Tagged with " sensory"
Mar 25, 2014 - Physical Ed    No Comments

This Dissenting Body

Every body I inhabit is a dissenting body.

Anxiety, anger, and disorientation emanate from my autistic sensory body. I can’t stop listening to other people’s noise through the walls, and each heavy footfall above me bruises my eardrums. A puff of my husband’s breath on my face is enough to wake me from a sound sleep. I adjust the blinds, the lights, the brightness of my screen in constant rotation. I seek refuge under the comforting weight of white noise and thick blankets, even when my heart longs for other people and open air.

My physical body protests in a language of chronic pain and sleeplessness. These disruptions occur arbitrarily; actions which give me joy now may trigger furious flares an hour, a day, a week later. And if physical penalties for disobeying my body’s limitations weren’t enough, it also inflicts its dissent on my psychological self by failing to administer the correct neurological chemicals to avoid the fogged-in abyss of depression. Sadness begets sleeplessness begets pain begets sadness, and so forth.

I often find my body unacceptable, and so does society. Every narrow seat, every cutting waistband, every judgmental voice tells me I don’t fit expectations. I brush, I tweeze, I shave, I wax, I drape, I shift, I cut, I hide. My shape is segregated into shrinking fabrics and diminishing retail spaces. It is targeted with advertisements and poisons. On the days when my body prevents me from doing meaningful work or feeling lovable, I am crushed under relentless waves of warfare.

And even if my body could fit into the definitions of worth, its very identity—as a woman, as a bisexual, as a disabled person—is constantly erased for others’ convenience. The conditions of my existence are subject to legitimized dismissal by the medical establishment, the justice system, the corporate structure that wants to suppress and exterminate that which cannot turn a profit. Reproductive control and healthcare are privileges I can check out with my skin color, only to be recalled by my economic status. If I wear my gender too openly, I’m asking for sexual assault. If I conceal my gender too well, I risk violent words and acts by those threatened by challenges to an artificial binary.

So because all my bodies are cause for dissent, I use my body as an instrument of dissent. I’m learning to seek pleasure, and to wear my rolls and creases, flagrantly and without apology. I’m walking into the halls of power to demand care for my body and others like it, through access to healthcare, economic security, an end to rape culture, and equal rights for LGBT and disabled people. I’m raising my voice in rhetorical flourishes and strident shouts to demand an end to systems of racist, sexist, and classist oppression, fueled by corporate and military powers seeking to buy or win what I am entitled to as a citizen and human being.

As long as I have a dissenting body to my name, I will use it to obstruct that which oppresses it.

Aug 12, 2013 - Game Theory, Psychology    2 Comments

Gamerography, Vol. 3: Wired to Play Differently

There’s finally a decent volume of literature out there about how women experience games–especially RPGs and video games–different than men. It helps all of us who’ve struggled to put words to the perspectives that we bring to the gaming table, many of which result in very different interactions with the rules, the stories, and the other gamers. And it provides writers and designers with insights that have changed the way games are written, so they allow more kinds of gamers to contribute to the collective interaction.

So I’d like to attempt to do something similar with another piece of myself that I bring to the gaming table. I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a difference in brain-wiring that places me on the autism spectrum. This part of myself is a relatively new discovery, but it’s undeniable and incredibly enlightening about things I could never otherwise explain. Many of these features affect how I experience creativity, social interaction, and collaborative work, three central pieces of the act of tabletop gaming.

The most important factor for me is my visual memory. I’ve written about my odd filing system before, but until the HBO movie about the life of Temple Grandin, I’d never seen my memory process outside my head. Because I have that visual catalog in my mind, I get incredibly vivid pictures from a multiplicity of contexts whenever someone invokes a place, a person, a costume, and a piece of equipment.

Practically speaking, this manifests for me in gaming in a number of ways. I have virtual battlemats in my head, and I can examine them from any vantage point, without needing minis or land/cityscapes (though I do enjoy the physical objects very much, too, for different reasons). I have pictures of characters and settings in my head that I literally inhabit. I know the size of my character’s bodies, how various features affect the way they move and sound. I assign them sensory features as well as hair and eye color, so I know how they smell and the close-up feel of their skin and clothing. They’re live, vivid people in real, textured places.

Another factor is my tendency to seek out patterns. It’s not compulsive, like someone with OCD might be; it is, though, automatic. For many autistic gamers, this allows them to understand RPG systems and make them do fantastic tricks, like a lion tamer making a beast jump through hoops. They see game systems as just another coding language that can be manipulated to perform the desired action.

Sadly, this is not me. I cannot grok systems unless the rules are so basically logical and self-evident, with a minimum of math, that they’re labeled “Ages 7 and up.” (No, I can’t explain this at all. I can at least read 10 different languages, so systems aren’t the problem, but math and I have a beef going back to 7th Grade.) As a consequence, character generation is agony unless it’s basically a single-step process, and I almost never play magic users. I vastly prefer cinematic, story-driven systems in which dice are only employed to give an edge of chance to the action I propose.

My pattern recognition talent gives me a different edge. First, I’m hell on carefully planned mysteries and adventures. One friend calls me the “storybreaker”–you can practically see the tire tracks where I went offroad, revealing options that never occurred to the author, in the ones that were eventually published. I don’t mean to circumvent plot devices; it’s a function of my autistic tendency to rapidly play through consequences to the Nth degree, thus eliminating options which I know will end in failure and generating other possibilities from that birds-eye view.

Second, I love pregens, even in systems that are entirely new to me. The words and numbers assemble themselves into 3D constructions in my mind. The closest I can come to a visual representation of this experience comes with the virtual reality models Tony Stark uses in the Iron Man movies to analyze maps, machinery plans, and crime scenes. (Here’s an example.)  The alchemical process of “blowing up” a character sheet combines with my sensory memory to conceive a fully formed person almost instantaneously. I really wish you could see what this looks like–it’s pretty amazing from the inside.

The final factor I’ll mention in this post is my relationship with words. I’m hyperlexic (in short, far too many words for any and all things that pass through my head or mouth) and I’m a terrible show-off. Just as words form lifelike people and places in my mind, I love to craft my own contributions to the game with descriptions and dialogue, as vividly rendered as I can manage. Back in my days of MUSHing, the whole game was nothing but words on a screen, but I have scenes lodged in my memory that are so thoroughly illustrated and acted that I have difficulty remembering whether I saw them in a movie. And when I’m at the table, I can use the additional tools of vocal inflection, accents, gestures, and expressions, so my love of acting, connected to that vivid character in my head, can lead me to overplay my parts to a degree that might make other players uncomfortable. At least I don’t insist on staying in character while we take pizza breaks.

Fix the Break

A week or so ago, I had a Brilliant Plan (TM). We’re making arrangements to take the whole family, our two sons included, to Origins this year. I’m beyond excited, but there’s a lot of apprehension there too. It’ll be the boys’ first con, and the first one I’ve been able to attend in several years.

It’ll also be the first con I’ve attended since I’ve known about my autism, and I expect that to be a revelation on a number of different fronts. I’ll be more attentive to the waves of sensory info coming in, and more patient with my preoccupation with the textures and graphic design of the costumes and games I see. I’ll understand why the exhibit hall and the crowded hallways between events take such a toll on my patience and energy. I’ll be more aware of how my autism affects my user experience of new systems and products. And I’ll be more mindful of how the chaos of the con environment uses up my available energy, focus, and physical reserves.

In the past, if I needed a sensory break from the crowds and chaos of large gaming rooms and the overwhelming stimuli of the exhibit hall, I had to schlep all the way back to my hotel room. Once there, the odds of actually returning diminish rapidly. When I finally stop moving so much, the tidal wave of pain and sensation I’ve been holding at bay swamps me, and I realize how much I’m hurting and tired. I can’t even think of going back to the convention center until I’ve had significant rest after that. It hurts to miss valuable time with friends I don’t see the rest of the year, but it hurts more to keep moving, to keep fighting my environment.

This year, I’m trying to do something about this. I’ve submitted proposals to both Origins and Gen Con–the two conventions I’m planning to attend this year–to establish a Sensory Break Room for people who are physically or mentally challenged by the rigorous environment of the con.

Part of this is wholly selfish. I don’t want to have to leave the convention center when (not if) my son needs a sensory break. I don’t want to have to go all the way back to our hotel room, where I know I’ll have fights over whether and when we go back, and why we don’t just stay and play XBox or something just between ourselves. He’ll be anxious and overwhelmed, literally by the amount of fun and multitude of choices available. And I don’t want to fight about whether we spend time at the place we came to spend time at.

The other part is more generous. If people like my son and I could really benefit from a room near the center of action where we can decompress for a few minutes, thereby gaining a few hours more of “on” time, I know we’re not the only ones who could use it. As people become more aware of neurodiversity, true introversion, and other conditions that make con activities challenging, it seems like the next logical step for adaptive services is to offer a nearby room where folks can go to recharge their batteries. Much as there are now nursing rooms available for moms who take their babies to cons, I think sensory break rooms are the future of necessary accessibility options for con attendees.

But what do I mean by a “sensory break room”? Let me do the negative definition before the positive one. It won’t be a hangout for people who just need a seat. It won’t be a quiet place to play quiet games. It won’t be a craft room for game widow(er)s looking for company. It won’t be a nursing or babysitting room.

The room will be screened off, instead of requiring users to open and close a clanky door. The lights will be kept quite low, probably too low to read properly, but there may be some soft, shifting colored lights to focus on. No music or other noise will be permitted, but a small fan or ionizer will run to provide white noise as an auditory buffer. Nobody will bug anyone else, but neither is it a nap room. If someone falls asleep, the monitor will wake them up after five or ten minutes, and each user will be responsible if they accidentally sleep through an event they’re supposed to attend. I’m hoping that the folks most likely to use it will be generous in bringing some adaptive tools to share–weighted blankets, exercise balls, fidgets, and other comforting objects. 

There won’t be a cost to use this space–I would no sooner charge for access to a wheelchair ramp than I would for access to this room–and its primary function will be as a room to decompress. Even just 15 minutes for most people gets them back another 2 to 3 hours of time to participate in con activities. The importance of this downtime cannot be overstated for making it a successful event for a significant number of people.

I’ve had a very good response from folks on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, and I’m hoping that enough positive pressure on the Origins and Gen Con organizers can help us achieve a pilot test for this resource. I’m trying to figure out whether it’s possible to get enough con-goers to volunteer for a shift monitoring the room while it’s open (probably 10am-6pm Thursday thru Saturday), or whether I should see if I can get the local Autism Societies to get a few folks who would be willing to work a two-hour shift each day in exchange for a four-day badge. Either way, I’m also trying to pull together some of the best game designers/GMs in the industry to run “reward games” for the folks who put in the time to make this resource work well.

Think about that look–you know the one–when you see someone about ready to meltdown in the middle of the dealer hall, or at a game table in a deafening room of other game tables. No, grownups don’t throw temper tantrums the way kids do, but you can see the tightening in their shoulders, their jaws. Their eyes get wide, flash around to scan the room for exits and clocks to tell when they get to escape. They get snippy, impatient, or they shut down entirely: “My character just goes along with everybody else.”

There’s a way to avoid that happening quite so often. A room to decompress in, to take that break from the light and noise and sights and crowds, can stave off those sudden attacks. There are still kinks and details in the plan to work out, but I hope it sounds like a good idea to enough people that we can start to leverage some positive pressure on the con organizers. Whether or not you’re going, please communicate to Origins and Gen Con organizers that you think that this resource is valuable and worth accommodating in the outskirts of the main convention area.

Sometimes you have to break to get put back together. This year, we can provide a safe space for our fellow gamers to do that.

Witchin’ in the Kitchen

I wrote this essay almost 15 years ago, deeper in the dark of winter than I am right now. But at a friend’s request, and because every word of it still rings as true today as it did when I wrote it. The only thing that’s changed in all this time is that I’m a better, more inspired cook than I was when I was just starting out. I’ve delved into ethnic cuisines, and I’ve learned to trust my senses and my reading skill when combining ingredients. That’s another kind of magic: the confidence that comes with age and practice. But that’s a different blog post.

*****

The time for ritual is at hand. I stand in the place of my power, tools of the magic I will work laid out before me– silver, wood, and steel. Fire and water are at my command, earth and air held back by my will. In this time, I will draw on the forces of creation, shaping elements. Here, I am an alchemist, a hand of the goddess herself.

For I am a kitchen witch.

I embrace this title proudly, despite lingering associations with the silly wizened dolls on brooms available at most craft fairs. As a name, it covers it all–my faith, my pleasure, the locus of my greatest power. No hallowed circle, no standing stones could imbue me with more strength or more possibilities. One friend firmly maintains that, when it comes to the Craft, if I can’t do it with Morton’s salt and a wooden spoon, it can’t be done.

While I am not so bold as to commit to such a statement myself, the power of the kitchen, and what it summons and creates, is not to be denied. Though I began down the path of Wicca in solitude, I learned the magic of cooking as all good magics are best learned : at the elbow of a wise and laughing grandmother. The rules were simple. Wash your hands. Clean as you go. Read the whole recipe before you start. Measure with care. And, most importantly, share the joy as often as possible–that’s why there are always enough beaters and spatulas and bowls for everyone. If you abide by that last rule, no spills or scorches can spell failure. Just vacuum up the oatmeal, wash the egg out of your hair, and laugh about the fun you had.

I know, it doesn’t sound much like the holy tenets of any faith, or even much of a New Age philosophy. But the results simply could not be missed. Even as a child, I recognized the phenomenal power of what we created in that tidy sanctuary of counters and appliances. We’re talking full sensory miracles here, folks. The smell hits you when you walk in the door, enveloping you in a warm blanket of knowledge that, here, you will not go hungry. Someone cares enough to spend time and energy to refresh and nourish you. That simple understanding, at the most primal level, cuts loose the weight of the world, letting your spirit rise. The sight of flushed skin and flour smudges brings light and laughter, and sneaky little dips into aromatic steam and unfinished delights allow you to keep a greedy secret that heightens anticipation. All these things seal the feeling of community as you finally join in the simple pleasure of sharing tastes, sensations, and satisfaction, even if only with one other person. No wonder “communion” takes place with food in so many religions.

But I have to be honest about something, and it’ll probably blow the lid right off any sort of “kitchen witch mystique” I may have managed to build. I am no gourmet. I’ve never taken a cooking class. Those brownies which my friends and co-workers steadfastly maintain are the best they’ve ever tasted? Betty Crocker, Fudge Supreme, $2.49 with coupon. That chili whose aroma wafts out like tickling fingers when I open the door on a cold winter night, drawing my husband in all the quicker? Packet of spices, canned beans and tomatoes. Simmer on low for 20 minutes. That’s it. And I’ve never made a secret of it.

The rave reviews continue, with every potluck dish and party treat. Is it because I always stir clockwise, letting goodwill flow into the smooth batters and sauces? Most likely not. And I’d feel terribly silly if I sprinkled water and invocations over my electric oven to ward off burnt bottoms or mushy middles. My power as a kitchen witch, so far as I can tell, comes solely the enjoyment I take in doing something simple that will produce happiness in others. As I skim my finger down the well-worn page of my favourite cookbook, I’m already thinking of the smiles and hums of pleasure that my “magic potion” will summon into existence. As I clean shortbread dough from my utensils and fingernails, I can already hear the surprised exclamations of delight ringing in the doorway as visitors first hit that gorgeous wall of aroma. And hours later, after the cupboards are closed and the counters are clean, I can still smell the lingering scent of crushed herbs and sweet essences on my fingers, and I fold them beneath my nose and breathe prayers of thanksgiving for the chance to bring joy to those I’ve fed.

So I may not always remember all the poetic invocations when I call the Watchtowers in a Circle, but I remember the favourite food for every loved one in my life, and most of the recipes. And so I might be dreadful at keeping a proper herbal grimoire stocked–my spice racks are the envy of all who survey. I consider myself well on the road to the Lord and Lady’s wisdom, because I know the seat and value of a generous, abundant power within myself, one of the greatest signposts on everyone’s spiritual journey. And when I get there, I’ll be sure to have a dish to pass.

Dec 7, 2012 - Psychology, Social Studies    3 Comments

The Gifts That Keep On Giving

Almost every good and wonderful thing about the winter holidays is a sensory delight. The smells of cold snow and freshly cut pine and butter-rich cookies tingle in our noses. Pipe organs and French horns and jingly bells and heavenly choirs and crinkly paper delight our ears with musical sounds rarely used in the rest of the year. Velvety and satiny fabrics combine with delightfully scratchy sweaters and fuzzy hats in our special party clothes. We write ourselves dietary hall passes for the dozens of special, luscious holiday foods. And the lights…oh, the lights! Who doesn’t gasp and crane at the sight of an elaborately decorated building or brilliantly lit tree?

Now imagine all that cranked up to 11. Welcome to the holidays on autism.

Sounds amazing, right? But for autistics and their families, the holidays can be overwhelming and stressful. So many folks struggle with money and family drama and expectations about all things merry and bright, and with schedules and nerves and input jacked up on Kringle Fever. These things stress out the neurodiverse too–and they often have difficulty expressing what’s too much, especially if it feels like that’ll disappoint their loved ones. Naps, hugs (physical or otherwise), routines all go a long way to mitigate these stresses, and though you may feel like a Grinch insisting on bedtimes and dietary restrictions, you’ll be grateful later when you and your family have more spoons left over for fun.

All this is in response to a blog post I read over on Autism Daddy today (thanks to Joshua for the link!). He lamented his inability to participate in a common source of small talk among parents this time of year–what their kids want for Christmas. Every parent dreams of giving the perfect gift that makes their child light up brighter than starlight, but on autistics, that looks a bit different.

Still, you can give gifts that’ll make their lives easier and more enjoyable all year long. And I urge you all to resist the urge to jump to the conclusion that gifts for special needs kids have nothing in common with, or aren’t “as fun” as, the gifts neurotypical kids want. After all, autistics are “more human than human,” as I heard Paul Collins say on Speaking of Faith years ago. And the things that feel good to them often feel good to (or solve problems for) neurotypical folks too.

I don’t know a single kid who doesn’t love the hell out of jumping on a trampoline. If you give a kid a mini-tramp (with a handle and helmet!) that fits in their bedroom, or passes for an hour at the hangar-sized trampoline parks popping up in industrial parks, you would get a medal for Best Adult EVER from children everywhere.

And who doesn’t wish they had a chair that closes up like a clam some days? In today’s open-plan, no-doors work environment, I think these may be the Next Big Thing at the very best chair stores.

And this is just the beginning. There are loads of adaptive technologies which are practical solutions to everyday problems, and you’d be the hero for putting it under the tree. For example, kids are asked to write on whiteboards at school every day, but if you’re a lefty, you spend half your time trying not to drag your arm through what you just wrote and have to start all over again when you finish each line. This cool LCD lightboard eliminates that problem! And tags in the back collar of shirts and underwear drive everyone nuts, not just autistics, so be a hero and give a box of tagless clothes that can be worn under anything.

There’s an extensive list of assistive and adaptive technologies (both high- and low-tech) at the Research Autism website, but many of these things aren’t only available to therapists or educators anymore. Online speciality retailers like AutismShop.com and Autism-Products.com sell everything from squeeze machines to weighted blankets to awesome fidget toys (which make excellent stocking stuffers). And a lot of the best gifts for autistics are available right in your local Walmart or Target–exercise balls, tagless shirts and underwear, blankets with lovely silky binding and nifty textures, and glasses with clear, funky-colored lenses are all fantastic fun gifts for every kid.

(Important Note: You NEVER want to be the person who gives the Toys That Make The Noise. This is exponentially more the case for families with neurodiverse kids. They will hate you forever.)

It gets tiring being the educator-in-chief, and I definitely have days when I don’t want to explain autism and how the world feels through that lens one more time. But instead of feeling left out because you aren’t having the same experience as other neurotypical parents and children, it’s more fun to focus on what makes us all feel good. That’s a wonderful gift to give and be given, any time of year.

 

Not Even A Little Bit: Friday Night Lists

Summer is a season of excess for most people, even if only in terms of temperature. It’s time for vacations, conventions, outdoor events in the long twilight, big Tiki drinks by the pool.

First, I’ve worked in academia for so long that I think of summer as the lean time of year, with summer teaching gigs hard to come by and no funding until fall. Even though I’m not teaching now, it’s hard to overcome the programming of over a decade that says we can’t afford anything but the barest of basics.

Second, I am from generations of profoundly pale people. I was born in the Great White North, and my ancestors were more likely to see the midnight sun over the North Sea than to lie out on tropical sands. I don’t even tan–I burn to red, then peel right back to white, with new constellations of freckles to mark each erroneous exposure. And I get horribly heat sick from weather like we’ve had for over a week now, with heat indices over 100 degrees. Living in Minnesota means we’ve got a little wall AC unit and ceiling fans in the bedrooms, but with all western and southern windows, it just never gets that cool.

So all those “beach reading” lists and travel sections in newspapers and magazines are mostly wasted on me. But I’ve still amassed a number of summer pleasures that make the season enjoyable despite nature’s best efforts. Here are the things I love about summer, without even a shred of guilt:

  1. FRESH HERBS FROM THE GARDEN–Everyone says homegrown tomatoes are the gateway drug to gardening, but I think walking outside to grab handfuls of fresh parsley, basil, rosemary, and mint for any and every dish is the height of luxury. I could live on fresh pesto, and we’ve had summers where we went poor buying enough pine nuts to keep pace with the abundance of glorious, spicy-licorice-smelling basil. I’ve long since switched to walnuts, which keep the oil balance right and don’t cost the earth.
  2. MOVIE MATINEES–Whether it’s a popcorn-chompin’, eardrum-poppin’, vertigo-inducin’ summer blockbuster or an art-house revival of a cinema classic, it’s a blessed relief to escape the relentless sun in a dark theater during the heat of the day. And it’s often so cold that I have to bring a sweater, and the chill clings to my skin for long minutes after I’m back out in the heat.
  3. OUTDOOR ART FAIRS–I absolutely adore a leisurely stroll around an art fair, peering in each tent to see the variety of colors, textures, and media each artist brings to share. It’s hard not to buy many of the beautiful objects, but they got a whole lot cheaper when I started making my own jewelry and refusing to buy anything I could make just as well myself.
  4. LOUD MUSIC–Make no mistake: I love loud music all year round, but there’s something particularly satisfying about rolling down the windows, feeling the wind in your hair, and singing along with something that makes your pedal foot a little heavier than the speed limit recommends. My favorites for this purpose: “Dashboard” by Modest Mouse, “What’s Left of the Flag” by Flogging Molly, “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” by The Ramones, “Keep the Customer Satisfied” by Simon and Garfunkel, and “I Shot the Sheriff” by either Bob Marley or Eric Clapton.
  5. HAMMOCKS–The problem with napping in the summer is that, unless you’ve got really good central AC, it’s a warm, uncomfortable business. Even with a strong fan blowing on you, it can only cool the part of you that’s not flush with the heat-holding mattress. But hammocks…hammocks are pure genius. The air blows over AND under you, and it can rock and hold even the biggest of us like we’re back in our mothers’ arms. Give me a stack of trashy romance novels, a gallon of lemonade, and a hammock, and I’ll see you in September.
  6. SANDALS AND TOENAIL POLISH–I love sundresses and skirts and other summery clothes, but cute shoes always look good, even if the diet’s not going so well. I’m not a heels person, since they put me over six feet tall, but I love strappy Greek sandals, brightly colored florals, and the chunky comfort of Birkenstocks. Slap on a coat of shocking pink or siren red toenail polish, and at least you know your feet look cool and stylish.
  7. THUNDERSTORMS–I’ve had a fraught relationship with storms my whole life. Nobody figured out until I was in seventh grade that loud, sudden noises (the kind that make you feel that percussive force on your eardrum) were my migraine trigger. This information suddenly made sense of my terror of fireworks, gunshots, even balloons popping, and the days of misery that followed the Fourth of July, Memorial Day parades, and kids’ birthday parties. As long as I’m safely inside, though, I love to watch the fearsome spectacle of lightning and thunder, lashing rain and wailing winds. Not to mention the drop in temperatures thunderstorms usually bring.
  8. DR. BRONNER’S PEPPERMINT CASTILE SOAP–I’ve got my good friend Christie to thank for introducing me to this “air conditioning in a bottle.” There’s a ton of real peppermint oil in this concentrated liquid soap, and paired with a nice cool shower, it leaves you feeling frosty and fresh (at least until you step back out into the sweaty, humid heat). Important note: Be careful about spreading it around body parts where the sharp, tingly feel of, say, Vicks VapoRub wouldn’t be welcome. Hoo-ah indeed.
  9. FARMERS’ MARKETS–Not everyone has room for a garden or the money to take part in a CSA (Community Sustained Agriculture) program, but farmers’ markets are becoming more numerous, more affordable, and more diverse in their offerings all the time. From exotic greens, to pesticide-free berries, to heirloom varieties of garlic and tomatoes, to locally sourced honey, there are seasonal treats galore almost every day of the week in larger cities. You can find your local farmers’ markets with helpful websites like LocalHarvest.org.
  10. BONFIRES–There’s something deeply visceral about the smell of wood smoke in night air, the whispery crackle of flames consuming dry timber, the seductive dance of blue and ivory and buttery yellow and sunset red. Maybe it calls to our collective memory of the security fire offers–security against the dark and the cold and the hunger and the threats. Every song sounds better, every kiss seems sweeter, every story is scarier around a fire. I need to make more friends with firepits.
Mar 24, 2012 - Domestic Engineering    No Comments

The 3 Ss

I’ve got two anecdotes, neither worthy of an entire post, and both in danger of being forgotten if I don’t record them while they’re still in my memory. One’s sweet, one’s surreal; both are short–perfect for the weekend!

I went with Connor to a friend’s birthday party last weekend. We’re officially at the stage–and in a neighborhood/income bracket–when parents hold their kids’ parties away from home. The Cold War of Escalating Birthday Parties is in effect. This one was at a suburban community center that houses a mini waterpark. There’s only one waterslide, but it’s got lights on the inside of the tube, and you get to choose the music that blasts inside while you swirl your way down (needless to say, The Star Wars theme was most popular with this group).

Places like this, and bowling alleys, and skating rinks are high-stimulus environments, and sometimes the combination of excitement from the celebration and the sensory overload can overwhelm Connor and leave him vulnerable to sudden bursts of unexpected emotion and/or behavior. I’ve made it a practice to go along and hang in the background, lend a hand to the parents if needed, and just be there in case he needs help finding his balance again. It helps that I read to his class and chaperone their field trips, so I’m known as one of the “fun moms” and my presence is generally considered an asset by the other kids.

On the way into the building, I told Connor that I would be trying my hardest to stay out of his way and let him handle things on his own, but that if he felt like he was moving out of “the green zone” (green=good), I would be there as a safe place he could come to decompress. He looked at me funny, and said, “You’re a safe place? You mean, you’re a building?” I started to make a self-deprecating joke about being as big as a building, but he cut me off as he continued. “You know, you kind of are a building,” he said. “You’re a library! I mean, you read tons of books, and you read to me and Dad and Griffin, and you know tons of stuff about everything, so yeah…you’re a library.”

I was completely gobsmacked. I looked down at him and said, a little choked up, “You know, that may be the single best compliment I have ever received from everyone ever, kid.” Then I decided to lighten the mood. “You know how else I’m like a library? I’m always telling you to BE QUIET!” He laughed, then ran ahead to join his friends.

Footnote: The Darling Husband’s response to this story, when we got home later, was this: “Oh, I would’ve said you’re like a library because you inexplicably close up some nights at 7.” Har har, Funny Guy.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, here’s what woke me up this morning. Griffin always shares his dreams with me in the morning cuddle time, and since I’d been allowed (and actually managed to sleep in), he snuggled his way under my arm when the DH gave the go-ahead. I asked what he’d dreamt, and this was our exchange.

Griffin: I dreamed about Clifford. Polka dots.

Me: What about polka dots? He had polka dots?

Griffin: Yes!

Me: Huh, polka dots. What did he do with his polka dots?

Griffin: He went to the hopsital*!

Me: What did they do at the hospital about the polka dots?

Griffin (said like I’m the biggest idiot in the world)Moooooom. YOU know.

Me (utterly confused): No. No, I don’t.

THE END

*spelling reflects his pronunciation. Yes, we’re still at the “hopsital” and “pasketti” stage.

Necessary Things: Reverb Gamers #7 & 8

REVERB GAMERS 2012, #7: How do you pick names for your characters? (Courtesy of Atlas Games.)

I’m influenced quite a bit by the setting–if there’s a clear analog to a time period or ethnic culture, I like to find a name that fits in the landscape. Just Google “baby names” and you’ll find all sorts of fantastic lists, often with meanings attached; www.babyhold.com has one of my favorites, with lots of ethnic names to choose from. I also read a lot, and books are fantastic sources of names. You might even keep a list of your own, with your gaming supplies, so you can remember the nifty names you come across in odd places. I’ve been inspired by names I found in alumni mailings, historical documents, garden centers, news reports, even on menus (I once had a pulp character named Wasabi Delmonico, after a steak description at a trendy bar and grill!).

And in case you’re the kind who does keep lists, here’s an incomplete list of character names I’ve used over the years (in no particular order): Selwyn, Rebekah, Julia, Rosemary, Margaret (aka Maggie the Book), Caledonia (Callie, for short), Bethan, Mercia, Anthea, Amara, Constance, Helga (the Wonder Nurse), Astrid, Marilla, Serafina, Lysimachia (Lysa for short; it’s the Latin name for Loosestrife, which is awesome for a fairy name), Stella Cordaric, Twink (the halfling barbarian with a soup pot for a helmet), and Freya. I know I’ll kick myself for the ones I’m forgetting, but if any of you dear readers can remember other characters I’ve played over the years, feel free to post names in comments!

REVERB GAMERS 2012, #8: What’s the one gaming accessory (lucky dice, soundtrack, etc.) you just can’t do without? Why? (Courtesy of Atlas Games.)

I’m terrible at sitting still; I have Busy Hands ™. So my essential gaming accessory is a craft to work on while the game’s in progress. Over the years, I’ve crocheted, knitted, cross-stitched, and made jewelry at the gaming table; I do this while visiting, watching movies, even during church services (thank the gods for circular bamboo knitting needles; no danger of a mortifying clatter when you accidentally drop your knitting). This is what I’m working on at the moment; you can see examples of my jewelry here.

Some people–even other women–this takes aback. From the reactions I’ve gotten from some men at convention games as I took out my tools and fibers, you’d think I’d just whipped out a breast instead. Somehow, it seems, my crafting was an unwanted feminine intrusion into their macho adventure space. In other groups, it was the norm. The battlemat was littered with scraps of embroidery floss, yarn ends, wire snippings, and stray seed beads. All the women around the table were industriously working away on their blankets, quilts, or wall hangings, stopping only to roll a handful of dice and briskly announce, “I kill it.” It was like the awesomest kind of quilting bee-slash-special forces raid.

I know that not everyone can deal with someone efficiently multi-tasking in their presence; it looks to them like I’m not paying attention as they play their part of the scene. What I try to make them understand is that I’m actually far less likely to stay focused on the action if my hands are busy. That physical occupation calms the restless, seeking portion of my mind, allowing the creative part to fully concentrate in the mental task at hand. I’d be curious to know how many other gamers on the ASD spectrum function better while stimming. I’m fortunate that my stim of choice masks what it’s doing for me in a sensory capacity. And when I’m done stimming, I have pretty things to show for it.

Dec 22, 2011 - Psychology    No Comments

Taste the Rainbow: Reverb Broads 2011 #20

Reverb Broads 2011, December 20: Life is a work of art, or so they say. What beauty do you regularly appreciate/revere in your life? (courtesy of Neha at http://whereyouarehere.blogspot.com/)

I experience beauty differently than most people. See, I’m a synesthete. What the hell is that, you say? Never heard of synethesia? The World English Dictionary defines the term as “the subjective sensation of a sense other than the one being stimulated. For example, a sound may evoke sensations of colour.”

I haven’t thought of myself as a synesthete until recently, when a discussion with another one ended with her saying, “Oh, no, you totally are.” And as I went into Research Mode, I discovered that synesthesia isn’t uncommon among neurodiverse people, especially those with Autism Spectrum Disorders, because their sensory perceptions are already slightly bent. 

As I explore the interactions among my senses more consciously than ever before, I’m discovering that my favorite things are my favorites because they register on more than one sense. For example, I love Pantone color 2757. It’s the deep rich blue of the sky just before full dark, or a Marc Chagall painting. But it’s also the color that fills my mind when the Bass IIs of a choir dip down below the staff, like in Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria. Those notes unfurl over me like a bolt of midnight velvet; I could just roll around in them, and an unbearably rich, creamy taste like foie gras fills my mouth.

And the air right now, that keen winter smell that portends snow (but doesn’t yet freeze your boogers, if you know what I mean), blows up banks of fluffy cumulus clouds in my mind, airier than the leaden walls of vapor that hug so close to the northern sky these days. It’s a bright, fluffy smell, just a fraction bluer than powdered sugar, with a clean minty smell. I want to eat that smell like marshmallows.

These associations dazzle me sometimes, and I know the distracted, mile-long stare that captures me when I fall into a whirl of sensations. I just wish you all could taste what I hear.

The Pettiest of Peeves: Reverb Broads #16

Reverb Broads 2011, December 16: What are your biggest pet peeves? (courtesy of Emily at http://warmedtheworld.blogspot.com)

I can only come up with three pet peeves right now, and they’re all so trivial, I’m pretty embarrassed to put them out there. Feel free to mock them. But once you know about them, beware: they might start to annoy you, too!

My first pet peeve is repetitive noises. It’s a Big Red Button that is constantly pushed by my sons, because if there’s one thing kids love, it’s making the same noises or saying the same things over and over and over and over. Both of them engage in what I like to call “echolocation barking,” when they say “Mom!” or “Dad!” over and over until someone responds to them, even if they don’t really have anything else to say. They also seem incapable of singing more than one riff of a song, though they’re happy to sing that riff on endless loop. I refuse to buy The Toys That Make The Noise. And don’t get me started on video game music…

And it’s caused by a big snarly bundle of factors. I have perfect relative pitch, extremely sensitive hearing, and a tendency toward hypervigilance — in short, I really can’t stop listening. This contributes to my general insomnia; I can’t sleep without some sort of patternless white noise, like a fan. My husband once bought me one of those soundscape machines, but I had to return it after two nights, because all of the environmental sounds had a loop, and I would lie there waiting for the same pattern of notes to come back again. Pure torture.

My second pet peeve is simple: apostrophes. Sure, there are lots of other nitpicky little grammar things that make me nuts, but I could learn to live with all sorts of things if folks would just get their apostrophes under control. They’re not even hard, people! Here, I’ll let Bob the Flower handle this one:

And my last one isn’t even that bad, but it makes the holiday season maddening for me. In the song “Deck the Hall,” there is only ONE HALL, but MANY BOUGHS. “Deck the Halls” is not the correct original lyric, though it is ubiquitous these days. I got this pet peeve from a good friend with whom I sang in church and school choir for years, and now, like her, I go around at carol sings yelling, “ONE HALL, MANY BOUGHS!” and generally annoying everyone.

You don’t believe me, do you? Well, here, look!

This is original sheet music, from the Victorian era when the carol became popular

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