Monday, July 31, 2023

Kansas Revisited

 Situational Handicap

            This is the title chapter from the book and writing this chapter I knew, if my work would ever be made into a book, “Finding Kansas” would be its chapter.

            I wrote this chapter late in the evening of April 30th, 2006 after coming up from race directing and flagging the Central States Super Series in Carrolton, Missouri. Now Carrolton isn’t a town most people know of so on the race schedule we put Kansas City. Why is this relevant? Because my book came real close to being “Finding Carrolton” as when I started writing this chapter, instead of using a state name, I used a much smaller place and used a town instead. This, I thought, made the world way too narrow so while thinking about it I pulled out a sheet I had in my pocket which was a protest someone submitted earlier in the day (as race director I handled protests and this protest was protesting me. I denied the protest) and on the flip side was the series schedule and once again I saw Kansas City so I deleted the town name and put Kansas City, but again that was too small of a place. I wanted a place that was large and that anyone could relate to so I dropped the City and made it a state. What was the inspiration for this chapter, you ask? That answer was a couple weeks in the making.

            I was still at a point wondering if my work had any relevancy despite the one doctor whom had wrote the endorsement earlier in this series I shared saying so. My dad then sent my writings up to this point to another doctor out of New York City, and she would write the 2nd endorsement of my book, and she was intrigued in all that I had done and said my work was, “highly valid.” This gave me slightly more confidence that what I was doing was worth it. Worth it, you ask? Writing, while it came naturally, was a difficult thing. Yes, I wanted to express myself but I was now 14 months from the first time I had started to write and expressing so many emotions was tiring. However, the day of April 30th made me realize that I had something to offer the world.

            It’s a shame I didn’t use the inspiration story behind this chapter in the actual chapter. What had happened was this; during the race day I was in my “Alias” (we’ll get to that chapter later) and I had no problem making decisions and having conversations with those around me. Yes, I may have been protested that day (I was protested for not cutting laps with impending rain, but that’s what rain tires are for!) but during the lunch break two drivers came up to me and I was in a jovial mood and had no problems conversing. We talked about flags, the history of flags, karting, races from years ago, and it was just a good ole fun conversation. I allude to this conversation by saying, “if you met me just in Kansas you would assume nothing was wrong” or something along those lines. However, if you saw me outside the borders of Kansas then that’s when you would see it and at the end of the day, after I had been protested (the rains never came) and after the time period that I was the race director had come and gone, those same two drivers tried to talk to me and they got a much different person. Gone was the enthusiastic historian of races of yesteryear replaced by a person who could barely make, well, let’s forget eye contact and say in eye gaze in the general vicinity of these two guys. They asked me questions and I said, “I don’t know” to most of it. Several minutes of this came and went and one the drivers, and they weren’t trying to be a jerk (I hope) said, “Are you sure we are talking to the same person we were talking to earlier?”

            Imagine hearing that question. Imagine having limited times where socializing is possible and after having no problems imagine being asked this. It’s no wonder I left it out of this chapter because at the time it was too raw and it was from this pain I knew the world needed to know this.  

            As I read this chapter I can remember the thoughts I had with each paragraph as if I was still in the midst of writing this chapter. It was a lonely night when I wrote this as I didn’t remember the successful race weekend I had put on, or the six hour drive home with Greg, whom I’d eventually work for, and the adventure with the flat tire in Kingdom City, Missouri, or the fact that I had just been named race director for another series as well. Nope, none of that mattered. What mattered was someone called me out on not being normal. Again, they weren’t trying to be mean and I use this example, without naming it, when I say in presentations, “It had to be so confusing for those to see me in Kansas and then see me out of Kansas.” 

            The first bit of a true hope statement comes at the end of this chapter as I realized all was not loss. When I first started writing this chapter I had a depressed tone, but as I progressed through it I didn’t focus on all the other 49 states, or North Dakota as I refer to it in my presentations, instead I looked at Kansas itself and my final sentence may very well have been my very first mission statement. At the time I didn’t know what this meant, exactly, but I knew it had a significance that I didn’t quite understand at the time. The statement holds true though, and maybe I should incorporate this into my presentation because, “when I’m in Kansas I don’t just run, I fly” and little did I know just how much Kansas would allow to me soar.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Finding Kansas Revisited: I...


            This is another chapter I don’t fully remember writing but is yet another chapter with so many of the hidden issues that are often well below the hidden depth of Asperger’s. I will say, however, I very much agree with myself and I don’t know what spawned it but my distaste for people that think they know everything is easy visible. I have always been that way; if a person is so sure about something without the ability to see it from any other angle, or a person who is so sure about something that they mock any opposition to their idea has always annoyed me. Now there is a flip side to this as, well, I’m sort of that way.

            The third and fourth paragraphs state something that I think has changed since I wrote this; I wrote in this chapter that people I’ve met have been, “tight lipped” about it in that it was something they wanted hidden. From giving my school presentations I can say that I am sensing a swing the other way now as awareness goes up. I ended a paragraph by saying, “understanding is the only thing I want” and I believe we are on that way.

            Further on I talk about the trade off in life in that we can be good at something but for each thing we are good at we were be equally bad at something else and that there will be thing that I never will be able to do. It’s fitting I write about this chapter now because yesterday I had an experience that would’ve been an even that I thought I’d never would have done.

           Several years ago I was in Ste. Genevieve giving a presentation and in the segment of my presentation that I mention I pull my car keys out I didn’t feel them. No worries, I thought, as I assured myself that they were in my coat pocket. I would’ve made a joke about this during the presentation but I was trying my best to keep my voice and not chough so I omitted it. Anyway, after the book signing segment I went back into the auditorium to get my computer and coat and as I put my coat on I reached for my keys and, GASP! they weren’t there. I walked swiftly to my car and used my flashlight and there were my keys, sitting on my bowling balls on the back seat seemingly mocking me. They were so close and yet unobtainable. I walked back into the performing arts center and gave my coworkers and the person from the school district who helped set this up and I was fearing some sort of angry response from them and I was worried the building would be locked and I’d be waiting for AAA out in the cold. My fears were ungrounded in fact and no one left. In fact, what I thought was going to be a miserable experience waiting in the cold quickly became one of my favorite memories from being on the road as the five of us chatted nonstop for the hour or so it took. On my drive home I figured that I’d have a chapter coming up in my book on this series that this story would fit in, but I can’t believe it fits in so nicely now because what I did tonight, having a conversation with four others the way I did, was something that I thought I’d never do and here I was doing it.

            As this chapter goes on I talk about memories which lead me to think about this never thing. I actually feel I will never have an experience like I had last night. I don’t know why my brain is like this, I don’t know why I’m a “worst case scenario thinker and good things will never happen to me” mentality. History has shown otherwise but this is my default setting. Why is this important? Good things can quickly become bad memories. How so? Imagine your best day ever. Imagine having a day that everything clicked, you achieved every single life goal, you impressed every person you came across, and you set records that can never be broken. After such a day how could any day ever live up to that? Yes, this is sort of how my brain works and why when something really good happens it turns into a negative emotion after the face. It’s hard to understand this; this notion that a positive turns into a negative, but if you experienced something so blissful and perfect and were convinced that it would never happen again then maybe you’d understand this.

            The final segment of this chapter talks about my bowling achievement of rolling a 299. Before you ask, yes, I did eventually bowl a 300, but on this night I threw a 299 there wasn’t a great deal of celebrating. I was happy I was finally getting a ring (back then a bowler got a ring for a 298, 299, or 300 game or even the rarer 800 series) after bowling for seven years, and I was glad I conquered the wobbly knees (once you get the first five or six strikes in a car the wobbly knees hit and with each subsequent strike standing straight and having a solid approach shot becomes harder and harder) once and for all. However, I didn’t get to relish in the normal fanfare of a 290+ game. Typically, when one is going for a 300, there’s this great hush that descends among those around the bowler. It’s almost a sacred moment in that speaking becomes a sin, bowling beside the person becomes a sin, and as so much as mention a three with two zeroes following it is of the utmost taboo. I didn’t experience this, though. I had bowled in this league for four years and was virtually invisible. Whereas others came to bowling to socialize and to, well, drink, I went to bowling to simply bowl. I didn’t chit chat, I didn’t small talk, and I was the last one to congratulate an opponent. I wasn’t a bad sport, but I wasn’t a good sport, I guess you could say I wasn’t a sport at all and just went through the motions of bowling because it was something to do. The framework of this all (haha!) led to an isolating experience as I threw my 12th shot for the 300 and I rolled a beautiful ball that hammered the pocket and the pins scattered but the headpin bounced off the wall just glancing the seven pin and no other flying pins hit the seven so I came up one pin shot of perfection. I stood there, defeated, somewhat glad I was getting a ring but devastated that I had been robbed of perfection. I turned around and there was nothing. You should see it, when a bowler throws a 300, there’s applause, accolades, and a sense of belonging to an elite crowd. This, though, was not meant for me.

            It’s amazing how a positive experience can be perceived as a negative one, but for some of us on the autism spectrum that’s exactly what can happen. As I mentioned earlier in this series I still struggle with self-esteem issues and the experience last night with chatting away for an hour was an amazing experience. I never thought I’d be glad to have locked my keys in my car, but I felt as if I got to experience normal last night. Again, I’m under the belief there is no such thing as normal, but to keep the talk of paradoxes alive (I use that word A LOT in this chapter in my book) that’s exactly what it was; I don’t believe in normal but I experienced it last night and since I am convinced it will never happen again I look at last night with almost a tear in my eye. Why did the tow truck driver have to come when he did? He could’ve waited, right? Just a few minutes more, right? To be so close to normal, to be on the edge of it being able to have it within my grasp, and to have it yanked away is, well, it’s the essence of having Asperger’s.  

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Finding Kansas Revisited: Small Things and A Friend Gone

Small Things

            There isn’t too much to add to this chapter except to state that I further wrote out my understanding that I may have, as the DSM-IV called it, “an inappropriate attachment to objects.” What’s amazing about what I wrote in this chapter, and all chapters really, is that at this point in time my training on the autism spectrum was nil. Truly, the only autism literature I had read was the initial website that told me to give up. As I have progressed in this series I am truly amazed that my words do not contradict the other literature out there.

A Friend Gone

            If there’s been a chapter that I’ve written that has required more tissues than “A Friend Gone” I’d like to hear the nominations because I’ve been told time and time again that getting through this chapter, whether you’re a cat person or not, without needing a tissue for a tear or two is a daunting effort. I learned this the day I wrote it as I took it to my bowling team on Monday night and the two older ladies on the team, well, we had a chance at first place at the time and all that became lost as they could not think straight the rest of the night with tears a plenty happening.

            Myself, reading this chapter, it was hard; perhaps the hardest chapter I read thus far. I talk about the associative memory system, and not remembering people, but I also do not remember my pets. I mention Amsterdam, the cat that was put to sleep in this chapter, and I mention Siam, whose story comes to an end in my 2nd book, and for both of them I don’t remember them. I remember of them, I remember the antics of their kittenhood, but of them, exactly, is just a blur. I have a picture of them as little kittens alongside Missy the Maltese and that’s the extent of my memories.

            The other side of this comes at the ending in my inability to walk her to the Humane Society for, well, I don’t know how to put it. Truly, I don’t. How do I put it? Her demise? Her ending? Her death? Just those words alone, just the thought of it, and I shudder. Anyway, I was unable to take her and to this day I’m deeply saddened by this, but at the same time I’m thankful someone else was able to because I don’t know, at that point in time in my life, if I would’ve been able to have held her as she drifted away. That moment would’ve lived on, and on, and on in my brain and I don’t know if I ever would’ve been able to erase that memory. My final memory of her is her tenacity to give me a final meow and go away without fear. This coming from a cat that was afraid of everyone except me and in this moment she showed no fear. That’s my lasting memory of her.

            Why is this chapter in the book? For one, and I didn’t know it at the time, this chapter blows away any misguided expert who may claim, “people on the autism spectrum have no emotions and are incapable of caring.” I didn’t know there were such people, but they’re out there and I hope they read this chapter. Secondly, I wrote this as a way to deal with the situation. Had I not written it all the emotions associated with this would have stayed bottled up and I would have had a hard time dealing with the emotions, but I wrote a magical chapter fitting for such a great friend and ever sense tissue makers have seen an increase in business… Okay, I can’t make that claim, but for anyone who has ever had a pet and anyone who has had to make that decision that the quality of life just, well, isn’t life will understand this chapter. I was almost cold in my understanding that it was her time, but it was and emotions would have just made the logical choice more difficult. You see, this chapter is in here because it’s an event anyone who has ever had an aging pet has had to deal with and I give my story. My story, and any other person’s story isn’t that far apart. If I can give a story that others can relate to, and I can do a decent enough job to describe how I feel and why I did what I did then that’s the fastest way, I thought, for others to understand the autism spectrum because it’s something anyone can relate to. 

Friday, July 21, 2023

Finding Kansas Revisited: what does it mean

I have to be honest and say that I don’t remember writing this chapter. I remember the concepts, not the words and this isn’t a concept chapter so reading this is like looking back on a long lost personal self-written journal…

To survive… By the words used in this segment I wrote this very close to writing the previous chapter and at the same time the “living life on a daily basis” is working against me because I was so far behind financially that I was sure I’d never get out of the massive credit card hole I had dug from being unemployed for so long. 

To love… It isn’t in the forefront of the book, but all of my work was centered around this question of, “can I love, and if so, what is it and what does it look like?” Again, this is something everyone may ask of his or her self, but for myself it was confusing. Perhaps it was because I was longing for the endless summer days Emily and I spent together doing nothing, or maybe it was because I had 18 months of isolation and I was sure no one outside my family would love me and the world would always hate me therefore I convinced myself there was no love. I now know differently and this is a very complex thing. I believe I cover this in a few more chapters down the road, and I look at it intensely in many more chapters in my unpublished books, but the way I describe it at presentations now is like this; never let a speaker say that all people on the autism spectrum are incapable of emotions or love. Here’s the thing; imagine a busy road from one town to another, but here’s the catch as there’s 545 accidents and 3,497 brick walls lining the route. That being so it isn’t easy to navigate and get to the destination. That’s what it is like in my brain when it comes to this matter. It was much easier for me to say and accept the fact that, as I put it in my book, “I’ll miss you if you were gone” but, using my road example, the part of my brain where I experience it to that part where I express it is like the road. All the emotions are there, but expressing it is often a difficult journey.

To be happy… More repetition here as I struggle with the fact that I’m not behind the wheel of a race car. The last two paragraphs of this segment were a bold statement in that I was so angry and people assuming things about me because I didn’t have a job nor was I in school. There was, and maybe still is, such a social stigma about this. Essentially anything socially ended right then and there if it got brought up. The thing that is different now is I would not take that offer to stay at home forever. The world is an infinite place of wonders, possibilities, and places that need to hear my presentation.

To be good… I still struggle with this to this day because being good is something that can’t always be measured. I just talked about this in a blog post before setting out on the Finding Kansas Revisited project and when it comes to something like a pinball game on the Xbox I know exactly where I stand and if I know I have the skill on a certain table to take the world record I won’t quit until I have it. This is a measurable feat, but when it came to the jobs I had I would quickly experience a burnout when I saw through the logic and realized that my performance meant nothing. This was a big struggle when a person who slacked off and did nothing while I carried the store in sales and yet at the end there was no pat on the back, no bonus, and we were equals quickly made a job senseless in my mind.


Tuesday, July 18, 2023

The Random Encounters We Have

The checkered flag flew over the race in Toronto. It had been a great weekend of racing and the tear down process had begun. It was a couple hours into the process when I was parked at the entry to turn one with my golf cart. I was standing on the other side of the wall, and I heard a voice walking up the straight, “hey, we can steal this one!”

“We are looking for volunteers to willingly take a later flight. We are offering gift cards and a hotel” said the gate agent over the PA. So often I’m not able to take an airline up on the offer because of my usual tight schedule, but this was an exception, so I quickly got to the counter. It wasn’t a given, so I’d have to wait, but after the day I had in Toronto the previous day, an extra day to decompress didn’t seem like a bad idea.

I looked perplexed towards my golf cart. Surely this man, along with two companions, weren’t serious about stealing a golf cart, much less mine. And besides that, I was maybe 20 feet away from it. Surely they couldn’t be so brazen. I watched, and the man got in, and panic set in.

People boarded the plane. I stared into the smoky sky that the wildfires in Canada had caused over New York City. As people boarded the plane at La Guardia, I was hoping to stay. The golf cart incident was weighing on me and I thought back to a line in Finding Kansas, “people are mean and not worth knowing.” While this has been disproven in my life, I still have to fend off the thoughts in my autistic brain that fear the unknown; that fear other people. While yes, my thoughts about others have been disproven many times, as the last people boarded the plane and the gate agent looked at me and said, “yup, we used your seat” I couldn’t help but think that maybe other people are, in fact, too scary to deal with. I was feeling my will I have to venture out into the world fading. 

The man put the golf cart in gear and I immediately let out a voice I don’t think I could replicate again. I yelled, “Get off!” and the man attempted to nonchalantly get off as if nothing were going to happen. My voice did scare him, and it certainly scared me as I didn’t know I had that ability to be forceful, much like a kitten has the first time it hisses and is in wonderment as to what just occurred, but the man and his two cohorts began walking towards turn one once again as I was frozen in anger, fear, and silence. 

With the news that my seat was used, I had one the airline lottery. I looked to my right and there was another man smiling. This was my second win in eight days, and the man asked if I had done this before to which I said, “yeah, second time in a week!” and this struck up a conversation as he wondered why my pullover I was wearing said INDYCAR.

The people walked by me. I looked at them through the catch fence watching them like a frozen sentry. The man that had gotten in my cart began talking, “I wasn’t really going to take it. Really. Truly. It wasn’t even close. Not even close. Okay, maybe close.” How could he joke about grand theft cart so carefree? While he thought it was a laughing matter, I was now flooded with fear of what might’ve been.

Smiling, I told the older gentleman about my job with INDYCAR and it was my dream come true. His wife joined the conversation, as both of them also won the airline lottery, and we began to talk about Saint Louis. They asked where I lived, and they have family very close to me, and I mentioned that Saint Louis is nice when I’m home, but between INDYCAR and my real job, I don’t get to see it often. 

The jokes, the jests, and the smiles didn’t go away from the three as they walked under the Prince’s gate. I stayed frozen, staring at them as they vanished behind the gate, and I was left with a flood of disgust. What would’ve happened had he ran off with my cart? I feared the end of my dream job, and for reasons I don’t understand, my past incidents with others flooded my brain. I thought back to my hostage ordeal in Kenya in 2005, and I wanted to be home, within the confines of safety, because I knew the world is a cold, dangerous place as the man that tried to cartjack me proved. 

“What’s your real job?” Asked the woman. This led me to say I’m an author and public speaker. Naturally, the follow up question of, “what do you write?” was asked and this opened the door to autism. “Autism?” she asked while looking at her husband, “What’s that gala we went to at Westport Plaza?” I looked, smiled, and asked “Festival of Trees?” And she said, “yeah, the event put on by Judy Kent.” I smiled and said, “yeah, I’ve presented at her house many times.”

A coworker drove by and picked up that something was amiss with me. It’s great having the coworkers I have in INDYCAR that have given me the platform to succeed at what I’m good at, and that starts with understanding. I told him what happened and as another coworker joined, the second laughed and said, “yeah, it happens.” The carefree nature it was spoken of confused me, but then I realized I was seeing the world in black and white absolutes. 

We began to talk about mutual connections and the thoughts of Toronto vanished. The woman began looking me up on Google as I talked to her husband, and she said, “Asperger’s… isn’t that what my friend’s son has?” It had been a while since I had someone look me up in front of me like this, but the more info she had led to even more conversations as the gate agent got our hotel vouchers ready.

Those with autism can see the world in black and white and when encounters go bad, we may think all encounters will go that way. For myself, I fear the unknown because of how much processing it takes to try and calculate the infinite. Life, for me, is like walking out into the world with the thickest of fog imaginable. If you hold your hand out, it becomes lost to the void of the fog. Imagine trying to navigate a world like that. Because of that, when things go awry, my brain tries to compensate by wanting to stay in place because, if one doesn’t move, how can one walk into an unknown danger in the fog?

My phone dinged. It was the email for the hotel along with meal vouchers. There was a phone number for the hotel shuttle. The man asked if I were staying at the LIC Plaza Hotel, and I said yes, so he motioned for me to join them. I didn’t hesitate in walking forward. 

For a couple of hours I needed solitude so I stayed productive by moving forward and coiling cables. When my brain goes into, if the brain is like a computer, safe mode, I need to minimize input to process. I was torn; if people equal danger and danger is bad, then wouldn’t it be safest to stay in at all times? But… if I did that, how could I do my job? I worked my entire life to make it to INDYCAR and there had to be a gray area somewhere, right? My logic had to be flawed, the random encounter wouldn’t always be bad, right?

They had called for the shuttle and put my name as well. I hadn’t known this older couple for more than 30 minutes and they treated me like family. We talked travel, work, the Indy 500, autism, and after the shuttle ride and check in, they asked if I wanted to join them for dinner. I had looked up pizza on Google maps, so we walked a block north to a literal hole in the wall.

“Aaron,” I thought, “you’re being catastrophic.” I’m guilty of that a lot. My brain instinctively goes to all or nothing. No harm came from the golf cart incident and had he driven it, there wasn’t anywhere he could’ve gotten. He shouldn’t have been on track to begin with, but the only remnant of the event was the adrenaline flowing through my body, but everything was okay. I had to tell myself that. Everything was, and would be okay. People may make poor decisions, but this doesn’t mean everyone everywhere all the time are a threat beat to be avoided. 

The smell coming from the hole in the side of the building that served pizza was causing my appetite to spike. This place had no indoor seating, so we took three seats on the sidewalk and continued talking. The wife asked me many questions and I gave a miniature presentation. When I woke up, I never could’ve imagined I’d be having pizza on the sidewalk in Queens with the buildings of Manhattan as a backdrop. 

As the tear down of our equipment concluded, I was back to being myself. I was sure I wouldn’t be having any random encounters with strangers for a while as I wouldn’t dare put myself out in the world, but for those I work with I was back. We said our goodbyes, as we said, “see you Wednesday in Iowa” and I those remaining one more night, including myself, headed to the hotel.

As the pizza concluded, and the hot and muggy air turned just a tad bit cool, we headed back to the hotel. This was it, this was goodbye. I told them, “this was one of the coolest experiences of my life” as this random encounter disproved what I wrote in Finding Kansas. People can be worth knowing, and on top of that I am capable of surviving, and enjoying a random social encounter. I meant it too! It wasn’t a throw away line, that day was one of the most meaningful days I’ve had, and as the red sun started to drop behind the skyscrapers, I realized not everything shrouded in the fog of life is a threat, or bad, and a random encounter can end up being the most wonderful of experiences. 

Monday, July 17, 2023

Finding Kansas Revisited: Maybe

            I had another “oh my goodness!” moment reading this chapter. This chapter is, again, filled with so much philosophical angles that I don’t know if this is about living life or if it has to do with Asperger’s. Well yes, it is Asperger’s, and I found it neat that there are so many usages of words I used in this chapter that I still use to this day and in these words are the motivation to keep doing what I’m doing today because there are those stuck in a world of “maybes”.

            It was a very late night when I wrote this and I was in a dark place. That would be metaphorically speaking, not literal. The chapter is short but the resounding theme is waiting for something, anything, to make my life better than it was. Here’s the thing though; I still feel this to this day. Measuring gains in life isn’t something that can be seen instantly although I try. I mention awaiting a phone call and I’ve received many of those, like getting my job at INDYCAR, and yet there’s still this awe of awaiting the next day and that maybe things will get better. What does better mean? I don’t know; it isn’t job related, it’s just the constant thought of “what if” and the like. Maybe it’s because I was in that mindset for so long it is ingrained in my brain and I can’t help it. Perhaps it’s because, as mentioned, it isn’t easy to measure long term growth. Why not? If we take a snapshot of each day the days run together. However, if we look a picture from 10 years ago, and 8 years ago, and 4 years ago, and then today it will be easier to notice differences, but life isn’t like that. Life is lived on a day to day basis and seeing changes, at least for myself, are difficult. Maybe tomorrow will be the day I finally see this.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Finding Kansas Revisited: Darkroom



The Darkroom

            “My goodness!” was my exclamation as I read the first four chapters of my book. Then I said aloud, “Did I write this?” It’s an odd feeling to read something so deep and have no idea how I came up with that. I do agree with myself (that’s a VERY odd thing to type) however and the question of, “is there a me?” is profound beyond the level of the autism spectrum. I actually didn’t know if I were reading something I wrote or something I’d expect to read in a deep philosophical book.

            I cover many things that were developed in the darkroom and one thing mentioned is that there’s a chain of stores that had sticky floors. I can attest to the fact that the one by my house, which is 275 miles from the one my dad mentioned as having sticky floor, does indeed have sticky floors.

            There’s other comments though and I think it right to revisit them: 

            Mediocrity is the end of life. To be mediocre at anything is unacceptable. My feeling on this has changed, but only slightly. On my blog last month I mentioned my obsession with going after certain pinball world records. In that regard it isn’t just mediocrity that is unacceptable but anything less than the best. However, and here is the aggravating part, once I achieve the record there isn’t a sense of glee, or fulfillment, but one of an empty celebration as if to somewhat sarcastically say, “yay?” In other aspects I’m okay with not being the best. On iRacing I’m one of the better Indycar drivers on ovals, but on tracks that involve turning right I am midpack at best. I’ve finally accepted this and going into those types of races I find enjoyment in battling people that are running similar speeds to those that I am running so instead of battling for the win the battle for 14th can be just as fun.

Money is the key to happiness and also the root of all internal fears. Not much has changed on this one showing just how strong “firsts” “film” and this “darkroom” are. When I was writing I never had more than $300 in my bank account. Things have changed and I’m in a better place now, but the fear of money and the fear of the future are just as strong now as they were. In a way it’s almost worse now because I don’t want to go back to where I was, but should a series of events happen and I become jobless with nowhere to speak and nowhere to flag I know exactly how many months it would be before I’m back in that place. My brain is brutal to myself on this front and the cycle of thought is neverending. 

            Winning isn’t required. Respect from the competition is the real way to win the game. This too hasn’t changed. I had a blog from about three years ago about an iRacing race in which I tried to pass someone below the double yellow lines at Daytona and I wrecked the person which gave me the lead. The crash brought out the yellow flag and I was going to win, but I could not accept victory under those circumstances so coming to the checkered I pulled down pit road and relegated myself to a 5th place finish. When I blogged about this a friend of mine told me that blogging about such a thing was just being on my high horse but I disagreed and said something along the lines that, well, winning does matter but the way one win is just as important and the post wasn’t about me gloating on a self-penalty, but rather I was willing to take a win away from myself and I hope other people would have the same mentality.

            I am complete unlikable, for reasons unknown. Would you believe me if I said I still struggle with to this day? No? Well, I do. I don’t know when, or where, but somewhere along the line this film got developed. At the start of every presentation I hold my breath as I fear that this statement is going to be proven true. I’m over 600 presentations and it hasn’t been proven true, but there’s still that nagging voice that tells me I’m not good enough and never will be.

            Bad things happen to me by the bucketful. If you’ve read this far into Finding Kansas, have followed me on Facebook, or have read my blog, you know it’s true. However, if this weren’t true my life would be rather boring. Could you imagine my blog? “Yeah, well, today I got up and everything was average, like, you know, normal… Yeah, that’s it.” 

            People in general aren’t good; evil is everywhere because the rules aren’t followed. My black and white thinking shines through here. It’s a very logical, albeit drastically harsh view of the world. Logical? Well, yes since if rules were followed there would always be order and with disorder comes change and chaos which are difficult to handle therefore those who don’t follow rules brings chaos which was deemed as not good. If you have to remember that, as I was writing this book, I had minimal interaction with anyone outside of a bowling alley or a race track and even then my interactions were minimal. I still was under the impression of being unlikable and since, as I viewed it, the world hated me therefore all was evil. I know I’m using extreme words, and in my 2nd book I’ll cover the reasoning as to why words are often to the extreme (I can’t wait to use this concept in a presentation… I know, this is a BIG teaser, isn’t it?) 

            I end this chapter with the mentioning of hope and stating that I don’t know what it is. I often close my presentations by saying that, “I used to be the messenger of ‘no hope’” and here is proof of that. I hadn’t quite turned the tide yet in feeling hopeful for the future, but that’s okay as if I had the rest of my book, and the previous parts of my book, never would have taken place. I guess the main thing is that one can go from feeling hopeless to getting to a place where hope is in the dictionary and is experienced.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Finding Kansas Revisited: Film

 Film Theory

            The presentation version and the print version of “Film Theory” are different. As important as my presentation version in which I boldly state, “whatever happens first always has to happen” takes on a much deeper meaning in my book. 

            I can remember the evening I wrote this; everyone else had gone to bed and it was near 2AM and I decided I had had enough of winning races on Forza so I went to brush my teeth and in the process, in which I spit into the sink, the way it hit the sink reminded me of when the space shuttle Challenger exploded. 

            When the Challenger disaster happened I wasn’t even three years old, but I saw it live and I somehow knew what had happened. Getting me to brush my teeth afterwards, for quite a while, was difficult due to spit hitting the sink looking like the moment the big white cloud of the explosion happened and as I was reminded of this in the wee hours of the morning it hit me out of nowhere. I can’t explain it except to see the entire concept of Film Theory entered my head instantly.

            I rushed to my computer where the words just flowed. Writing, at this point in time, was getting easier and easier and as I wrote this I knew the words I were writing had merit. I didn’t know if anyone would ever read it, but for myself the depth of understanding myself grew with each paragraph.            

            In this chapter is also the groundwork for understanding that sooner is better in terms of diagnosing. I make several references to that. However, the moments I mention in this blog, from CBS’s closing of the Nagano 1998 Winter Games, to that game of Risk I still remember to this day, are sacred to me to this day and the concept put forth in this chapters is one that dictates a lot of my life.

            The most profound thing, for myself, in this is my obvious fear of the future. In my upcoming books, along with many times on my blog, I’ve written about this. It’s a major fear because what we have today may not be what we have tomorrow and what we have tomorrow most likely won’t be what is in 30 years. That’s the way my brain thinks; I’m constantly afraid of change. Change can sometimes be good as look at the difference in where I was after my Vegas chapter to the person I am today. But change can also be bad, with change can come loss and I don’t know how well equipped I am to handle such things. It’s a major fear of mine and one that can’t simply be turned off. As with the “Trapped” chapter I don’t want to say too much on this chapter because it’s still fresh, raw, and something I’m afraid of. Although, since I still do it and it is mentioned in the chapter, I still use 18 point font for chapter titles.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Finding Kansas revisited: Vegas


Las Vegas

            It may not seem like a pivotal chapter in my book, but looking back on it this chapter was one of the most pivotal experiences in my life. 

            There were some of my stories omitted from this chapter, such as the issues I had with Emily on the days leading up to my journey west, but it was the journey itself that makes this story so pivotal.

            I wrote that this was my first solo trip with no family and I can’t stress how important this was for me. It was this trip which later spawned my “Relocation Theory” concept which maybe someday will get a closer look.

            In this chapter I mention that things got frozen in time and indeed this was true. I saw my first Nissan Skyline in traffic as the NASCAR Busch series, then Nationwide, now Xfinity series was about to race at the new Kansas Speedway, and I also vividly remember the gas station where I mention the airmen with US GOVT plates. In the three other times I’ve driven across Kansas I’m always anxious to pick out the landmarks of my 2003 trips. 

            One thing I didn’t write about, and this is what makes this chapter so pivotal, was that this month of my life was the month prior to getting my diagnosis. So think about this; in this chapter I go on and on about feeling free and slowly opening up to the world. But on top of those two points I am a professional race car driver! I was driving cars, and being paid more per day than I could ever have imagined, so this was my life starting. Granted, side story, my amount of driving got drastically cut when I flew the checkered flag one time. Once management saw me wave a flag I often was relegated to flag waving detail. That was fine, though, the pay was the same.

            Another thing omitted from the book was the story of Tony Renna. Tony was an up and coming Indycar driver who had just signed with the best team and was doing some off season tire testing and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when a freak incident occurred. What occurred? No one knows how or why, but the end result was Tony’s car hit the top layers of the catch fence. The debris field was compared to an aircraft accident and Tony was killed instantly. The reason this is relevant was that Tony was still an instructor at the Derek Daly Academy and he was also was a co-instructor of mine when I went to drive as a student a 2nd time. 

            It was a somber time at the Academy and every news outlet in Vegas was on the property interviewing staff about what type of guy and how much talent Tony Renna had. I had never been at a place that had experienced a tragedy and I remained as flat and as emotionless as possible. 

            The return trip home, and I wish I had used better words than what’s in the book, was the hardest drive of my life. How does one leave paradise? How does one leave living a life they had always imagined? Outside of one day in Florida in which I drove a Late Model Stock Car I have not been in a proper race car since. It was fitting that my dad waved the checkered flag when I got home because, and neither of us knew it at the time, it was an end of my career as a professional racer. What I thought would be the end of my life got worse the month after as I got my Asperger diagnosis and of course I read those infamous words on the internet and the depression hit full blast. But what if I had not had my Vegas experience? What if I hadn’t experienced the life of an up and coming racer? Would my diagnosis have been taken as badly? I don’t think it would have. To have lived life at its fullest and to finally, and naturally, start opening up as with the example I used at the Boulder City Golf Course, and to then have a world view of no hope is a stark difference, and it was this difference that amplified the diagnosis experience. Of course, had I not had the time in Vegas I doubt I’d be presenting today and I doubt I’d ever have started to write because the diagnosis wouldn’t have hit as hard. Then again, it could’ve worked the other way. I may not have fallen off that table and knocked myself out on the Goodyear tire and I may have been asked to come back which may have led to a ride in a feeder series to Indycar or NASCAR and had that happened, well, all that I am now and all that I’ve done would never have happened.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Finding Kansas revisited: the full forward


Part of my development as a writer stemmed from a doctor I was seeing. My dad was seeing him first learning about what Asperger’s was an eventually I too saw him. It was easier to write about things than talking so that to spurred the creative juices. In the first version of my book he wrote the forward so here now, was the original forward to Finding Kansas…

I have been asked to write a brief description of my impression of the “clinical” value and importance of Aaron Likens’ writings.  I feel honored by this opportunity.  At the same time I also doubt if I am capable of providing anywhere near a comprehensive interpretation or analysis of the value and meaning of Aaron’s truly remarkable writings.  However, there are a few observations I feel confident in making: These writings are of prodigious value to anyone interested in autistic-spectrum disorders, especially Asperger’s Disorder, whether they be a mental health professional, researchers in the field, family members, or other persons with similar disorders.  There is always a desire to secure some exacting definition of a particular disorder such as Asperger’s, a tendency to see each person as part of a more or less homogeneous group.  This categorical thinking has been yielding (especially in the conception of autistic disorders) to the notion of a continuum, which may be fore descriptive and individualistic.  In this regard the term autistic-spectrum disorders has increasingly gained acceptance.

As a mental health professional who has specialized in the field of autistic-spectrum disorders for nearly twenty years, the only apt comparison I can make of Aaron’s writings is the effect of Temple Grandin’s first book, Emergence. Her personal account of the “experience” of autism was a revelation.  It shattered many myths and previously accepted “facts” about autism.  Her book permanently changed the previously limited understand of autistic disorders.  

I believe Aaron’s writings have the same potential regarding Asperger’s Disorder.  He reveals depths of emotion, social comprehension, nuances of cognition and perception, and especially the potential for something close to “recovery.”  I believe its potential benefits are invaluable and capable of changing lives.

One of the changed lives has been my own. Aaron’s writings and our conversations have granted me clinical insights, a new understanding, and subsequently more effective care for my other clients with autistic-spectrum disorders.

It is difficult to keep this introductory statement brief because of the broad range of subjects he addresses; the questions raised by his intensely personal observations and analyses have implications beyond this field and the expertise of this professional.

First, I think it is important to note that unlike most current books on the subject of Asperger’s, this is not a “how to” (treat symptoms, etc.), but a “how did” book.  It is Aaron’s intensely personal journey, begun half unconsciously, its purpose emerging intuitively.  The process has been self-healing, but the product, like many literary journeys—from Homer and Dante to James Joyce’s re-visitation of Homer’s hero in Ulysses—Aaron’s writings speak to us all.  When he came to realize its potential value to others, he unselfishly decided to share it.

Aaron presents his writings as a series of essays arranged in chronological order (in keeping with the typical preoccupation with sameness, order, and predictability that is a hallmark of these disorders).  In many ways his descriptions and observations about himself reflect those made by Temple Grandin, as well as other observations and testimonials regarding the autistic experience.  His personal experience and even the words used to describe these experiences are often strikingly similar (although Aaron has never read her work), but beyond sharing certain clinical symptoms (as one would expect), Aaron has written a very different document.

Aaron has subjected himself to a rigorous self-examination, using himself as the subject of this “study,” a study of the nature and experience of Asperger’s Disorder.  He has bravely exposed us to his inner world.  He queries himself relentlessly about the nature, meaning, and implications of his thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.  In the course of this self-examination, he diligently applies logic, metaphor, analogy, and self-reflection to this “question” of his life, which most compels him.

In the course of this personal odyssey, however, he becomes much more than a clinical study of Asperger’s, for his personal queries eventually pose the same strenuous questions about the human experience that have challenged philosophers since antiquity: What is the meaning of our lives and actions? How do we reconcile our experience with that of others?  Where does the Truth lie? What is Love? Does freedom equal love?

Aaron does not ask these questions casually or as a kind of intellectual dalliance. (He is no dilettante.)  He poses these earnestly, for he perceives this is the only place where his personal salvation may be found.  This is one of the most fascinating and unique aspects of his writings to me.

Aaron examines everything with the tool of reason and logic.  This is the fateful manifestation of autistic preoccupation with sameness, predictability, and cognitive inflexibility.  Aaron is compelled to seek according to this method, applying “reason” to all matters and questions.  This seemingly innate methodology makes for a unique, self-made form of “philosophical inquiry.”  When I say “self-made,” I mean this literally, for Aaron reads very little and is completely unacquainted with the discipline or any of its most notable contributors.

The unfortunate aspect of this comprehensive philosophical mode of inquiry is, of course, the fact that our lives, our personal problems, and experiences can be only partly (even marginally) resolved by logic and reason.  Aaron’s cognitive inflexibility may be seen as a manifestation of the autistic tendencies as mentioned before and the pressing need to abolish ambiguity.  In Aaron’s case, owing largely to his extremely high intelligence, this preoccupation with order goes beyond arranging routines and establishing and imposing order on his environment.  He imposes this philosophical mode of thinking as the sole means of understanding himself, the world, and others.  The result is a kind of “tyranny of reason.”  In Aaron’s words, he “asks questions on paper to come up with some reasoning for someone who lives in a world of contradictions and paradoxes that have no answers or resolutions…a world within a world; a prison, chained by one’s mind.”  The expression “being on the horns of a philosophical dilemma” acquires a terrible disproportion here, a metaphorical “goring” of human potential and experience that is particularly bloody.

Aaron loves metaphor and hyperbole such as this.  It is one of the elements that make his writing so enthralling.  He has a marvelous sense of irony and a prose-style that is rich with emotional revelation, wit, and a wonderful absurdist sense of humor.  An incipient depth of emotion is given greater weight and meaning more often by implication rather that explication.  This is especially the case when he writes of the death of a friend (his cat) and his romantic experiences.  But his writer’s flair is also evident when he examines the value and torment of his prodigious memory, his work experiences, his fears, and his despair.  He is often given to morbid recollection, doubt, and hopelessness, but there is also the zest and excitement of release, joy, and peace, and even moments of serene and blissful happiness.

Where does he find this illusive “happiness” we all seek?  On answer he discovers is in playing games such as Monopoly.  In asking himself why this is so, he finds compelling answers regarding his Asperger’s mentality; the fact that games have clear rules that temper the “unpredictable,” that “there’s no better feeling that the unpredictability of a game set with predictable rules.”  He sees he is temporarily “free of my mind…of all the other mental anguish…the chains that make me overanalyze life, the critical mind…The real world and my world coincide, and happiness is found through the medium of the game.”  These observations and conclusions correspond with our current understanding of autistic-like mental processes.

But a more comprehensive, even profound fruit arises from Aaron’s study of himself.  It is an existential, even spiritual observation that “within rules comes knowledge of boundaries and limitation…[that] I am free because there are limits…”  The notion that in order to find life-sustaining meaning and true freedom we must know our limitations, Aaron concludes that limitations set the boundaries in which we can truly know ourselves.

As I caution previously, I had difficulty keeping this concise.  There are so many other aspects of Aaron’s writing and of our therapeutic relationship left untouched.  I hope I have this opportunity at some point.

I know that the general “rule” regarding getting a book published is that, well… “That isn’t going to happen.”  On the other hand, I find hope in one of Aaron’s many pithy aphorisms, “The rule that saved my life was the rule that there is an exception to every rule.”


Mark A. Cameron, Ph.D., M.A.

St. Louis, Missouri