The Next Needful Steps

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November 25, 2022, Grapevine- I). In mid-1984, while Penny and I were presenting on a Baha’i theme, at a diverse gathering of people, in Spring, TX, northwest of Houston, we were interrupted by an indignant person, who wanted to know by what authority any white people could recommend such simplistic actions as we were describing to a largely black audience.

The articulate, lovely Sharon made several valid points, not the least of which was that people become “schooled” in the experiences of their audience, before addressing issues through a lens that is not necessarily applicable to said audience. That we were taken aback by “hostility” to “a loving message” seems quaint now-after Rodney King, James Byrd, Jr., Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Breanna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other victims, beaten or killed while in various degrees of doing daily activities-and all because others were addressing issues through a lens not applicable to the presenting situation.

Penny later taught children several lessons that involved seeing through different coloured lenses. That was a good first step, and I have been left to take further steps in gaining increased awareness, applying lessons imparted in books to my daily life. As with any other aspect of life, through which I’ve stumbled, understanding and embracing people of colour is an exercise in mindfulness, translated to action.

II.) The good-natured, playful girls saw me watching their activity, in the afternoon classroom, and decided to teach a lesson of their own, by staging a staring contest. I “blinked” first, and gave them the “win”. A few weeks earlier, similar vigilance, at a different school, was described as discomfiting, by the young woman who was clearly trying to get out of doing her assignment, though for valid personal reasons.

A residual aspect of my autism leads me to observe people in a situation, often not speaking at first. This has, as indicated above, landed me in hot water, to a limited extent, over the years-with women, girls, interracial couples, gay people. I have set two goals, to be achieved sooner, rather than later: 1. Engage such people in conversation, immediately, rather than stare at them for even a few seconds. 2. Make my purpose in attending to them clear, in an articulate manner. There is nothing to be gained from being tentative or hesitant. People are not zoo animals.

Approaching the start of my seventy-third year, the next needful steps in improving my interactions with others are crystal clear. Everyone deserves to know my heart, not misinterpret my mind.

Economy Kick

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October 12, 2022- When we were kids, there would occasionally be times when Mom would announce to us that the family was on an economy kick. That was about the extent of our involvement in family finances, but we knew that costs were outweighing income, and not to ask for anything extra. We got three meals a day, without fail, the house was comfortable and well-kept, and the clothes were always clean. Not much else really mattered, even to me, in the throes of autism, of which I knew nothing.

I had to manage a household, myself, during Penny’s decline, and through being frugal, managed to keep 3-6 people fed and comfortably housed, even while working through Chapter 7 and the uncertainties of the housing crisis, combined with medical costs. The economy kick came, almost with its physical counterpart- when an Arizona state employee came to the house and demanded I turn over Penny’s care, and her benefits checks, to the state. It didn’t happen.

Every so often since, frugality has been my answer to the forces of greed and deprivation, when they stage assaults on our well-being. I know that the financial markets, being global entities, are not cash cows, so when they get raided, I know to tighten the belt. This is what I am doing now, though it may not look like it when I head up to see friends in Nevada and Idaho, in a few days. The thing is, I don’t cancel plans to visit people, just because the powers that be are trying to take us all down a notch.

I do keep my spending to a dull roar, and am quite happy even sitting in the apartment, watching shows and reading. A foray or two to Planet Fitness, or to the neighbourhood park, works nicely, as does a walk downtown. In time, these ebbs will return to being flows, as they always do. Someday, too, the controllers of the purse will realize that prosperity for the masses of people does not mean they themselves must go without. It is not a zero sum game. In the meantime, I will continue use my funds wisely, as ever.

The Power of Observation

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April 8, 2021- When I was about nine years old, I climbed up into a tree across the street from my house. One of my afflictions, over the years, has been getting so deeply into my own thoughts that occasionally I would imagine myself in conversation with others. Yes, that is one of the bigger drawbacks of autism. Unbeknownst to me, another neighbourhood boy was higher up in the tree, for whatever reason, and sat silently, watching my fantasy conversation. It was a shock to me, at the time, that someone I had known for four years would amuse himself, climbing down the tree and gleefully saying I’d been caught.

No matter where I’ve been, these many years, and noticing others- perhaps on the job, like the plainclothes cop who would sit in his car, in the outer edges of the parking lot at the grocery store where I once worked or the random individuals I have encountered, deep in the woods, some sitting and meditating-others taking photos of people on the trail, it strikes me very intensely that we are ever monitoring one another.

I have been more present and focused, as the years have rolled on-and haven’t been nearly as off-track, even when completely alone. Certainly, being a husband, parent and school official, responsible for the well-being of vulnerable people, has brought the necessity of such focus vividly home.

If nothing else, one accomplishes more, when in touch with physical reality. Friendships are also deeper, both when one is being observed and is being observant. This all may seem self-evident to the neurotypical, but it is quite striking to someone like me.

Penultime

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December 3, 2020- The next-to-last part, of virtually any series of events, casts a glimpse of what will succeed the present series. So it has been, these past several days, as what may well have been a comfortable series of routine events turned into the first ripples of a coming flood tide of unexpected change and calls for adaptation.

I learned early on, even as an autistic youth who liked things to stay the same, that flexibility made the difference between long-term serenity and collapse. I learned that failure to adapt was a guarantee of misery. I learned that nothing could possibly remain the same-the old French bromide notwithstanding.

Coronavirus has brought about a larger number of transitions among my wider circle, a few childhood friends and some extended family members. That, alone, has reinforced a more flexible view of life-and a sharper appreciation for what each and every one of them meant in my life. It has also brought a greater number of tasks to those of us who have thus far escaped its talons and thorns.

With the knowledge that every day could bring unforeseen challenges, both great and small, I still wake, glad that the new day is here. For, all that is may bring both surges forward and setbacks. I have learned to treasure the former and forge through the latter. This brings a sense of reinforcement to me and inspiration to my younger friends.

So, the extra work given me, due to a co-worker’s sudden illness was my honour to accept. To much is given, much is expected.

The Summer of the Rising Tides, Day 63: Mental Health

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August 2, 2020-

It turns out that the individual who torched the Arizona Democratic Headquarters, over a week ago, is mentally ill. Republicans, and others, who read only the part about his being a member of the Democratic Party are, predictably, chortling about how this just goes to show that it’s a big farce, orchestrated to bring down President Trump-because, hey, what else is there in the world?

The individual is mentally ill. I know, firsthand, how that feels. Everything is about “MEEE”. Imagined slights take on a reality that knows no bounds. Good people become viewed as monsters-for any number of reasons-most of which are contrived by a mind in pain. So, it came about, that an individual acted to destroy that which he deemed inperfect, and, thus, expendable.

There were all those times, in my distant past, and in more recent years, when autism led to the bouts of self-centeredness, mild delusion and not a little paranoia. It took a good deal of self-work to separate my mother’s high bar of expectations, itself grounded in love, from the blistering criticisms of some of my peers, who left no room for error-or in a few instances, even humanness. Through meditation, correcting my diet, my wife’s love, and adoption of a Faith that actually lived the love prescribed by Jesus the Christ, but ignored by so many of His followers, I achieved a sense of equilibrium.

There have been relapses, and setbacks, mostly in times of high stress. There are those who were present during those times-and who remember, all too well, how things went down. I am grateful that forgiveness, and securing my word that such behaviours will not be repeated, were their responses.

Conversely, I have striven, when confronted with other mentally-ill people, to do right by them. In one case, the person was able to get a leg up and straighten out his life. In two other cases, that was not the result, as of the last time I heard from either one. I felt the need to cut one loose, for personal safety reasons and the other, because of an increasing stridency and level of verbal harassment on his part.

It’s taken time to begin to overcome the tension I have felt, when seeing a small, older model of RV driving around or when starting up my phone, and getting more than one Instant Messenger “ping”. Realizing that these are left-over post-traumatic reactions has helped greatly.

I am ever grateful to all who have, either consciously or unconsciously, helped me put my own demons to bed. In all this time of relative aloneness, I have been able to soothe those ills, and make myself a far more useful person, amenable to this comforting society around me.

Proximity

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March 7, 2020, Chino Valley-

One of the things about my level of autism/Asperger’s is that one tends to keep a distance from others, both physically and emotionally.  I got attached to certain friends and to my family, once in high school, where a modicum of social grace was both necessary and fairly easy to develop.
Once I graduated, the relative anonymity of  university, the factory and even the Army set me back to some of my old distance-maintaining postures.  I got along, more or less, and did my jobs, with varying degrees of competence. I did not feel intimate with anyone, though, until Penny came along,

She helped me get over the tendency to distance myself-and to be comfortable with things like cuddling and the more intimate aspects of married life.  It lasted twenty-nine years.  When she passed, I promised myself and her spirit that I would not revert back to the aversion to proximity that I felt throughout my twenties.

That basically has held, yet only recently have I finally felt that sitting down among strangers, and not wanting to practically apologize for taking my place, is something that ought to happen as a routine.  I know this is all about self-acceptance, and it has been among the most refreshing elements of personal growth, in a very long time.

In several gatherings this week, I felt perfectly relaxed among people I either barely know or have never seen before.  This included tonight’s gathering of Slow Food-Prescott’s members, to hear a wealth of information about the apple, a fruit that has over 7,500 varieties, and to enjoy a sumptuous buffet of vegetarian and “pescatarian” (no meat other than fish and shellfish) pot-puck dishes.

It is just a pleasure to not feel like a nuisance or an interloper-both things that come more from negative self-talk than from any bad social vibes from other people.  I look forward to a very robust spring and summer.

2010-19: How I’ve Changed

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December 30, 2019-

It’s said that nothing in the Universe remains static for long. Even inanimate objects experience molecular change.  Of course, it’s been a while since I’ve been likened to a piece of furniture, and the blessed soul who made that comparison is himself long departed from our midst.

The decade now ending has been, in many ways, the most seismic in my life, since the 1980’s. In that decade, the changes were commensurate with full adulthood:  Finding spiritual footing, courting and marriage, solidifying of a career, loss of a parent, and  my own parenthood.

The changes that have come in the 2010s have been more in keeping with true maturity.  I’m not altogether there yet.  Few of us ever are.  The process has been in fits and starts, and suitably so, as everyone’s late middle age is unique.

So:

Losing a spouse– This was a long haul, and arguably something about which Penny warned me, several times throughout our wedlock..  It was the culmination of a lifelong, hereditary disease, that had come for a reckoning.  It made me responsible for the care of a vulnerable adult, at a time when a burgeoning adult needed us both.  There was always a balance to be struck.  The biggest lesson in this, was that never again could I indulge in the slightest amount of self-pity.  Buus Huus, the imaginary Roman patron of the woebegone, had taken his flight.

Altering my sense of community– I left Phoenix, after ten years, being alternately comforted in my sorrow and admonished about abandoning my duty to the community.  I found the latter ironic, as the West, especially in its urban and suburban contexts, has relied, to a great extent on the safety to be found in maintaining anonymity, in entering and exiting one’s residence, through the garage and inside a vehicle.

Prescott became my community, but it was, and is, more Home Base than castle.  I have dear friends here, who are never far from my mind.  Yet, the closest of them, even my best friend, know and accept that I have concern with people far afield.  Part of this is my Sagittarian being, part is boundless love.

Connecting with people– It’s become far easier for my mildly Asperger’s/autistic self to reach out to those not previously known to me, and to engage in meaningful conversation.  That has made both quotidian life and novel experiences more meaningful.  Largely gone is the concern with rejection.

Shedding long-held shackles– Subconscious  and  self-limiting views onto which I held, about women, people of colour and just about anyone different from me, have fallen away.  I’ve long known that overarching prejudice is wrong and have managed my behaviour accordingly.  In 2014, I was reproached regarding the residual bias, the microprejudices which, in retrospect, were continuing to cause difficulties in life.  Things like subtly expecting less of someone, because of gender, ethnicity or physical status constitute a forest that is hard to see for its trees-until someone comes along and blows the wake-up dog whistle.  Now, it is not possible for me to regard anyone solely on anything other than his or her merits.

Finally, self-acceptance– With all of these other changes comes a view of myself as fully worthy of taking my place in society.  There are few people, in Prescott and elsewhere, who choose to show me disrespect, and I know to disengage myself from such people, unless and until they change their attitudes.  Fall, 2018 was a litmus test of that practice, and was the first time, in many years,  that I totally blocked someone from my life.  The roof didn’t cave and life has proceeded just fine.

The changes that accompanied this decade are sure to have import for the years to come.  It’ll be fascinating to live.

Their Voices Will Not Be Silenced

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November 29, 2019-

I read, a few days ago, about a homeless man in the Phoenix area, who had committed a heinous crime, whilst suffering psychiatric illness.  The story stated that this man had been passed through the Arizona mental health system, for over a  decade.  He had enough of an understanding of his own condition to ask for a shower and a follow-up appointment with one of the original counselors who had first met with him, when he was brought into a facility, by the police.  These requests were denied, according to the newspaper account, and he was back on the street, largely against his wishes.

In Maricopa County, there are at least a dozen agencies, which purport to address mental health issues.  I once worked, briefly, for the agency that, also briefly, worked with the man in question.  I was not successful in my endeavours with that agency, partly because of my also serving as Penny’s caretaker and partly because the ego feathers of the agency branch’s leadership were ruffled by my personality and manner of talking with my clients.  The agency, in the case cited above, was one of several which dealt with that man, and somehow they all dropped the ball, not knowing of each others’ presence in his life.  He remains a person whose only security comes when he is incarcerated.

I mention this, because in dealing with the mentally ill, each of us finds self in  a bind, of sorts.  When someone dear to me faced a severe mental illness, many years ago, I chose to address the matter head-on, but not address it alone.  There was a team of professionals, who helped solve many of the problems and it was left to me and others close to this person, to resolve  the rest.  We were, however, not left alone and the person has gone on to lead a masterful life.

I have had a few people present their issues to me, over the years, both in Phoenix and here in Prescott.  Two of these people stayed with my family and me, during the last two years of Penny’s life.  We were able to help one of them orient his life, but the other was a work in progress, when I moved to Prescott.  At that time, my own grief was still raw and I was the one who needed compassion.

Time passed, I was able to help one homeless man get situated and centered, albeit with some difficulty.  Once he trusted in the agencies with whom I put him in contact, things went better.  The second person I tried to help, at the behest of a mutual friend, turned out to be someone who had already tried all the resources I recommended, and was irritated by my personality and foibles, to the point where we are no longer in contact.

The beat goes on, and I am open to those who have difficulties, who don’t know to whom else to turn.  I will maintain, to anyone who is suffering mental or emotional health difficulties, to not rely on social media for resolution, nor to rely on any one person for same.  I am a loving soul, but I am also far from perfect and the last thing I want is for my own lifestyle, activity level or personal mental state (mild Asperger’s/autism) to waylay the progress of a person whose viewpoint, regarding  that progress, is at variance with how I see things.  I had a brief online conversation, this evening, with such a person. Besides, each of us is marvelous complex.

That individual is right about something, though.  Mental illness is anything but a laughing matter.  You will not find me including someone else’s affliction as a punchline, in my repertoire of jokes.  He’s also right about people paying attention to his problems.  That attention, first and foremost, needs to start with family and one, committed team of professionals, of the individual’s choosing, in consultation with family.  Random people, no matter how compassionate they are, can’t direct a suffering soul towards the light, in the way that family can.

The voices of the suffering will not be silenced and they will not “go quietly into that good night.”

The True Standard

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November 5, 2019-

Returning to Jordan Peterson’s “Twelve Rules for Life”, #4 states “Compare Your Present Self Only to Your Past Self, not to Anyone Else.”

As social animals, we so often give other human beings far too much credit, for perfection or superiority.  I’ve heard from so many:  “It’s cold and lonely, on the pedestal.”

So, I have made it my business to measure my progress, compared to where I was-six months ago, twenty, thirty or forty years ago.  Then (1970), I hid from my peers.  Now, I am in the world, but not of it.  Then (1977), I found solace in the bottle.  Now, I find peace and tranquility in service, in meditation and in standing up for the downtrodden.  Then (1982), I handed out money on demand.  Now, I contribute reasonably, without caving in to every demanding voice or thrust-out hand. Then (1981), I viewed different people with different lenses. Now, every human being is seen in the light of their character.  Then, (1954-1986), I looked upon myself as essentially unworthy of love, as damaged goods.  Now, I am proud of what I have achieved, no matter what others might view as inadequate.  Then, (until 2010), I saw myself as a frequent victim of “politicians”, “the Elite”, “the Establishment”.  Now, I see those in positions of power as basically living out their own life plan, without seeing myself as a pawn on their chessboard.  Then, (prior to 2012), I had no idea why I behaved atypically, so often.  Now, I know I have a place on the Autism/Asperger’s spectrum-and that’s okay.

The only true standard we have is our own life.

Dog Day

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August 19, 2019-

The day started with two good turns- A young singer with a powerful voice invited me, through her father/webmaster, to like her Facebook page;  The National Weather Service now says we may get rain, over Labor Day weekend.

I “liked ” the page, as anything I can do, to encourage a fellow autistic to build on personal strengths, is going to happen.  I’ll take rain, whenever it comes.  Last year, it came during a huge Country Music festival-in early autumn.  The world is turning on its axis, it seems, so in addition to whatever atmospheric changes we are inculcating, Mother Nature is making some changes of her own.

I read a study that claims people who nap more in the afternoon, and wake up at night, are at risk of Alzheimer’s, down the road.  That would mean a lot of us who nod off, in the heat of the day, are bound to find themselves in a different state of mind, ten years hence.  To me, though, the crux is often hydration.  I nod off less, when my water intake is up.  Since the brain is largely water, that could have some bearing on dementia, as well.  Synapses fire better, when there is a proper level of saturation.

It was hot enough today, that I felt it prudent to give my laptop a three-hour break.  Reading and a Planet Fitness visit took the place of  correspondence and pontification.  Not to worry, the latter is about finished, for now.

Remember, the Dog Days rarely last beyond Labor Day, which is two weeks off.  Stay saturated, my friends.