Officemate Eileen, St. Louis 1993

Eileen was my worst officemate ever, because I didn’t supervise her and thus couldn’t make her stop telling me about when she was pregnant with her son when she was thirteen, “the year they built the arch.” (Which, damn, means she was about my current age when I thought of her as a “horrible old woman.”) Also, she had this boyfriend who had lost his voicebox (and/or bits nearby) to cancer and spoke with a vocoder and, after she unexpectedly married somebody who was not him over a weekend, he would call my phone extension to threaten immediate robot suicide if Eileen didn’t call him back and promise to divorce the new husband and come back to him right away. I would say, “I’m sorry, but Eileen is working in another building and I won’t be able to get a message to her until tomorrow, but I’m happy to write her a note and leave it on her desk. What shall I say?”
“You tell her it’s going to be tonight!”
“What is, sir?”
“She knows what I mean. And it’s important. You walk it right over to her wherever she is and you tell her.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t leave my desk at the moment. Perhaps you could leave a message for her at home.”
“I don’t want to talk to HIM.”
“Okay, well I’ll be sure she gets the note tomorrow.”
“Oh, nevermind! I’ll call back tomorrow!” ::PHONESLAM::

Then, Eileen would call his sister and his family would make sure he had company while he drank that night, and the next day it would all start again. And, in thanks, I’d get a story from Eileen like “Did I ever tell you how I came to be raising my little sister’s son right along with mine? Well, she was only ten months younger than me and we both had our boys that same year and I was in the car by my parents’ house down in south county, with both the boys in the backseat and my first husband (‘cept we wasn’t quite married yet) driving, and she was on the back of her husband’s motorcycle behind us. And my husband hit the brakes when a racoon run into the road just as we turn the corner and go towards the driveway, and the bike run into the back of the car, dented up the trunk bad, and there they both was, dead as Kelsey’s nuts in our momma’s roses.”

And, you know, I was twenty-two and mostly just needed to know if she was out of paperclips, so I could finalize the supply order.

I first encountered keywords with Eileen. She’d start psyching up to tell me a story, kind of rehearsing it in her head, and I’d hear “second cousin Darren, third husband, threshing machine” and just point at her and say “No.” — like I’d learned from my grandma’s dog-training videos.

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Some real questions about Asperger’s and “The Spectrum” for educators, parents, and other people — originally written October 8, 2009

The more things change, the more they…inspire fits of profanity, or something.  Five years later, the twins are bigger.  I can say that for sure.  They…well, one in particular — persists in his committed tendency towards oddduckhood. No diagnosis has been made by anyone more diagnostically qualified than a school attendance secretary. But while I’m thinking about the challenges of today (Seriously: today! Looks like it’s going to be a rough week, too.), here’s a look back:

First, apologies for any offense I may give or almost give to anyone dealing with real and true autism down to and including Asperger’s. We may or may not be dealing with moderate Asperger’s in our son, but the diagnostic process, so far, has been so replete with bogosity that I will probably always snort derisively at least a little when I see those ‘One in Four American Children now Diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum” articles. Here’s why:

The apple, you know, doesn’t tend to fall far from the tree and this particular apple has landed on the tree’s feet (or roots if you’re feeling really strict about metaphors…but the roots right up by the base of the tree). He is both extremely bright and extremely weird. Our other two kids are plenty bright and, truth be told, not totally un-weird. But, he is a standout, even against the backdrop of his family. He is also very empathetic and interested in people’s stories and interested in little details and kind of dreamy and he has a hard time focusing on tasks that he didn’t make up for himself and he’s not the most graceful of kids. There’s an old headline from The Onion : “Local Fifth-Grader Won’t Shut Up About Raccoons.” He is a second grader and he’s into trains instead of raccoons, but same deal. He is just now forming friendships with people in his class (besides his twin brother), and he may have decided that Bree and Connor who sit near him are his friends so that he’ll have an answer that makes the school counselor smile when she asks “Who are your friends?”

So, the school, after two years of ignoring him, is suddenly into intervening however they can to make school a better and more productive experience for him. This may have something to do with his IQ and how he, like his father and mother before him, kicks ass on standardized achievement tests and, thus, raises the stats for the school. I’m not saying they’re stacking their classrooms with ringers, but they’d hate to see him go…except, of course, on the days when he slams his lunchbox around and/or kicks the crotches of those who tease him…or who he perceives as teasing him.

He’s been diagnostically evaluated by the Gifted and Talented coordinator, audiologists, special ed. people, the counselor, an occupational therapist, the psychologist, and several people I know I’m leaving out. I know of at least three Masters theses in which he will play a starring role. They’re saying Asperger’s is a strong possibility now and that we should fill out the “Asperger Syndrome Diagnostic Scale” and the “Gilliam Asperger’s Disorder Scale.” Then, the school will score them and we’re supposed to take them to a pediatric neurologist to, as far as I can tell, get him/her to sign off on the school’s diagnosis. That wouldn’t be all bad, because it means there’s a good chance he would get a designated aide, all his own, either part-time or full-time, to follow him around at school and remind him to do his work and stay focused and to tell him where he left his shoes and pencils. That sounds kind of okay to me because I’ve been doing it for seven years now and I am tired. However, as Johann and I started looking over the questions, we realized that this is not science we are looking at. (And if someone who knows better can prove or persuade that it is science, then please…we’d love to hear it.) There *appears* to us to be an overwhelming bias towards confirmation in these questionnaires.

There’s one point towards an Asperger’s diagnosis for every statement in the document that you can say applies or has applied to your child. Some samples:

-Displays antisocial behavior.
Yes; he’s seven and I’m his mother. I’ve seen a bit of this from him …and from every kid I’ve ever met.

-Speaks like an adult in an academic or “bookish” manner and/or overly uses correct grammar.
Yes. First, what counts as _overly_ correct grammar? Second, he’s spent, like (see? I threw that in so I wouldn’t sound overly correct), thousands of hours with his academic and bookish parents. He thinks that’s what people are like. Sorry we gave him the wrong impression.

-Does not respect others’ personal space.
See above; he’s seven.

-Feels overwhelmed or bewildered, especially in crowds or demanding situations.
Feels overwhelmed or bewildered in overwhelming or bewildering circumstances. Ooo, a symptom!

-Prefers to wear clothes made only of certain fabrics.
You mean like the touch, the feel of cotton, the fabric of our lives?

-Has a restricted diet consisting of the same foods cooked and presented in the same way.
‘Cause he’s seven and his mom is not always feeling creative.

-Is oversensitive to criticism.
_Over_sensitive: that’s a pretty fine line. Wouldn’t “absolutely adores criticism” be a creepier quality in a kid?

-Has average to above average intelligence.
Yes. Oh, God, the shame he has brought to the family in this way…

-Displays superior ability in restricted areas of interest, while having average to above average skills in other areas.
Again, I have to admit. Yep. Better at some stuff than at some other stuff, though overall, at least fairly good at stuff.

-Has excellent rote memory.
Yep. Call 911.

-Lacks organizational skills.
He’s seven.

-Lacks common sense.
See above. Also, I’m thirty-nine and my mom still thinks I lack common sense, so some of these yesses may be in the eye of the (maternal) beholder.

-Functions best when engaged in familiar and repeated tasks.
You mean like he does best at the stuff he already knows how to do?

-Demonstrates eccentric forms of behavior.
You mean like chases the mailman naked with a hoe? Okay, I’ll give you that one, but it was three years ago.

-Needs an excessive amount of reassurance if things are changed or go wrong.
Again, what’s excessive?

-Becomes frustrated quickly when unsure of what is required.
You mean like getting pissed off at how a gust of wind can throw off the weight calibration of the bagging area in the self-checkout area at Home Depot and cause a computer to start broadly implying that someone is trying to shoplift paint brushes? ‘Cause that’s me, not the kid.

-Attaches very concrete meanings to words.
Because that’s the basis of civilization — shared symbols attached specifically to shared concepts?

Well, you get the point. And I’ll admit that maybe we’re just about seven generations late in getting the ball rolling on this diagnosis and intervention (or, really, the other way around, chronologically). But, if every kid about whom these statements are true is diagnosed as having Asperger’s and Asperger’s is included, as it generally is, on the autism scale, then I no longer find the 1 in 4 American children stats surprising or impressive. I tend to think it would be a good idea to re-evaluate or broaden the norms and/or don’t freak out about this kind of abnormality.

Still not sure what we’re going to do. Nor are we sure with and/or to whom we will be doing whatever it is.

Gluten

The story about why my dad can’t have bread has shifted from celiac disease to gluten allergy to “the contaminants in the domestic wheat supply of the united states…because it’s moved around with bulldozers on barges…you know, a commodity…the ergot, like that caused the French revolution…also diesel fuel spills.” I’ve asked “Well, can he have organic spelt, from small farms, lovingly harvested grain by grain by washed hippies?” Nope. It’s too much like wheat. “This is just because he loves bread more than just about anything else in the world and used to bake the best bread known to humanity, right? It’s a control issue to deny him pleasure?” No, he gets migraines. “But mostly when he binges on a box of his second favorite thing: Haagen Dazs bars. Right? That’s not migraine. That’s brainfreeze because he has to hurry, so nobody catches him.” I think you’re missing the point.

And I guess I am.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. So much cheaper than therapy.

Old Stuff

I’ve been squandering my days on Facebook for several years, writing more than I realized in the moment(s). Some of it is good.  Some of it is stuff I want to keep track of and look at again.  This seems the place for it.  I’ll bring old stuff over a little at a time, and note the original dates. Something old, something new.  I’ll let you know when I borrow anything, and I may, from time to time, work blue.

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος…

Speaking, as we weren’t until now, of being excessive, let’s start with some scripture in Greek with all the accents and aspirations and everything fancy. We could linger over it and stop here forever, too, even though I’m not generally one for scripture. That’s generally translated along the lines of “In the beginning was the word…” but it lends itself to a bajillion (I’ve counted.) other interpretations about geometry and time and pretty much everything else. But, enough about that.

Welcome to pavedwithexcess. You are here. Me, too. Neato.

Blake said: “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”

Whitman ripped that off and improved it: “The road to wisdom is paved with excess. The mark of a true writer is their ability to mystify the familiar and familiarize the strange.”

If I were feeling more , you know, rigorous, I’d track those down in their sources. I’ve been carrying them around on rumpled bits of paper for a while, but I’m suspicious of the “their” in the alleged Whitman quote. Even considering his special attention to gender, I wonder about disagreement of noun and pronoun number. Seems something short of nineteenth century precision, even for a free spirit. But, I’ll save such scholarship for another time.

Meanwhile, let me tell you a little parable or whatever, passed down with some want of precision from my conspiratorially chuckle-y Grandpa. He and his older brothers started a corrosion control coating factory in deityandmoistureforsaken west Texas to cater to the postwar oil boom. They made the heavy, industrial paints that protected the heavy industrial machinery used in oil exploration and extraction. It withstood (for a while) salt and sand and sun and wind and, you know, nasty stuff. The factory was next to a refinery for fifty years before anyone cited them for ground soil contamination. There was a lot of titanium dioxide (two words I tried to use as my identity for this site, by the way, but that name was already taken) and a bunch of other stuff. Some agency of some level of government made them spend bags of dollars (I think that was the final figure) to truck the contaminated soil away from the unpopulated, refinery-contaminated area, where it rarely rained (so did little to leach the contaminants into the water supply), away to a toxic waste dump that, according to Grandpa was in a neighborhood along the Houston Shipping Channel. But the point is that he also had to develop a plan for future waste byproducts of the paint manufacture process. He could pay to dispose of the stuff, or he could integrate it into a product and sell it, but he couldn’t continue to dump it. So, he got into the paving tar and traffic paint business. He bought the tar, added Titanium Dioxide and Friends to it, and sold it to paving contractors and the highway department at a small loss (to be sure he was always the low bidder). The traffic paint was whatever excess paint they had lying around, tinted a vigorous yellow and with tiny shiny glass beads added to make it reflect light. He sold that at a slight profit. K-mart parking lots and long stretches of lonely western highway were paved and striped with the Excess.

Maybe there’s some wisdom in there. If so, it’s the kind that kept Tom Sawyer from having to whitewash the fence.

I inherited some of his dirty money and some of his dirty jokes, and I am otherwise (and additionally) contending with (and commenting upon) plenty that is familiar and/or strange.

Come; join me. You’ll find that I have a bit of honey and a bit of vinegar, but I know that the thing that reliably draws flies is bullshit. Not that I think you’re a fly. I didn’t say that.