Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Numbers of 2015

At the end of the year I often look at numbers and here is a compilation of my numbers of 2015. Some will be relevant, others irrelevant, but nonetheless here we go:

# of presentations: 115 (701 for career)
# of people presented to: 11,756 (61,525 for career)
# of counties presented in Missouri (see map)

# of Canadians annoyed by my music this year: 0 (running joke)
#of days away from home: 189
# of miles driven for presentations and flagging: 13,075
# of airline miles credited flown this year: 75,178
# of countries visited (airport layovers count): 6
# of soccer refs seen hit in the head with a ball (number is a link): 1
# of views on Asperger Insights season 1: 245,757! (season 2 will be filmed next month)
# of presentations cancelled due to illness: 2 (first two of my career)
# of tornadoes driven through 1
# of books reviewed: 1... it was my own
Name of most read blog of year: A Crash in Huntsville
# of amazing people met this year: too many to count... You know who you are
# of books written: 60% of The Aspie Traveler (just two segments to go!)
# of awesome pictures with dogs: too many but here's one
# of art museums visited: 3
# of country clubs joined: 1 (it was just $59)
# of people I hope to present to next year: 20,000... Let's do this!


Monday, December 28, 2015

To Acclimate Back

It's my 1,300th blog post today and yet I don't feel this sense of celebration that I typically do. I returned home from Norway eight days ago and my brain is still deep in reflection about the trip, the previous trips, my future trip, and what it all means. Also, as the year comes to a close, I'm having an extremely difficult time weighing this year and whether or not 2015 was a good year or a bad year.

This year, as I stated at the beginning of the year, was going to be an important one. I hoped it would be the year that I break out but many times it was more akin to 2005 which was my most miserable year that I've had. And yet, despite all the setbacks this year, just like 2005, the things that happened inspired a book at my travel book is now 60% complete at 62,000 words.

The things on my brain are the things, right now, that are setting me back are the constant thoughts that go through my brain. I'm not sure if this is 100% related to Asperger's, I think it is, but it's the thoughts that I, "need to do more" and that, "I'm not good enough." Good enough for what? I don't know, I don't have that answer. If I were to do my classic full year in review event there would be event after event of amazing stories and the places I've been and the people I talked to but what my brain sees are the downs of the year.

Yes, I think this is related fully to Asperger's because I've had conversations with others that experience this same trait of no matter how much things went amazingly well the only thing that will matter will be that one small seemingly irrelevant detail that didn't really matter and yet that one detail will become the world. For some reason this has been with me the entire time after I've returned and getting acclimated back to being in my home country just hasn't happened yet.

Could it be exhaustion? Possibly. Each year I impress myself on just how much I can push myself. Less than 12 hours after landing back home from Norway I drove 13 hours to go to my mom's in Nebraska for Christmas. This, after the trip, the events I've flagged, the presentation marathons; I mean, being exhausted is only natural and yet, since it's been three weeks since I presented, I feel this uneasy restlessness that I need to be doing more.

I feel this is fitting that this mixture of emotions is where I'm at on my 1,300th post because this is exactly where I'm at right now at this point in time.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Aspie Traveler Day 8: Drama in Hammerfest

The world is a beautiful place. Earlier today I took one of the more scenic selfies imaginable with the artic landscape behind me. I was smiling because I had just written a great chapter for the book version that ended with, “The journey isn’t over but I’ve learned more about myself in these trips than I have doing almost anything else outside of the first night I sat down to start writing my first book. How’s it going to end? I’m probably more excited than you to find out.” Oh, how little I knew on what was going to play out just hours later.

            Also, remember how Day 7 Part 2 ended, “This may make no sense to you, but this journey here has given me so much knowledge about myself and others and from that I feel this greater sense of confidence because people may not be that scary after all.” I was feeling rather elated today and this evening I had an amazing conversation with a fellow Aspie that I met here in Hammerfest and his awareness of Asperger’s, well, he could take my job! No, really, the terminology he used was akin to mine. It was a great conversation but I was getting hungry so I walked down towards a pizza place and that’s where the drama began.

            When I walked in this place had an aura of creepiness. Being a writer I could probably come up with a better word, but that’s the exact thought that came to mind. There was no waiter and one man at the bar. I didn’t know whether to wait or sit and I approached a table but was unsure whether to stand or sit. The man at the bar made a motion of sit or come here, I’m not really sure, so I walked to him and asked, “Is this the pizza place?” to which he said yes. I then took a random table and then from the kitchen the waitress came and brought out a menu and apologized for the lack of an English menu. I ordered my usual pepperoni mushroom to which she replied, “No other veggies?” You should see the pizza menus here; I’ve learned ordering two toppings is a rarity as Norwegians love their toppings by the dozens… or five.

            I sat patiently staring out into the Hammerfest evening and the occasional car that would drive by when the man at the bar asked me what I was doing in Hammerfest. His English wasn’t the best but he then walked to my table and asked if he could sit down. He asked me my name, I replied, he said his name which I couldn’t make out, but he asked once again what I was doing and I responded with writing a book. I then discussed travel and that “travel isn’t so much about discovering other places but discovering one’s self” to which he grabbed my hand and said, “I like you. You’re special.” This was an odd reaction, I thought, and I hoped that this would be the end of the drama. I was wrong.

            The pizza came out and he asked if he could have a piece. It was a gigantic pizza so I said yes and that’s when the bizarre started to happen. He talked about US policy and Donald Trump, I think, I’m not so sure because his speech was starting to slur and he admitted his English wasn’t the best. He talked about Norway/US relations in how we are great allies and after that he grabbed my shoulder and said, “It’d be nothing for me to kill you.” I froze.

            I’ve had intense moments in my life the most of which was the hour long ordeal being held captive by a mob of homeless boys in Kisumu, Kenya with my dad in 2005. While my dad and I were both powerless we had a local pastor in the driver’s seat that essentially kept us alive. Here, though, in the heart of winter in the blackness it brings I was alone in Hammerfest with a stranger with his arm firmly on my shoulder making a claim against my life. My brain instantly went into planning on how to escape. I did think about running out screaming but this proved to be risky. I was unaware of Norwegian gun laws and furthermore if I left without paying and it was his word against mine I was sure I would lose and besides all this his hand was still gripping my shoulder.

            His grasp released and he said, “Nah, I like you, you’re special and he stroked his hand on my face and inched closer. I was all but pinned in my seat now so I decided to ignore it all. I ignored his comments, I ignored his threat and kept eating. I had gone to eat and that’s what I was going to do. Inside I was a train wreck and he, as I kept looking out into space, said, “You’re thinking a lot, what are you thinking?” and I replied, “Oh, you know, jetlag has hit me hard, I’m just trying to stay awake.” And in my brain I was thinking, “breathe… breathe… Ignore it! Hopefully he’s just drunk and he is harmless.” All the while he kept touching my hand, arm, and shoulder.

            Whether or not he was harmless, at that moment, was in material because a real threat had been posed. My appetite quickly waned and I wanted out. He kept talking about the “impending fight to the death” which was about the only words I understood for a while then he said, “I hope you realize I don’t speak for all Norwegians… I’m drunk.” And then a few sentences later he once again said, “But yeah, it’d be nothing for me to kill you.” I had to get out now!

            There were five others in this place now and I thought back to when I made a potentially catastrophic mistake in 2011 when I gave a ride to two strangers in Springfield, Missouri in the heart of winter and I told myself I’d learn from that mistake by never being isolated. During those times he said I was, “thinking” I indeed was; I was thinking escape plans. Screaming was high up on the list as was, if he chased me, jumping into the water as that would surely cause a scene… this, obviously, was a last resort. My primary objective was to get out of there without a scene and without any event that was beyond words from happening. To do this I figure I’d use him against him because I made eye contact for the first time and said, “I’m unsure of how one pays in Norway, do I go up to the counter?” and like a switch turning off the nonsensical musings went away and in perfect English he said, “yeah, over there” and he backed up and I was able to get up. He walked with me to the counter and then sat down at the bar and instantly picked up a conversation with a man that was there. I paid as quickly as possible and I didn’t worry about the change but I didn’t leave unnoticed as the drunk man stood up and said, “I like you” and he extended his hand so I extended mine and he gave me this almost secret society handshake and as soon as that was over I left as fast as I could and I made sure he wasn’t going to follow and I had plans as to where to go should this happen but he remained seated at the bar and I’m sure tomorrow he will have no memory of the threat he laid upon me.

            Was he a threat? Probably not. Was this anywhere to the magnitude or length of the Kenya ordeal? No, but when a man you don’t know stares you in the eye and says, “Kill you” the internal reaction is going to be severe. I didn’t know who he was, if he were dangerous, and I figured he was drunk which increased the potential volatility of the situation. I’m going to play over and over in my brain if I did the right thing. Should I have just left the second things took a turn for the worse, or was ignoring it and continuing onward as if he wasn’t there the right thing to do?

            If one is going to travel one may come across this. Going back to my day one conversation I had with the two people on my flight from Saint Louis the man who had lived all over said, “Yeah, I don’t know how many times I’ve had a gun to my face but you give them a hundred bucks and they leave” but he was talking about impoverished third world nations. This event, tonight, was in the country just voted as, “best place to live” in the world. Maybe it was just the beer he had drank, and maybe, according to the person I had that great conversation with just prior to this event that I conferred with after, “some Norwegians just have to be strong like that and may not realize that a joke like that will be taking seriously.” Joke or not it’s been two hours and I’m still shaking. For those twenty or so minutes I was but along for the ride. I had my various escape plans but I couldn’t predict a single thing that could happen. Was I simply frozen into eating my meal and powerless to ask for help, but how could I ask? The waitress didn’t speak English so if I yelled for help it may have just riled up the drunk man.

            Where do I go from here? I had just found this newfound confidence and was willing to open up and immediately I’m reminded of the randomness and potentially villainous ways of some. I can’t let this influence me, but how can I not? Events like the one tonight can and usually play over and over in my head and the feeling of his hand firmly gripping my shoulder and uttering those awful words are as vivid now as when it happened. However, what I also need to force myself to realize is by my words, and lack thereof, I got out, I’m safe, and nothing was done that will have any lasting physical consequences.

            You’re reading this either thinking I did the right thing, or maybe you’re thinking I should’ve gotten up right away, but it’s easy to second guess the play call when you’re not flooded with panic and fear.

            To end this I have to go back with what I told the drunk man, “travel isn’t so much about discovering other places but discovering one’s self” because am I going to let this moment become the memory of Norway and hinder my ability to travel or am I stronger now? I think I handled this ordeal in the most professional way possible. Is this what I was supposed to discover on this trip in that I can be on my own, and handle whatever life throws at me? This is the essence of travel and if one isn’t willing to find out the answers then perhaps that person may never know what it is like to live.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Day 7 Part 1: Journey to the (almost) top of the World

From the moment I booked my trip to Norway in the winter there’s been a goal to see the Northern Lights. I haven’t mentioned this up to this point because, well, the weather forecast to where I’ve been and going has been lackluster. In Oslo it has become cloudy every evening and the forecast in Hammerfest has been awesome only if one is cheering for clouds and snow. Then, this morning, the forecast opened up in Hammerfest, which is where I am going today, and tomorrow should be “mainly clear.” I don’t know what the difference between that and partly cloudy are but I’ll take it.

            Before I could get to Hammerfest the journey to get there has to take place and once again jetlag showed its face. I don’t know why it’s impacted me so greatly this trip but last night around 5PM I got extremely tired and I powered through it and stayed up until 7:30 but then I got what I’m calling reverse jetlag. I don’t know if that phrase exists but I’m going to use it and what it is, to put simply, is the body going from full stop to full tilt. All of a sudden I got this burst of energy which is exactly what I wanted four hours prior.

            Sleep was finally ascertained around nine and at 3AM I awoke. It’s been like clockwork (ha!) that I can sleep soundly for exactly six hours and then my body is ready to go and 15 minutes later I’m back asleep. Thankfully when I got back to sleep I slept until 5:45 and had to wait 45 minutes until the hotel breakfast opened which gave me time to pack.

            Breakfast was had and I’ve quickly fallen into a routine. I sit at the same table and get the same wonderful food in the same order each day and at the end of the meal I go to the coffee machine and get a creamy hot chocolate. Today, when I was finishing the creamy hot chocolate, I was moved to tears. Here’s the thing; things that mean things to me mean more and this is a trait that those with Asperger’s, I feel, will have more often than not. What do I mean by this? How much have I talked about the hotel building, or the street I’m on? Most travel writers will describe with great descriptors the atmosphere, the architecture, and the people but how often have I done this? It isn’t that I haven’t taken notice of it, it’s just that it isn’t a priority. For me, what’s more important, is the psychology of travel and the thoughts in invokes and while some may have the memory of the smell of the lobby, or the feeling of going outside into the all but lung freezing air each morning, but for myself I knew that one of the big takeaways I’m going to have is this cup of hot chocolate because with each sip it, for me, is a taste of victory.

            Wait, what? Victory? Yes, victory. Perhaps this is where I do give you a descriptor of my surroundings and it is through that cup of creamy hot chocolate. You see, if you haven’t read Finding Kansas (if you haven’t, you should) I talk about “Small Things.” One of the things the DSM-IV says about people on the autism spectrum is that, “those on the autism spectrum may have an inappropriate attachment to objects.” I’ve complained about that one word of, “inappropriate” for years because it makes sense to me because it is through objects, or in this case a drink, that my memories are webbed together. This morning, as I sipped the final sips that were left and contemplating the trip to Hammerfest I thought that I only have two more nights at that hotel in Oslo and every future time I taste any drink like that I will be back at that place, staring out the window at an awaking Oslo and watching the streetcars go by with people off to work, or school. I’ll remember that feeling of victory, which I haven’t described yet, which is that, sitting there at the table, I am so far away from home doing something I never thought was possible. Earlier on this trip I mentioned that I have always wanted to come to Norway since the Games in 94 in Lillehammer and here I am not just here but getting by better than I have in any previous trip.

            It’s an odd feeling, truly, to sit there and rue the days in the future knowing that the memories of these breakfasts will be so personal and so powerful, but that’s the difference between Asperger’s and not. The thing is I feel as if I fit in here. That’s a phrase that I don’t think I’ve used in any book chapter or blog post ever, but I had a conversation with the waitress at the pizza place I mentioned yesterday about what I'm writing about which is an oddity for me. A friend told me, and this conversation is almost 20 years old, that Norwegians are, “cold to outsiders and almost aloof to others” but I haven’t encountered this. Maybe it’s the “trick” I’ve learned to always be smiling.

            So all those thoughts came at breakfast and it was now 7AM. My plane’s scheduled departure time was 12:20 and it’s just an eight minute walk to the train terminal with trains leaving every ten minutes with a 19 minute ride to the airport. I know those times are rather exact and that’s the way they’re advertised here and things to operate to the minute and aren’t rounded. I love that! Anyway, I figured I’d go to airport early because I don’t know what security and the like would be so I went to my room and got my bag and, on my phone, went to the flytoget app to buy a train ticket and that’s when I got the message, “card declined.”

            Declined? I instantly feared some sort of nefarious event such as identity theft and I was sure my bank account had been wiped clean. I quickly went to my bank app and found, thankfully, I was not taken to the cleaners, but why then was it declined? Another travel tip for you, and this obvious, if you’re going to travel overseas it’s best to let your bank know you’re going. In the previous two trips I just used my AMEX card and had never used my bank card so all sorts of red flags probably went off when a debit came from Norway of all places. I hope this gets rectified before I leave; I’m not in any danger of running out of cash but that is a lifeline that has been taken away should something awry occur.

            What all of this meant was that I needed to go to the terminal to buy a ticket which I didn’t know how this was done (flytoget and NSB are two different companies with two different sections of the station) so I was glad to get there early. I feared it’d be difficult and I worried it would be card only and few places take AMEX but thankfully, at the self-service kiosk, they do take AMEX (but the app won’t accept it. I don’t understand this) so ticket purchased and I hoped on the train.

            At the airport I now had to figure out how to check my bag and I didn’t fully know if I got a bag checked for free or not. I tried using the SAS APP and tried reading their website but I didn’t know what class of ticket I had so if they did charge I hope they took AMEX.

            I looked desperately for a check-in place for SAS but the only thing I could find was a bar code self-scanner that people were using and their bags were whisked away on a conveyor belt. I tried to scan my boarding pass but that didn’t make any sense because what tag would go on the bag? Other people had the tag so where were they getting them? I wasn’t going to ask for help so I looked around some more and found another self-service kiosk where one could scan their boarding pass. This was a concept I didn’t understand because I’m used to the structured lines of using a self-service kiosk to print out a boarding pass if one doesn’t already have it on their phone then going to the desk where the airline rep checks for authentic identification but here there was no personal interaction at all.

            I printed my baggage sticker and then it took me longer than I’d like to tell you on getting the sticker off the paper (it works better when one pulls from the side it’s stuck to. Not one of my shining moments… 10 minutes later) but when I finally did I attempted to loop it around the handle and instead of being loose fitting and readable I made it tightly wound and I just hoped things work off a barcode and not the actual letters. I would find this out as I went back to the conveyor belt, took the scanner, and green lights went off everywhere and off my back went and I could only hope my back found its way with me to Hammerfest.

            Going through security was an oddity as well as there is no TSA, no credential check, all that’s needed is a boarding pass. That’s fine that it is that way but, as with the baggage process, I’m accustomed to the numerous ID checks but that’s not the case here. One thing is the same is having your bag checked at security as mine was and my heart sank. What did I do wrong? Did I have liquids? Did someone plant something in my bag? I was sure my life was coming to an end and an extended stay in a Norwegian prison cell was coming up.

            The security man held my back up and said, “Who’s bag is this?” and I didn’t want to say it was mine because he was using English and that could only mean bad things. Why could it only mean that? Because I’m a catastrophic thinker and logic isn’t needed to come to these conclusions. I slowly lifted my hand and he motioned me to come to the other side of the counter. Now he spoke Norwegian and I gave him the blank stare and he then said, “English?” and I said yes to which now I prepped for the news that would end my life as I knew it. He said, “Your bag…” and there was a lull and I was screaming in my head silently “spit it out… Come on… If my life is going to be drastically changed don’t leave me hanging…” and he then once again said, “your bag…” and finally the second half of the sentence came, “your bag has been randomly chosen for a check. Is this okay?”

            Crisis averted and my bag passed the explosives test and I walked to my gate and I awaited the upcoming trip to the frigid north.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Milestone Day Plus Norway

In just under two hours a milestone in my career will happen as I will give my 700th presentation of my career. Thankfully, unlike the previous milestone of 600, I'm in great health and I have a voice (#600 in Doniphan was not the celebratory presentation I'd have hoped for) and I plan on giving the best presentation yet. Although I should mention that's my goal on any given presentation.

Furthermore, tomorrow is the start of the third of five rounds of The Aspie Traveler and I don't exactly know how this is going to look in blog form. I have every intention of making these travels into a book which means I'm going to have to write in a different form and blog writing and book writing are two fully different skill sets. Also, in book form, things tend to be more longwinded and deeper and I don't know if I'm going to want to share the topics I think I'll be writing about. Don't get me wrong as there will be something, but I doubt it will be the 17,000 word extravaganza that Amsterdam and Tokyo were. Also, I don't know if I'll post in current form or wait like I've done with the previous two. The advantage to posting them after I'm back is they can get the full edit and also have all the bells and whistles, well, actually they can have all the photos I want to help share the story of the locations I visit. So as I've written this post I do think I'll be on a delay of some sort. It may not play out that way, we'll just have to wait and see.

Are you seeing some indecisiveness? Yeah... I leave in 26 hours and I still haven't packed, haven't looked up how to get from the airport to the hotel, and don't really have that much knowledge other than my flight leaves at 1PM. Things have been intense for me the past month or so and this lack of focus is common in these times. The previous two trips I had a general idea but right now I'm in the dark and when I try there's no motivation to keep looking. Perhaps this is because this trip doesn't seem real yet. I mean, I'm going to Oslo and Hammerfest. Hammerfest! Don't know where that is? You're not alone! Few do and that's the excitement of it! Okay, so yes, I'm excited but it doesn't seem real and events in my personal life over the past month have bled into this. I do say, however, this is a good thing. If I were 100% happy the process of self discovery would not be what I think this trip will be.

I have no idea what lies ahead other than in less than 48 hours I'll be far, far away in a land I don't know that much about challenging myself to navigate streets, a culture, and a country I know little about. That's my reasoning for this; to challenge myself and to prove that I can do it... Okay, it's starting to sink in a little.

Monday, December 7, 2015

When a 6th Grader asked Me "In Three Words..."

I've been presenting at schools now for over five years and going back to the very first one I have to admit I wanted no part of it. Since then things have most certainly changed and I look forward to each and every school presentation with an eagerness that is hard to describe. Why? What led to such a 180? It's the questions students ask and this past Friday I was asked a question that in it's level of profoundness is still reverberating today.

The presentation was at Parkway West Middle and it's now a yearly tradition that I present to the 6th grade as it's been each school year since 2012 and it's awesome that the school sets an hour for this and it's an honor to be given that hour. Also, the questions I get asked by the 6th grade class always leaves me thinking and the final question on Friday, well, let me explain it.

First though, there's something neat about the final question because there just always happens to be something special about it. True, it's just random luck on the person I call on, but nine out of ten times the question is profound and on Friday I was asked, "In three words describe your life before diagnosis and in three words describe your life after." This, for you the reader right now, might seem a bit profound being asked by a sixth grader but that's the magic presenting to students because they are more than capable of stopping a person in their tracks and forcing them to think about things in a way never before thought of and not having much time to respond I came up with, "After my diagnosis I'd say it was 'life unfiltered realized' and before it would have to be 'life unfiltered oblivious' which I'm sure there's a grammar fail there but I never did get good grades in English class."

Had I had more time to craft a better response I might have, but even with the grammatical fail (although how can one state what I stated in just three words?) it states it with perfection because I had no idea about who I was and what was going on. Yes, it's hard to describe that in three words and I've tried to come up with three better words but I've been unable to. There's something that stretches thoughts when word usage gets reduced. I can blog as many times and as many words as possible and I can describe the joys, the pains, the anxiety, and the definition of Kansas in thousands of words if I want to, but that sixth grader put me to the ultimate test taking away my ability to describe things in detail which I commend him for because it made me think of this in a way I never had before and my ensuing response left me with a smile on my face.

It'll be another year before I'm back there. It's now one of my most frequented venues outside of the office or the police academy and there is such familiarity now with the library I present in while there. To the staff there I certainly want to thank them for the chance to give my presentation there because I feel, no, I know that presenting to students is the most important speaking crowd I can present to. The reasons are long and deep as to why I feel this, but to put shortly, but in more than three words, students of today are the coworkers, parents, teachers, and business owners of tomorrow and if not just autism awareness gets to them, but also autism understanding then the future is going to be so bright. And I've said this many times that all one has to do is hear the questions that students ask and you too will have the same hope for the future I do.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

2nd Book Chapter Preview: Chemical Inaction

As I prepare for another Aspie Traveler series I need to get into book writing mode as that series will be made into a book. Book writing and blog writing are two different skill sets hence why my blogs have been scarce. Also, I'm reading through my 2nd book preparing for publication and I came across this chapter which, I feel, is too good to sit on. I must state that this was written in 2008 so my view of the world at that time was darker than it is now, but in terms of establishing relationships this chapter is still 100% spot on...

I never took high school chemistry, but I have always seen, in television, the art of chemistry performed. I guess the simplest chemical reaction is soda and vinegar. From what I understand when the two are mixed fizzy stuff happens. This is fine and all, but what would happen if, in a normal environment, nothing happened. Let's say you mix the two together and nothing occurs. Let's say you've seen it done 1,000 times, but when you try nothing happens. What was supposed to be a reaction, turned into a big letdown: a chemical inaction. Welcome to my world.

            The key thing here is that let's say you've seen the reaction done over and over, but when you try nothing happens. Imagine how frustrating it must be. All you want to do is get that reaction so you can be like everyone else, but the only thing you get is a lot of wasted vinegar.

            The metaphor here is relationships. I see friendships start and friendships maintained with members of the kart team I travel with. They all joke with each other and it is almost like they are speaking another language with each other. Some slang, some joking words, and it's a language I can't mimic. I'm very precise with my words and can't just, “be free” so this is the start of the inaction and I remain, off in the corner, trying to start the reaction.

            “How is it done?” I often wonder as people make it look so easy. “What do I have to do?” often rings throughout my thoughts. “It looks simple, why can't I get it?” is the way the train of thought always ends.

            I try in the best way that I can to try and get a reaction. There's a block though. It's much like those logic puzzles that are given sometimes, or rather number sequences. Let's use this “4,8,12,16,X” In that sequence 20 would be the logical number to follow, and then 24, but for me the 20 is never there so therefore the rest of the sequence can never materialize.

            I believe the inaction is a two way street. I know I behave differently in public as I look nervous and uncomfortable most the time. This, I'm sure, would create a bit of tension for those around me as they don't fully understand what I'm going through. On the other hand when people do make the effort to try and get to know me all that is allowed is up to number 16, meaning going back to the number problem that I am only programmed to let it go so far. I don't know much about chemicals, as I've said, but it would be like putting very stale and flat soda with really bad vinegar (can vinegar go bad? I don't know much about vinegar either so just work with me on this metaphor and don't get all literal. Thanks!)

            This whole process is very tiring for me because I do try. But with between the coma, the privacy, the fourth wall, and other terms not yet defined how is any reaction supposed to occur? How is any reaction out of either party possible? Going back to the number sequence, using numbers divisible by four; I said mine cut off at 20. To translate that into meeting any given person, that would be about as deep as allowing 4 questions to be asked. If it were a scoring system, friendship would start at 80.

It's rough trying something over and over and always failing. What hurts, what truly hurts to the soul is how easily others can make it seem. How can a person go from bowling team to bowling team year after year and make a new set of friends every year? How can someone just walk up to a person, ask them how their day was and end up getting a new best friend? What's the secret to getting a reaction?

            I wonder if everyone faces this challenge, a little bit. Is it like riding a bike? If so, can I get the one with training wheels because I need help? But maybe my balance won't even be good enough for that. When does attempting the impossible become futile?

I pour away always waiting for that chemical reaction. And you know, sometimes while in Kansas I feel as if I'm close. That further adds to the relevancy of Kansas. The deeper the Kansas, the more I feel as if I'm about to create some fizz and live out every aspiring high schoolers chemists' dream. Perhaps I try too hard, thus making me over think everything and then I look even more uncomfortable. I think anyone would if they saw everyone else easily getting a chemical reaction out of life.

            I think it's a simple wish really; to feel that sense of friendship once out of life. I know I am capable of it, but so far only my pets have given me that feeling. Okay, so maybe I don't know if I can share that feeling with another person. It's sad really, to believe that I will always be in the corner of the room, silent, uncomfortable, and just wondering how everyone else can mix soda and vinegar with such ease and here I am on my 10,000th case of soda still expecting a reaction, one that never comes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Buy In Factor

Working the Supernats a couple weeks ago I noticed something in the midst of running more than I had ever ran in my life and that was I wasn't out of energy. In doing many activities throughout my life my energy is quickly depleted but two weeks ago I ran and ran and ran with no abatement of energy. What happened?

I had energy reserves I didn't know I had and the same way I can hyper-focus on a topic to the exclusion of everything else I can also dig deep and have more energy than I ever thought possible. Why is this? The buy in factor. 

I had this in school as well as I would tire quickly UNLESS it was a day where the subjects highly interested me. Okay, I understand we all have to do undesirable topics, but my brain has an all or nothing but in system. If I don't buy into what I'm doing I quickly tire. This isn't a choice thing; this isn't a "oh, I find this awfully boring so I'm just going to get tired now." Instead, it's a quick depletion of energy. 

There is a flip side to this and that is that I can be oblivious to the exhaustion I'm facing when I have bought into something. This can go as far as forgetting to eat and sleep when I have truly bought into something. This can work for a while but eventually there will be a crash leaving me drained. 

I'll be interested to see how the next 70 days go as it's going be an intensive time with presentations plus two international trips that's going to test just how much endurance I have. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Marathon Ahead

I'm back in Saint Louis now but the marathon I had the previous month is nothing compared to the time ahead. However, the exhaustion from the previous month remains which is one of the reasons why my writing has suffered.

Anyway, what lies ahead is this; tomorrow I'm presenting to police officers and then I'm presenting to a school later in the week. Next week I've got several presentations which should see me give my 700th presentation! Then, on December 10th, the third round of The Aspie Traveler begins as I head to Norway. The day after I get back I immediately head to Nebraska to see my mom for Christmas accompanied with my mom and nephew. Once I get back January is going to be awesome with several trips to the KC region along with a couple in the Central region and at the end of the month it looks like I'll have a week in the Springfield region and right after that I head to round four the Traveler series as I head to a place few have heard of. It will be a great challenge and as it draws near I'll share more.

As for this week my goal is to finish up reading and editing my 2nd book and hopefully it will see a release next year.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The state of fatigue

I apologize for the lack of content this week but I am in a state where writing is difficult. I haven't been this exhausted since 2008 and between the amount of writing I've done all year, the presentations, and the Supernats I am honestly having a hard time keeping my eyes open. To further compound this I'm editing and reading for the first time my second book which has drawn out a lot of emotions. I need to rest up, though, because the third round of the Aspie Traveler begins in just over two weeks. Speaking of traveling, I may shar a chapter from my second book as it was written about a trip I took in 2008 which really was the genesis of the Aspie Traveler so be looking for that next week. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

After the Nats

It's over... The week I await all year is over and this year has meant a little bit more as I realize that the SKUSA Supernats isn't just a race for me but rather it has shaped who I have become.

Seven years ago I was given the honor to become the chief starter for the event and in my eighth edition as the chief starter I enjoy every lap more than the last. Yesterday we had a couple single file restarts which to restart the race I stand in the center of the track staring at the field coming right to where I am. Imagine it very much like staring down a raging bull and I have to hold my ground trying to keep the field slow until the time is right to fly the green. I could describe it more but I think this video will give you a better idea of what I call the ultimate rush any sports official any where can experience.

Before I talk about why this event shaped who I have become I want to state that one of the reasons I love it so much is the mental and physical endurance is required. I ran more than I've even ran in my life the past five days and I never thought my body would be able to sustain that much running on top of the amount of the flags I have to display with vigor. I'm not one to exercise that much because my brain has such a hard time buying in on the fact that I'm willingly running to feel tired. However, this running had to be done and there was a but in and I had energy in the reserve tanks I never knew I had. Of course, today, I'm exhausted, but it's the good kind.

So why does this event transcend the event itself and is more than simply 500 racers from 45 countries seeing who can complete a set distance the fastest? I guarantee you that if not for this event you would not know me. A big theme of my blog this year has been about planting seeds. In my presentation I used to just limit this to my dad and 2nd and 4th grade teachers for planting the seeds that allowed me to be where I am today but this is unfair because many, many more people have planted seeds to help me progress to who I am and to be given a global stage seven years ago was instrumental.

Seven years ago I had nothing really going for me outside of the fact that I had a book that had just been released by a self publishing firm. That is somewhat of an accomplishment but just releasing a book doesn't open doors automatically and I was still unsure of myself. Then, I was chosen as the starter for the Supernats and that first year was a true test. It wasn't an easy weekend at all and whatever could go wrong did. It was the toughest challenge I faced at a track but I did it. Now don't get me wrong, seeds had been planted to give me the skills to be able to get to that level and one should never be put into a situation that they are ill equipped to handle. I had 13 years of experience and with each year the ability and responsibility picked up a tick.

It wasn't too long after the Supernats in 2008 that I met those that would get me to become the Community Education Specialist and now Autism Ambassador for Easter Seals Midwest. The two may seem unrelated but the two are intertwined. The confidence that was instilled in me, the Alias that was formed during that first Supernats, and the fact that I had my first ever conversations with rather powerful people about Aspergers and they actually listened to the concepts I put forth and asked questions made me realize that, perhaps, I for once had something going for me.

With each passing Supernats I am reminded of where and who I was and as the finals pass and the remaining sessions trickles down to five, four, three, two, then the final race I become rather sad. Few heard it, and those that did probably didn't pick up on it, but in the final race yesterday when I was confirming with timing and scoring that two laps remained I said, in a flat yet sad tone, "copy that scoring, two to go" with a stress and elongation of "two to go" because this was it... This was the end.

I'm never in a good place mentally when it's over. I'm exhausted, and I've just spent over 60 hours in five days managing the start finish line but not only that because I then know that I'm at the longest point before I get that experience again. It isn't just a race; it's the event that person I am now was born. It's the event that each year I grow a bit more and realize I'm stronger than I thought and I am capable of much more than I give myself credit.

While I sit on this plane that just took off, and just now flew over the track that is already being disassembled, I have to think not at whatnot over but what is to come. What seeds were planted this weekend? What will that next step be? Even I can get caught up in making this perfect right this second,but constantly seeds are being planted for the future and as I look out at the seemingly endless horizon it's a good reminder that the possibilities for the future are endless and all this started with one event seven years ago.

Friday, November 20, 2015


We are just about to start day three of the SKUSA Supernats and this is my ultimate Kansas as proven by this smiling selfie.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The calm before the Hyper Kansas

Today is always one of the trickiest blogs to write because today is the longest day. Last year I wrote about the routine of the day as I await the evening staff meeting ahead of the start of the SKUSA Supernats which begins tomorrow, but with this year there is change. This is my eighth Supernats as the chief starter and the previous seven installments were held at The Rio, but this year it’s held at the Las Vegas Convention Center with The Westgate hotel serving as host. This change makes today different as the routine I’ve had is different, but one thing that remains is the wait.

While the venue may have changed the event and what lies ahead remains the same. Tonight we will have our staff meeting and I’m sure the words will be same. We will be told that the motorsports world will be watching and the importance of perfection. This is the Super Bowl of karting and drivers as far away from New Zealand will be competing. Even though I know the script of this meeting I hang on every word because this, starting tomorrow, is my favorite five days of the year and this is the ultimate of all Kansas. For some, maybe, this is just another race, but when I get the honor to be the one at the finish line with the flags, it’s truly an honor and to give anything less than everything my body and soul can give would be all but a crime. This isn’t to say that I slack at any other event, but this is the big one, the one I look forward to all year.

Another thing that this staff meeting ushers in is that this race is real. It’s finally here! Once the meeting is over it will be around 7:30 and somehow I’ll have to manage to force myself to sleep but sleep is elusive when one waits all year from what lies ahead in the morning. I’m sure I’ll be tossing and turning awaiting… anxiously awaiting the morning and the smell of race fuel, a hint of rubber, and the moment I unfurl the green flag for the first time to start the 19th running of the SKUSA Supernats.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Dueling Cement Theory

I apologize for the lack of posts last week; I had 15 presentations spread out over 1,000 miles and all in all it was awesome. Exhausting, but awesome! I have a lot of thoughts from that week and of course the big news from the CDC that the incidence rate of autism looks to be 1 in 45 so this post could be all over the place.

With the rate being 1 in 45 the voice that the need for autism awareness and more importantly understanding should be the loudest we’ve ever had. This isn’t to say that this wasn’t the need in the past, as I feel whether it was 1 in 1,500 in 1983 or now the need is just as important because if just one person gets the early intervention they need, or one teenager gets the understanding from their peers instead of being mocked could be life changing. That’s what’s at stake here. Of course, remember, if you’ve met one person with autism you’ve only met one person with autism and from some early intervention may not be 100% needed, I’m a minor example (I had some, but not in the traditional sense as I wasn’t diagnosed until 20) but for others this could provide monumental strides forward.

There was an underlying theme I came across last week and it was a bit of a role reversal from what I normally hear. I do hear a lot of stories; some good, some soul-wrenching, but I have heard my fair share of stories from parents complaining that their child’s teacher just doesn’t “get it.” However, last week, it was the reverse and to explain this I have to use my cement concept I haven’t used on my blog in an extremely long time.

Why is early intervention important? Imagine the brain on the autism spectrum as being wet cement and if we want a patio we are going to have to pour it out and work with it in haste before it dries and sets. So too, sort of, are the brains on the autism spectrum. Now don’t get me wrong as there’s always hope as I remember my fourth grade teacher said that the, “Hoover Dam will be drying for 40,000 years” but of course the longer we wait the more work with, say, sledgehammers and jackhammers we will have to use to find wet cement and that brings me to the stories I heard last week.

Typically I hear from parents that the teacher will not be tolerant of the potential need that a student with Asperger’s may need another approach, or might have some sensory needs. Again, don’t get me wrong as there are so many amazing teachers out there, like the teachers I met last week that did get it but the problem in these stories lay with the parents that all but deny the diagnosis and would contradict the teacher’s teaching methods. Now here’s the thing and the reason why everyone needs to be on the same page; if a child is taught a certain set of rules at school and is learning to be a bit flexible on some things, but when the child gets home and the opposite is taught I must ask what that patio of wet cement would look like. Imagine two workers with two different visions working on the same patio and when one side has it right the other side comes in and makes it to what their version of right is. We could debate what is right all day long which that isn’t the point of this post but rather the point is this; if the world isn’t on the same page and in this story I told I will say it sounded like the teachers knew the dynamics of the autism spectrum and the parents could use a lot of help understanding the autism spectrum, but without being on the same page that child has to be, and is, highly confused. And who wouldn’t be? Another concept to use here is my “Film Theory” in that “whatever happens first always has to happen” and if there is a reshoot session every day the ability to move forward is going to become complicated.

It’s fitting that I write this today as today marks my annual trip to Las Vegas and the running of the SKUSA Supernats that I work. I say fitting because what I have laid forth in this post is the essence of the race I’m in. I may be an official at the physical race this weekend but make no mistake of the race I compete, and all of us are, in. This race is one we must not yield in. I’ve talked about the power of one but that one is now in every 45 and if we don’t push, should we yield, and should we become complacent the chances of each individual meeting their potential could very well be squandered and that, well, that’s the race because it doesn’t have to be that way.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Where's My Posts

So here's the thing; I've had some great blog ideas this week but I've also had and have the most intensive presentation week ever. Already in two days I've given seven presentations! I'm not complaining, I live for this and from the students, to the teachers, to the police officers I've presented to thus far it's been great tomorrow and each day after is just as busy so I will "try" and write something relevant this week but if I don't you now know why. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Mission, The Race

The picture above may be of a real race, and I do mention "race" in the title of this post, but the sport of motorsports is not the topic of this post. However, I can use the event in the picture to illustrate a point as in the picture I am in the midst of starting a race (and making sure I get off the track by the time the field reaches me!) and in a way this represents my mission.

Many people can claim to have the best job in the world, but I'm sure I do as my job is my mission and it involves a race. This race doesn't involve air pressure, position changes, or apexes, but it does share one key aspect and that is the speed to which it is achieved. You see, with every presentation I give it is very much like the photo above for not just autism awareness but the understanding and understanding is the object of this race.

Without understanding, every aspect of awareness doesn't matter. I know awareness has gone up in just the five years I've been doing this, and that's great, but without the next layer it means nothing. If a person knows the word autism that didn't five years ago does that actually change anything? One can increase their vocabulary but unless they know what it means and how it impacts a person, and the world, the awareness component is a fruitless endeavor and that's why my mission is a race.

I don't want to boast about what I do as I, most of the time, take little pride in what I do. I do it simply because it needs to be done and whether I'm a great presenter or not means little to me; the matter at hand is delivering the information because right now in small towns, big towns, schools, or metropolises there are kids, teenagers, adults that are going through the levels of misunderstanding. I saw it just yesterday when I was presenting and when I mentioned that, "I used to be the least emotional person in the world and if you asked me anything subjective, or anything remotely close to be emotional I said three and only three words of 'I don't know'" and in the second row a grandson looked at his grandma and in a mixture of what appeared to be sadness, hope, and a realization of "that's me" he looked his grandma right in the eye, let out a minute smile, and nodded. The grandma looked back and gave the same response and nodded. At that moment, the green flag was out and the process of true understanding had begun.

There's much talk, and I love it when I get the chance to talk about the human potential within those on the autism spectrum but many times, due to bullying and misunderstandings that potential often times won't be realized and that potential for the betterment of all is squandered. It doesn't have to be this way and each day when I wake up I think about this race and the importance of it. To me, what I do isn't just a job, I do it because of the pain I know people experience. I've been there; my world just over six years ago was one where the word hope was never used. My vision of the world was that it was a cold, nasty place and I would never find my way. These thoughts were reinforced by the constant misunderstandings and right now these misunderstandings still happen out there and with every presentation I give, when I talk about the new race, I envision the picture above. However, instead of having a pack of racers zoom on by I see it as, what I hope, will be a new phase in each person's life whether they are a teacher and are better equipped to work with those on the autism spectrum, or a police officer who has to make split second choices and will be better equipped to give the support or protect a person on the autism spectrum, or the parent who never knew why their child acts the way they do, but most of all I think of all the students I've presented at school who are the future and the ones there that are on the autism spectrum and can see there is a life beyond the diagnosis. The diagnosis need not define the person, and after my presentation I can only hope that the way I see it as a race commencing and a new phase in life, even if it's just 1% better understanding is there. Things won't get magically better right away, but to keep the race metaphor going I'll say no race was ever won in the first corner, but unless one starts a race they can never finish it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A heads up

Coming next month will be the third installment of The Aspie Traveler. One thing that is unclear is how much I'll be blogging about it, or rather the balance. Why? I'm focused on making this a book and writing in book style is a major contrast to a blog. Maybe I can use snippets from what I've written for the book. I know I want give you the best read possible, but I also want the extra space and depth that a book allows. Perhaps this within itself will be part of the challenge. 

Oh, and where am I going? I won't announce yet except to give one hint and say that it's more northerly. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

The State of Now and The Acceptance of Fate

This is a topic I've written much about, and will be one of the main themes of my second book, but it is also one of the most difficult challenges I face and is, I believe, the driving force behind the ease with which my mind is willing to give up.

So the title of this has two different things. I just eluded to giving up. This is  the "acceptance of fate" aspect but what leads to this? This is the state of being which, in life, is constantly changing. However here's the thing; I know my brain handles the concept of time differently which means that whatever is now is forever. Take a look at the post before this and the day I about gave up. Despite the positives before that day at the conference the only thing that mattered was what was in the here and now, and since what happened now was bad this meant everything would always be awful thus I accepted this fate. 

The concept here is something I've been hearing more and more of from teachers and parents as of late. Maybe it's just been luck, maybe it's on the rise, but it is vital to understand the elements in play here on the reasoning we can seemingly give up so easily. You can point out our successes and you might get frustrated that we don't see it but how can we? We are blinded by the current state of being and I don't know why my brain is incapable of seeing the prospect of change in the future, but my mind operates under the code of "whatever is now is forever" therefore all is lost. 

This past weekend was difficult for me as my brain played the unfortunate game of, "if I were normal..." During this awful game I become extremely sad as I wonder what it would be like and if that would mean I wouldn't have spent the weekend alone. Would I have gone out with a group of friends doing whatever it is that groups do? Would I have an amazing conversations with people I don't know? The possibilities on what could be are endless and just as endless during this is the self loathing that I am who I am and not what I have this image of normal to be. 

You see, that was the state of being this past weekend and in my mind it was the only thing that mattered. Today is a new day and I'm looking forward to presenting tonight. The fog with which I was in has passed as the state of being has changed. I realize life isn't 100% good all the time, this is obvious, but it would seem we on the autism spectrum are much more prone to issues with the here and now and accepting our fate of failure, or loneliness if that is the current state of being. No matter how many times my catastrophic and terminal thinking are proven to be wrong I still fall into the trap of thinking there is no hope, no change, and the future will be just what is in the now. I don't mean to make this post overly depressing, but these are the elements in play and the challenges I face. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Day I Almost Gave Up

It's not often I start a blog with a picture but this picture, one I took on my national tour two years ago in Utah, is a perfect example of a point that I want to make in this post. Anyway, what's in this photo? A picturesque sky, booming mesas, and a road that just stretches for as far as we can see. Isn't this, if this were a metaphor for life, what it should look like? A destination firmly set out in front with a nice, smooth road leading to the destination under a magnificent would be ideal sky, but is this how life often plays out? I think you already know the answer to that and where I am now and the path that got me to where I am often looked as if the road was going to be like the picture above, but even with a good start the road can take sudden twists.

In January 2009 I was an unknown author having a book signing on the north side of the Saint Louis area and the response was incredible. This book author thing looked as if it was going to take off and "look out New York Times Bestseller list because here I come" was my mentality. I had another signing on the west side of town and the response was even stronger. My confidence was booming but just because of this initial response I was not prepared for what was to come.

There were a couple more signings, then I consulted with Easter Seals Midwest in the summer of 2009 and then, a few weeks later, I got my book to be featured by a seller at a big conference in downtown Saint Louis. A conference?! As I was writing my book, and specifically the chapter of "The 4th Wall" I had this vision that the conference life was going to become my life. The roads looked as perfect as the picture I began this blog post with.

The conference came and I was standing near my book and person after person passed me by. What was going on? At the signings I had been to people came up and talked to me first and it was sale after sale but here I was invisible. The fact that I was an author didn't matter to any person there because I was an unknown in a world of well established people. A couple hours went by and not one person as so much picked up and looked at my book. Despite my early success, and all the sleepless nights I spent writing my book, I didn't take any pride in any thing I had done. The only thing that mattered was those hours in which no one cared, no one looked, and no one acknowledged my existence.

In the weeks that followed that conference, I was discouraged and I swore to myself on the day of that conference that I had given up because there was no point in trying to reach whatever destination I was reaching for because it was unobtainable. This, however, is flawed logic. Maybe I was a bit spoiled with the attention I got in my first few signings, but for any future speaker or author out there I implore you to not fall into the trap I did. Even in my speaking career, early on, there were those moments that I felt as if I had failed, but here's the thing; no road to success, or even self-improvement is a nice flat road with awesome scenery. No, most certainly not! Instead it is a challenging path with peaks and valleys that will test a person. Is it impossible? Again, most certainly not, but had I stayed in the state of giving up I wouldn't be where I am today.

This post is really directed towards those wondering if writing a book, or maybe giving a presentation or two is really worth it, but the concept really applies to life. I tell people at my presentations that, "you're really seeing the almost finished product of who I am. This just didn't happen overnight" and so to is the way life works. I would love to say the path to whatever success, or improvement a person wants is a smooth road, but life is full of twists. I, I firmly believe, needed that conference experience. I needed to know the feeling of being ignored because when I got closer to the destination the sense of achievement felt greater and the moments interacting with those talking to me meant more. I wasn't this superstar I thought I was on those first few signings but instead I was there serving a purpose greater than myself and if books sold great, or if I had a presentation and only five people showed up great. Will big things come? Maybe yes, maybe no, but while we have this destination in our minds of where we would want to be, whether it's a top of the NYT Bestseller list, or selling out an arena, it, I believe, isn't the destination that matters at all but rather the way one handles the journey to it. There will be highs, there will be setbacks, and most of all it's going to be hard work that requires unwavering dedication. This dedication will be put to the test and I'm thankful that on that summer day in 2009 when I was put to the test I didn't 100% accept defeat. I thought I had, but deep inside I'm a fighter and I came back stronger and with each set back since then I have done the same. I don't know if this is motivational in any way, but this was my story of a day I haven't shared with any one and could've been a day that led me down a different path away from the road I'm supposed to be on.

Monday, October 26, 2015


I don't know how I should feel...

I presented at Robinson Elementary in Saint Louis today and I spoke to the 5th grade, I knew it was going to be close on whether or not I would reach 60,000 but when I put the numbers in my spreadsheet I did... 60,001!

That number is fitting because it isn't the "6000" that matters but it is that last digit of "1" as that's the target. Am I proud of the 60k? Who wouldn't be? However, if we look at the masses we lose sight of the individual and each single number of the mass is a person who may be on the spectrum, or may not be; may know a person, may not know; may someday interact with one, may not interact but whatever the case all in all each person may have a little bit more hope, may know how to support a person, or may better be equipped to interact due to what I've been doing the past five years. That's what's important and it took just over 670 presentations to get to 60,000 but the mission, dedication, and excitement I have on what I do hasn't ebbed an inch. Actually, today, have 60,00"1" just reinforces the fact that I need to keep at it and milestones aside it's time to look at the next 9,999 it'll take to get to 70,000.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Pure Hope

After what seems to be a couple weeks of posts that just weren't on the happy side I'm going to mix things up today and talk about hope. Hope is really a subjective thing and is in the eye of the beholder. Where one person may see an empty field another may see a field ripe with opportunity. That being said I think, after this story, you to will have just a bit more hope of where we are headed.

I presented at a junior high school yesterday, to about 650 people between students and staff, and I did my normal 20 minute school presentation and as usual I opened it up to questions. I've said it once, twice, and many more times than I know but I wish you could see the true magic that occurs during the Q&A. Yesterday though, yesterday was different.

There's been several times in the past where a person will have a comment or start a question by saying, "I have Asperger's..." or, "I have autism" but yesterday there were no less than six of these. Here's the thing; some that opened up was completely unknown to everyone else around and for the setting to be comfortable enough for a person to open up is, well, I see it as hopeful. One question, which I know I'm never going to forget the way I felt, and feel now writing about it, when this student asked me, "Yeah, I have several stims with my hands and I'd just like you to explain it to everyone on why we have these." I let out a big smile as she asked that because the question touched my heart because I have stims and in school each time I couldn't hold back my peers would look at me with a look of, "and that was???" but here I was able to have the words I didn't have then and put it in a way that all there, students and faculty, will understand.

More questions came and it's getting harder and harder to hold back tears on these questions. I know I'm a professional, but when I realize that this could be the first time a person on the spectrum has had the nerve to speak up, and advocate for the first time, how could I not be moved and wherever you are in the world I hope you can see this one day. I truly do because, for one, it would mean I'm presenting at another school, but secondly because I'm sure your level of hope will increase.

If we want to change the future it starts in the present and it hasn't failed yet that when I present to a student body I leave there filled with this conviction that we are headed in the right direction and we are headed to a place where autism understanding is the norm. Are we there yet? Not by a long shot, but me it myself, or you, we are all working on the same mission and that, alone, is the seeds of hope.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

My 2nd Book

I have a letter of intent to publish in hand for my 2nd book, I Think Therefore You Should Know, and last night I started the editing process. For Finding Kansas I never read a word of it until February of this year, but in the three chapters I read I was, well, a bit envious of what I had written as I don't know if I'm as keen today as I was. Is it bad it be envious of one's self?

Anyway, the editing process hit a snag when I realized the continuity was a bit off. As this file has gone from computer to computer from email to email so being the perfectionist I am I'm going to have to go and figure out what the correct sequence is. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Friends We Had

Life... If we don't pay attention to it and those around us it can one day suddenly be a different place. That happened as I got a text a couple days ago informing me that a racer I grew up watching at the Saint Louis Karting Association and then became a coworker was in the final verse of his battle with cancer.

Gary Shekell had been in karting for many years before I had ever turned my first lap. The name Shekell at the SLKA was regarded with esteem as both Gary, and his brother, were fierce competitors but also raced with the utmost respect for their fellow racers. I never really talked to Gary much in my first nine years in racing but he actually did make an appearance in my book when I talked about the time I black flagged a board member.

It was 2004 and was the next to last race. The ICC shifter class was on the track and the race director raced in that class which put me in charge. For safety's sake we had a zero tolerance policy on passing in any sector that was yellow. If a pass was made the black flag would be shown and Gary made a pass in a yellow zone and there was no wiggle room and even though he was the 2 cycle tech director and the pass was of a slower kart rules are rules. I displayed the black to him and next time by I had my first conversation with him as he stopped at the finish line and asked, "What did I do?" I didn't have much of a voice back then and I was very much weak in confidence so I meekly said, "You passed under yellow?" to which he said, "What? You're going to have to speak a little louder, my engine is running and it's loud!" Here's a driver who's just been black flagged out of the lead and he still was able to make a joke. Once he heard me when I spoke loud enough he said, "I did? I didn't see it but okay." and he sped off. No yelling, no protesting, just acceptance.

Gary would've locked the championship up had it not been for my call so he had to run the final race and in practice he had a nasty flip that required a helicopter ride. I wondered if he held it against me so I always stayed a bit away from him the following year, but there would be no avoiding him when I became the race director for a regional series and I would be riding in the car with him to Quincy, Illinois.

The car ride up is a ride I think about every day. This post is not about me, but while today I travel with USAC and SKUSA around the country this race in 2006 was my first bit of doing anything of the sort and he, along with Greg Yocom, were there to see it. In the first several miles once we left the metro area Gary brought up the sequence of 2004 and the passing under yellow and said, "if I did it then you did the right thing. That's what you have to do as race director." This calmed my nerves and he then gave me more advice on running a race and being race director because I was nothing short of a deer in headlights, but after all that he asked me what I was doing not at the track but in life. I mentioned I had been writing a book and he asked many questions on the subject and all in all he made what was going to be one of the more stressful days of my life and calmed it. Looking back at many of the races I went to with him that was one of his finest qualities.

I would eventually become a coworker with him at PG Racing and we'd see each other at the track, or at the office, and twice I rode in the truck with him all the way to Vegas for the SuperNats. On one of our trips there we got a run down of what a WalMart sidewall is from an employee there and none of us had ever laughed harder.

 While he was a fierce driver he was a master mechanic and whomever he was wrenching for would have a chance. The smile he had after Rock Island in 2007 was contagious as this photo shows. (he's on the right)

Here's the thing; life happens and jobs change and the people we know become the people we knew and communication may end. I'm trying to think about when the last time I saw Gary was; it might have been the 2009 Supernats, or a trip I had to make to a motorcycle shop that he worked at, and each time I drove by that shop for the past five years I've thought, "maybe I should go in and say hello... nah, better not." That's the thing, there may not be a next time.

Could I truly call myself a "friend" of his? Probably not, but then again I'm not much of a friend as I stick to myself and rarely will communicate outward, but that's no sign of the respect I had for Gary and all the miles we traveled and stories we told. Every one, everywhere is leaving a lasting impression as everything we do could be the last. Gary lived that way; everything I saw him do he did to the fullest, even if it was throwing a kid kart chassis, with one hand, into a trailer because of a barking dog, but he gave no indication other than that of his frustrations. Whether it was on track, or the check, double, and triple checks he would do for his driver's karts Gary was always striving for perfection. I have no memory of Gary ever doing something at 90% and that's going to be my memories of him. On that ride in 2006 he did everything he could to calm me as it was overtly obvious I might have been in over my head, but he didn't let me think that.

What you, the world, sees today is a project that took a long time to get to where I am. I didn't become who I am over night and at the end of my presentations I now am saying that and also adding that, "I really wish I could thank the people that got me here" and often people think I am only talking about the person that hired me at Easter Seals Midwest, or my parents, or my teachers, but it's more than that. It's the people like Gary that supported me in seemingly minor ways but that helped me be confident at that time and if it weren't for that successful debut race in 2006 I guarantee you I wouldn't be doing what I am today.

So with all this said what can I say? How can I have a fitting end to this? Again, I doubt the word friend can be used and I certainly am not family, but I feel this great sense of regret not giving him a ring when I first learned he had cancer a year or so ago, or stopping by the shop five years ago just to say hello. This never happened and now it can never. I, along with everyone else, am now just left to memories of Gary from the daring moves he pulled off onto the race track to a personality that could really never be kept down. I wish I would've said then, but Gary Shekell you were awesome!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Hidden Words

Writer's note: I can't stress enough that, "if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism" as it applies greatly to this post as these examples are mine and mine alone. Also, to some of these situations, on any given day, the words behind the words could be different...

A teacher once asked me, "do you need any help?"
I responded with, "No."
Why did I say no? I do need help, so why did you ask instead of just helping me? I know I need help but why don't you? I just don't get this, these fractions make no sense and the rules for inverting or, flopping, or whatever it is when dividing, or is it multiplying, makes no sense. Please come back, help me, but if you ask again I'll probably say no.

A man entered an elevator last week that I was in and said, "hello, great day, isn't it. How are you?"
I responded with, "..."
What is going on? I may not know much about social rules but I know beyond any reasonable doubt that no one, and I mean NO ONE, speaks to those they don't know on an elevator, so why did you just talk to me. This is going to be awkward, isn't it. You don't know it, but you've freaked me out and I'm frazzled so I'm just going to stare at the floors now, three, two... why are we slowing? Come on ground floor, you can't come soon enough... There, we made it, I'm sorry I didn't say a word to you, but you sort of broke a social rule and I wasn't prepared for any conversation to take place so I meant no disrespect, it's just that I don't speak on an elevator.

Many times in my life I've been told, "Aaron, that was a good job!"
I have often responded with a hesitant, "Yeah," and with a halfhearted, "thanks"
Was it a good job, really? I know I could've done better because it wasn't perfect. With that said, are you just telling me it was a good job or are you just telling me it to be nice because I know that's what people do so I'm actually confused right now. If I seemed a bit stuck up after your compliment I had no intentions of seeming so, it's just that I don't know how to respond because I quite honestly have no idea if what I did warranted praise because I simply did what I did because it needed to be done.

On a hot day at a race track five years ago a person was delivering water and asked, "Hey, Aaron, do you need any water?"
I thought about it and said, "Nah, I'm good."
Come back! Why did I tell you I was good? Oh, I wish I could tell you my concept of, "if I were dying of thirst would I ask for a glass of water" because I feel as if I am actually dying right now, but you've already driven away on your golf cart so how would you react if I radio in and actually say I'm not good? Why couldn't I just accept the help then and there? Would you have thought me weak? It's a 100 degrees out here though, and I'm not Superman, we all need water, but for some reason I told you I was fine when I'm not. I'm sure in fifteen minutes I will radio in and when that time comes I can only hope you won't be angry with me for refusing help when it was offered, but I just don't know how to accept help.

In first grade he music teacher played something to show us what heavy bass felt like and I quickly rose my hand and said, "it is hurting me!"
She responded with, "no it isn't!"
No it isn't? Then what am I feeling? I can't state that it's hurting again because my classmates will probably laugh at me, but teacher, I'm feeling something I've never felt before. My legs and arms feel as if they're on fire and I'm feeling every bit of noise. Why didn't you believe me? Maybe someday I'll be able to explain this, but for now I'll just close my eyes and try and endure this onslaught of noise.

Many, many times in my life a loved one has told me, "I love you."
My response is always the same, "..."
Oh my goodness, I'm silent again, but I do, I do love you, but I can't say it. I don't know why I can't say it, but I do. In this silence is the struggle I face. For some reason expressing emotions just isn't there but that doesn't mean that I'm lacking in it. Maybe it's fear that someday I won't hear those words; maybe it's a fear of your reaction should I say it and this could be even more so because I haven't said it for so long. This silence must be hard for you, I understand, and you may think you're talking to a wall as I stare back at you in a blank stare, but I'd like to say so much but am simply unable. I know I'm loved because you keep telling me and yet I keep responding with silence, but you must, I hope, know that I love you because you keep telling me and each time I wish I could reciprocate, but I hope you understand hidden within the silence, or the words I may sometimes say in brief, are many more emotions and thoughts than you can imagine. I'm in here, I really am, but sometimes I just can't tell you what I want, what I'm feeling, and that fact that I truly appreciate you and all that you are and all that you've done for me.

Monday, October 12, 2015

They Say It's Cannelloni, But I Know Better

From this story five years ago that took place during my sunglasses experiment a mainstay of my presentation has been to call for a boycott of The Olive Garden due to them taking manicotti off the menu. What's the big deal with that? The segment in my presentation that this is talked about, which is also episode two of Asperger Insights in which, "whatever happens first always has to happen" is film theory. To put simply, if I do one thing, one way, one time then it must always be the same and from my first experience at The Olive Garden when I was five, which I vaguely remember my brother working there that day but I could be wrong, was that I first got manicotti (after a hunger protest because when I was five I only ate three foods) and since then that was all I got. That was until it got stricken from the menu in 2010.

My boycott was in jest (or was it?) in my presentations but a big part of my life (okay, may not be big in terms of life changing but with my associative memory system losing The Olive Garden wasn't just a small loss that I could say, "oh well" to) had been changed. That was until a couple weeks ago someone posted a picture to my Facebook wall that had a picture of a menu from The Olive Garden AND.................. MANICOTTI. Sort of.

The picture showed what I was used to but now it was topped with this red sauce that wasn't the normal sauce (normal? It'd been five years... Surely I wasn't about to complain, right? You bet I was!) and it was topped with chicken. This was certainly a foul (HAHA!) in my book because manicotti, since it was first introduced to me in 1988, was and is forever supposed to be served meatless.

A couple weeks passed and two days ago I was in Springfield with a 3:30 presentation so I had to search out lunch and it was time to return. Was it a reality? Could I order it in the traditional way and not in this new pushing the limits way? I hadn't been this excited and anxious to have lunch in, well, potentially ever.

The menus came out and on the seasonal specials was, in fact, this manicotti and it was labeled as such but it was also name Cannelloni. I have no idea what that is, but all I knew was under the unneeded new meat and sauce was the tubular pasta filled with the cheese that I grew up with and when I ordered I said I wanted the manicotti without the chicken and the server responded with, "and the new sauce is highly recommended" and I looked at him in befuddlement because, when it comes to food, "new" and "highly recommended" do not mix. Give me what I know, the way I've always known, because I've been waiting five years three months for this day to return.

Just with trips to The Olive Garden in the previous decade the irking experience of having the breadsticks, salad, and the entrĂ©e coming all at once happened but there it was, the manicotti! I asked for the traditional marinara sauce and I got it! Forget the breadsticks, forget the salad, what happened once was about to happen again and it did taste the same. For most others I'm sure an event like this would be a non-point, but for myself this was a return in my memories to all the other times I had from the highs to the lows. This was, in essence, a return to my childhood but also a key thing knowing things once again were the same. I don't like change, change is bad, and if something has been a part of my life, no matter how small it actually is, and is taken away this is an emotional response to it. It irks me when I hear the misnomer that those with Asperger's, "have no emotions or care" because we do, but perhaps it isn't in the traditional sense. To most food is food, but this manicotti represented the time my family was together at The Olive Garden all those years ago, the times after school when we would go, discovering the Saint Louis locations after we moved here in 1993, and eventually losing it only to be able to have it one more time.

One more time... This is just on their seasonal menu so odds are it will disappear again for, well, perhaps forever. Maybe it was fitting that on the receipt it did indeed say cannelloni because in a few weeks perhaps that's the only thing that will remain and the manicotti, once again, will fade into darkness and with that I'll become even more fierce with my call for a boycott in my presentation because I know there's hope and someday, yes, someday we'll get it put back on the permanent menu!