The Road to My Father’s Death / RAW DAYS

untitledcheat

Freedom is never free.

It’s more than a road that I follow to death’s door. Ahead lies night a continent across – a corridor of loneliness, of absence, and of terror that will return me to my father’s presence. How shall I conquer my own Dark Continent to be at his side, a frightened traveler who confronts an impossible journey, one that is tangled by the difficulties that complicate a personal and fond farewell?

Someone lend me an undivided heart to guide my actions, so that I may show those who attend him that his daughter has not turned out too badly. Let the darkness ahead yield its depth and fold a pocket in which to conceal a breaking heart. Then let my grief be sealed by time, as if there is no mystery to our departures.

My world was injured by driving east to Rawlins, Laramie, and the familiar streets of Cheyenne, where common sense asked me to stay the night, but ahead lay a spiral galaxy that turned toward my father’s death, and I must ride the circumference of that terrible disk in some way.

The truck sped beyond the border of Wyoming and into the Pine Bluffs of Nebraska, where we stopped at the first rest area. The dogs dragged me into the petrified blackness that was transparent to their senses, tugging me along the ghost trails of summer visitors, the dead grass sending aloft stale messages of happy journeys; family trips. The cold wind briefly chilled my fears of what lay within the night of the dark road, and we drove on.

One hundred miles farther we left the highway for the lights of a prairie town; its main street was as efficient as a rifle barrel and lined with cafes and comfortable motels where I might close my eyes to the nerve-wracking night, perhaps to awaken to the comfort of a blue and friendly morning, but I fed my fast food dinner to the dogs while pumping gas at a brightly-lit service station where young Friday-nighters were fueling their vehicles for fun. The black cold emptiness of the prairie was their arena: I was a stranger who counted the distance to my father’s death in gallons of gasoline.

By winter’s clock the terrible darkness was only a summer’s evening, but by my father’s way of thinking, rest was forbidden when so many miles could yet be taken up as if the truck were hauling in a rope that ended at his door. Suddenly, my head floated away over my right shoulder, tethered to the rest of me by the slightest will. Familiar furies escaped from the long-locked suitcase of former journeys and fear seeped in confusing colors between the cracks in my growing disarray. There it was – overwhelming panic and I knew that the road had closed for me as surely as if the highway had been ripped up by its roots.

Familiar Cheyenne was an easy two hours behind us, but it was a distance that seemed unreachable without the sight of the smooth prairie to channel my senses, which had become ungovernable in the claustrophobic night. At that moment I wanted to drive the entire distance home, passing Cheyenne, Laramie, and Rawlins: a great distance with nothing but the cold dark and my anxiety to fill the space between sparse towns strung out along the interstate.

In night-abandoned Cheyenne I found a room with the indecent charm of an interrogation cell. A television set that hung from the ceiling by chains buzzed incessantly. A heater was stuck on cold, rattle, and blow. The dogs had to be dragged through the door, which was a threshold of terror for them also. After long minutes of hysteria, they crowded around me on the frigid bed, and I hung onto them through the night, paralyzed by my own stunning fear of the black road to my father’s death that waited outside.

In the early, early brightness, we fled. A minute’s delay might have broken my glassy hold on the steering wheel. Westward we fled, into the shining mountain plains of Wyoming, into a lens of the whitest fog that had engulfed the town of Laramie. The truck burrowed through that heavenly cloud; a brief journey through peace, but the phone call to my father’s death waited at home and the disgrace of my flight caused my heart to beat wretchedly.

Home: a slow and quiet Saturday afternoon. I ached to be invisible to my neighbors. I wanted to drive into the country where failure has no meaning, but I parked behind the house – a place of poor countenance – a yard of packed mud that somehow gives life to an old broken cottonwood. Why, out of all the miles of western brush and rock is this place home, when any scrap of earth could do as well?

It came to one moment on that dark road to my father’s death, when in panic I traveled the wrong way: not east, from Nebraska to Iowa and Illinois, but back to Wyoming, across the mystical, psychological, soul-bounding border of a hidden corner, to renew my exile in a waste of yellow rock and twisted board houses. None of this was new: I had come west, the wrong way from a daughter’s duty, many years before.

Knowledge folded over me as gentle truth. (Yes, the universe is gentle, eventually.) I hid in the house, hating winter’s early dark. The scene outdoors rippled with change as sunlight worked its way through empty snow clouds. The asphalt street glistened briefly. An old shoe that the dogs have worried to death, and an elk rack propped upright in a barren flowerbed, ought to have comforted me, but it was time to call my father.

His voice sounded oddly high-pitched and raspy, as if a little Egyptian mummy had taken his place. He began by recalling the age at which his father had succumbed, which was sixty-nine. At this far end of the lesson, his mind had returned to counting age in the way of a child and he noted that he had turned eighty-three and a half on Halloween. I wanted to say that eighty-four would come, but couldn’t. Instead I recounted my strange trip; the tide of panic, the terror that I might complete my own journey of death, which had begun five years before. He agreed, but without evident emotion, that I had done well to turn back. Perhaps he had come to expect disappointment from me, but he said that he was glad that I was home and safe and not playing again with chance on that dark road. It was unthinkable to turn around in the night, away from my father’s death, but I had.

Some quiet devil within wanted to know why he didn’t beg me to come home, to share his last dark night, as a daughter should, but he transferred the phone to my brother, who barely disguised his relief at my failure to appear, letting me know how unimportant to him that I had become. Something like a gravity wave passed through my pain, making concrete the fact that my behavior had often been irresponsible. Not in advance, but in retreat, lay progress.

Last night my father was moved into a nursing wing of the hospital. He described the room as being empty except for a hospital bed and a television set, which he complained was too loud.

“I don’t know where your brother is today,” he said. “He’s all upset again.”

“Over money.” I said. My parents had always funded him: I knew that there would be a wretched mess over that later.

“Yes,” he said.

We talked about the coming week, about his treatment schedule and when he might go home. The ability to walk unaided has become an important chimera, but he’s grateful for not being in pain, radiation treatments having knocked back a tumor that encroached on his spine. His raspy voice unsettled me – what is the cause? But the cause is that he is very ill.

His beard has grown too long to shave it by himself, he said. A nurse popped in just then to give him a wash up, which cut our visit short. An image lingered after I hung up the phone, of a cheerful young woman carrying a basin of water as if entering a temple. How has it come to pass that a stranger is more intimate with my father than I have been? Shouldn’t the Good Daughter serve at his bedside, my children gathered like birds in my skirts, to show him, and the world, that life goes on? But I have created no such family, no best accomplishment. Neither has my brother. Crazy ends here.

At the end our relationship was no little different than it had been during the years that we had traded the rinds of our minds over telephones scattered around the West, linked to the one in his kitchen, exchanging factoids about automobile maintenance, home repair, and amazing artifacts from the sciences, so I made a point of thanking him for moving the family in the 1950s to a suburb of Chicago, where my brother and I had access to good schools.

“Growing up where we did provided a foundation for my life that wasn’t only practical, but…”

“Spiritual,” he rasped.

As far as I could remember, my father had not uttered this word ever, but it was apt, coming from the man who had taught me that there is something outside the human ego that must be acknowledged as preceding us and outlasting us. A shared reverence for nature’s depths had helped two damaged people fumble toward love. My mother and brother were alien beings who existed outside reason and were therefore, dangerous.

Compelled by an obsession to make something useful out of everything, I had studied the two as if they were rogue planets, convinced that one more observation might bring them into the realm of order, but nothing is ever solved. People just pass away.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

I had no idea I was Asperger at the time I wrote this, but today I see AS as the primary ground of my “differentness”. I believe that many Asberger symptoms are the result of an attempt by the brain to “adjust” to stress created by my dysfunctional family and to The Social Pyramid, an alien environment that is toxic to “people like me.”

My brother was schizophrenic, in denial, refused treatment, and lived with our parents, who enabled his paranoia and protected him from consequences of his disease. He attacked me viciously whenever I turned up, like a rabid fox protecting a hallucination. My parents never intervened, and let him abuse me, as well as adding dashes of abuse of their own, so I stayed away for years at a time.

I didn’t piece together until much later that my father was an “obvious” Asperger – and that I was also, which eventually led to a diagnosis. This revelation explained so much about my childhood that was inexplicable, tellingly, that I understood intuitively that my father’s “odd behavior” was familiar, and yet, it wasn’t. I was aware that my behavior was “out of sync” and constantly pursued the subject; my family didn’t seem to have a scrap of insight. This bizarre situation became a lifelong laboratory that helped to develop my thinking skills.

Despite being bipolar and Asperger, I was the healthy one in the family: the observer, the analyzer, the recorder and decoder, the documentarian. Survivor’s guilt accompanied my daring escape.

 

 

 

At my father’s house in Illinois / RAW DAYS

 

At My Father’s House in Illinois

I am accustomed to writing about landscape, but at present the internal picture takes precedence. The outer view encompasses a gray-skied, bare-treed, cold and windy Midwestern midwinter day. Longing overwhelms my inner state and I am thankful that the land is bleak. A blue sky over red cliffs, shadowed hills, or a dark, abrupt mountain side might provoke an unbearable contrast to the lock that despair has placed on my heart.

A fir tree composed of a gently curving trunk, its branches resembling dogs’ tails, stands in front of my truck. I start the engine periodically and slide the heater lever far to the right to counter cold air that sinks through the windows. My brother paces outside, indifferent to the cold. He is not lazy per se, but for some reason he is not productive either, expending energy on the complications that can be made to adhere to any project, and in the process, derailing his efforts into lost canyons. I confess that this compulsion baffles me. A monthly flea market located west of Chicago attracts thousands of buyers, come rain, snow, or as we have joked, nuclear attack, but my brother will not sell there.  He mentioned a dealer with whom he had a disagreement of some sort, hinting that the man had stalked him afterward: that is, he showed up at the same place once or twice. This was years ago, but he will not sell at that market.

Today we have dragged a trailer load of goods to the parking lot of an antiques store, the same store my brother refused to venture into last week. He sent me instead, carrying a box of things to sell. The owner was not in. I waited for an hour, passing the time by dusting egg cups and figurines, and straightening doilies.

My brother urged me to repeat the effort some days later, but I declined. Surprisingly, and to his profit, he went himself, but last night he refused to attend an auction that this same store owner frequents.

I look through the windshield at the gray Illinois sky to where my brother leans against the flank of my truck. Rotund and nearly fifty, with a gray knit cap squashed over his forehead, his greasy black hair straggling from beneath it, he wears a surplus parka with a rip in the sleeve and many stains on the front. He tilts his face toward the dark snow-spitting sky, and I notice that his eyeglasses are dirty, too. He smiles at me and I smile at him. Two people could not be more unalike, but nevertheless, we are family.

Winter’s box besets my father’s house. Barricaded by black trees, it is impossible for me to know what transpires in the larger world. A storm cloaked northern Illinois with ice during the night, and a thick skin mimics the shape of my truck. A red concrete goose, a lost daughter of Juno’s flock, is stationed at the entry to the house; she acquires a mantle of white wood ash that drifts above the sidewalk. The source is a trowel held in my father’s hand.

Last night my brother scrubbed the kitchen floor and I swept the porch. My father knows that we’ll track the mess inside, and yet he shakes the ashes onto the walk like some medicine man describing a chant.

A patch of blue sky can be seen for the first time in days, just above the tangled black oaks growing at the edge of the lot. A small forest begins there, dense and unlovely, like lines of type overprinted by a printer that is stuck. When I was nine years old my father ditched his mother and sister as if they were nothing. The shock of this event caused me to flee to the perimeter of the Garden, but his harsh judgment of the women followed me there, worn into my thoughts like hollows in the rocks beneath a waterfall. My father taught me that contrary to Christian conceit, it is not a supernatural Father that picks and chooses who among us shall suffer, but our earthly one.

Spring ought to have made gains, but the days remain gray and ice-sheathed. Without notice, something sharp and cautionary breaks through. Impulses one could call manic threaten the compliant and silent demeanor I have cultivated these many weeks. Happy hysteria is feared and yet longed for; the green brightness within has become something to withhold – a peculiar, protective, irrational impulse in someone who badly needs a lift.

Tiles fall away from a tub surround that is black in places with mold. Chunks of plaster tumble into the tub. I shower anyway, feeling a shadow of guilt by doing this healthy and normal thing. According to my father and brother, my insistence on bathing is ruining the tub enclosure; the extra and unneeded water will hasten the rot. The two calculate that by not bathing they can delay making repairs indefinitely. I recall seeing my brother with damp hair on two occasions; my father never, but he hasn’t much hair.

My father cuts deadfall with a chainsaw this morning. The branches are about three inches in diameter. He cuts enough to fill the bottom of an old wheelbarrow, and then rolls it up the lawn to the screened porch, which is sealed by plastic sheets that remain in summer. Unavailable as a bug-free haven, the space is reserved for makeshift stacks of scrap wood, which he loads into the fireplace day and night, winter and summer, like bodies into a crematorium. It is my observation that neither the heat gained, nor the life of the flames, propel what he calls recycling.

Broken pallets and dismembered furniture, roof shingles and plastic are burned as a sacrifice to the darker purpose of being perverse for perversity’s sake: he punishes the air we breath in order to punish us. The abundant deadfall is the result of my father’s indifference to the health of the trees on his lot, which are not trimmed, shaped, sprayed, or removed when dead. Infested branches plummet audibly to the ground. Several metal rods dot the yard, each with a rusted can balanced on top, marking where volunteer trees grew long ago from the seeds of a rotted hickory. My father marked them in this way in order to avoid mowing them down. He may have done so anyway: regardless, they died. I offered to remove the rods and cans that remain, but was forbidden to do so.

We never mention my mother, but I thought of her tonight as I plucked giant yellow tulips from the yard in front of my father’s house. The tulips grow in the lawn along a line that marks a relict garden, which is why I thought of my mother. It was only to remark how she would have liked to see the flowers, but as they were before she died, when the lawn was mowed, the beds were readied for planting, and weeds were kept at bay. A section of sidewalk has subsided so that a fault scarp, as well as a pair of overturned urns, must be negotiated on the way to the door. Next to the stoop, a crater of unknown origin is being colonized by bright cones of convallaria that erupt through ferns that lie brown and prostrate as if blown down by an explosion. We never mention my mother, as if there had always been just the three of us.

My brother and I searched the yard for scrap materials to build flower boxes – anything to focus my attention. Our contact over the last three months has been like that of wild animals forced to drink from the same small water hole. At one point I looked at him and wondered, What’s wrong with clean clothes, a hair cut, and polished eyeglasses? Just then a spasmodic cough overcame him: I turned to face a giant pear tree dressed in thousands of fragrant white blossoms. Where did this apparition of life, this white tower of profuse flowers come from in such a place?

My brother halted every few feet on his way to the house to bend over and cough. Whatever is wrong with him, it is none of my business, although if he were an acquaintance or a stranger, I would ask. His health is yet another part of the family’s world from which I am excluded, a world where nothing is open to discussion.

The drive home from town lends a reprieve when the highway crosses a valley edged by low glacial ridges. The view ahead clears and the sight of a narrow asphalt thread snaking eastward toward my father’s house reminds me of roads that cross western plains. The rolling gray road lets me know that I belong to the universe, not to my family nor to anyone else.

My existence tears and flutters like tissue, and yet I survive. Last night I checked inside, looked into the goo that resides at the bottom of the well. The stuff began to rise like a gas bubble in heavy oil and strange things appeared as it broke the surface; bouquets of sea creatures appeared black and metallic, and yet glinted with color. A nuclear wind reduced me to a crouching corpse transformed into a lump of ash. I breathed a short gasping breath. Someone spoke and I was encouraged: my father entered the room where I cowered in bed.

“I’m in bad shape,” I told him, a confession of weakness that pegged me as the perfect audience for a monologue about what a clever lad he had been. The man possesses a remarkable memory for data such as the height of the fence posts at his childhood home, or the dimensions of a boat that he constructed as a boy, but he can’t recall that I’m staying at his house because I’m quite ill. Despair overcame me as he droned on, but the ordeal helped to pass the time.

Days slide underfoot, passed from front to back like buckets of debris in a rescue brigade; my days are wasted in the knowledge of the Gothic cathedral and its chain of souls, the apex of daring among men and women who imagined heaven as an experience. Love comes to me in post cards of traveling stones and earthbound sagebrush, of grassy islands in the dust, of seed wands that nod beneath boiling clouds.

On the morning that I didn’t leave my father’s house for the 5th, 6th, or  7th time, I can’t remember which, the air was cold and the sun was shining. The rumble of a prop plane carried into my escape pod, a travel trailer parked in front of a shed nearer to the road than to the house. The dogs lay with me on top of an electric blanket, unaware of the journey that they would miss that day. I was sick with confusion, cigarettes, and self-hatred and I wanted to lie in bed until I died. I lit another cigarette and tried to imagine that the three of us were parked along a clear stream a thousand miles west. Soon I must go up to the house: hunger and humiliation called. I closed my eyes and sought relief in the warm blanket, but the airplane circled and my stomach dipped and dived with it.

“You are a coward,” my throbbing head observed. Two days earlier I had informed my father and brother that I must leave: this was true. My confidence slipped as I spoke, but having declared that I was leaving, I had to. My father reacted as if I were planning a vacation; he brought a dusty bundle of fishing rods up from the basement. He looked as if he would cry. I felt dismal, and worse, I felt my strength and resolve dissolve.

I didn’t have the courage to leave this morning, but went up to the house and drank three cups of coffee, saying things like, “I hate myself,” which I did.

My father said to me what he used to say when my mother was ‘blubbering’ over something: “Quit getting all worked up.” He still doesn’t know that lamentation is the result of distress, not its cause.

“It’s good that I’m crying – I haven’t cried for ten terrible months,” I said.

Signs of life were brief, so it was out to the trailer and back to bed, the aluminum hull a serving as a second skull that protected me from whatever would happen next. The sun went down and I walked back to my father’s house like a shipwreck unwilling to let go of her leaky raft despite having washed up on a beach.

The day that I left my father’s house, my destination was a motel a mere eight miles away, a small affair attached to a dairy farm. A German shepherd met me inside the office, so I was encouraged that my dogs might be welcome.

I returned to my father’s house to tell him what I’d done. He may have been upset; it was hard to tell. He was likely thinking that it was a fool thing to do when I already had a roof over my head. The empty motel called to my confused grasp on the idea of salvation, but I spent one more night at my father’s house, gathering some clothing and a box of food.

In the afternoon I left for the motel, but the room seemed ugly and smelled like vomit. Feeling silly, I asked the manager to move. The new room proved to be warmer in color, the carpet was newer, and the room didn’t smell, but I panicked around dinner time  and felt ridiculous.

The next morning I didn’t feel well, but this had been going on for months, so I did what I’d done every morning: brushed my teeth, showered, dried my hair and dressed, then pulled on rubber boots. It had snowed overnight and a drift blocked my truck. Two orange shovels leaned on the wall by the office door, but no one was about. There was nothing to do but dig in. Eventually the owner joined me.

“That shovel you’ve got doesn’t work too well,” he said. We kept digging until the truck was free.

I drove to a coffee shop and surprised myself by eating a plate of eggs, hash browns, and toast, with three cups of coffee. Encouraged, I drove to my father’s house where I discovered that whoever had plowed the driveway had also piled the snow in front of my trailer.

The dogs burst into the yard when I opened the truck door, running circles around the big oak trees and plowing trails through the snow with their noses. No one was at home: the house felt less awful now that I no longer lived there, but I crept around like a thief collecting shampoo and a scarf, my electric teakettle and mouthwash.

Back at the motel I felt all right, perhaps relaxed. That night I lay sleepless as the curious situation played on my mind: eight miles from my father’s house and homeless. What did that mean? Was I capable of hooking up the trailer and driving away? If so, where would I go and what would I do when I got there? Could I pull off my own rescue without ambition or desire?

On the second morning after I left my father’s house, I began removing the snow that blocked my trailer. The plow had scraped leaves and gravel into the pile, and the resulting melange was difficult to dissect. My father came out to see what I was up to: an irritable comment escaped my lips.

On the third day after I left my father’s house, I didn’t go there.

On the fourth day it was time to finish off the snow that barricaded my trailer, since more bad weather was predicted. My father again appeared, this time carrying a garden shovel. He jabbed at the snow and leaves looking for an entry, then mumbled something about his failure to dispose of the snow pile for me.

“Don’t help her!” My brother shouted as he emerged from the house. He pushed past me, as if I was no more alive and present than a concrete statue. “This doesn’t concern us,” he added. No surprise, but why antagonize me now, when I would soon be out of his way?

“I didn’t ask for help,” I said. This brought a vicious reprimand from him, so I called him a jerk. He countered by hurling grudges from the stockpile of warheads he keeps armed like a Russian who aches to launch a few missiles, for old time’s sake.

Our father stood aside like a wounded sack of coal, passively sanctioning the bullying initiated by my mother and perpetuated by my brother. When I was a child there had been no escape, unless turning into a nervous wreck is a form of refuge.

“I’m leaving for Wyoming,” I told my father. That was the last time I saw either one of them.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

raw days editThis piece is from RAW DAYS, a book about being bipolar.

I had no idea I was Asperger at the time I wrote it, and now I see AS is the primary ground of my “differentness” with bipolar symptoms the result of an attempt by the brain to “adjust” to stress created by my dysfunctional family and to The Social Pyramid, an alien environment that is toxic to “people like me.”

My brother was schizophrenic, in denial, and refused treatment. He lived with our parents, who protected him from consequences of his disease. He attacked me viciously whenever I turned up, like a rabid fox protecting a hallucination. My parents never intervened and let him abuse me, so I stayed away for years at a time.

Despite being bipolar and Asperger, I was the healthy one in the family: the observer, the analyzer, the recorder, the documentarian. Survivor’s guilt accompanies my daring escape.

 

 

 

Cartoon Physics / Coyote – Road Runner Re-Post

Humor for Geeks.  Appreciation of Coyote vs. Road Runner “stupid physics” requires both an intuitive and learned understanding of physics. Of course, the physically impossible interactions are funny in a “psychological” context also; concrete vs. supernatural perception.

If I were a physics teacher I would definitely use these in class – and for “reality” testing!

Eclipse

I’m watching online – a live feed from a telescope in Casper, Wyoming. We’re to the south and if I didn’t know there was an eclipse, I’d would think that clouds had moved in, although there is not one cloud in the sky.  I have not heard or seen one bird in the area: usually doves are cooing from the power lines and house wrens are squabbling incessantly as they pick seeds from the yard.

Several families of hawks have nests high up on the surrounding cliffs, and can be seen gliding high overhead, picking off “rodents” and rabbits, but none are active right now.

I try to imagine what it must have been like for ancient peoples: how many were “struck blind” by staring at the sun? Or running for cover out of a feeling of awe and fright. Modern knowledge of solar system geometry certainly blunts the “magical” effect; it’s good to see millions of people exited about the event. Perhaps a few kids will take an interest in what science has to offer.

There are so many exciting aspects of nature that are overlooked or ignored every day; I hope a “big event” will increase curiosity about how our wonderful universe works!

50 years of solar eclipses 210-2060. Click on image for large view

Once upon a time, I wrote prose / Walking to Sanity

I congratulate myself on becoming mature and gently old, on surmounting difficulty; understanding my fate, and letting up, letting go, but truth is, I’m a liar who has pushed the past away, across the border of my small world. Protected by miles of badland emptiness, a curtain of silence has dropped around me; the outside world doesn’t exist except at set frequencies along the electromagnetic spectrum; television, the radio, the internet, and down deep, that’s the way I want it. I crawled to this place, breathing, and no more. I walked and walked the hills, each step forcing a breath, like a respirator powered by my feet hitting the ground. If I had quit walking I would have died.

A wildlife rescue takes injured raccoons, snakes, and birds and once fixed or repaired, returns them to the wild, whatever that means. But some birds will not be birds again, living with wings broken, bent to sickening angles, improper geometry, hopping, not flying: broken into submission. Dogs travel to new homes, to live skittish, nerve-wracked, terrified, and distrustful lives; barking, scratching, insane human lives. Some animals go crazy, like a chimpanzee wrecked by cruelty, by its forced employment in labs or zoos or circuses, tortured by people whose job it is to twist and maim other beings without conscience or regret; psychologists, cosmetics-makers. Children are disobedient rats. Women redden their lips with monkey blood.

What suffering creatures know,  when subjected to human perversion, every minute of their existence, is that even if they were to be set free – they will never be free.

An old soul of a chimpanzee discovers grass, a tree, air and sky, for the first time: old, too old – just a breath of what might have been, too late, and we congratulate our compassion.

I have created my own rescue a shelter; it is very pretty, very quiet location somewhere outside of time, outside of America, my house old, pre-me, built long before I was born. Other children played in the dirt, grown by Wyoming, shaped by wind, yellow dust in their lungs, cool air sinking from summer storms, building character. There is a character that I play; the old lady on the block who gardens, tends beauty, at arms reach, under my feet, a profusion of living things tangled, overgrown, so unlike the powdery banded desert. People like my yard and my face, but they don’t know that I’m an injured animal, wings broken and limping toward the wild. Salvation is instinctual, but sanity is earned by walking, walking the world away.

 

 

Using Numbers to Express Emotion / Chat Room Chat

(My comments in olive Green) A common difficulty in communication between Asperger’s and social typicals is that specific words and word concepts (such as emotions, empathy) do not have common or shared “meanings”
This is not superficial. It reflects differences in the act of communication itself; in the (expected) intent, utility, and outcomes of communication. Social use of language often seems “Nebulous” “self referencing” “vague” and “pointless” to a Concrete visual thinker, whose brain is set to problem-solving mode against a background of logical “natural” structures.
Social typical language is About human relationships that define status on a social hierarchy – A system driven by rigid rules and yet perpetually “under negotiation” at personal, group and class  boundaries.

In essence, Asperger types and social types are not talking to each other at all, but about distinct mental “universes” that arise from very different perceptions of the environment – “reality” 

Trying to establish “contact” with Asperger’s individuals by forcing them to “reveal social-emotional states” is counterproductive; in fact it is outside our experience of reality. Trying to establish contact with social typicals by “sharing” the fascinating facts of physics, steam locomotion, forest growth cycles or geologic processes is equally hopeless.

No, I don’t have a solution. (Perhaps a sense of humor of the “absurd” kind aids tolerance, at least LOL)

Numbers / Empathy / Emotion

An Asperger chat line exchange: 

MOMBOY: My mom mentioned I don’t have much empathy. I told her it was a useless emotion. (Empathy: Is it an emotion, a behavior, a brain function, a concept, or science fiction?) I said that I do help people sometimes to make up for it, minus the emotional baggage. I told her that I usually have an empathy of 2/100. I said it peaks at 20/100. Then she laughed that I use numbers to describe it. She implied that I pull these numbers out of thin air. I feel like these numbers are ways to express approximations. Does anyone else use numbers to describe feelings? Is this funny to you?

MR FORMAL: What works for you, works for you, but when communicating with others you should consider trying to stick with known contexts (words). Otherwise you get weird looks. The point is, there is an amount of conformism that should be observed in order to cleanly operate within soceity. Humans need a consensus in many different areas in order to get along with each other. Communication is one of the most basic consensus items we use to attain this. If you are communicating in another language (foreign, numerical, or invented) then you will be misunderstood by the majority around you. Predict your future if you stick with describing yourself in unconventional ways while in the company of others. The case for social conformity, at least in public.

MOMBOY: You make a good point. However, this is my mother so I can get away with it.  And saying “I don’t possess empathy for other humans and you’re not smart enough to understand why” would not score me any more social points than my fractions would. The use of numbers to disguise true feelings and thoughts?

MS LOGIC: It depends on how you think. Being left brained I always use numbers to describe things, but most people don’t. Being a person of math most things are approximations, only theorems are absolute after all. Approximations = shades of emotion.

MOMBOY: When I think of something that has a quantitative value (amount of empathy or something), I see a glass of liquid and I guage how full it is. Numeric is then the most logical way. Visual conversion of quantity.

MS LOGIC: I don’t see a glass of liquid, but I agree that numbers tend to be the most logical representation. That way you can organize things based on situation. Just to clarify, my give-a-shit meter works on a percentage scale. Your fraction based system is very similar though. (Fractions are percentages!) Visualizing quantities – numbers.

MR FORMAL: A perfect example of communication building based on associating language with context. Keep this up and you guys will be speaking half in numbers and half in words.

MOMBOY: I don’t use the numbers in speech unless someone asks me how much empathy I feel for a certain situation. That has yet to happen, so for now my mind just uses the numbers as markers. The numbers gauge things comparatively against what you think about other events, not comparing what you think to what others think.

MR FORMAL: You misunderstand me, however, I was thinking along the lines of you both developing a new way of expressing something through a hybridization of an old language and a new element. And I was running a social simulation in my head where human language used numbers instead of words to describe feelings. Creative compromise.

NEWBOY: The numbers are useless without context. 1/100 could be referencing happiness, grief, or relief. I don’t think a language based entirely off of numbers is practical. Unless of course you change certain numbers to be words. As in when I say “5” it holds the same meaning as the word empathy. That would be rather clumsy though. There are languages based on numbers – they’re called CODES.

MOMBOY: There is little difference between how we use numbers and how other people use terms such as a lot, somewhat, strongly, very etc…

NEWGIRL: We just use the numbers because they are more concise and pleasing to us. In reality there is almost no difference between these two “I strongly empathize with XXX” and “I empathize 90% with XXX” Even though to some it may sound foreign to some people.

MOMBOY: Exactly. Numbers allow thoughts to be clarified in ways that are often notable. By supporting someone’s actions 85 percent (instead of saying support them greatly), the 15 percent left speaks volumes. It leaves room for a lecture, (fudging between saying what you think and limiting the social blowback?) yet still conveys that you are not in terrible opposition to the person’s actions; thus they needn’t be too troubled by your critique. Numbers (in the right context of course) can say a lot to people.

MS. DAISY: Makes perfect sense to me. I usually either feel an emotion or I don’t, so I don’t think that quantifying them would help me very much. With that in mind, though, I think it’s a very useful concept, at least for introspection. I doubt most people would appreciate the numeric representation of emotions, as it probably comes off as being a bit cold.

MOMBOY: The touchy feely types may not appreciate such a mathematical approach to detecting emotion.

JOINER: To me, emotion is like a smoke or a fog that moves a bit like liquid. Emotion is very ethereal. Feeling emotion is like a mystical treasure. But deciding how important it is? That must done with the most precise logic. Very visual experience – of a physical state.

MR MATH: I describe feelings with numbers most of the time as well because it’s easier for me to explain feelings this way. I suppose it just depends on whom you’re talking to whether they’ll appreciate it or not. Most of the people in my life have gotten used to it. I can explain my interest in someone in terms of “Its 10% friendship, 20% …” Having to translate physical feeling (emotion) into numbers in order to describe it.

MR FORMAL: I have a couple of published papers on quantification of soft cognition: beliefs, hunches, biases, assumptions, uncertainty, emotional mood, etc. This is for research related to applications in artificial intelligence. Some of my recent research is based upon a “calculus” I have developed – Bias-Based Reasoning, which mathematizes mental percepts.

MS Daisy: Sometimes I do quantify a feeling in terms of how much i would spend on something. (Me) This I can relate to: if I want to limit calories to 1200 / day, the calories automatically convert to dollars and  I “spend them” on food. It’s very different to think of a 400 calorie chocolate bar costing $4.00 out of a $12.00 budget, which shows that it’s not a “bargain.”

MR MATH: My natural tendency is to use numbers. I think in terms of a horizontal line with 100% at one side and 0% at the other. I have learned to edit out the % with most people as I feel I come across very nerdy and I know most people don’t relate to it. Visual conversion of numbers. This is familiar to me as a visual thinker.

NEW GIRL: I would say my empathy can get to 8/10 at extreme conditions, usually falls around a steady 0.37/10.00 and coasts up to 3/10 sometimes. A bit wacky, but perhaps charming. LOL!

ABA Autism Treatment / What the…?

Could you endure treatment like this for 40 HOURS per WEEK?

Notice in the video below: she does not answer the question.

Personally? These videos give me the creeps. Why do early autism “theories” and treatment have “overtones” of a cult of child abuse?

How is this any different than old fashioned Biblical “spare the rod, spoil the child” punishment routine?

DUKE U. “Autism” Study Paid for by Dept. of Defense / TOTAL BS

 THIS IS NOT SCIENCE !

Comment: Accessed via an entry under “NEWS” on the Dept. of Defense CDMRP Autism Research “Highlights” for 2013. Can we assume that DOD “funded” this particular DUKE study? On Duke’s website, under funding opportunities – (search CDMRP) there are dozens of grants offered in many categories. So – assuming this study was funded by DOD-CDMRP, what does it have to do with autism research?

And if it is some “arbitrarily” selected “news” – why is it important enough to be listed under “Highlights” for 2013 – and what does it have to do with autism research?

Note: “Weasel Words” in green

Decision to Give a Group Effort in the Brain

Monkeys find some reward in giving, even though they prefer to receive

A monkey would probably never agree that it is better to give than to receive, but they do apparently get some reward from giving to another monkey.

During a task in which rhesus macaques had control over whether they or another monkey would receive a squirt of fruit juice, three distinct areas of the brain were found to be involved in weighing benefits to oneself against benefits to the other, according to new research by Duke University researchers. TOTAL BS ASSUMPTION. There is no way to prove that monkeys formulate “social concepts” by which to make decisions about their behavior. This attributes a level and type of human cognition PROJECTED onto the monkey brain, and that this “quality of concept formation” and evaluation can be detected by neuronal activity. TOTAL fantasy!

The team used sensitive electrodes to detect the activity of individual neurons as the animals weighed different scenarios, such as whether to reward themselves, the other monkey or nobody at all. So – the monkeys “told the researchers” that this is what they were doing? HOW? Three areas of the brain were seen to weigh the problem differently depending on the social context of the reward. The research appears Dec. 24 in the journal Nature Neuroscience. What this reveals is magical thinking on the part of the researchers!

Using a computer screen to allocate juice rewards, the monkeys preferred to reward themselves first and foremost. But they also chose to reward the other monkey when it was either that or nothing for either of them. They also were more likely to give the reward to a monkey they knew over one they didn’t, preferred to give to lower status than higher status monkeys, and had almost no interest in giving the juice to an inanimate object.

Calculating the social aspects of the reward system (OMG!) seems to be a combination of action by two centers involved in calculating all sorts of rewards and a third center that adds the social dimension, according to lead researcher Michael Platt, director of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.

Comment: If one wanted to “make up” a study that exemplified the crisis of pseudoscience in American research – this one would serve as the perfect template.

The orbital frontal cortex, right above the eyes, was activated (would also be activated if you hit it with a baseball bat) when calculating rewards to the self. The anterior cingulate sulcus in the middle of the top of the brain seemed to calculate giving up a reward. But both centers appear divorced from social context,” Platt said. A third area, the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACCg), seemed to “care a lot about what happened to the other monkey,” Platt said.

Comment: So, “brain parts” or even a few neurons, have the capacity “to care” (have empathy, compassion and awareness of “social concepts”) You’ve got to be kidding!

Based on results of various combinations of the reward-giving scenario the monkeys were put through, it would appear that neurons in the ACCg encode both the giving and receiving of rewards, and do so in a remarkably similar way.

The use of single-neuron electrodes to measure the activity of brain areas gives a much more precise picture than brain imaging, Platt said. Even the best imaging available now is “a six-second snapshot of tens of thousands of neurons,” which are typically operating in milliseconds.

Comment: Technological “advance” in detection DOES NOT magically “cure” or improve the idiotic thinking of researchers.

What the team has seen happening is consistent with other studies of damaged ACCg regions in which animals lost their typical hesitation about retrieving food when facing social choices. This same region of the brain is active in people when they empathize with someone else.

OMG! Will someone please send DUKE “BS” detectors to install in their labs???

“Many neurons in the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACCg) respond both when monkeys choose a drink for themselves and when they choose to give a drink to another monkey,” Platt said. (Then how do you differentiate these two responses?) “One might view these as sort of mirror neurons for the reward system.” The region is active as an animal merely watches another animal receiving a reward without having one themselves.

The research is another piece of the puzzle as neuroscientists search for the roots of charity and social behavior in our species and others. (This is not science) There have been two schools of thought about how the social reward system is set up, Platt said. One holds that there is generic circuitry for rewards that has been adapted to our social behavior because it helped humans and other social animals like monkeys thrive. Another school holds that social behavior is so important to humans and other highly social animals like monkeys that there may be some special circuits for it, Platt said.

This finding, in macaques that have only a very distant common ancestor with us and are “not a particularly prosocial animal,” suggests that “this specialized social circuitry evolved a long time ago presumably to support cooperative behavior,” Platt said.

The research was supported by grants from the Ruth K. Broad Biomedical Foundation, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, National Institute of Mental Health (MH095894), and Department of Defense (W81XWH-11-1-0584). There it is!

And still we must ask, What does this have to do with Autism?

CITATION: “Neuronal reference frames for social decisions in primate frontal cortex,” Steve W.C. Chang, Jean-François Gariépy, Michael L. Platt. Nature Neuroscience, Dec. 24, 2012. Doi: 10.1038/nn.3287

Dept. of Defense / Autism Research Highlights

Most of these “select highlights” of funded research appear to be “serious” – but… a few have “curious” titles; and what might a complete list of “studies” reveal? There have been objections to the “duplication – redundancy” of Federally awarded grants with the same studies being funded over and over again by separate agencies.  Check out “anticipated funding opportunities” up to 1.3 million per grant.

Autism
Research Highlights/News

2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007

»  Look for consumer stories click here

2017

Press Releases:

Research Highlights:

2016

Press Releases:

Research Highlights:

News:

2015

Press Releases:

Research Highlights:

News:

2014

Press Releases:

Research Highlights:

News:

2013

Press Releases:

Research Highlights:

News:

2012

Press Releases:

Research Highlights:

News:

2011

Press Releases:

Research Highlights:

2010

Press Releases:

Research Highlights:

News:

2009

Press Releases:

Research Highlights:

News:

2008

Press Releases:

2007

Press Releases:

 

Federal Autism Research: GAO Report / More Questions than Answers!

Federal Autism Research:

Updated Information on Funding from Fiscal Years 2008 through 2012

GAO-15-583R: Published: Jun 30, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 2015

View Report (PDF, 20 pages) 

What GAO Found

Although federal funding for autism research fluctuated from fiscal years 2008 through 2012, it increased overall during this period, from approximately $169 million in fiscal year 2008 to $245 million in fiscal year 2012—about a 45 percent increase (about a 37 percent increase when adjusted for inflation to fiscal year 2012 dollars). Over this time period, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) consistently provided the majority of autism research funding—between about 76 and 83 percent of the total funding awarded each fiscal year. The highest funding levels were in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, in part, as a result of additional funds appropriated to NIH under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. While overall funding increased, federal funding varied by each of the seven research areas specified in the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee’s (IACC) strategic plan. These research areas are biology, treatments and interventions, causes, diagnosis, infrastructure and surveillance, services, and lifespan issues. The following figure shows the changes in funding by fiscal year for each of the seven research areas, as well as the overall average annual percent change in funding for each research area.

Federal Funding and Average Annual Percent Change by Autism-Related Research Area from Fiscal Years (FY) 2008 through 2012

Federal Funding and Average Annual Percent Change by Autism-Related Research Area from Fiscal Years (FY) 2008 through 2012

The research areas noted in the figure were established by the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee’s (IACC) strategic plan. The federal agencies that funded autism research during the time period are the Department of Defense; Department of Education; Environmental Protection Agency; National Science Foundation; and seven agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services: Administration for Children and Families, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, National Institutes of Health, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In this figure, all dollars are expressed in nominal terms.

___________________

Comment:

What is Infrastructure and Surveillance?

(See Fig. 1 in report: Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee…)

And why is the Department of Defense funding autism research?

Those percentages (%) written above the columns are “changes” in funding as an “annual average” – both increase and decrease – so research $$$$ into “causes” went down, as  well as $$$ for research into “lifespan issues”. This graph is not at all specific or informative, except that funding for “research into” actual SERVICES to ASD individuals and families is extremely low compared to a bonanza of funding for researchers, universities and the “autism industry”.

____________________________

Why GAO Did This Study

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1 in 68 children have been identified as having autism—a developmental disorder involving communication and social impairment. According to CDC, there are likely many causes of autism and many factors, including environmental, biologic, and genetic, that may make a child more likely to have autism. There is no known cure for autism; however, research shows that early intervention can greatly improve a child’s development. From fiscal years 2008 through 2012, 11 federal agencies awarded approximately $1.2 billion to fund autism research.

GAO was asked to examine federal autism research funding. In this report, GAO describes how the amount of federal funding in each of the research areas specified in the IACC’s strategic plan changed from fiscal years 2008 through 2012. GAO analyzed data previously collected for GAO-14-16, Federal Autism Activities: Better Data and More Coordination Needed to Help Avoid the Potential for Unnecessary Duplication, including updated data, to identify changes in agency funding awarded from fiscal years 2008 through 2012. Data by strategic plan research area for fiscal years 2013 and 2014 are not currently available. To calculate the changes in federal autism funding awarded, GAO analyzed the data by IACC strategic plan research area, including any growth or decreases in each area by fiscal year and agency.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is not making any recommendations. GAO provided a draft of this report to the Department of Defense, Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Science Foundation. GAO received technical comments from the Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Science Foundation, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. The Environmental Protection Agency did not provide any comments.

Meanwhile, I’m off to the Department of Defense / Military websites to see what’s going on…