Saturday, April 21, 2018

7 quick takes

It's been awhile since I've done one of these, so why not?


Spring is being disappointingly slow to arrive.  We'll get a nice day or two and think this is finally it, but nope, high winds, freezing temperatures, or pouring rain come back the next day.  Oddly the plants don't seem to be held back from it--the pears blossomed and now have leaves, there's a green haze on all the underbrush, and the cherries and redbuds are looking good now.

Through the window.

Because we can't go outside.

My peas have sprouted and I planted broccoli seedlings, but everything else is still biding its time.


Both boys have had their birthdays.  Marko is EIGHT and Michael is SIX, can you believe it?  Marko pointed out that it doesn't make any difference to him, because he feels exactly the same.  Michael is jumping out of his skin with joy because he finally has a day that's about him.

I tried to have a party for them, because I've never actually hosted a children's party.  First I was going to invite all the boys from both their classes, but that seemed like way too many.  So I invited all their outside-of-school friends, but only one came.  If I'd known the refusal rate would be so low, I'd have gone ahead and invited 30 kids!

Then again, I had a stressful day that day so that by the time the party came around, I hadn't had any time to clean and I didn't really want to socialize much, so it wound up being perfect.  I chatted with my one friend and my kids treated their one friend like a celebrity.

But next time I have a party, I'm . . . well, I don't know.  I'll figure out SOMETHING to make it work better.


I'm still submitting my book from NaNoWriMo.  It's quite a process.  You can't just send the whole manuscript to a publisher.  No, you have to obtain an agent first.  And you can't send them the manuscript either.  You send them a query letter and sometimes a few sample pages.  So I've been doing that.  I've had 20 rejections, all form letters.  But!  I've also had two of them request the whole thing, and one request 50 more pages.

That's very heartening to me.  Sure, more are rejecting it than requesting it.  But it's actually getting into the hands of some agents!  And I'm really hoping they get into it and realize it's super exciting and interesting.  Then they'll email me begging to represent me.

I keep reminding myself that maybe I'll just get more rejections, and those will hurt more because I'll know they've read the whole thing.  If that happens, I can't let that stop me.  I have to revise and keep submitting.  And, worst case, just move to submitting the next thing.  Because I've made up my mind that I am going to get published and I just have to keep trying.  And now is the time to do it.  I've waited, and waited, and practiced with book after book, but at this point, I feel that I'm ready to be published.  Or rather, to start the lengthy process of getting published.


Meanwhile I've started messing around with another story.  It's called (so far) The Witches of Salem College.  I know I had a lot of other exciting stuff on my "to write" list, but my attention span and time to write is still limited, so I figured I'd stick with YA at present.  Imagine Buffy and Harry Potter mixed together.  It's a paranormal story on the campus of a tiny liberal-arts college.  So there's normal college woes, but also fighting vampires and werewolves and stuff.

Except, not.  Because vampires and werewolves are both kind of overdone.  So my idea was to use paranormal creatures from Hispanic legend, because one of my main characters is Mexican.  But the research has been harder than I expected.  So far all I've got is the Tlahuelpuchi, which is basically a vampire, and the Nahual, which is suspiciously similar to a werewolf.  Apparently there are some motifs that are just so popular you can't get away from them.  OH WELL.


Miriam remains delightful.  She's oh so girly, and I am trying not to get in the way of that even though I dislike pink and makeup and so on.  She wants pink nail polish, and pink earrings, and pink everything.  Then again, she also wants a pink toy chainsaw and a pink dump truck.  When she grows up, she and Jackie are going to be "girl 'lectricians" and climb on pink ladders to fix wires that are broken.  So it's not like she's absorbing any toxic ideas about being a princess who exists solely to be beautiful.  She wants to be beautiful and badass.  And there's nothing the matter with that!

She's so incredibly sweet though.  She's always telling me I'm the best mama ever, that she loves me so much she can't ever stop loving me, that she wants to hug me forever and ever, that she loves her sister more than anything, and so on.  If we have a grown-up friend over, she asks me, "Is it a he friend or a her friend?"  If it's a "her friend," Miriam loves that person before they've even met.  She'll monopolize my friend the entire time, prattling on about whatever is on her mind.  And then for weeks after, it's "where is your her-friend?  You should invite her over again."  One time she saw a lady with a beautiful dress at school pickup, and she said that we should invite that lady to be part of our family.  I was like ... I don't even know who that person is!  Haha.  And to think the first time we visited school, she hid behind me and got upset if the office ladies talked to her!

She is dying to go to preschool next year.  We didn't really have any plan to do that, but since she's so interested, I'm looking into it.  What I'd love is a program that was one afternoon a week, or something.  Just a little break from her constant demands for attention for me, and a chance to meet other kids her age and play with new toys for her.  But we'll have to see what there is, and what it costs.


Jackie is fifteen months now and very, very charming.  She still doesn't talk much, but she communicates excellently.  That is, she can say "Mama" and "yes" [ssss] and occasionally Miriam [Meemaw], but most of her communication is with gestures and pointing.  She can sign water, more, and all done, and she nods and shakes her head.

She's napping later and later in the day, which is screwing with her bedtime more and more.  I foresee there aren't more than a few months of napping left in her future.  Which is fine, really.  Her needing a nap is a big monkey wrench in our day, because if we go anywhere early in the day, she falls asleep on the way home and wakes up when we get there, but if we wait for her to nap first, she won't nap till one or two p.m. and then we don't have time to go anywhere before it's time to pick up the boys.

But while she does nap, I'm going to enjoy it.  Yesterday Miriam was watching a show while Jackie napped, and when Jackie woke up crying, I went up and lay down with her.  Jackie and I both fell back asleep and didn't wake up for another hour.  Bliss!  And Miriam, when she got tired of watching her show, just quietly crept up and didn't come in till I told her it was okay.  She's actually old enough to be quiet during a nap!  Space your kids, cats and kittens.


It's been about three months since Christendom's scandal broke, and so far they have .... hired some lawyers and a new VP.  What we said they should do was stuff like hire a full-time nurse who could do rape exams, partner with a local nonprofit to do awareness training for the students, and post flyers around campus.  But they haven't done that.  And I can't understand it, because that would be a lot cheaper than what they're doing.

Meanwhile Steubenville has had a similar scandal break.  The big difference here is that Steubenville does (at least in theory) comply with Title IX, so people are taking it as proof that Title IX is worthless.  Well, I don't think it's worthless, but it certainly isn't sufficient.  The next step for a college would be to actually follow Title IX instead of just saying they do.

But really, I think the most important thing is for people to be aware that rape happens everywhere -- that Catholic colleges aren't a perfect world where nothing that bad could possibly happen.  I certainly thought that back when I was there.  I never spent a single moment considering my own safety when I was with Christendom guys.  Outsiders, sure, but I assumed anyone who had chosen Christendom was a good person.  Now, I think people are more aware.  Hopefully more parents will talk to their children before they head off to a Catholic college -- about things like risk awareness, consent, and reporting.  They can't trust the college to mention it, and they can't assume it's not going to happen because it's a Catholic campus.

How have you all been?

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The perfect is the enemy of the good

It's April, which means Autism Awareness Month.  Most people who observe it follow campaigns put out by Autism Speaks -- "Light It Up Blue," the puzzle-piece ribbon, and so on.

Problem is, Autism Speaks isn't a great charity.  A lot of autistic people hate it because its marketing material dehumanizes them, and because they spend their money on advertising and "awareness" rather than helping autistic people.  When they do spend money, it's on research.  Sounds nice, but since autism itself is probably incurable, people are concerned it's going to end up where Downs research is -- prenatal testing and eugenic abortion.

So, I find myself in a dilemma.  Do I "light it up blue" and possibly offend autistic people who feel marginalized by Autism Speaks?  Or do I do nothing, and let people think I don't care?  It would help if people could agree on what color is supposed to mean autism acceptance, but I've heard colors from red to beige.

Of course what I've chosen to do is write 1000 very nuanced words on the topic, because blue-or-some-other-color-or-nothing is a very brief and easily-misunderstood message.  But yesterday, at school, I saw a lady with some blue streaks in her hair.  I complimented it, of course (it looked fab) and she told me it was for Autism Awareness Month.  What should I say?  Should I try to explain the complex reasons why blue is attached to Autism Speaks, and why AS isn't a great charity?  Or should I just say that it's great, because it is great that she knows and cares about kids like my kid?

Well, I said it was great.  Because I am pretty positive she didn't put blue in her hair because she wants autistic babies to be aborted.  She put blue in her hair because she's worked with autistic students and likes them and wants to start conversations about the topic.

It's the same issue when I see people with disabilities on TV.  Ideally, disabled characters should be written and/or acted by disabled writers and actors.  They should be ordinary characters, neither angels nor villains.  They should be allowed to show their true abilities, and the difficulties of their disabilities should be neither overestimated nor erased.

That's a tall order, guys!  No matter how you do it, someone isn't going to like it.  Some people don't like the autistic character in Parenthood.  Some people don't like the autistic character in The Good Doctor.  Some people don't like Sheldon Cooper (who isn't diagnosed with anything in-show, but who has the signs of autism) on Big Bang Theory.  To which all I can say is, isn't it better that there are autistic characters, rather than having disabilities left out completely?  Friends is a show with 100% white, straight, abled main characters.  Is that better?  Because if every time writers make a show with a disabled character, it causes furious outrage from everyone, they're going to quit doing it.

I'm afraid the internet age kind of contributes to this.  A blog post that says, "I love Sheldon Cooper" doesn't get much traction.  A blog post that says, "Big Bang Theory is nerd blackface" gets a lot more.  Outrage gets clicks, and sometimes what makes most sense to drive traffic is to find ever-smaller things to get outraged about.  And I wonder if this is really seeking after perfection -- will our posts somehow fine-tune everything to get rid of smaller and smaller problems -- or if it's so condemnatory of things that are merely good, that we will soon have no more good things.

Let's broaden this out from the topic of autism, because this is happening everywhere, all the time.  I hear complaints of it mainly directed at progressives, because there definitely is a subculture within progressivism which does this incessantly, but the right does it too.  It's where you define an in-group and an outgroup, and then you tighten the in-group more and more until almost everybody is out.

Take the March for Life.  It was about one issue, abortion.  That works, and it drives a lot of attention.  But if it's about fighting abortion by electing Republicans, or fighting abortion and also the death penalty, or fighting abortion and also contraception, it becomes a much smaller, more niche kind of movement.  If pro-life gays want to march with a rainbow flag, and they are told, "no, we are pro-life AND conservative AND religious," the net result is fewer people marching.  Ditto with the Women's March -- if pro-life women aren't allowed to participate, then suddenly it's not really just about women.  It's about pro-choice women, and that's a smaller group.

It ends up being the cult tactic I've written about before.  I think I'm going to call it "forcing a jump."  This is where groups demand a higher level of commitment than some members are giving, and require them to choose to jump in or out, over this new tightened boundary.  So when Paul says, "If Christ is not raised, then your faith is in vain," we can see he must have been addressing some disciples who believed Christ was not raised.  He wanted them to jump--either believe that Christ was raised, or get out.  The hope is that they will jump his way, but if they don't, that's fine too--let the group be smaller, so long as it is purer.

I've watched a lot of groups expand their causes and tighten their circles, and the net result is that the group gets smaller but the people within get more radical.  The members inside get extremely polarized--you agree with them on every particular, or you aren't really allies.  Hate Nazis, but don't agree with "punch a Nazi"?  You're not really anti-Nazi enough.  In fact you're part of the problem.  You're like those people who sat back and let Hitler get elected.  Perhaps we should punch you next.

Personally, I find it terrifying when one of these internet mobs closes in around someone.  It happened to me when I asked a bunch of pro-vaxxers for good sources to research vaccination.  It also happened when I said, in a crowd of pro-choicers, that abortion is a difficult moral issue which isn't easy to answer.  It happened to Simcha Fisher when she talked about Charlottesville but didn't condemn racism strongly enough--silly her, she thought that, as a Jewish person, her anti-Nazi credentials would speak for themselves.

And I kind of get it, because I've watched threads where someone came in asking an innocent question and 200 comments later, it turned out they were already an expert on the topic and were just trying to draw people into a contradiction.  I've seen the "I'm on your side really but I'm afraid of what other people might think" opener, and the "admirable people on both sides" false equivalance, and these are sneaky little tactics which can look a lot like innocent bystanders.  But.  If the enemy disguises itself as innocent bystanders, we still can't shoot anything that looks like an innocent bystander.  The result winds up being that in some spaces, you have to run in with your hands in the air shouting "ALLY!  ALLY!  100% CONVINCED OF EVERYTHING YOU THINK ALREADY!" or else you're going to get piled on.  Heck, even after years in some of these groups, when everyone "knows" you are an ally of theirs, the second you question anything, you can still get the same treatment.

I guess I'm talking about way too many things in here.  I'm talking about negativity, and about extremism, and about tribalism.  I guess I just dream of a world where baby steps are appreciated, instead of declared Not Good Enough, where a nuanced position is admired rather than demonized as Not Really On Our Side.  I thought when I got out of the right wing, I'd arrive at a land flowing with milk and tolerance.  I have been disappointed.  I still can't find anybody who's willing to take people where they are.  Alas, both the left and the right have serious issues and the center, if there is any such thing, seems to be mostly full of people keeping their heads down and their mouths shut.  Online, of course, these problems are all magnified.  The one place I know of where people are really rational and avoid these fanatical purges . . . is overrun with the alt-right.

I don't know what steps to take.  I guess I would like it if more people would commit to a few basic points:
*appreciate the good in a person or initiative when it agrees with you partially, before nitpicking the places where it doesn't agree;
*found movements based on a few core issues, and encourage people from a wide variety of viewpoints to participate;
*take anything that looks like it might be good faith, as good faith, and wait to be proven wrong before attacking;
*practice nuanced, careful consideration and explanation, rather than polarization, and praise others who do;
*take the time to find people who disagree with you who are willing to reach across the divide in good faith;
*criticize even movements and groups you are part of when they behave badly, instead of only criticizing opponents.

I think if we try to do these things, we might not get any more perfection, but we might encourage a bit more goodness.

Monday, April 2, 2018

7 things to be aware of this Autism Awareness Month

So, April is autism awareness month.  I imagine everyone is pretty well aware by now that autism exists.  But there is still a lot of knowledge that people aren't aware of, so I thought I'd put together a post of things I wish people knew.

1.  Autism is a spectrum.  What that means is that there is a wide variety in how severe people's delays are -- and even what delays they have!  This is even more true today than it used to be, since Asperger's was redefined as a subtype of autism.  If you know an autistic person, try not to make assumptions of what all autistic people are like based on that one person.  Some autistic people can speak, for instance, while others can't.  Some have excellent fine motor skills, while fine motor skills are Marko's biggest struggle -- he can barely write at all.  Because of all this, there's no secret to dealing with autistic people in general, except perhaps to be patient and adaptable while you find out how that particular person can communicate with you the best.

2.  Autistic people grow and change over time.  I was reluctant for a long time to admit Marko had autism because I thought it meant he'd never grow out of the behaviors we were struggling with at the time.  I didn't want to give up hope that it was just a phase.  And you know what?  It was autism and it was a phase.  Autistic children may reach some milestones later than other kids, but it doesn't mean they will never reach them.  Some autistic people finally grasp a key concept or skill in their twenties or thirties that opens whole new opportunities for them.  An autistic person will always be autistic, but with patience and hard work, they can achieve things others thought they never could.  A child who was completely nonverbal till five or six might grow up able to live independently and start her own business at thirty.  So never assume what someone's going to achieve based on what they're able to do now.  And never, ever assume an autistic adult -- even one with very obvious delays -- is like a giant child.  Adults, regardless of disability, are still adults.

3.  Autism can coexist with high, low, or average intelligence.  It's wrong to assume that autistic people are retarded or dumb simply because they are struggling in specific areas -- they might be perfectly intelligent and simply have trouble communicating their thoughts to you.  On the other hand, it's also wrong to assume that all autistic people are super-geniuses like in the movies.  It's very difficult to test an autistic child's IQ at all because of this.  Marko tested at 104, but we were told this result was completely invalid because his vocabulary was so high and his scores on a shape-rotation test were so low.  Is he a genius or not?  Well, does it really matter?  Like the rest of us, he has strengths and weaknesses.  And it's best never to assume based on a person's performance in school or on an IQ test -- those may or may not assess the person's strongest skills.

4.  Autism isn't an epidemic, and it isn't caused by vaccines.  Diagnostic criteria have expanded hugely over the years, so more and more kids qualify for a diagnosis, but that doesn't mean more kids have a disability than before.  What it means is that more children who before were labeled "difficult," "disorganized," or "retarded" are now able to access specific help for autism.  I wrote about the vaccine-autism thing before.  Suffice it to say that Marko had autism before he got a single vaccine.  He inherited his autism from his dad and me, who were carrying the genes for it.  If we really wanted to prevent autism, I suppose we should prevent nerds from dating each  other . . . but what kind of terrible world would that be?

5.  Autism Speaks is controversial, and a lot of autistic people don't like it.  I heard it compared to an organization called "Women Speak" which was run by a board made up of only men.  Because they're not letting autistic people advocate for themselves, they've blundered into some really offensive statements, and the money donated doesn't necessarily go to support autistic people.  A better charity is the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network.

6.  Another controversy is what sort of therapy is best for autistic kids.  Some people insist ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) is absolutely essential, while many autistic adults say it was traumatic and unhelpful for them.  The real question is, should the goal of therapy be to extinguish all external signs of autism -- training kids to stop any behaviors the rest of us find annoying, such as fidgeting -- or to help the child overcome any barriers between him and his own goals?  This is extra difficult when a child can't communicate what his goals even are.  As a parent trying to navigate this with my child, there's a lot of listening and empathy required . . . and sometimes some tears, either mine or Marko's, as he struggles with something that's difficult for him.  The important thing, as I see it, is to equip him for his own life -- trying to give him all the tools he'll need to graduate school, live independently, and achieve any dreams he has.  If he does all this while remaining quirky and obsessed with fantasy . . . all the better.  That's part of who he is.

7.  My kid isn't badly behaved, and he's not defective.  He's dealing with bigger feelings than the average kid, with less emotional regulation, and he's doing pretty well.  He's got lots of talents and a ton to offer the world -- not that his worth would be any less if he didn't.  Sometimes I worry that people will look at our family and think I'm too permissive, that I need to somehow make my kid look like their mental image of how a kid his age should be acting.  But more often than not, people take the time to engage with him, to listen to his obsessions, and to make an effort to enter his world.  And I love every single person who does it.  I know they have to put a little extra work into getting to know him, but they are rewarded with a chance to know a sweet, quirky, intense kid.  Getting to know autistic people is always worth it, just like being the mother of an autistic child is worth it.  I wouldn't trade him in or send him back.  I love the trip he's taking me on, and every person who joins us for the ride is very welcome.

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