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January 17, 2013:  Morning Reflections I remember growing up within a rural environment in southern Wisconsin that we knew at least the basic identity of nearly every neighbor for three to five miles in any direction.  After my family moved into town when I was about fourteen, we didn't know  who lived on the other side of the fence around the backyard.  There seems to be little argument that the world has become an overpopulated place, yet the experience of personal isolation appears to have increased in direct proportion to the addition of each new resident.  To put it bluntly, there is something insane about feeling absolutely alone within the midst of billions of people--but also something disturbingly honest.  It seems that what we have lost (or are losing) is consciousness of just how interconnected and interdependent we are.  Each person has a unique way of perceiving, understanding, processing, and responding to information.  Consequently, it would seem that if we could learn to effectively collaborate, there would be almost nothing that would go unnoticed, unlearned, and
unaddressed in some hopefully constructive way.  All that is currently missing is our decision and dedication to do so. Unfortunately, knowing this doesn't make my life any easier because the basic dynamic described above cannot be legislated from without but must be chosen from within.  As someone instructed me many years ago, "one can only build the bridge halfway."  If no one builds the other half of the bridge, the chasms between myself and others will never be crossed.  For myself specifically, this has resulted in a situation within which my only immediate family are my dogs, my vocational future is uncertain, and my current financial survival is continually teetering on the brink of disaster.  Nonetheless, there is no question that I have abundant abilities, that I am able to create many beautiful and inspiring things, and that I am thankfully sufficiently stubborn about not giving up that in spite of even the most adversarial circumstances, I persist in doing as much good as I can for as long as I can-- but there seem to be more and more days of late within which I'm simply feeling very, very worn out and wondering where the rewards for all of this effort are hiding.  In the midst of such intellectual, physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual pursuits, I know that personal integrity and honest self-awareness remain critically important.  Specific and fluctuating combinations of limitation and ability surround and shape me, alternatively inviting humility and courage within diverse moments.  Things that I wish I could do and have tried to do but which remain resolutely out of reach form a sort of boundary that steers me toward other dreams where I often excel but find that I'm still waiting for others to even notice.  Greater artists than I, however, were completely ignored and in some cases even scorned until after their physical lives had ended.  Even if my work rises to the level of theirs, should I expect that I will receive blessings which they were denied?  It is specifically because of such thoughts as all of those above, that I return again and again to the conclusion that life is primarily about the growth of the soul.  The specific question with which I must now wrestle, as I mentally and emotionally prepare to meet with a clinical psychologist later today, is what effect a diagnosis of High-functioning Autism could contribute to the growth of my soul.  Conversely, what if a different diagnosis is discovered?  Considering more than thirty qualities on my list of possible indications of some sort of anomalous categorization, I will be very surprised indeed if the answer I receive is that there is nothing unique about me at all, but even then my conclusion remains that life is primarily concerned with the growth of the soul.  I guess, all things considered, that for which I most wish, is a sense of family, of community, and of friends along the way.  Not superficially, in name only, but functionally; that when I metaphorically reach out into the darkness, I will always find someone there, willing to also take my hand and journey onward together for as long as we can. January 20, 2013:  Individuality that is honestly Inescapable It now seems in retrospect that everyone recognized from the very beginning that I was an absolutely unique individual. Unfortunately, no one--not even me--knew what to do with that and I have never done very well with the "throw him in, sink or swim" approach to educational challenges (usually I just drown).  The more I read, however, the more it seems that this same challenge is going to follow me into present and future interactions with others within the world of autism. I'm discovering an ever broader and ever more confusing spectrum of responses to the basic question of what autism is and how it is defined.  A great many sources, for example, seem to assert that autism means less emotional expression and connection.  I think I'm deeply engaged with my emotions, but they are more often oriented around environments and experiences than around people.  Does that mean I'm not autistic after all?  One person recently expressed doubt that I have high-functioning autism because I'm often "too eloquent" within my writing and speech.  I do verifiably tend to interpret language too literally, however, and often don't understand jokes that people tell--similar to the way I find the old slapstick comedy of the three stooges horrifying to watch, always being more concerned about whether or to what extent someone might have gotten hurt by the imitations of violence being displayed.  All of which is only complicated even further by the discovery that I'm gay. As a minority within a minority, my isolation is really quite logical.  A corresponding ongoing struggle, however, is convincing myself each day that suicide is not (logical).  I don't think it's necessary to repeat that finding one's place or finding a way to fit in, is a struggle that nearly everyone faces; that the assertion that "there's no place within this world for me" is always based upon limited perception and knowledge.  There are frequently a thousand other options which remain invisible only because of the assumptions and biases that shape our individual perceptions.  Additionally, the general encouragement to make a place for one's self when such a place doesn't already exist, is of course easier said than done.  For myself at least, a primary way of creating the strength to persevere, is to remember the many artists, philosophers, free thinkers, and anomalous persons within other times of human history, whose success came later in life.  Had they not refused to give up, however, their accomplishments would never have happened at all.  A principle essential ingredient of life, therefore, is faith--at the very least in the tentative existence of one's future accomplishments.  So every day I try to remember, "Whatever challenges today includes, I need to get through them somehow, if I am ever to see and to participate in the beauty that resides within tomorrow."  February 8, 2013:  Post Diagnosis Well, it's official:  I am now a person with a "disability" and that has specifically been named as High- functioning Autism.  In some ways, I'm still trying to figure out what this means.  At the very least, it seems to finally explain virtually all of the social/interpersonal problems I've had throughout my life.  While in the past I was subjected to almost constant accusations of "just being difficult" or "not trying hard enough," however, it appears that this official diagnosis will finally emphatically dismiss such accusations as being completely illegitimate. I remain at least slightly concerned, however, that for some people this will also mean listening to my words less; i.e. "it's just your disability talking (so I don't have to take your seriously)."  Then again, I'm not sure how much those particular people previously listened to me anyway; perhaps they don't really listen to anyone except themselves.  With or without any so-called disability, however, principles that continue to guide me are that life is ultimately primarily concerned with the growth of the soul, our lives here are finite so we should use every available opportunity to do all the good that we can, and nothing good is ever gained by running away from truth. What will follow the discovery of this particular truth (my diagnosis), however, is at least for now completely uncertain.  I am reminded of a scene from the movie "Mulan," which was highly recommended to me by a trans- woman friend who tragically committed suicide a number of years ago (a brilliant woman with amazing wisdom and abundant creative potential).  Toward the end of the movie, an adversary is attacking the city and threatening to kill the emperor and Mulan (a woman who through concealing her identity was allowed to receive warrior training) is rushing to thwart the adversary's negative intentions in any way she can.  Her guide and companion, a small dragon, asks her, "So what's the plan?"  She responds, "I don't know; I was making it up as I go."  So it seems are all of us as well. February 24, 2013:  The Persistent Question: Who Am I Now? Well, it's getting close to a month since I was officially diagnosed with high-functioning autism and in some ways I don't feel much closer to any sort of clear understanding of this.  I have made a number of contacts and have a number of potentially empowering meetings with individuals of various non-profit organizations scheduled for early March, but if a potential employer were to ask me today, "What accommodations do you need, to be a valuable member of our team?" I'm not sure I would be able to provide a clear and complete answer.  I could perhaps name two or three basic generalities, but that hardly constitutes a complete answer.  Perhaps the remarkable but unavoidable conclusion this suggests, is that life is ultimately an ongoing exploration with no guarantees, which it is most recommendable that we explore together. So how many of us are willing to give life a chance, even with all of its unpredictable twists and turns and infinitely variable relationships?  If we do, the possibilities are positively amazing. The ability to try, however, it seems to me, arises from whatever answers I can give to the even more fundamental question of "who am I?" Answering this question remains difficult for me, however, because it's sometimes difficult to tell which influences arise from autism and which arise from my own personality (both of which resist alteration but can nevertheless be integrated).  Adding to the confusion are all of the public debates about who should receive assistance, as well as what kind and how much assistance should be offered.  Some seem to expect the government and all of its complicated programs to fix the problem.  I think we would do better to focus upon helping each other, rather than waiting for government programs to kick in, but I haven't found too many people who think this way.  Perhaps that's because everyone else is also still answering the question, "who am I," and consequently aren't any more sure than I am, of how to begin.  Some people seem to hide from themselves behind seemingly endless intellectual analysis, while others appear to give free reign to emotional and instinctual reactions that are sometimes counter-productive to building relationships.  Surely there really is a middle ground where mind and heart can be constructively integrated--at least that is my hope, but I can't be sure, because I don't think I've found it yet. My first suggestion in even beginning to address this question, is to remember that we are each a multifaceted being--unique combinations of positive, negative, and neutral qualities which express themselves in innumerable ways within the diverse circ***tances and challenges of our lives.  I like to think that I'm not so concerned about from where an answer comes as that, in fact, an effective and truthful answer does come--and that I remember that every answer is tentative, pending mostly unpredictable further developments in circumstances and abilities.  I would very much like to know--as completely and truthfully as possible--what my current circ***tances and abilities are and also what they may become, within the days, weeks, and months ahead.  Since apparently no one has this information readily available, it would seem the only answer currently within reach is, "I guess we'll find out."  Hm.  Well, onward and hopefully upward. March 5, 2013:  The Action of Waiting Okay, now that I have an official diagnosis, why is it taking so long to form a constructive response, a clear definition, or a reasonable expectation?  "Every case is different"--I've heard that so many times by now that its unavoidable truth no longer satisfies me.  While I have found a person or two who appears to be supportive of constructive resolution of my challenges, the general demand in this area is astonishingly large, resulting in answers such as "Considering all of the other clients whom I need to see, the next time I can meet with you is three weeks from Thursday."  Yet autism is a very constant and daily experience.  What do I do in the meantime? When nothing makes any sense, I get up in the morning trying to imagine something--anything, even just one thing--that I can do today that will somehow move me and my life in a positive direction.  If I can accomplish at least that one thing today, then I know I will conclude the day with a sense of contentment--that somehow in spite of all the chaos in the world, there is a sense in which things are okay and I will consequently be able to get a good night's rest. Unfortunately it's been a while since I've been able to do that.  Everything seems to be spinning all around me, like Dorothy riding on her bed within her bedroom as the tornado carried her to Oz--just waiting for everything to stop spinning so she could begin to figure out where she was, who her friends are now, and what path to follow in order to re-establish a sense of home.  Perhaps in some way or another we all long for home; to be surrounded by a sense of family and a certain minimum amount of familiarity, from which to make our own unique creative contributions to the world around us. I guess the things that I try to remember to cope within such moments are that no tornado lasts forever (they all come to an end at some point); there is always something which follows (the world doesn't end); and there is always a way for me to respond or something I can contribute to that which follows (I am not simply a victim of circumstances).  More concisely, I remain unavoidably in relationship to the frequently mysterious unfolding of my own life.  While I can only build the bridge halfway (inescapably relying upon others to build the other half), I do have to make sure that I have done a good job building my half of the bridge.  That will ultimately and genuinely be my life's work, even if--for now--I don't exactly know what that is.  And so I wait; eager and restless to begin.  March 21, 2013:  The Time before Dawn How very long the night seems to linger; how cold the dark breeze when I reach out and find no one there.  I have heard of a day that is coming, of a family that I will find there that is so different from the one I knew already years ago, and of the man I will become when that new day’s light has filled the earth--free of all demands to be or believe or act according to that which I am not.  Faith is that perhaps foolish hope that the words I heard, will not be disappointed.  Yet only time will tell.  The moment that is now seems to hang as if frozen in space and time, threatening a glimpse of eternity rather than of brevity, as I strain to move ahead.  The methods of the past have, in some ways, left me broken and weighed down by failure.  Yet this failure was the only path I could see by which to arrive at this present pivotal chance to learn something different; to become someone new; and to begin a journey which was unable to begin anywhere else.  Now if only I knew how to proceed.  And so it is that I wait, watching for the light to fall upon the first step of the new path; waiting in silence, to see if any will join me, each in his or her own way.  If the light arrives before any companion, of course, I will take that as divine guidance that I am to begin alone, yet knowing that solitary journeys are impossible unless I can actually believe that unseen angels and the spirits of all who have gone before are not present with me--but I’ve never yet been able to believe anything like that.  So I stand, eager to begin the journey once again, even if I must do so with no more than the light of the stars.  Perhaps that will be enough.    April 1, 2013:  Shattered Chrysalis There are no directions for the emerging butterfly--”apply pressure here...cut along this line...keep this end up...”  Which way is up anyway, when you’ve spent all winter hanging upside down?  Do descriptions of up and down even make sense once one has finally launched one’s self into limitless space?  Why must the butterfly’s entire life be so without any clear sense of family, beyond the rarest of moments?  Why doesn’t any of this prevent the butterfly’s wings from being so beautiful that giant creatures stop and stare in awe and wonder, as I flutter by, still not fully comprehending why they stare?  Will I ever be able to see myself the way that they see me? The chrysalis left behind looks like a tangle of mistakes:  nothing orderly, symmetrical, or carefully engineered about the way its form was shattered, torn asunder, and abandoned, as I fought to escape its limitations.  Apparently it fulfilled its function quite well, if my survival was its solitary goal.  What shall my goal be now?  What purpose can I yet serve?  Then again, how essential is it for me to know and understand myself, in order to be the chrysalis for whatever life is yet to come?  I suppose you would have to ask the life that is yet to come, since my current perspective offers no answers to that question.  Yet there is something in the rushing of the wind past my ears that hints of greatness that I do not comprehend, even while I do it; there is something in the truth my eyes perceive that foreshadows transcendence beyond any ability to interpret it; and there is something in the blood pulsing through my body and pounding a steady rhythm through my brain, that testifies to being more alive than I ever thought I could be.  For all of these, I must persevere and see what comes next.  I do it because, mysteriously perhaps, I feel I have to...and somehow I know that it’s all good--or at least it will be.  April 8, 2013:  Out Where?  All on my Own? If by whatever means I had recently been rendered blind, there are resources for learning to read Braille, move from place to place with a white cane, work with a guide dog, and make use of a vast spectrum of technological assistance devices (everything from screen reading software to personal voice recorders with Braille-identified controls).  Two months of intense searching, however, has shown that because I have autism, satisfying my personal needs for food, clothing, shelter, social interconnection, financial income, and everything else required for contemporary life, will be produced by my own ingenuity or not at all.  In every case, it appears, I’m not bad enough to get any help and not good enough to effectively manage on my own.  So what does one do when surrounded by people who believe in a system that clearly isn’t working--at least not for one’s self?  Perhaps it works for someone else, but it definitely isn’t working for me.  I continue to encounter people who are most concerned that others do not have to deal with a person who is emotionally upset (which means myself, within certain challenging situations) and are content to manage this circumstance with drugs or deceit--by which I refer to the common instruction to conduct myself as a neurotypical would instead of as a person with autism would.  This issue, however, is not just a concern for people with autism, but rather the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, of the world’s general inability to deal with honesty and truth--and to let ourselves be the human beings that we are.  Virtually the entire world of employment appears to be oriented around presenting one’s self as being the embodiment of the potential employer’s fantasy rather than as simply being one’s self (hopefully a dedicated and honest worker with sufficient skills to do the particular job).  That this is repeatedly framed as management of emotions is becoming more and more offensive to me.  Personally  I don’t particularly care whether I’m happy, sad, or whatever.  It is my understanding that being human includes experiencing a spectrum of emotions throughout whatever ups and downs my life ultimately includes.  The problem is not undesirable emotions; the problem is the interruption of my ability to think which is provoked by certain combinations of overwhelming circumstances.  I need more than words; I need effective methods, devices, and assistance that do not ask me to lie about who I am or what I’m experiencing.  I think there is some credibility to the notion that people with disabilities are born into this world to draw attention to life lessons that are being otherwise ignored or at least neglected.  Among the possibilities for autism is that it may be a divine prompting to recover commitment to our own humanity.  Indeed, within every situation and circumstance of which I am aware, anything that requires us to be less human, less feeling, less thinking, less honest, or less fully present-- anything that tells us to repress our thoughts and emotions instead of constructively integrating them--is generally followed by a long list of psychological, emotional, and social dysfunctions.  If we wish to be the best that we can be, we must be fully human--and that includes integrating every example of so- called disability that ever occurs in ways that are genuinely supportive, effective, and empowering.  It is never a question of “do it my way” but rather of “how can we make it possible for you to do it?”  In the meantime, I pray that faith in the ingenuity and compassion of others and of ourselves is able to survive.  Hope for a better tomorrow depends upon it.   April 14, 2013:  One Example of an Autistic Sense of Beingness Within my immediately previous blog post, I concluded by saying: "If we wish to be the best that we can be, we must be fully human--and that includes integrating every example of so-called disability that ever occurs, in ways that are genuinely supportive, effective, and empowering.  It is never a question of 'do it my way' but rather of 'how can we make it possible for you to do it?'  In the meantime, I pray that faith in the ingenuity and compassion of others and of ourselves is able to survive.  Hope for a better tomorrow depends upon it." To begin to respond to my own comments and observations included therein, I think I am beginning to regain a sense of being who I am with the addition of being someone with high-functioning autism.  I'm not sure there is anything other than time and patience, however, that makes such integration possible.  All the most proactive strategies in the world cannot--after a large rock is thrown into the pond--force the surface of a pond to become calm again, any more quickly than the  water and underlying contours of the pond have the ability to do.  Receiving a diagnosis of high-functioning autism was a huge rock thrown into the pond of my conscious and subconscious self-identity and awareness, the presence of which is something to which I must adapt.  The water level around the shore, for example, may have risen a half inch in response to the displacement caused by the addition of this rock. Rather than see this as a set-back of some sort, however, and obsessing about the ways that a water level a half inch higher will negatively impact the shore, it is just as possible for me to imagine that this huge rock will be the first foundation stone within a larger project of building an island that will not only reach above the surface of the pond, but also support the construction of a new lighthouse.  The shoreline can be similarly landscaped with other stones to prevent erosion and perhaps even a bridge can eventually be built between that shoreline and the island where the new lighthouse acts as a navigational beacon.  I must decide what response I will contribute to the addition of this new understanding of my life. There is a sense within each of us is inescapably a lighthouse by which others will navigate.  Whatever response to our so-called disabilities that we make, this may serve as a navigational reference for others whom we do not realize are watching the unfolding of our lives.  While we're busy coping, they're busy learning (by watching us).  Ideally, the combined end result is that the world becomes a better place--for ourselves, for others, and for all who will come after us within the future.  The most important contribution any of us can make, therefore, is to be ourselves honestly, truthfully, and authentically; to do our best in every way that we can; and to be mentally, emotionally, and socially fully present--which, to me, is what makes life worth living.  June 1, 2013:  Sister Who Speaks Popular culture as it manifests within any particular time and place is frequently a conglomeration of oft-repeated folk wisdom.  For this present essay, for me at least, I begin with "there but for the grace of God go I," add a bit of Martin Niemoller's verse about failing to speak up for particular categories of humanity until there was no one left to speak up, and finish with a dash of "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"  It is important to note that the central goal of that journey was not accomplished until after attention was paid to the man behind the curtain.  In similar fashion, as long as leaders are allowed to conduct their affairs in secret, without accountability or any requirement of integrity, the safety and security of home will elude us.  A principle difficulty with the experience of Bradley Manning is that as long as the citizenry collectively allows governmental and military leadership to deal with him as they have, the citizenry collectively allows the possibility that the same could happen to any one of themselves.  No one is truly free until everyone is truly free. Additionally, if Bradley Manning--or any other citizen, for that matter--has exposed problems within our national and military leadership, it is pure stupidity to punish him (or her) for the exposure rather than to immediately and quickly address the problems that were revealed--and thank Mr. Manning (or whomever) for bringing those things to our attention. June 3, 2013:  Just to be Clear By some I have been described as too conservative; by others as too radical.  My intent is simply to live my life with integrity in pursuit of ever-improving manifestations of truth, wisdom, and love.  Politically, as a registered voter, I am "unaffiliated."  I have certain significant disagreements with Libertarian, Republican, and Democratic political parties, as well as all of the rest.  With regard to my spiritual/ministerial calling, I am not a political activist, but rather the focus of my service to humanity is holistic and healthy approaches to spirituality and education.  Wisdom requires, however, that when one lives within an allegedly democratic nation, certain participatory responsibilities are inherent.  It has been said that "all that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good to do nothing."  If the citizens of any democratic nation remain silent when problems arise, therefore, they become complicit in their own demise.  When the citizens conversely pool their collective wisdom and act with solidarity, a strong and healthy nation within which to develop one's spirituality, knowledge, wisdom, and love is the logical result.  Specifically because I am not a political activist, it would not be accurate to place me within any of the known categories--Libertarian or otherwise.  Manifestations of particular forms of government come and go, but groups of humanity persist and must find effective ways to navigate their transitions.  The necessity of government arises from the presence of two or more people within a shared space.  Violence, however, is never a constructive answer.  Civility, dialogue, and communication--whether through symbolic acts, passionate words, or demonstrations of compassion--are the tools by which a better future for everyone can be forged.  Although I have not the skills nor the resources nor the education to actively participate in governmental processes (beyond casting my vote, that is), I am happy to offer a blessing and a prayer for all of the riders who will carry the torch, demonstrating thereby their commitment to defending their country "from all enemies, foreign and [especially] domestic."  It is faith in our collective ability to address and correct whatever problems are discovered, that will ultimately construct the better world within which to live, of which we all dream.  Traditionally, "whistle-blowers" have been punished; I say they should be thanked for alerting the rest of us to ways that we can become even better than we've ever been.  Nonetheless, it's up to us to follow through and do whatever work of self-improvement needs to be done.  In the words of a witticism I created quite a number of years ago for one of my monthly newsletters, "whoever wants the muscles, must lift the weights."  June 13, 2013:  Seasonal Shifts I recall growing up in southern Wisconsin that with rare exceptions, winter was a time for the sky to be gray and the world to be cold--for literally months; virtually forever, from the perspective of a child.  When the spring did finally come, it seemed far too late, far too slow, and far too tentative.  In finally knowing after fifty years of waiting, a name and the beginning of an explanation for the differences in brain functioning that I had noticed and described to others since early childhood, my diagnosis of autism seemed like a break-through.  After months of searching, however, the diagnosis now seems like one of the rare Wisconsin winter days when the gray clouds that blanketed the sky from one horizon to the other were pierced by a few hours of beautifully direct sunlight.  As a gay man, I have been estranged from my entire family for over twenty years at this point, so when the added challenge of consciously, psychologically, and emotionally integrating this interpretation of my brain functioning was presented to me, I had no familial support system whatsoever to accompany me as I stumbled through this new territory.  Additionally, because of the fact of my autism, my engagement with life has always been a bit too intense, a bit too honest, a bit too deep, and a bit too direct for nearly all of the gay men I've met within my life to tolerate--so there was no personal support system in that area of my life either.  Spiritually, since earliest childhood, I had gravitated toward a mystical relationship with that which is greater than myself (which I refer to as "Godde"), so my understandings were almost never compatible with religious persons and communities I encountered along the way.  So when I was informed that one of the common characteristics of autism is social isolation, I think my response was something like "No sh_t!"  Thankfully, throughout my life, one of my persistent character qualities is that I'm nearly always way too stubborn to quit, once I've set my mind on accomplishing something.  If various gatekeepers won't allow me to do whatever it is in the usual way, I will find some alternative way to do what I have imagined, given enough time to develop the necessary resources and skills.  It is in this sense that I continue my perhaps irrational belief in ultimately creating for myself some sort of alternative family and community within which I will at last find a genuine sense of family, of community, and of home and the freedom to be truly and completely the creative individual that somewhere deep inside I have always known myself to be.  Even if the winter is long, it is not forever (even in Wisconsin).  The season of spring must eventually come, if for no greater reason than that the world continues to turn in space and--for a season at least--I am blessed to be one of its passengers.