggest event in karting and that our professionalism needs to convey that. We hear from eKartingnews's Rob Howden who reinforces the size and scope of this event and it's been the same speeches each year and here's the thing, every year I hand on every word. I was never on a sports team and I never heard a coach's pep talk, but this is what it is like. I dream of this event all year and to be at that meeting puts me from a dream state to this is reality and in just one short night the event will be on.

It's also a shared experience because the entire staff is at this meeting. In the years I've been doing this the staff has grown. While I'm just one person at start finish and I normally am the ones in the pictures and videos (any flagman would as pictures of the victor at the line are sort of a no brainer) there's, well, between corner workers, staff that man the fuel and tire desk, security, tech, registration, I believe it is close to 100. I could be wrong, but the scale of this event is that ginormous.

For now I wait. The meeting is in a little over three hours and I'll probably get there a little early just to soak it in a little bit more. I enjoy every event I work, I truly do, but this is where I truly started on a national level and as of now it's the largest event I work so I appreciate it. Some people say I'm good at flagging but I do it because I enjoy it and to be given a canvas so large to practice my art of flag waving is, well, I call it an honor. At the end of the day many people could be the one to stand at start finish and display the flags but that honor has been given to me. Maybe this is a lesson in being skilled and persistent, but each year I want to make every moment count. Even last year in the simply appalling conditions with inches upon inches of rain and spending three straight days of wearing rubber boots (I NEVER want to wear rubber boots again after that experience)  I had a great time. These five days only come once a year and there's only one other event in the world that I'd do above this event and maybe someday I'll get to that event (even if I get to that event I can still do this) but nonetheless these five days are cherished, respected, and in a few short hours I'll be at the final event in the ritual that leads up to the start of the Supernats and I will be as attentive, and almost like a kid on Christmas who is about to open the greatest gift ever, as I have been each and every year. The five greatest days if the year are about to begin.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Day I Became the Supernats Flagman

I'm on my way to Vegas for this year's installment of the SKUSA Supernats where I serve as the chief starter. This will be my seventh year in this role and it seems just like yesterday, back in 2008, that I was making this trek out west for this event. However, what seems even more recent, was the day I found out I landed this gig. 

I've written this a couple time prior to today, but this story is really sticking out in my mind today. Anyway, it was back in the spring of 2008 and I was the race director and flagman of a regional series that had been known as the Central States Super Series but in 2008 we aligned with SKUSA (Superkarts USA). That being so Tom, the owner of SKUSA, came to Saint Louis for our first race of the season. I was aware of whom he was from being at the Supernats as a photographer in 2006 and 2007, but I didn't think much of it because I had a race to direct and flag. 

It was an unseasonably warm day and when I flew the final double checkered of the day I was exhausted. Back then I was not much of a socializer. Okay, I'm still not but back the. I had zero confidence in myself outside of calling a race and having a flag in my hand. What this meant was that, at the end of the race day, I made myself vanish. I left the property as fast as I could because I couldn't take a random encounter. It was actually this series which started the transition to me becoming who I am today, but back then socializing was something I had no skills in which is why the next half of this story truly irritated me at the time. 

Once all the race and technical aspects if the day were done I took my flags and started walking to my car. Greg, the person I worked for at the time and the series promoter, asked me to stay for the trophy presentation to help out. I was just 30 short minutes from home and home was calling out loudly because had I been home there'd be no chance of a social interaction. However, when the boss says stay it means stay. So I stayed to help out which was odd because I was given no task. You see, if you ask me to help give me something to do. Don't tell me to stay and help out and give me nothing as I was experiencing a severe episode of "positional warfare" because I had no idea where to be standing or how I should be in the space that I was in. 

The winners and podiums progressed and at the end Greg said, "and now Tom has a special announcement that he'd like to share." At this point in time I wasn't really hearing much because I was off on the side "helping out" which now was really irritating me because I could have been home by one and here I was, standing there and sticking out because my level of uncomfortableness was beyond obvious, but nothing could have prepared me for what was next. Had this been videotaped this may have been one of those bait lined Facebook stories such as, "this person was just standing there but nothing could prepare him for the life changing news that was about to happen."

Tom took center and started talking. I will out this in exact quotes which this may not be word for word, but the way I remember, well, truly will be words I'll remember forever. Tom started, "Folks, I've been in karting for many, many years and I've been around the world but I saw something today I've never seen before." This now had me somewhat concerned because I was thinking I had screwed up a call or something within the rules, but Tom continued, "yes, I've seen a lot but I've never seen anything like Aaron at the finish the line. The passion, the enthusiasm, and the things he does with the flags are something I've never seen so I'm proud to announce that I've found my new flagman for the Supernats!" 

When Tom said Supernats everyone looked my way and I was frozen. I had been to that race twice and, for those that don't know the event, it is the pinnacle event in American and arguably the world so this would be like being a high school umpire getting the call to work the World Series. This wasn't just a small statement Tom said, this was the biggest thing that had ever been said to me. This further being frozen and I couldn't respond. I was fighting back tears and trying to remember how to breathe. I tried to react, but I couldn't. Tom then said, "Aaron, do you want it?" 

What do I say to that? I knew I wanted to say yes, but so many thoughts were going through my head and I know I didn't want to show the emotions that were now flooding through me. I never thought my flagging was all that special; it just has been something I've always done and as I was trying to get my brain to say yes I thought back to the first flag my dad got me when I was 3 and the flag that the Indy 500 flagman, Duane Sweeney, gave me when I was 7 and I thought of my first job as assisting Frankie in 1995 at the kart track I raced at and the years that I had been doing this and again, I thought it was nothing special because I simply did it and now I was being told I was becoming the flagman of the greatest karting event in the world. 

Finally, I regained my composure and I nodded my head and, without a quiver in my voice, I said yes to which a burst of applause roared out. 

After a few conversations I did make it to my car and I was rather thankful that I was told to stay to "help out." When I pulled out of the parking lot the emotions finally bubbled over and I had to pull over. It was too much; mind you this was 2008 and I wasn't a published author, I wasn't a autism ambassador, and besides a few hours data inputting at the kart shop I was mainly unemployed and my future looked rather hopeless in achieving anything in my life and now I had just been told I was worth something and was extraordinary at something. I had something to look forward to besides the 6 regional races I did a year. 

In my development I have no doubt that if it weren't for that day in Saint Louis when Tom made that announcement I would not be who I am today. I doubt I'd have the people skills to be a presenter and I probably never would have made it the other series I have flagged. It was because I was the Supernats flagman which got me in with USAC and all those travels I've done with them have furthered who I am. 

With each pilgrimage to Vegas to work the Supernats I remember back to who I was in that first race and each year I appreciate the race even more. There are defining moments in every person's life and those moments can be hard to relive and experience anew. But each November I get that chance as I exit the airport, hop into a cab, and head to the track where all who I had been didn't matter. I cherish this event and it won't be long before the Vegas skyline is my backdrop with the smell of race fuel in the air, the hint of burning rubber, and the smile I have as I take my post at start finish for the 18th installment of the spectacle that is the SKUSA Supernats. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Five Years Strong

With all that happened in Canada, and the curling video, and the news story WGEM did about my presentation to teachers I was unable to blog and state that on 11/11/2014 I celebrated a massive milestone as on that day, five years prior, I gave my first presentation.

I can't believe it's been five years! That first presentation I gave was at the 2009 MNEA conference and it had many of the elements that I present on today. I was energetic on that day but nowhere near the enthusiasm I present with today. I was somewhat dry and the art of humor wasn't acquired yet, but still the audience gave a resounding applause at the end. And, at that the end of that presentation, I thought that was the end of my dabble into the world of public speaking. Boy, was I wrong.

I just eclipsed the 580 mark in total number of presentations given and ever since I started presenting I've said that, on the day I was diagnosed, autism awareness was nowhere near where we are today and I'm sure that the same amount of time from now as back then we will be even further. And you know what? I firmly believe this. Not only has my presentation evolved over five years but so too have the audiences base of knowledge on autism. I had a fifth grader last month ask me, "What is the best reward/token system for a person on the autism spectrum?" I state again, a fifth grader! That would mean, when I gave my first presentation, that student was probably in kindergarten. Now, this isn't to say that all students are asking ultra technical questions, yet at the same time this means that, from my vantage point looking at the audience, that the base level of knowledge is growing.

I was joking with a coworker yesterday that I'm going to have to start reading more and more research papers to stay ahead of all these kids I speak to that know more about the research world than I do. While I could feel, at times, as if they're trying to outdo me or impress me I feel no such thing. When I'm presented with something I can't answer from a sixth grader's question I feel ALIVE like you can't believe. I think back to when I was in sixth grade and I remember vividly the time the word "autistic" came up and everyone thought we were going to be talking about Picasso or Rembrandt. Back then autism, and "autistic" weren't a common saying so everyone heard, "artistic." This isn't the case anymore from what I've seen.

With each passing year I feel more and more blessed about what I do and last night I had just as much fun and enjoyment as I ever have had. Some people work, some have jobs, some have careers, but I don't know if there's an exact word to describe what I have because I do work, but it doesn't feel that way; I am employed so that means I have a job; I have been at this for five years and it's a finely tuned craft so it would be considered a career, I guess, but it doesn't feel like a job, a career, work, or anything like that. What I do I do out of absolute love because I know where I came from. This blog I've talked about the past five years but if we were to go back just one year more the picture is a lot darker. Hope? HA! Hope was something that didn't exist in my world. My world was small, I was cutoff from most everything, and I simply counted the days. What was there to look forward to when I was relegated to a life of, "no job, no friends, and no happiness"?

There was a lot of work, and lot of people who got me to where I am, as well as Easter Seals Midwest for giving me the platform to share my story, but again I do it because I love doing it and it needs to be done. I do realize my story is my own and my progress isn't everyone's progress. In my presentation I don't sell a magic cure, I don't say how to fix a problem exactly, but if those with Asperger's and those around us be it parents, siblings, or teachers can better understand us then perhaps a lot of social friction can be relieved and a sense of understanding can form. From that then there is room for growth.

Still, I can't believe it's been five years. For myself, if you had told me back then I'd still be doing this to this day I wouldn't have believed it. One, I never would have thought I could keep an audiences attention, but secondly I would have been confident I'd have burned out because I never had been able to stay at a job for more than six months as I would always get bored or be misunderstood by coworkers. If you've seen a presentation though, I'm not bored at all and with each day comes something new to experience, something new to write about, new people to talk to, new conversations that spark my brain that leads to a new concept that I can then turn around and have a story to help a parent eight months from now better understand why their child may do something.

It's been a phenomenal run and there's no sign of letting up. There's some exciting things that will be coming soon and each year gets bigger and bigger. When I began it was normal to present to just 10, 5, or sometimes even just 2 people. Now, it's rare if I go a month without at least one presentation over 100 people. Of course, I've never lost my belief in The Power of One and with each presentation, whether it is to 1 or 100 or even 1,000 I will put in the same effort because to bring upon understanding to just person is to change one person's world and that, well, that can change a life which is why this job, career, work, no, let's call it an acute passion isn't going to get old or boring anytime soon. I can't wait to write my 10 year anniversary blog post in five years!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Let's Curl!

When I was in Vancouver I went curling for the 2nd time in my life. I just don't understand why it isn't a thing here in Saint Louis, or most of America for that matter. It is so much fun and I was able to remember how to do it so I put a lot more rocks in play this time, as the video will show (notice though that my stones are congregating in one spot.) The amount of touch required to stop the stone in the house is rather difficult, but I think I may already be planning another weekend trip to Vancouver just to curl once more.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Going Vertically Sideways

It's been 16 hours since we got back to Vancouver and finally, FINALLY, the feeling of going back and forth and up and down has ceased. And what a day it was!

The weather forecast was for winds reaching gale force which for me didn't sound like a fun thing. Anything that has a word to describe it can't possibly be a good thing. Leaving Secret Cove, though, the imagery was serene. 

As with the day prior we weren't so much a sailboat but a boat that just happened to have sails that was being moved by a motor. I don't know my Canadian island geography but I could tell we were making good time at around 5.8kts. 

Around noon time the winds picked up and it got to the point where sailing looked to be a doable thing. I was at the helm when the sails got unfolded and at the same time the winds went from 10kts to 20kts which caught the sails full thus turning the craft to the left. I tried countertseering per the captain's order but it was no use. We continued to be pushed to the left and the force started to lift the vessel. This was something I know I didn't sign up for. 

The angle kept increasing and I started to get worried. I don't think I've shared this before but I actually have a fear of open waters and this fear, I feared, was about to be realized. 

Even still we were rising up and my feet were now on the sidewall to keep upright. Things in the cabin underneath were being tossed about and I was sure I was about to get a taste of salt water and how long ed be in the water, well, the seas were rather lonely. Maybe everyone else knew something we did not. 

It got to the point that the side of the boat was in the water and as I looked to my left I was looking straight into the water. I kept trying to steer the boat but the winds were overpowering the motor and rudder. And I do have to say thank goodness that I was holding onto the wheel or I'd have fallen into the frigid waters. 

It was getting to the point that if we'd come up higher I was sure we were going to roll which, oddly enough I'd asked two hours prior, "can a boat like this roll"? to which I was assured it could not but at this point in time I was sure we were going over. 

Then it happened. Thankfully not a rollover but a spin out. Did you know a sailboat could spin out like a race car? Neither did I, but we did and all became calm as we were now nose into the wind. Finally, I could breathe again. 

The captain took the helm and we continued on and again a gust of wind came and we were put into the same situation again. I about had enough if this and was wondering what happend to the tranquil, peaceful experience I had had on the previous day. Also, my body went into full defense mode and my hypersensitivites kicked in and I was feeling every bump, wave, sound, and all in all it was all rather exhausting. 

In serious situations in the past, be it physical or social, when my body has learned of a danger I become hyper vigilant to it and each time the start of the motion begins I prepare for the worst. This too is how the fear of socializing can happen. This, though, was motion and each wave that we caught wrong and each time the boat shifted to the left I was sure this was it yet again. 

The waves stayed choppy but we learned how to not spin out or go vertical in the water and by the time we got to Bowen Island the waters had become calm. Whilst the waters were calm I was still in defense mode and was very tense. In the distance the skyline of Vancouver was a most welcome sight. 

We got ashore and I felt like kissing the land, but it was an old dock and I felt that might look a bit strange, but I felt the urge. The only experience in my life I can compare this to was my being held captive by the mob of homeless boys in Kisumu, Kenya back in 2005. For myself there was that much panic within me and I did have to deal with the after emotions of this panic. Even now as I write this there is a residual amount of panic from the experience. The captain, Rob's dad, told me that this is somewhat common and sailors get into far windier (double or more of what we felt) and going sideways like that is "no big deal." That may be so, I don't know, but when you've never experienced it and don't know the limitations of what a boat can do a sense of panic is about the only thing that once can experience. Thankfully, on the outside, I didn't panic and the captain commended me on this. Rob as well didn't panic and we both did our parts to make sure the boat didn't go under. 

So now my time in Vancouver is about up. I'll be headed to the airport in just a few minutes and this has most certainly been a trip to remember. It's amazing how fast six days go and when I get home I'll be right out the door as I've got 10 presentations in three days coming up, but for now I'm left with the memories of yesterday. To end I did take video of the waves behind us. These waves aren't as high as they were and were taken some time after I had calmed down, but does give a bit of an illustration of just how up and down and up and down we had it. 


Friday, November 7, 2014

A Journey by Boat

This blog will be one long post. I will update it as the trip progresses so check back and I will also share updates on my Facebook author page...

November 7th, 7PM: So we are on the boat. I went boating back in to 2013 with Rob and his dad but that trip was essentially around up the block so to speak. This trip this time required a flight to go to the boat which had been left up in Powell River so tomorrow we will start sailing back to Vancouver which is about 70 miles away. It'll be a two day journey which means that I'll not only be spending one night but rather two nights on a boat which I have never done before.

This whole experience is foreign to me. I've been at the dock for about an hour now and just the slow moving back and forth has created this slight queasiness in me. I hope this doesn't get worse. I mean, I REALLY hope this doesn't get worse.

Outside looking out onto the water is an eerie feeling into a vast blackness. Being from the city darkness, well, blackness isn t something I'm accustomed to seeing but this was one of the motivations in coming on this journey. I'm finding I want to challenge myself more and more as I strive for such things. Also, through these challenges, I feel I grow. Sure, a 70 mile sail on a boat that does have some creature comforts isn't the biggest "roughing it" thing I could do, but for me this is, as I said, fully foreign.

Rob's dad is currently cooking dinner which will consist of salmon, cooked carrots, and a tomato soup. I love salmon but I'm thinking this will be a meal I will remember for a long time. There's been several, many actually, meals that stick out in my life but this meal, out here on the brink of pure darkness, is going to be one I'll remember for a long, long time.

10:45PM: Dinner was completed a couple hours ago and it was just as I envisioned. The salmon cooked by Rob's dad was phenomenal and I also had a couple brusslesprouts. After dinner we talked about various things regrading jobs, careers, the future, and a multitude of other topics. The world got very small as it truly, for me, consisted of just the interior of this 32ft sailboat. 

There was some work to do with sailboat stuff that I don't really understand. I've learned I love being on sailboat but if I were to ever captain a boat I'd feel sorry for anyone who would be on that ship. Honestly, I just learned tonight how to wrap a garden hose around my elbow. That being so all these knots, wires, cables, and everything else is beyond my brain's ability to understand any of it. 

It's bed time now and the full moon is giving quite the light show. It's going to be an early morning and the weather forecast sounds like the waters could be choppy. That might be bad for me but could lead to some interesting things to write about. Hopefully not too interesting, though. 

November 8, 8:00AM: I actually slept somewhat soundly minus the fact that every time I turned over I hit my head on the shelf above my head. At one point I woke up and I had no idea where I was and why there was a shelf above my head. I didn't investigate too much and back to sleep I went. 

We are a little behind of where we would like to be but sailing in the pitch black darkness was thought better of so we are about to leave the harbor. 

November 8, 3:40PM

I don't know when I'll be able to post this as I am completely cutoff. Actually, is odd but I'll get to that in a moment. 

This morning we left Powell River and headed South towards Secret Cove. Leaving the safety of the harbor it became apparent of just how vast these waters are. Sure, this isn't something daunting like crossing the Atlantic, but nonetheless I stood in awe of just how small we were compared to the world. 

The winds were low so the sails were an option so we kept motoring onward and we took turns at the helm. At one point there was a scare as a telephone pole decided to surface right in front of us. The thud made all three of us concerned and there were multiple thuds as it kept bouncing off the bottom of the boat. As the thuds kept coming back there was a concern because it did make contact with the props and the rudder. The thudding ceased and we looked behind to see that culprit of a pole and concern instantly went with the state of the boat. Thankfully all was well and we continued on albeit with a little bit more hesitancy as to what was lurking out there in the waters. 

The concerns kept us vigilant and once again I saw something that concerned me. However, my report to Rob's dad, the captain, was, "um, I saw something. It was blue and serviced but then there was a spray of water." This turned out to not be another evil log but was a dolphin. And then we looked out to our right, ahem, our starboard side and we saw orca after orca. There were at least a dozen surfacing and going back under and it was a phenomenal site. It was so awe-inspiring I didn't think of taking a photo. 

As we neared Secret Cove I was at the helm, and had been for about an hour and I entered a slalom course of logs. You'd be surprised how many logs and telephone sized poles are out there in the waters, but they're out there just waiting to cause a bit of grief. All logs were avoided and we pulled into this rather small harbor which is where I write this right now. 

Now, for being cut off, I have been tethered to Rob's phone which has allowed me to post previous to this. Right now, though, the signal is so weak that I am unable to post but I haven't had a signal all day. It has been weird being cutoff from all technology. One thing I've learned on this trip is just how in tune and I'd say dependent on my ipad and iPhone. I am an information addict of sorts and when I'm at home if I ever want to know anything I can find information about it. Being in Canada and not having an international plan and being on the water has limited my ability. I still would take my phone out and look at it and make the attempt before remembering that it was futile. After a long while it was somewhat relaxing. When I'm at home, or anywhere in America, I'm always connected. I've got my blog, my Facebook pages, emails, and so many other ways to stay connected to anything and everything. I don't know if you're like this, but if you are like me it'll be hard to imagine life without technology and I have to say I'm thrilled for this experience because for the first time in five years I am invisible of sorts. 

7:30PM: I am exhausted! The day was cold with a chilly wind as we moved over the water and my body often tires quickly with wind or cold and especially when both is in play. As I lay here about to go sleep I'm thinking back to five years ago come the 11th when that'll be the anniversary of my first presentation. I also think back to when I came up in for the 2010 Olympics and just how much I've changed as a person. I'm doing things I never thought I'd be able to. And in that I'm not talking about doing amazing things or things above the norm but rather everyday things. On this trip I've tried several new foods and on my trip in 2010 I was about as rigid as I could be. It just amazes me that things can, in fact, get better with time and I've grown so much since my first trip here. I don't think I could have done this boat trip on my first time year but times change, people change, and I've grown so much. 

November 9, 7:50AM: After one of the best sleeps I've had in a long time we are about to depart. The weather outside looks soupy and the boat at the dock is rocking back and forth so it could be a bumpy ride n

My sleep, though, as mentioned, was sound. I went to bed around 8PM and I had the four most vivid dreams of the year. I think this goes back to being cutoff. I was able to, I hope, get just a strong enough signal to upload what I wrote yesterday but I'm unsure. And even though I'm unsure there's nothing I can do about it. Typically there is something I can do about it but not now. Is this the art and point of sailing; to get away from anything and everything? If it is I can say that's why I slept without thoughts or worries. 

5:16PM: we've made it back and the adventure of today will be its own post tomorrow. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

An Asperger Conversation in the Oddest of Places

I made the trip to Vancouver yesterday and each and every time I travel internationally I fear the point where the passport is inspected. It wasn't bad when I traveled internationally at first because I was always with my dad and I didn't have to do the talking, but this being my fourth trip abroad (does Canada count as "abroad"? I did go to Latvia and there very much qualifies, but is abroad meaning country or ocean?) I've become a bit confident in my speaking skills in those situations to not arouse suspicion. 

We landed in Vancouver and for the first time, I think, in all my flights this year I had a 100% uneventful and nothing of any worthiness to note. Thank goodness! Anyway, the cattle herding process began and we went left then right then left and down an escalator to the passport control area where my anxiety began to rise as I'm always sure I am going to say the wrong thing. Coming back from Latvia in 2008 I learned border checkpoint people don't appreciate anything remotely considered a joke. There was a question, "how much money are you carrying?" and I responded, because the normal question is, "are you carrying over $10,000?" with, "less than $10,000." To which then after I was required to say the exact amount I was carrying which I had to count and he watched me count all $17 in $1's. I didn't want a repeat of this story!

It became my turn to approach the podium and the questions stated off all about Ebola. There were about a dozen different questions on this the the question was, "what line of work are you in?" and if you ever want to see a perplexed look you should see a reaction when I say, "Autism ambassador and also an author." It's certainly not your run of the mill job and obviously this opens up a whole host of questions and it did so she asked, "what's that?"

Ah yes, the "what's that?" question. I explained that I go across Missouri, and sometime across the country, talking about autism and Aspergers. She the said "Aspergers is such a mysterious difference, isn't it?" There was something about her tone which made me comfortable. Maybe it was because she didn't say disease and she worded it with a positive tone. That being said I opened up and said that I, myself have it and she said, "Yeah, I sort of picked up on that by your lack of eye contact." From there the conversation went to my late diagnosis and how I took it which I then explained about that horrid website I found when I first was diagnosed to now nearing a career speaking total of 50,000 people reached and she said, "I don't know how you'll take this, but I just want to say good for you. Good for you! You probably don't fully understand that though, right?" She knew me all too well which tells me something; the level of knowledge she had tells me that the staff there do get so form of autism training. Either that or there was a personal connection to it, but the way she said "mysterious difference" leads me to think that there was no personal connection but she's learned about it somewhere else which that leads me to such a burning level of hope within me. 

It's not everyday a person has an overly positive experience at a borders and customs checkpoint, but I did and it tells me that awareness and understanding is on the rise. Yes, there's still downright awful and even frightening stories on the news and on the internet about autism ignorance and crimes directed towards those on the spectrum, but there's also stories that go untold. If I weren't sharing this story no one would know how it made me feel at ease and comfortable. Would this story have happened 10 years ago? I think the odds are rather slim, but it happened yesterday and this tells me the future is looking brighter and brighter so long as we continue to push forward. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

10 Stories of Fun

write this in Minneapolis on my way to Vancouver for my first true vacation I've ever taken. Yes, I did go to Vancouver last year but I ended up giving 6 presentations over four days which when I first planned this trip I was trying to have this happen again but as I said, in the 4.5 years I've been at this I haven't had a time that I went somewhere with no presentations or a race. It was odd going through the security checkpoint because I kept looking for my flags. However, being the dedicated person I am, I can't fully let go and be 100% on vacation so here I am, blogging and I want to go back to an experience I had over the weekend. 

On Saturday my girlfriend suggested we go to the City Museum. I was reluctant at first because, well, how exciting could a museum of Saint Louis be? Don't get me wrong, learning the history of Saint Louis could be interesting but this wasn't something that I'd clamor for on a Saturday. My girlfriend said it wasn't about the history about Saint Louis which had me confused because, after all, it is the city museum, right?

This city museum opened in 1997 and as so often the case it takes someone that isn't from a person's hometown to get a person out to see the sights as was the case here. 

We arrived and I was still expecting to see images of the Saint Louis riverfront circa 1800's and exhibits of steamboats but as we walked inside it was, well, different. Instead of steamboats there were, um, there was slides. Oh yes, lots of slides and lots of crawl spaces, stairs, and even a skateless park. Skateless park? Yeah, there's a skatepark inside but no skating is allowed but there are plenty of ropes to swing Tarzan style. 

At first the 31 year old in me observed everything with with reservations. We walked past the circus room where the daily act was about to begin so we watched this junior troupe put on a stellar show and when we left my inner kid started to come out. A few steps out of the circus there was a spiral staircase that went down so my girlfriend and I decided to see where it went so we went down and where it out us was this very enclosed space with only one way to go and that was to crawl in this small space underneath a model train set. This certainly wasn't your typical museum and not one for a person whom has claustrophobia. 

When we finally managed to crawl and climb our way out we walked to a place that had what was labeled a "monster slide." This slide was a three floor slide that went straight down. Surely a 31 year old would want no interest in this, right? We stood in line and when a parent in front of us sent her two kids down she asked us, "adults can do this too, right?" I figure she had the same reservations of letting her inner kid out but my girlfriend and I nodded and she went down. My girlfriend went then I went and as I was spat out of the bottom and went sliding on the floor I had the biggest of grins. The sensory feeling of this was liberating and like my six year old self akin to when my parents would take me to the Indianapolis Children's Museum I ran, rather giddy I might add, back up the stairs to do it again. Then again, and even again. I couldn't get enough. Whilst going down that slide, and I learned how to change of center of gravity to increase me speed thus increasing the forces which in turn made me feel even more liberated. As fun as this was there was an even bigger slide awaiting us on the 11th floor. 

We went to the rooftop where there was a Ferris wheel which we rode but my sights we set on the 10 story slide. Seriously, how often does one get to take a ride on a 10 story slide?

My girlfriend went first and I awaited until I got the clear to go and as I waited, and I looked down at this spiral (this was a spiral slide unlike the previous slide which was straight) I had a flashback to a slide that was in Speedway, Indiana. There was is spiral slide there that I swear had the slickest material that they make slides out of and was also greased. This was a true monster of a slide and I think I only went down it once because I was downright frightened of it. I hated the forces back then as it was simply too much and I hated anything which gave a sensation of quick drops or anything I didn't really have control over. I still won't do roller coasters because it don't have control.  

All of these thoughts were going through my brain as I still awaited the cue to go. The nerves were rising as I wondered just how much speed and how many forces would be felt. It's one thing to go down a straight slide being able to see where it's going to go but the entrance to this slide was circular in a downward fashion so sitting down on the entrance and letting go, in a way, was a leap, ahem, a slide of faith. 

It was time and just like when I raced karts all of the nerves and all of the fear evaporated when I let go and started sliding. After one rotation I wanted more speed and more forces so again I scrunched up to change my CG and the speed increased to the point that I had a hard time keeping my feet from getting close to the steel bars that are the upper barrier. 

Around and around I went and this was one of the odder experiences I've had because you just keep going and I was trying to find the optimal speed. Finally I reached the bottom and when I tried to stand I had no ability as my equilibrium had no idea what had happened and I almost fell over trying to stand and I must say it felt awesome!

Sadly, we had to leave so I didn't get a chance to take the trip down the 10 story slide again but I know I'll be back and when I go it's going to be a sliding marathon. I did tell my dad about this and I started with, "dad, be very thankful they didn't have this place when I was young in Indianapolis because I don't know if you could have ever gotten me to leave."

Monday, November 3, 2014

Symphonic Bliss

So I went to see the movie Gladiator yesterday. Wait, what? Didn't that movie come out over 14 years ago. Well, yes it did but this was an unique showing and I feel a once in a rare chance to experience something truly astounding.

This showing wasn't a usual movie going experience. Yes, there was the smell of popcorn in the air, but this wasn't your usual cinema as this was Powell Symphony Hall home to the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. Your probably wondering what the connection was but what made this showing of Gladiator so unique was that there would be no soundtrack coming from the speakers. Instead, the orchestra would be playing the soundtrack full on with a chorus in the background and a singer who could stand in for the original singer, Lisa Gerrard.

I had never been to a showing like this but I have loved my experiences at orchestra playings before, I really enjoyed the movie Gladiator, and I wrote many of my chapters to my 2nd book to the ending song, "Now We Are Free" so this was going to be both enjoyable and emotional for me.

The movie began it at first it was difficult to adjust to this different movie-going experience. On one hand the audio levels, naturally, were different and the words to the movies did have sub-titles. At the same time below the film were the orchestra and the conductor whom had a screen of the movie on his podium with cues to keep on track. It was a rather quick transition to becoming acclimated to this different experience.

During one of the musical segments that was heavy on drums and percussion my sensory issues with such things started to kick in and it took all I had to not let it overwhelm me. This is something that doesn't typically happen with anything recorded but this was different because this was live. The unique thing about this is that, for me, drums that are accompanied with other instruments has a minimal impact on me compared to drums by itself. Why is this? I don't have the answer to that, but thankfully that segment of the movie passed and it was back to being engrossed in 180AD Rome.

Over time it was easy to forget that the music being played wasn't prerecorded but was being played right under the screen. It was seamless and being able to feel the music made the movie all the more believable and the ability to suspend reality was utterly easy.

The intermission came and I've never been more anxious during an intermission because this was an experience I didn't want a pause to. Call it being engrossed, enthralled, transfixed, or any other awesome sounding word like that and that was me. I'm the type of person that, well, it's hard for me to get into things. By "get into things" I have what I call my "Kansas" (new to my blog? check my glossary) but outside of that it's rather difficult for me to get excited about much of anything. This was different though. This was oh so very different.

After the intermission and when the movie picked up the pace and the music became more intense to the climax with the final battle I savored every moment. I realized early on that this is an experience that probably I will never have again. During the whole movie I was awaiting the end and "Now We Are Free" because of the memories of writing chapters and coming up with concepts to that song.

When the final battle was over, and Maximus's fate was shown, and the final three songs started in secession, I felt chills. I've only heard one other song in person live that had this effect (One Winged Angel from Final Fantasy VII) but I was having this effect. With drums I say I can feel the sound, but with these three songs being played live matched up to the pictures I was feeling the music. All of my life I've had a hard time understanding some people's love of music and saying that they can feel the soul of it, or the emotions of it and I shook it off and, well, thought it was just a bunch of fluff. But as Elysium went to Honor Him and then Now We Are Free started I was at the singer's and orchestra's mercy. I was immersed in the music and emotions ran wild like a herd of stampeding buffalo in the wilderness. I tried but it was futile to hold back the tears. Thankfully I wasn't the only one as sniffling and the "I've just got a scratch under my eye" ruse to wipe away a tear or two was common.

As Now We Are Free went into the orchestral piece of the credits, and each name passed through the screen I knew each note I heard was one note closer to the end and when the amazing final note hit and it was over I had no hesitation in joining the full house to give a standing ovation. I'm also one not to give a standing ovation as it's, well, I'm just not one to clap in public but this was different. This wasn't just a showing of a fantastic movie 14 years later, this was a spectacle; an event that if you ever have the chance to see don't think twice about it! One caution though, your future movie watching endeavors may seem a little depressing because you'll know that nothing, and I mean nothing will compare to hearing a movie soundtrack live while watching the movie.