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First Dance Competition of the Season (and Other Ramblings)

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Mar 26, 2013 in Books I'm Reading, Family Stuff

We survived our first dance competition of the season!  The girls were fabulous and I found myself much more relaxed this year than last.  With all the estrogen, makeup and hair flying, I still managed to keep my cool.

Here is me with my favorite girl:

kathy and emily

She is such a sweetheart and I’m so glad that we have this time together as mom and daughter!

I am having some mommy-guilt pangs today because I am not a stay-at-home mom available during the day.  Emily was invited to a birthday party during spring break – and it’s at 10:30am.  I had to ask the other mother if she could come pick Emily up to take her because I’m at work during the day.  We also talked about swim team this summer…but it’s during weekdays first thing in the morning.  Vacation Bible School…Theater Camp (1/2 day from 9-noon), Dance Camp…my poor daughter doesn’t get to do these things because I’m a working mom.  :(

I’m reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In and while the book is wonderful (and I feel like I could have written much of it myself because I relate so much…um…except I didn’t go to Harvard and I’m not the COO of Facebook), I can’t help but think that by focusing on our careers, we are making so many sacrifices – or are our kids the ones making the sacrifices?  I don’t have the  resource that Sheryl has and I don’t have strong family involvement or support, so I can only do so much.  I just never know what the right thing to do is…is it better to set a good example for my children and provide an image of a strong leader at work?  Or to be at home waiting for them to come home from school?  I still sometimes feel like I’m selling them short no matter what I choose.

 

 
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Leaning In

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Mar 20, 2013 in Books I'm Reading, Family Stuff

After reading the interview with Sheryl Sandberg in O Magazine this weekend, I decided to order her new book, Lean In.  While the book hasn’t arrived yet (but thanks to Amazon Prime’s fabulous 2-day shipping, it’ll be here tomorrow), I very much look forward to reading it.

Several of the things in her interview resonated with me.  For example, she mentions that as a man gets more successful, everyone likes him.  As a woman gets more successful, both men and women like her less.  I have seen this happen in my own experiences – at one job where I held folks accountable for doing their jobs (and where I stood up for my employees), I was called the “Queen B” (and “B” did not stand for bumblebee).  When I went back to work after being a stay-at-home mom for several years, I lost most of my close friends (or those I thought were my friends).  And those at that new job complained to their leads about me because they thought I was there to take over.  One mom at preschool once told me that she was afraid to talk to me because she found me intimidating.  Success can be very lonely.

I should add here that I am lucky that I have a very supportive husband who thinks I am smart and successful – and he loves me FOR it.  Not sure how I got so lucky.

Anyway, I’ve learned to develop a thick skin at work – a few months ago, I was hung up on during a telephone conference because I had pointed out a logical and tactical error in a potential solution offered by a man (I managed to keep my cool despite the harassment).

Would he have done that to a man?  Probably not.

I was also called by another woman and told that I was a “backstabber” because when I saw her doing inferior work that affected mine and would have had dire consequences (and after I tried to encourage her, help her and just about everything else I could think of to better the situation), I reported it up to my manager.  She didn’t call me a “B”, but just about.

Would she have done that to a man?  I don’t think so.

I sat in a meeting a few weeks ago with the top-ranking managers at our facility.  All men.  I was the only woman in the room.  I felt like it was 1976 and they may ask me to go get the coffee (they didn’t, of course, but just the realization that there were no other women was a very odd feeling).

I read part of Sheryl’s interview where she said that when she was on the Forbes “World’s Most Powerful Women” list, she was embarrassed and played it down.  I know that feeling (not the feeling of being on the Forbes list, of course, but I do know the feeling of being embarrassed because of my accomplishments). In fact, just the other day, one of my accomplishments was mentioned during a meeting and my first reaction – my gut reaction – was to say that it was no big deal.

I also related to Sheryl’s statement that men are able to say, “I want a raise because I deserve it” or that they assume that they got to where they are because they are smart and capable.  I (and according to Sheryl, many women) feel like I got to where I am because am lucky.  Like I fooled others into thinking that I know what I’m talking about.  She said that men apply for a promotion when they have met 60% of the criteria.  Women wait until they have achieved 100% of the criteria before applying.  We are afraid that we will be found out to be less than we should be – of not measuring up.

I was inspired to post this not only because I am planning on reading her book, but because someone made an interesting statement about me today – one that I had never considered.

As part of the Executive Leadership Program, both our supervisors and peers evaluate us in our current position.  I received some negative feedback, but not in the areas that I expected.  I was dinged by my coworkers because they thought I was not disciplining people enough.  The thing is, I don’t have the authority to discipline anyone – that’s a manager’s job (and I am not a manager right now).  My peers thought I was in charge, when I’m really not.

I mentioned this to my new group during a conversation today.  Several of them said that it was an aura that I put off.  One man said that when people walk into a room, you can tell those who are in positions of authority by how they carry themselves, how they speak and their general attitude.  They exude confidence and people naturally follow them.  The group all agreed that I was one of those people.

I was shocked.  I had never thought of myself that way.  And it felt good.  And powerful.

Now…if I can just get over my lack of confidence and the fear that soon, they’ll figure out that I’m not good enough.  Maybe I’ll even apply for that promotion before I’m fully qualified…

 

 

 
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Book Review – Still Alice

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Mar 17, 2013 in Books I'm Reading

While I was away at the last ELP session, I managed to read an entire book in just a few days.  The book was Still Alice by Lisa Genova.

Still Alice

As soon as I opened the cover, I could not stop reading this book.  It had been on my list to read for a long time, but I was afraid that it would be too sad and depressing to enjoy.

While it was sad, the book offers a realistic look into the decline of a mind affected by Alzheimer’s.  Alice is a Harvard professor who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzeimer’s at the age of 50.  The book describes Alice’s struggles in fantastic detail, including the difficult relationship with her husband after her diagnosis.  While Alice begs him to spend her last year of clarity together, her husband clings to the normalcy of his job.  He cannot stand to see his wife become this person that Alzheimer’s has created.

Alice creates a sort of “escape hatch”, entering several questions on her Blackberry and sets them to go off on a regular timer.  If she cannot remember the answers to the questions, she instructs herself to view a file on her laptop that contains instructions for taking an overdose of medication.  However, what she doesn’t understand is that with Alzheimer’s, she won’t realize that she doesn’t know the correct answers to the questions.  And after she places her Blackberry in the freezer, the regular reminders cease.

As her disease progresses, Alice turns from anxious and embarrassed to accepting and even relaxed.  She no longer realizes that what she is experiencing is a disease and it becomes her new normal.

Although not a true story, I believe that this book was so realistic because of the author’s neurologist background.  She used experiences from her patients to colorfully describe how an Alzheimer’s patient sees the world through the lens of the disease.

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of my forgetfulness, confusion or disorientation in recent years could be a precursor to Alzheimer’s.  I can only hope that I will never fall victim to this insidious disease.  And if I do…I need a more fool-proof escape hatch.

 
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New Year’s Resolution

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jan 12, 2009 in Books I'm Reading, My Adventures in Dieting

Of course, I have fallen into the trap of making a New Year’s resolution (should New Year’s be capitalized?  I’m not sure about that one…).  And, of course, like most people, my resolution is to lose weight.  Again.

I was just reading through my archives and found that I made a similar resolution last year right before I went back to work.  I had even started to make progress and then…well…I’m not sure exactly what happened.  Maybe the huge change of going back to work was too much to handle at the same time.  Maybe working at a desk job did me in.  Or maybe…I should just stop making excuses for myself.  I’m fat because I eat too much and don’t exercise enough.  Plain and simple.

So here I am at the same place again.  Will it stick this year?  I don’t know…all I can do is try.  A few years ago I was in great shape with a regular exercise routine and a healthy diet.  I know it can be done and I know how to do it.  It’s just getting into that routine that’s so hard to do.

The good thing about starting in the new year is that there are so many resources available – it seems that EVERYONE is trying to lose weight in January.

I’ve started a training blog to keep track of my progress (you can also see some before and after photos of me there – and not in a good way).  So far, so good – I’ve managed to do some sort of exercise every day since the new year (again…capitalize new year or not?  Still not sure…) and have started to closely monitor what I am eating.  By the way, I love Comcast’s Exercise TV On Demand – until a co-worker mentioned it, I didn’t even know it was available.  Free workout videos on your own TV – you can’t get more convenient than that!

I also picked up Bob Greene’s new book, The Best Life Diet, and have read through Phase One.  I learned some new things about how the body loses weight and have tried not to become discouraged when the scale is not moving downward as fast as I’d like it to.

I’m hesitant to even post this because I’m so afraid of failing again.  But I thought I’d throw this post out there and maybe feel some accountability for my progress.  Just don’t be disappointed in me if I’m making this same post again in 2010…

 
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Married…with Asperger’s

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Dec 17, 2008 in Books I'm Reading, Family Stuff

So I haven’t posted all week then I post four (or is it five?) times in one day.  That’s the way things work when you’re flying by the seat of your pants.  I’ve been saving up all this stuff to say until I’ve actually had time to blog it.  And today’s the day I actually have time to blog it (of course, I am ignoring my list of other, less fun things to do like wrapping all the presents stacking up under my Christmas tree…).

As I’ve posted before, both my son Matthew and my husband Mike have Asperger’s syndrome.  I’ve been hesitant to post too much about Mike in this area because I wasn’t sure how he felt about going so public with it.  But Mike has just started his very own blog where he has started to talk openly about his diagnosis, so I guess it’s safe for me to do so as well.

I think Mike was inspired by John Elder Robison’s blog about living with Asperger’s.  John speaks very openly about his autism and how it affects relationships in the real world.  He was the author of the book, “Look Me in the Eye” that I wrote about last summer.

It’s only in the last year that we’ve realized that Mike has Asperger’s.  Once Matt got his diagnosis and we started doing some research, it was obvious that Mike has it as well.  This is apparently very common – once a child is diagnosed, the percentage of their parents who are also diagnosed is very high (I think I saw a number like 57% or so in some research).

As I posted back in July, once Mike received his diagnosis, he was very concerned about how marriages where one spouse is an aspie (nickname for a person with Asperger’s – don’t worry…it’s politically correct) are affected.  He found all sorts of very discouraging online ‘support’ groups where spouses were discussing how unhappy they were in these marriages.  Discouraged by the availability of online support, he recently went online and purchased some books that he thought might help us find ways of dealing with the unique marital issues we may face.

So I took the time to read the two books he purchased – Alone Together:  Making an Asperger Marriage Work by Katrin Bentley and The Other Half of Asperger Syndrome by Maxine C. Aston.

First of all, the title of Katrin Bentley’s book and the front cover are so discouraging – who wants to think of being “alone together” (how sad does that sound?).  And the image on the cover of the two hands not quite meeting each other…again – very sad.

But I read through the book anyway – and what I found was what sounded to me like a somewhat angry, bitter woman who was trying hard to make the best of things (but at the same time, she lets you know how hopeless and impossible things really are).  She can certainly assign the disorder blame for some actions, but when her husband starts to have an affair (mainly of the heart) and says that he “loves you [the wife and mistress] both the same”…well…it’s time to cut your losses and leave.  That’s a deal-breaker in my book – Asperger’s or no Asperger’s.

The other book by Maxine Aston was not as angry, but at the same time sounded hopeless.  Page after page said that basically, the non-aspie spouse will have to make all the sacrifices, changes and effort in order to make the marriage work.  As I read through the pages, my heart dropped and I began to grow sadder.

About 3/4 of the way through the second book, I closed the pages and told Mike that while I appreciated his efforts to help, I had decided to stop reading.  I told him that I really didn’t think things were that bad with us to start with but that these books were trying to convince me that they were.

I’m certainly not being naive – I realize that there are unique challenges we face and that there are some things that will never change and will always remain a challenge.  But by continuing to read these types of books, it cast a spotlight on the negative aspects of an Asperger’s spouse without focusing on the positive aspects that a diagnosis can bring.

At that point, Mike said that maybe I should write my own book.  I’m not a neurologist, marriage counselor or psychologist, so I doubt that a book that I write on the subject would hold any merit.  But I do have this blog and I thought maybe if I write a little bit now and then about my own aspie marriage, it might help someone else whose spouse has been newly diagnosed.

So…if you’re reading mainly to get some new craft ideas or for information about owning a goldendoodle, these posts may not be of interest to you.  But if you’re wondering what it’s like to be married to someone on the autism spectrum, maybe I can provide a little insight into what a happily married (although sometimes frustrated) non-aspie spouse is like.

So…here are a few examples of some communication breakdowns that are classic aspie moments…

While away on business travel, I called Mike and asked if he missed me.  His answer was that no, he didn’t miss me – he and the kids were fine.  As a non-aspie, this hurt my feelings – how could my husband not miss me when I’m gone?  But…from his perspective, he was busy with the kids, taking care of things around the house…he didn’t have time to miss me.  Sure, he was happier when I was home, but if he told me he missed me, that might make me feel bad for not being at home.  He wanted me to know that things were going well – that he was handling things just fine.  Here’s the problem – as a result of his disorder, Mike truly didn’t realize that saying that you don’t ‘miss’ someone can hurt their feelings.   Since we now have a diagnosis, I can explain the miscommunication to him, he and I can understand why he acted the way he did and he can make a note not to answer that again – the socially correct answer to the question, “Do you miss me?” is, “Yes” – even if you don’t. :)

Another similar example – again, I was away on travel and joked that things were going so well at home, he didn’t really need me.  Looking for reassurance, I jokingly asked, “You don’t need me, do you?” to which he replied, “No, I don’t need you.”  Again, as a non-aspie, you can see how this would hurt my feelings.  But similar to the other miscommunication, he actually meant that he was with me because he loved me and wanted to be with me, not because he needed me.  Since I now realize that he has a social disorder, instead of getting angry, I told him that I was hurt by that statement and that people actually like to feel needed.  I was still hurt…but with an Asperger’s diagnosis, even though those feelings are still there, we can at least better understand the reason for the miscommunication and learn from it.

Another frequent source of miscommunication is illness.  People with Asperger’s often have a lack of empathy – this is especially apparent when the non-aspie spouse is sick.  When we say that we don’t feel good, we expect a certain level of sympathy in a statement like, “I’m sorry you don’t feel well – why don’t you go lay down and I’ll bring you some chicken soup” (or aspirin or whatever the illness requires).  Then the person will check in on you every so often and see what you need, how you feel…maybe feel your forehead for a fever…but what Mike usually says is something like, “Go upstairs and lay down then” and I don’t hear from him or see him again until I’m well.  As a person with Asperger’s, Mike treats me exactly how he’d like to be treated when he’s sick – when he doesn’t feel well, he likes to go upstairs and be alone until he’s better.  He has no need for being ‘babied’ and doesn’t understand why anyone would need that.  We’re still working on this issue, but at least with his diagnosis, I have learned not to take it personally.  And if I need chicken soup, I now know to ask for it instead of assuming that he knows that he should offer it to me.

So it’s getting late and I think I’m done for now – I hope that I can continue to give examples that give some insight and hope to spouses of people on the autism spectrum.  It’s not all hopeless…there’s no reason to be bitter…and if you’re not having major issues, don’t read self-help books…they’ll only point out all the things that could be wrong.

 
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Fall Reading – The Poisonwood Bible

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Sep 23, 2008 in Books I'm Reading

I finally finished my latest read – The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.  I say ‘finally’ because it seems like I’ve been reading this book forever – at 543 pages, this is a VERY long read – and one that does not move along very fast, I’m afraid.

But the book is well worth the effort.

The Poisonwood Bible follows the story of the Price family living in Africa in the early 1960s as missionaries.  The story is told from the perspective of each of the four daughters – Rachel, the oldest daughter who really just wants to be back in the US wearing pretty skirts and makeup; Leah, one of a set of twins who idolizes her father and will do whatever it takes to make him happy; Adah, Leah’s twin sister who is disabled after an injury at birth but remains very intellectual; and Ruth May, the fun-loving baby of the family who spends her days playing with the native children.  Parts of the story are also told by their mother, Orleanna, who looks back at her life and her mistakes and asks for understanding and forgiveness.

The father of the family, Nathan, is controlling and hell-bent on converting the locals to Christianity while his wife and daughters do the best they can to cope with life in Africa.  The book focuses on the political atmosphere as well as the daily struggles of life in the jungle – killer ants, snake bites, starvation, drenching rains, and the distrust of the native people toward whites. 

According to the author, this distrust comes with good reason.  She uses the setting to inform the reader about the unfair and morally corrupt practices used by the Belgians, French and the Americans during this time period on the Dark Continent.

Even after the Prices are no longer missionaries (although Nathan holds out until his death), the author continues to follow the sisters and how they are influenced by African history until the present day.

A few scenes and lines that will really stick with me from this story…

The title comes from the fact that the word bangala means ‘most precious’ – but it also means ‘poisonwood’ (a tree that causes a horrible rash if touched) – it depends on the inflection used.  At the end of all of his sermons, Nathan Price ends with “Jesus is bangala!” (with the wrong inflection, of course) – which is not a big draw for the natives to Christianity.  The same is true when he insists on baptizing children in the river – which is avoided by the natives because of the crocodiles.  They can’t understand why this white man wants to feed their children to the crocodiles…again, not a big attraction for this new religion.

Nathan Price does not understand why the Africans do not grow crops such as tomatoes in their rich soil.  He carefully plants some seeds that he brought with him and while they do grow into healthy plants, they never produce any fruit – they flower, but then the flowers wither away.  It isn’t until later that he realizes that there are no bees in Africa necessary to pollinate the flowers and produce fruit.  This is a real metaphor for life in Africa – we cannot try to impose our way of living upon this part of the Earth – the very nature of the place will not allow it.  We can bring and plant the seeds, but without the missing ingredients, nothing will take root.  And who are we to say that our tomatoes are better than their manioc?  How can we be so sure that our way of life is best?

Adah explains toward the end of the book that the jungle has ways for renewing itself and its people.  Like the killer ants – they eat everything (even small animals) in their path – but this destruction includes parasites and other dangerous pests.  Adah also remarks that in trying to save babies with vaccinations and medical care, we have created other issues.  Before vaccinations, people in that part of the world had nine babies in the hopes that one would survive, Adah remarks.  And just because we help to save all the children doesn’t mean that people will stop having those nine babies – this had inadvertently led to issues with a starving, overpopulated Africa.

One other line that stood out to me…Leah is talking about how the jungle takes back everything eventually – all the villages, if left in their natural state, are taken over by vines and animals in no time.  Along that same thought, she discusses her children born to her after marrying a black man.  She mentions that, “I look at my own boys, who are the colors of silt, loam, dust, and clay, an infinite palette for children of their own, and I understand that time erases whiteness altogether.”  I walked away thinking how true this is in our world of today – although we try to divide ourselves into black and white, how long will it be until nature takes us all over and we all become shades of gray?  How can bigotry continue to exist in a world like that…and how long will it take to get there?

This is not a light book – and these are certainly not light topics.  But in following the story of the Price family, my eyes were opened to some history and current day issues that I had not considered before.

 
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I’m Hosting a Giveaway!

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Sep 9, 2008 in Books I'm Reading, Local Community, Uncategorized

Yes, that’s right – FREE STUFF!!!

A while back I posted about a book that I read while on vacation, The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold, which has just been released in paperback.

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You can read my review here – it was a great read to which anyone who has had a less-than-ideal childhood can certainly relate (although we don’t all kill our crazy mothers, thank goodness!).

Well…I have been contacted by the publisher and have FREE COPIES of the book to give away – how great is that?!?!

So…if you are interested in a copy, email me at kathy@thetorrences.com to enter the giveaway.

Feel free to include a description of a moment in your own childhood that proved your own mother/father/sister/brother/aunt/grandmother was just a little bit ‘crazy’, as Helen describes her own mother.  Or if your own childhood was perfect (I’m sure there are some of you out there!), give me an example of someone else’s childhood moment.

I’ll post some of your responses here (anonymously, of course – and only if I have your permission) and will choose five winners at random on September 30th.

All winners must reside in the US or Canada – and no PO Boxes, please.

Good luck!

 
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Summer Reading Wrap-Up

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Sep 2, 2008 in Books I'm Reading

While we were camping, I finished up two more books…

First was Lisey’s Story by Stephen King

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Mike recommended this title to me when he heard that I was looking for something different.  I’m not normally a Stephen King fan – too much blood and gore for me – but Mike assured me that this was a different type of book for King – it was more of a love story.

I’m not sure about love story…but it certainly was different!  And LONG…the book was 528 pages.  I was in the middle of reading this book when I took my Alaska trip, but didn’t take it with me – not because I didn’t like it, but because it was so darned heavy! 

The book follows the story of Lisey, a woman married to a famous horror-fiction writer, Scott Landon.  The story takes place after Scott has been dead for about 2 years and as Lisey is cleaning out his office.  There are many people that want Scott’s old papers – and they are willing to stop at nothing in order to obtain them.

Lisey is lead through a series of clues leading her along a ‘bool’ – King’s word for a sort of scavenger hunt – by her dead husband to help her understand the past and deal with the present. 

By the way, there are lots of made-up words in this book – some of which are just so silly that I couldn’t take them seriously.  For example, ‘bad-gunky’ is the term King uses for a sort of mental-illness/demon possession.  And ‘gomer’ is for people who are in a sort of comatose trance. 

It seems that Scott had the ability to transport to another world – “Boo’ya Moon” (another of King’s silly invented words) – where everything is lush and tropical in the daytime but is evil at night.  Scott is haunted by his own personal demon from Boo’ya Moon, his ‘long boy’ – and the book details the demon’s affect on Scott and his family as he was growing up.

The imagery in the book is fantastic and King’s character development is wonderful (how could you not know everything possible about these characters after 528 pages?).  But I still think that it was WAY too long – the basic story could have been compressed into about half that length.  And the fantasy element is just not something that I normally relate to – the whole thing was like some sort of bizarre dream that I may have had.

Which I guess is exactly what makes King such a genius and keeps his devoted readers coming back for more.

I also finished another book by David Sedaris – Me Talk Pretty One Day.

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This was another hilarious look inside the life of David Sedaris – I laughed out loud even more than his other book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames.  Again, not a book for children, but really, really funny – something light to contrast with Lisey’s Story!

 
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Summer Reading – When You Are Engulfed in Flames

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jul 20, 2008 in Books I'm Reading

I’ve been reading quite a bit this summer but have started to grow tired of stories of failed relationships and family tragedies…I just needed a change of pace.

When I heard an interview with David Sedaris on NPR last week about his new book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, I thought it was just the change I was looking for in my next summer read.

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Okay – the cover looks sort of scary and the title’s a little bit odd, but this is a great book that had me laughing out loud several times.

The book is a series of essays filled with life observations as seen by the author. The title comes from a Japanese hotel safety brochure written in poorly translated English. And the skeleton…David’s boyfriend Hugh asks for one for Christmas and then decides to hang it in the bedroom right next to the bed.

This is certainly not a book for children (or for conservative adults, for that matter), but you can’t help but find the humor in stories like “Solution to Saturday’s Crossword Puzzle” where the woman next to Sedaris on a plane that asks him to give up his seat to her husband so the couple can sit together – and Sedaris refuses because he doesn’t like where the husband is seated. The woman screams to her husband, calling Sedaris a very unflattering (and obscene) name across the aisle…then she falls asleep. At which point David sneezes and loses his cough drop on the woman’s lap – what to do…what to do…

Sedaris’ storytelling is so clever and funny…I just love his writing style. Some stories are silly and touching at the same time – others are just plain weird (like the babysitter who made David and his siblings scratch her back for hours with a “plastic hand attached to a foot-long wand” – or the birds that keep flying into his windows until Sedaris cuts pictures of terrorists’ faces out of the newspaper and hangs them on the glass). Either way, the stories are still lots of fun to read.

I started reading this book yesterday…and have finished all 323 pages by today! I was sorry when I’d read the last page – I wanted more of Sedaris’ wit. After reading this, I’m definitely going to pick up other books by this author and give them a try.

This book was indeed a nice change of pace – I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for a little laughter while enjoying the summer sun.

 
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Look Me In the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jul 18, 2008 in Books I'm Reading, Family Stuff

This post is sort of a book review and personal post all in one. You see, I just finished reading a book called Look Me In the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison (John was the older brother in the book/movie, Running With Scissors):

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This book really hit home for me because I also have a life with Asperger’s – I do not have the disorder, but both my son Matthew AND my husband Mike have Asperger’s syndrome – so in one way or another, my own life is affected every single day.

Asperger’s syndrome is a neurological disorder that is associated mainly with difficulties in social interaction. It also involves obsession with specific interests, sensitivity to light and/or sound, a tendency to see things logically (sometimes to a fault – every issue is black-and-white with no shades of grey) and to be an extreme rule-follower (again – to a fault – there are no exceptions to rules for Aspergians). Creative writing is also difficult for people with Asperger’s – their writing and speech is simple, precise and to the point.

Which is why I thought it was interesting to read a book written by a man with Asperger’s. And the writing style was clearly different from most books – sentences were direct and short – almost as if written by a child in some ways.

But people with Asperger’s are by no means lacking in intelligence! They are some of the greatest minds in areas such as mathematics and science. Not in a “Rain Man” savant kind of way – people with the disorder are highly functioning and can manage quite well in everyday society – but some things that most of us take for granted can be a real struggle for them.

The book gets it’s name from the Asperger’s characteristic of being unable to make eye contact with others. As a child, the author was constantly told to “Look me in the eye!” And that’s something I especially notice about Matt – not only does he avoid making eye contact with others, but he even kind of curls up and turns away to get as far away from them as possible when he’s speaking.

Asperger’s syndrome falls on the autism spectrum and there is no cure – nor should there be. It’s not a ‘disease’ – just a different way of being. Reading this book helped me to better understand some of what Matt and Mike go through. The author explains that he never wanted to be alone – he really did want to socialize with other people – it’s just that he never knew how. He describes going up to another child playing with a truck and feeling like the child was playing with it wrong – he thought he knew a better way. So he grabbed the truck from the child and showed them how to play with it. His intentions were not to be rude – he genuinely wanted to help the other child learn a better way. But it never occurred to him that there was more than one way to play with the truck (part of the rule-following I mentioned earlier – there’s one way…black-and-white…no exceptions) or that taking the truck was socially unacceptable.

Empathy is also an issue for Aspergians. The author gives the example of someone telling him when he was a child that an aunt died. His resulting facial expression was a smile. Not because he thought it was funny…but because in his mind, the death of the aunt didn’t affect him and in fact, he was happy that it was not his mom or dad (hence the smile). The reaction was socially unacceptable – but how do we learn this?

Most of us learn from watching others and from some sort of instinct – it’s the same instinct that leads us to ask appropriate questions and make small talk – something Aspergians are unable to do.

So what’s it like to have a child with Asperger’s? It can be very frustrating, that’s for sure. I have trouble relating to Matthew’s issues because they seem so foreign to me. And it drives me crazy when he insists on correcting everyone (as he is doing right now with Emily on their new Wii video game – I have to keep in mind that he means well…but it can be very frustrating when his is so critical of others – it’s like the story of taking the truck).But at the same time, he’s sweet, bright, honest (lying never occurs to him – part of the black-and-white thing) and I love him for who he is.

And what’s it like bring married to someone with Asperger’s? I think Mike was scared when he went online and tried to find a support group for those with spouses who have Asperger’s and almost all of the posts were about how horrible it being married to an Aspergian and about people leaving their husbands/wives. But I don’t feel that way.

True…I had to make some adjustments in my expectations. Mike will never be a social butterfly or spend time talking with me all night long. But he, like Matt, is sweet, honest, caring, a wonderful father and is one of the smartest people I know. When we first got his diagnosis, I did have to take some time to absorb all that it meant. But instead of focusing on what he can‘t do, I like to focus on what he can do – and that is to love his family and to be the best father and husband that he can be. At that he is successful. And that’s more than enough for me.

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