Friday, September 29, 2006

Wow, I've let way too much time pass without posting, so I'm going to spew some basic diary-type journal writing, even though it's not what I really mean to be about in this blog.

I haven't been posting because I've been really busy, and the good news is, I've been busy with positive things. At work I got to hire a WONDERFUL new employee to help with Business Development. His name is Matt, he is fresh out of college, and he's smart, enthusiastic, level headed, handsome and full of potential. I have been blown away by how quickly he is learning and by his great attitude and how much fun he is to have around! He keeps saying, any time I mention his age, "Yeah, but I'm an OLD 22," and strangely enough, he's kind of right. Old in good ways, while still young in the best ways of that, too.

And I have had this incredible onslaught of positive attitude myself at work. I can't remember whether I whined about it here, but as a company we ran really desperately short staffed almost all spring and summer. There were times it was a miracle we could keep the key functions covered to keep the doors open. But now we've finally hired for a bunch of those positions, so in about two weeks time we have added five or six new people. In a company with only 30 employees, that's a lot of new blood! So I have just been struck by what a great opportunity this is for us to turn the tide of attitude overall. If we just treat these people right and fill their heads with positive thoughts, they constitute a large enough group to set a new tone for the place. I believe it and I'm going to keep pounding on it, so I sure hope I'm right!

Here's another positive note. Today my son, Sam, was off school, so I took the day off and we went to visit our local high school and the district's alternative high school. Because he has been in this Montessori School that draws from all over our county and beyond, that jump into high school becomes a big hairy deal. These kids' established social network scatters to the four winds and each kid must seek out the high school that best suits his or her needs on his or her own. So we have identified five prospective schools -- these two public schools in our district, two Catholic schools, and one magnet math/science/technology school that serves the entire county. Sam is only in 7th grade, so we don't need to make a decision until spring of 2008, but I thought it would be wise to start our visits this year to give us all time to reflect upon what we see.

We really liked both the schools we visited today. They were very different. We visited the alternative school first. It's very small and very informal. The kdis call the teachers by their first names. The kids hold "town meetings" where they make lots of decisions about the school that would be administration decisions anywhere else. They hold "fairness meetings" where breaches of rules are discussed and punishments determined. With approvals, they are allowed to decorate their lockers or paint murals on the walls. During their non-scheduled times they can study or they can sit and play guitar if they want. Very democratic, very much each kid responsible for his/her own behavior and performance and success. I think the whole school accomodates 350 students. It really matches up with Sam's temperament in many ways.

Then we visited his assigned high school, and it was wonderful in different ways. There are 1,700 students there, but starting this year they break the incoming freshman class into "teams" and you work with that same team with the same teacher advisors throughout, so as to creat a small learning community in that big school. They have top notch science labs and theatres and music facilities and gyms and all that. They also offer a wide array of AP courses that appeal to him.

The way the alternative school works is that you are still enrolled in the home high school, so he could theoretically enjoy a lot of its advantages while still being primarily a part of the other. We go on open houses to the other three schools under consideration in coming months, so we will see how they compare. But I was blown away with what positive choices our public district had to offer!

There, I've rambled a while and at least there is a current date showing here now. Perhaps I can add more soon.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Well, I spent most of the evening trying to write something, and I ended up with about 250 words. That's not much, but it's a start. So I thought I'd post it here and see if anybody gives me any feedback. How does it make you feel? Would it make you want to continue with the story or novel? Comments are extremely welcome!

Here's what I wrote:

“Whoever it was who said, “An unexamined life is not worth living’ should be shot,” thought Sharon as she walked to the refrigerator to add some ice to her rum & Diet Coke. “You examine it and examine it, and what do you gain? Nothing. But you lose the ability to just sit back and enjoy.”

As she pulled the ice cube tray out of the freezer, she noticed her drink was already half empty. “What the hell,” she thought. “Might as well top it off while I’m here.” But as she sloshed some more Captain Morgan into the glass, the more rational part of her mind knew she should slow down. She knew it was dangerous to drink every evening – especially in her current mental state. But it sure helped with getting to sleep – and there was no denying that it helped to ease the pain.

Just a few months before, Sharon hadn’t needed a nightly drink to ease the pain. Oh, she had often indulged in a drink then, too. But it wasn’t intended to ease pain. And it was only a single drink. Back then she was a happily married woman of 45 with a great kid in middle school and a decent job. Life may have been a teensy bit predictable, may have fallen a little short of her youthful dreams, but all around it was pretty good. Her biggest worry was whether Max, her son, was making any friends.

All that was before Dave died.

Again, comments are warmly welcome! Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 04, 2006

As promised, I have now finished The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon and I want to write something about it and how much it reminded me of The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin.

If you’re not familiar with these books, here is a very brief synopsis. Haddon’s book is the first-person account of a 15-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. He finds the neighbor’s dog dead one night, and sets out to investigate who killed it. Along the way he uncovers a number of interesting truths about his own life and has quite an adventure. Martin’s book is the first-person account of a 31-year-old man with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. In spite of his well-ordered life, he becomes involved in helping his therapist protect her toddler from a kidnap attempt by the boy’s father and uncharacteristically goes on a road trip, which leads to quite an adventure as well.

The two books have a great deal in common. Both written in the first person, they show us a person with a profound social disability and get us inside his head to help understand why he reacts as he does and lives as he does. In both cases, forces largely outside the protagonist’s control draw him into adventures that are a great challenge for him, and each experiences tremendous personal growth as he survives his adventures. In the end, each protagonist’s life is in better shape than when we met him.

They are both very good books, and I would recommend them both. But since I read Martin’s book first, I was amazed as I read Haddon’s at how different it made me feel. The Pleasure of My Company was generally uplifting to me. The poor protagonist faced a lot of struggles and was portrayed very sympathetically, so I never laughed AT him in the pejorative sense, but I did laugh a lot.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, on the other hand, didn’t really uplift me until the very end. As I read it, I often felt a knot in my stomach comparable to the main character’s. I get that this reflects the strength of the writing, but it made it hard to stay with.

I have to confess that I think my reaction was partly because I know several kids with Asperger’s. None of the ones I know are as profoundly autistic as Christopher, the boy in the book, but a lot of his explanation of how the world looks to him rang true of the behaviors I’ve seen. So I think in part it was that this affliction hit too close to home. Also, those with Asperger’s aren’t going to outgrow it or “get well.” They may learn to function successfully within society and lead what looks like a fairly “normal life”, but their difficulty in relating to other human beings will always be there. So the book made me a little heartsick in that regard.

Another thing about The Curious Incident that made it more disturbing to me was that Christopher lives in a working class world, where most of the people he meets have little patience for this “weird” kid and little desire to understand him. He gets cussed out a lot, and treated with a lot of disdain and minor cruelty. I believe it is an accurate depiction of how this character would be treated in the society in which he lives, but it breaks my heart. The Asperger kids I know all come from families with the means to get them special help and put them in schools where they are nurtured and can shelter them with the ugliest parts of the world.

So in the end, I recommend both books. If you’ve never read any of Steve Martin’s writing I especially recommend his. It will wipe away any vestigial image you may have of him as a guy with an arrow through his head doing broad comedy on Saturday Night Live. I have found all his writing to be smart, insightful, and warmly human. But Haddon’s book is really effective, too. His plot may in fact be the more complex, and it made my heart ache at times. If he hadn’t managed to pull things together for Christopher by the end, I would have had to give it thumbs down. Instead, the upbeat ending that did, in fact, grow organically from all that went before, felt like a satisfying payoff for the pain I had endured during the journey.