Monday, April 2, 2012

Well, I've learned one thing about autism lately...

Autism.  It's a buzzword.  Did you get chills?  Maybe you thought of a child, maybe your own child, and have had suspicions.  They're a little... strange.  Too quiet.  Hard to relate to.  Stand-offish.  Maybe there's something wrong with them.  Maybe they're... autistic!

After all, the CDC itself has now published information saying that 1 in 88 kids has autism, which is a 78% increase from a decade ago.  Seventy-eight percent.  That's a huge jump!  And now, the dreaded medical E-word is being bandied about: epidemic.  We have an Autism Epidemic in America! 

This... sounds familiar.  Does it sound familiar to anyone else?  A time at which, suddenly, we had a mental disorder become a buzzword for unexplained or abnormal behavior in children?  A time when a diagnosis suddenly was reordered as a "spectrum" and those diagnoses suddenly spiked radically?  Well, if you paid attention in the late '90s and early '00s, you probably do remember a time like that.  When virtually every kid you knew suddenly was on the ADHD spectrum.

The article about the ADHD boom is particularly striking when the author explained ADHD to a foreign mother, citing the DSM's description to her.  Her response?  "This is a definition of children."  And, indeed, isn't part of being young figuring out what or who we are?  For some kids, that means disorganization or hyperactivity.  For some, it means introversion and social awkwardness.

The autism boom is strikingly similar to me.  Like ADHD, it's extremely easy to diagnose any abnormal child as being on the "high-functioning" end of the spectrum.  In fact, if I grew up as a child today, I probably would fall under that category, as it is now being defined.  I was born with a speech pathology, which resulted in predictable speech difficulties early in my life.  I also suffered scalded skin syndrome as an infant, which skewed my pain receptors (I overreacted to pain as a youth) and gave me some minor PTSD (nurses had to hold me down as an infant and remove dead skin so it would heal).  Huh.  I couldn't speak properly, I overreacted (truly, I was inconsolable) to pain, and I freaked out anytime someone held me down.  Man!  I must have been autistic!  How come no one knew?!

The above factors led to me being a very quiet, cerebral child who didn't like to get dirty.  I liked to do my own thing.  In fact, as a six or seven year old, my mother was once trying to get me to play outside (I was doing some quiet solitary activity at my little kid table) and I turned, looked at her, and said "When will you understand that I like doing what I'm doing!"  My mother, in her wisdom, got the message.  She let me be myself.  And sure, as a kid, I was quiet and socially awkward.  I had a handful of friends who I had grown up with.  When we moved, I didn't really make any friends.  It was a struggle for me because I've never really known how to relate to people.  I grew up without a male figure in my household, so relating to men, in particular, has been something I had to learn.  When I became a big sports fan (of my own volition) that became simpler.  But all in all, I grew up and I matured.

I must have been a "late bloomer" or whatever the term is now.  A kid who "grows out of" their autistic traits or habits.  What the heck?  Let me be frank - if you "grow out of" your autistic, or your ADHD, habits, then you were improperly diagnosed.  I'm no doctor, but I've known enough people with those disorders (both diagnosed and misdiagnosed) to know that autism and ADHD - in their real forms - are a lifelong struggle.  If you grew out of either, then, well, it's because you were just being a kid and now you're not.  I never "grew out of" any autistic disabilities; I simply grew up.  I learned how to better relate to people; I gained confidence in myself.  And as a result, I became something of an extrovert when I'm comfortable in a setting.

My sister is another good example - she's ADHD.  She's actually got a clinical diagnosis for it.  I think she's probably borderline; a legitimate case of ADHD on the low-end of the spectrum.  She was a straight-A student in school, a musical phenom, and, all things considered, is probably smarter than I am.  At the very least, she thinks differently than I do (she's left-handed, too; I am not).  When she focuses on something, she's able to maintain it well.  She was like that for school.  She could always fall back on her innate high intelligence, too.  But outside of that focus?  A tornado.  Unfinished projects, lack of order in cleanliness, etc.  As she went out to live on her own, this manifested further as she was outside of the family house, which was managed by our mother.  My sister made some poor financial decisions that could probably be chalked up to ADHD.  But she's low-end of the spectrum.  She medicated briefly for it, but didn't get the desired results (and an unexpected heart palpitation), so now she self-therapizes herself.  And, for the most part, from what I know, it seems to be working. 

See, that's the biggest problem.  For one, we stigmatize these disorders, so that when there are genuine cases on the low-end of the spectrum, the suggestion is resisted - by the patient, by the parent, whoever.  Average Dad says "My son doesn't have ADHD!" because he associates stigma to that.  Everyone has a mental image of a kid with ADHD or autism and they don't want their kid to be that kid.  So they resist.  My sister vehemently resisted any suggestion of ADHD by my mother during her teenage years.  It wasn't until she was in her 20s that she became more open to the idea.  We see these as bad things; something wrong.  Something to be medicated.

And that's really the crux of it, isn't it?  Look at Dr. Goldin's article again - during the ADHD boom, the production of Adderal and Dexedrine went up by 4516% and the production of Ritalin by 375%.  That's insane.  That's just insane.  Think about that for a minute.  4516%.  That'd be like investing $1 in something and getting a $4516 return. 

Make no mistake - there are serious cases of autism out there, just as there are serious cases of ADHD.  Those require attention.  Those require therapy (and probably medication).  But the widening of the spectrum, the vast increase in diagnoses does nothing but marginalize those genuine cases.  They become outliers and examples; poster children of a made-up epidemic.  Those children are the ones who need attention, while these "low-end of the spectrum" and "high-functioning cases" need only some time to grow up being their own person.  Or maybe the goal is just to medicate everyone into some imagined concept of normalcy. 

So as I see this "autism boom," all I can think is that there's a pharmaceutical company (or companies) that's going to be making a lot of money off of this.  Already, I'm seeing stories about the thousands of dollars it costs to medicate and get therapy for autistic children.  Suddenly, with the widened spectrum and range and the increased diagnoses, all those people stand to make a lot more money.  Autism just became incredibly profitable for some people.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

On Outdoor Activity

I'm a woefully inactive person these days.  It just sort of happened over time.  If you saw me on the street, you'd see a relatively slim, healthy-looking young man, so don't mistake me and think I'm some morbidly obese couch potato.  I'm simply out of shape.  I have a bit of a spare tire and I'm just softer in the middle than I used to be.  This spring, I've been considering why that is.  I enjoy being active, after all.  It just seems so hard to do that sometimes.

I've been debating the house vs. apartment argument with myself lately.  I know people who advocate either side, although the argument usually takes the form of owning or renting in those cases.  I find the idea of renting a house a little strange, though, personally, and rife with possibilities for awkward or difficult relationships with your landlord.  It just seems to carry greater risk than reward versus owning, where the primary risk is in the house's equity, but if you're not planning to flip it and you're confident in your choice, that's not really that big of a risk.

Anyway, I digress.  I digress for a point, though.  Today was a moderately nice day.  Sunny and warm - low 60s - without feeling hot.  The late winter/early spring chill remains on the wind, so even those warm temperatures can feel cooler than they are.  It's more crisp out than it is balmy.  So I had some windows open and outside sounded nice.  But then always comes the problem - what to do outside?  I'm a goal-oriented sort of person.  I like to have something to do.  I don't like feeling idle (ironically, this is why video games are appealing to me).  I live in an apartment right now.  A lovely apartment, actually.  It has a private entrance with a deck (which is shared by two others) in a building of three floors.  The area is quiet, for the most part.  Tucked away and peaceful.  It's nice.

But as soon as I step out, the problems to being goal-oriented outside begin.  For one, the idea of driving to a park to shoot hoops by myself, or something like that, just seems silly.  I want to be outside.  Getting in my car is counterproductive to that.  I could bike to a park.  But then I've exerted myself enough, so I'd bike back.  And some days, that's cool.  But before I even go biking, I need to carry my bike down two sets of stairs on the outdoor deck.  Not fun.  And then I'm just aimlessly biking.  And if it's windy out, well, that wind gets colder on a bike.  I could go for a walk, but walks aren't exciting.

Which got me thinking.  If I had a house, I'd have a basketball hoop.  If I were at a house with a basketball hoop and wanted to spend 10-15 minutes outside, I'd go shoot hoops.  Happily.  This is a perfect, short-term outdoor activity to do by oneself.  You can even pretend you're cool while doing it, like you're shooting for the game winner or something in the NBA Finals.  You finish, go back inside.  No time spent in transit, a goodly amount of exertion, and no other people required.  Nice.  If you have a partner, other options open up (then you might consider driving or biking to a park to play tennis, let's say).

But this didn't happen.  I live in an apartment building with no hoops.  My apartment complex doesn't actually have an outdoor play area for its tenants - this was an attractive option to my wife and I, since she works a night shift and we wanted a quiet environment.  Some places do; they have tennis courts or basketball hoops. But those places tend to get a little more... raucous at times.  Anyway, as I was thinking about this, it occurred to me how there's been a migration back to apartment living over the past few years, as the recession took hold.  It's hard to get out and be active if you don't have your own space to do it in.  I grew up in a house, playing in a yard, and by virtue of that, we just had fun outdoor stuff around to augment that experience.  Apartment-dwellers, I feel, don't often.  It's not like they can just grab the bat and the glove and go to the park, on average.  They don't have a yard, so they might never have bought anything like that.

Sure, some people manage anyway.  My mother and stepfather are avid cyclists, despite living in an apartment.  To their credit, though, they have a garage through their apartment where they keep a lot of outdoorsy stuff.  And besides that, they're exceptionally outdoorsy people, a group I'd consider an outlier in this discussion.  I'm thinking of the average apartment-dweller.  Does the average apartment-dweller have a bike?  A basketball?  Know where the nearby parks are?  It just seems, in an apartment, that the outdoors - and the means by which to have fun outdoors - is a step further away than it would be otherwise.

Guess I'll find out when I become a homeowner someday.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Has it really been two months?

Guess so.  That's alright.  Been a lot going on, enough to keep my mind away, enough to leave me a little unfocused.

I got married not long after my last update, about a week and a half after.  That's a good thing.  I have a wonderful wife.

I suppose I'm a "millennial" - as we're being labeled.  The children of the Gen-Xers, those who saw the millennium change as they became adults.  It'll be our millennium, but we inherit many problems with it.  It seems we're destined to experience hardships our parents did not.

I spend a lot of time thinking about it; about how in many ways, I feel like a failure as a result.  We grew up being told we could be whatever we wanted, if we worked hard.  Opportunities would be there.  For children like myself, it was even worse - we were gifted, clever, smart, whatever you want to call it.  We grew up being promised the world.  As we came to adulthood, the world fell apart around us, all of those promises vaporizing in an instant, the reality of a hard world caving in around us.

I'm a college-educated man and, still, a fairly clever one, I like to think.  The world has changed in such a way that these things no longer really matter.  They won't find you jobs or opportunities.  Perhaps I have to make them; but where to begin?  Writing has always been my strongest point, my special talent in life.  If I was meant to "do" anything, it was write.  But I've been so lost on what to write about, where to start.  So I suppose I'll try to blog more.  To detail not just the struggles of a young writer who has lost his voice, but to detail the struggles of a millennial coping with a changed world.  At the very least, I can give it a try, to voice my frustrations rather than let them simmer and boil within me.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

It's there... somewhere.

I've taken a hiatus from writing lately.  I think I might have mentioned that in a previous post, but maybe not.  There's a few reasons for this, some external and some internal.  The external ones are less important; they really amount to little more than thinly-veiled excuses.  The reality is that I stay distracted, externally, primarily by video games, which have been a bane to my productivity for years - really ever since I started playing MMOs.  But that's a whole separate post and, lately, the grip of such things is loosening on me - I don't buy many new games anymore and what I have periodically becomes boring, which puts me into better places insofar as writing or reading go.  Otherwise, video games still serve a purpose - MMOs are a social outlet for someone like me who has lived in three states over the past five years and has friends scattered across the country; single-player games provide a great way to streamline my thought patterns and let them drift to other things while keeping me occupied otherwise... it's almost meditative.  Maybe that's another thinly-veiled excuse.

Anyway, internally, I haven't really had something passionate to write about.  It's hard to write without passion or motivation... as much as I try to work on older works, revise them to publishable form, etc... it's hard to do it because those works don't feel relevant to me right now.  Doesn't mean I can't go back to them later, but right now, they just don't fit - they're square pegs and right now I'm a round hole.  Or something (that's what she said?).

I have at least one great story in me.  I've known this almost all my life.  It's still there.  But it's a slippery thing and, as a result, almost impossible to get a hold of.  Whether or not I'm writing, that story is never far from my thoughts.  I'm always thinking, always pondering.  To help stimulate thought further, I've decided to pick up a couple books that might be more in-line with where I am now - two of Thomas Wolfe's works: Look Homeward, Angel and You Can't Go Home Again.

Thematically, I have two primary interests at the moment.  The first surrounds the feeling of home and homesickness and homelessness of someone who has moved on from his hometown, but still yearns for it and feels a strong bond to it.  The second is the plight of the young adult in today's world.  For a person like me, I feel as though I was promised a world as I grew up - and once I grew up, that world was gone, changed, into something entirely new and different and challenging.  The whole idea throughout school and youth was to get a degree, get a job/career, and retire eventually after a career with a company.  That world appears gone.  How do we cope with that?  There's a sense of lost-ness in this generation, the so-called "Millenials," as a result.  It's an interesting conundrum.

How do I entwine those concepts, make a story of it?  I'm not sure.  But it's there, somewhere.  And perhaps, reading other fiction more relevant to the subject - like Wolfe's work, or perhaps Steinbeck's - will help coax it out of me.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Time, time...

Life is kind of like a constant state of confusion and chaos.  Whenever we feel like it's about to get orderly and play nice, something happens to keep things in a state of relative flux.  We all yearn for that feeling of stability and long-term order, but there's a good chance we'd all go stagnant if we ever attained it.  I know that's the case for me... lacking a "regular" job, I manage to find even less time (or motivation?) to write than I would otherwise.  I still look back to my undergraduate years and realize I was most successful and productive when I was working 40+ hours per week and taking 12+ credit hours per semester.  Sounds hectic, and it was, but I was super productive.

I haven't found the time to write lately.  That's frustrating on some levels, but I also think I'm going through a mental transition insofar as writing goes.  I think a lot; sometimes overthinking takes the fun out of actually writing down.  That's part of why I rarely journal personal events - I think them out, so no need to write them out.  Feels redundant.  That's why I have a problem writing Ambivalence right now - I've thought it out, hashed it out, multiple times.  Even the third book (Ambivalence is the first) is mostly planned in my head... the second is a bit clouded, and would be fun to write because of it, but nonetheless... it's tough to write something that's done in your head.  Writers who say that their characters help write the books aren't lying - it's a journey for the writer as well, to see what his/her characters do... they surprise even us, on occasion.  

As to the transition, part of the issue is also that the books I'm working on now don't feel relevant.  They tackle themes that troubled me more when I was younger, when I first set pen to paper on those books.  Part of me yearns to write on things more relevant and, really, part of me yearns to try to write something contemporary.  Split time depending on motivation?  Maybe.

Finding time is the key, too.  For example, right now, would be good.  But I know my fiancee arrives home shortly and we have an appointment afterwards.  It might be counter-productive, but I'd rather not write anything at all than be interrupted midway through a good stream of thought... recapturing that later is very difficult and often frustrating.  

And it's been a busy time, in general.  My fiancee and I have our wedding in less than a month and even though her mother has done a bang-up job planning it in short time, it's still a very stressful thing for everyone involved.  This goes back to my original paragraph - I hope for a time of general stability afterwards, where nothing momentous happens to shake up life and we can finally settle into a routine of sorts (we really haven't had time for that since before we moved in together in June).  But... part of me knows that it never is that simple.  Just like this past weekend, which my fiancee had all three days off - she works 4 days, 10 hours per day - and on Monday, she had nothing planned on all three days.  By Thursday, all three days had an appointment of some sort, just by total random happenstance.  Such is life.  When I was laid off from my regular job in May, I had a significant nest egg set up - then my car began leaking coolant by the tank, and my carefully-laid financial plans took a hit.  Not enough to throw me off-kilter, but enough to make things less than I was hoping.  Such is life.  

But the best of us make time... that's a true skill in life, making time for one's loves and pursuits and cares.  It's when we have copious amounts of free time that we find that skill most lacking, and when we have almost no free time we find it in abundance.  There's an odd sort of balance in that, I think.  And now, often inundated with unoccupied time, I must find a way to work through my own distractions and mental clouds and once again relearn how to make time to get through my self-imposed writer's block.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I find beginnings difficult.  This is a truth about my writing and really, about life, for me.  Maybe it's that way for most people.

On one hand, you have the blank canvas - it's exhilarating and full of potential.  On the other hand, you know that all it takes is the wrong start to ruin it.  That's true for a story, a relationship-to-be, or even a day.  We all know the phrase "got up on the wrong side of the bed," after all.

My wife-to-be went over the beginnings of my current work.  She spent more time on this time, giving it a thorough examination as opposed to a read through.  She marked it up digitally, using the comments feature of Word and some spiffy highlighting.  She provided some good feedback - a good deal of things I knew already, but hadn't sought out to look at.  Certain redundancies or discrepancies that exist in a first draft, early, as you push on.  But having her point them out helped, as well as mentioning when a scene flowed really well or when a scene seemed disjointed.  And after all, as a reader, I need to know if she's drawn in, or if she's distracted by an overabundance of information or a lack thereof.

I knew the first chapter needed work.  We'd discussed before and really, I remain unhappy with the first chapter.  It's the beginning.  It has to be just right.  But it's also the most difficult to write, as a result.  You want to foreshadow appropriately, set up certain events, and so on.  You want to grab the reader.  Sometimes that's hard to do right off the bat - for me, it's nearly impossible.  So I trudge through the first chapter, setting some scenes I know will be reworked, some that may never see the light of day again, some that are just fine, and some that have yet to be added.  But what made me smile and, after having the first chapter appropriately eviscerated, was that as she broke into Chapters 3 and 4, the comments slowed, the highlights went away.  As the plot caught on and the narrative flow took over, the story began to write itself better.

That's what makes the first chapter so hard, often.  There's no narrative yet.  You're establishing the narrative, but as you do so, you're also generally using character exposition and development to draw the reader in.  Right away, that's difficult.  It's like going up to a woman at a bar or after class or after work and introducing yourself.  What will interest her?  What will draw her attention, what will repulse her, etc?  You want to make that lasting impression that makes her want more.  I never thought I was good at that, but being that I have a wife-to-be, I must have gotten it right at least once.

Stories are easier, in that regard.  Not because the beginning part is easier - it's not - but because you can shelve it.  I write out the beginning, enough to establish what I want to, and then push onward.  I let the narrative kick in and ride the flow of it, working on the rest as I go, knowing full well that when I'm done, I can come back to the beginning, knowing what I know from start-to-finish, and be better able to fine-tune the start.  A lot of that, to me, has to do with information - you want the reader to understand your world, but the question is how and when to do that.  You don't want to go all Tolkien on them and give them pages upon pages of laborious description.  Sure, it's good, but let's be honest - we all skimmed a LOT of that.  Do you care what color the leaves are in Rivendell?  Me neither.  That's stuff the imagination fills in by itself and I, personally, like to let the reader's imagination work itself.  Anyway.  I find that the tendency is to throw a ton of information out at first.  I refrain as best I can; knowing that a lot of information comes out during the narrative, or can be added later.  But you still want to impart a degree of understanding to the reader... without it being a written infomercial for a few pages.  That can be tricky sometimes.

Makes me want to write a modern/contemporary set story sometime.  I'm sure I shall, but I would like to get this one done first.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Being moved.

The purpose of art, as I see it, is to move another, or even oneself.  To evoke emotion.  To make us feel something.  It doesn't have to be deep or profound necessarily, sometimes it's just the uplifting that comes from a heroic victory in an epic film, or sadness of a character's death, or the giddiness that girls get from romantic comedies.

As technology has evolved, so have our mechanisms for evoking emotions in art.  In some ways, this is good, in others, it is bad.  Does the increased intensity provided by film now diminish that of paintings?  Maybe.  Or maybe they're just different types of experience.

I miss being moved.  Maybe it's because I'm older now, but I don't find things that move me very easily.  This is part of why I write - to move myself, because so few others do.  I might be jaded.  But I feel a lack of creativity in the world these days, at least in American media.  Movies are recycled - the same comic book movie, the same epic war movie, the same romantic comedy, the same goofy guy comedy.  What might have moved me once, no longer does, because you can see it in fifteen different incarnations every year.  Television is much the same, and even my typical bastion for creative relaxation - video games - often fails me now.  Most of these industries are primarily after money and once they figure out what sells, they sell as much of it as possible.

In some ways, video games were my first true creative experience.  I remember being sucked into Final Fantasy VI when I was a kid and really, for the first time outside of Tolkien's books, knew what it was to be immersed in something and to have it move me.  Video games are great for this because you actually assume the role of a character - you follow them, learn with them, bleed with them.  Video games also have the time to truly spin out a tale - games can take as much as 20 hours or more to complete, although at least half of that is the "gaming" part and less actual narrative.  As technology has advanced, I see fewer games spinning compelling narratives.  I lament back to the days of the role-playing game in the '90s, when the Final Fantasy franchise was in its prime and other, less-known, games were being churned out, like Xenogears or the first couple Suikoden games.  I write this in part because I was poking around the Internet today and once again eyeing the one game I am looking forward to this year - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.  That series, in particular, is as immersive a single-player experience as I've ever seen and truly a beacon of light among gaming.  If the game plays out as beautifully and intensely as the trailer for it shows, then it will hopefully be a landmark gaming experience, the type I crave and so rarely experience anymore.

Writing is, of course, the greatest medium for creative expression.  Words are limitless and allow a more ambiguous relationship between author and reader - I can write a description of a character, or a town, but it's not down to the finest details - those are filled in by the reader, giving everyone their own unique variation of the writer's world.  For example, in reading the Lord of the Rings, my Aragorn or my Frodo may have looked similar to your imagined version, but most certainly not the same.  That's the magic that writing alone captures - the reader's imagination is put to work filling in those finer descriptive holes, holes which, if filled by the author, would of course be indescribably cumbersome to read.

But at the same time, because books are not visual, we're not inundated with book advertisements - not like we are for movies and video games.  Books can't have trailers, as it were.  It's rare to see a book release get the press that George R. R. Martin's recent release did, and you can bet the farm that it had no small part to do with the running of the HBO series based on his books not long prior to the release.  I'll even admit, I started reading them because of the series (although they were on my list regardless; I just bumped them up as a result).  And I know if I did, plenty of other people did, too.  This is one of the difficulties of being an author that, even in the age of self-publication, I see - how do you get the book out there?  How do people find out nowadays?  Like so much in life, it seems it just boils down to being a lucky shot in the dark...