Blogging from an iPhone

Because I broke my laptop this morning. I was lying in bed with my laptop next to me and I somehow managed to pull the covers over me in a way that sent the laptop crashing to the floor.  Now the screen is destroyed.

I’m so frustrated that I feel like deliberately throwing and breaking things. This is not the first time I’ve inadvertently broken an electronic device of mine. Nor is it the second or the third. It happens on a regular basis. Breaking things, losing things and injuring myself are all great talents of mine.

You may be marvelling at how anyone could be that careless but if I play the disability card will I get some sympathy?  It’s hard having such impaired executive functioning and spatial awareness.

I am amazed by people who manage to never break or lose things. It only takes one second of inattention for disaster to strike and paying attention 24/7 feels like an impossible feat for me. Oh, who am I kidding, paying attention for 24 seconds often feels impossible to me.

I had plans to work on a blog series over the next few days but now that my laptop is broken, those plans have been derailed. I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of this blogging from an iPhone thing though…

Free at last!

The time has come for me to reveal what all my vaguebooking and vagueblogging has been about. Today my mom and I moved away from my evil stepfather and in to a new house. My evil stepfather has been making both of our lives miserable for years so it’s nice to finally be free of him and to open up a new chapter in our lives. If you want a textbook example of what an asshole my stepfather is, yesterday he told me that my dog doesn’t like me. It kills me that for now he gets half custody of that dog who supposedly doesn’t like me but hopefully that will change soon.

This was a man who regularly referred to me as a parasite. He claimed he was nice to everyone except me because parasitic people don’t deserve to be treated nicely. He told me I was lazy and did nothing with my life, contributed nothing to the world. He said I was essentially a two-year-old and deserved no say in anything. He constantly mocked and chastised me for my pacing and sterotyped movements. He told me I was only allowed to pace and stim in one room of the house because it bothered him to see it. He told me I wasn’t normal and threatened to have me sent away.

He claimed I was a liar and that nothing I said could be trusted. He even tried to blame me for the divorce. It supposedly happened because my mom refused to control me and force me to take down a ‘hurtful’ blog post . My mom rightfully informed him that I am not her chattel. Something tells me he didn’t even actually read the blog post he objected to. It wasn’t meant to be hurtful and after all the deliberately hurtful things he’s said to me, I can’t even begin to feel sorry about it.

As for me being a liar who can’t be trusted, I’m not the one who had an affair and denied it even when my spouse put the evidence right in front of me. I’m not the one who brags constantly about being accepted in to a prestigious school that I didn’t even apply to. I could go on and on about my stepfather but I think you get the idea. The point is he was filling my life with garbage that I don’t want or need so good riddance to bad rubbish.

Our new house is small but very nice. It’s in an over 55 community and I’m likely the youngest one there but I’m fine with that. I’ve always tended to prefer the company of older people anyway. We found out after we bought the house that old friends of ours live in the neighborhood so that was a nice surprise.

The location is ideal. I’m within walking distance of my father and godmother as well as several shops and restaurants. In back of us is the pond that has been my favorite place since childhood. Across the street from us is a clubhouse with a pool.

The house is technically mine because it’s under my special needs trust. It has not escaped my consciousness that societal norms say that at my age I should not be moving in to a house with my mother, I should be moving in by myself or with a romantic partner. I’m not going to let the unnamed others’ expectations of me bother me now though. Now is a time to celebrate.

At first I wasn’t going to post about my move on social media because I didn’t want to deal with awkward questions about my situation but then I decided fuck it, I was going to share my exciting news with everyone. Even if this move won’t mean complete independence or complete happiness for me and my mother, it will mean increased happiness and independence for both of us. That’s always a good thing.

My mom and I actually moved away from my stepfather and in to a new house two years ago but that move didn’t work out so well and we ended up returning a month later. I have a much better feeling about this move though because we’re in a much better location with a much better support system.

My birthday is the day after tomorrow. This is the best birthday gift I’ve ever gotten.

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Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why is a popular and controversial Netflix series that deals with the issue of suicide, which in a way is also popular and controversial. It’s based on the book of the same name.  I’ve read the book and seen the show so I figured I should share my thoughts on them.

Since my reviews tend to get long winded I’m going to start by answering three important questions in the most succinct way possible.

Is Thirteen Reasons Why a good book? No

Is Thirteen Reasons Why a good show? Yes

Does Thirteen Reasons Why glorify suicide? Yes

The story was an interesting one and it held my attention the whole time so I’ll give the book that much but Jay Asher is just not a good writer. It’s a good thing he had a decent editor. At the end of book the original ending of the story before the editor changed it was printed. It was so bad and ridiculous I found myself cringing in second hand embarrassment.

Movies based on books are almost never as good as the books but in my experience shows based on books tend to be better than the books. I wasn’t all that impressed with the book Orange is the New Black (although compared to Thirteen Reasons Why it’s a masterpiece) but I love the Netflix series (although I think it may have jumped the shark at season 5.) The series added all kinds of intriguing details and scenarios that weren’t in the book.

While I wouldn’t say I loved the Netflix version of Thirteen Reasons Why, I did like it.  Just like the Netflix version of Orange is the New Black, it touched on all kinds of details that the book just barely skimmed the surface of. Most notably we got to know the suicide victim’s parents and they filed a lawsuit against the school.

The lawsuit angle raises the question of how much responsibility other people have for someone’s suicide both legally and morally. Obviously the suicide victim is the one who chose to commit suicide and no one else forced them in to it but if you actively encourage someone to commit suicide, it seems pretty clear to me that you’re responsible for their death.  Recently there was a news story about a girl who was charged with manslaughter for encouraging her boyfriend to commit suicide and I agreed with that verdict.

What’s less clear is how responsible you are for a suicide victim’s death if you don’t encourage them to commit suicide but make their life a living hell.  In Thirteen Reasons Why this is what the school bullies did to Hannah. The story also explores the ways in which well meaning people who love the suicide victim can contribute to their death, not only through their actions but through their inaction. Most of the people on Hannah’s thirteen reasons why tapes were people who treated her cruelly but the main character, Clay,  had treated her kindly and cared about her.

There has been much concern that Thirteen Reasons Why glorifies suicide and I’ll get to that shortly but there was another aspect of it I found concerning that I haven’t seen anyone talk about. There’s a scene where Hannah and Clay start making out and Hannah freaks out and tells Clay to go away. He does so. It’s later revealed that Hannah told Clay to go away because she was scared but she really wanted him to stay and it’s suggested that if he had, maybe she wouldn’t have committed suicide. Clay regrets listening to Hannah and leaving the room rather than continuing to touch and talk to her.

I wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea from that scene and think that it’s okay to continue to touch and talk to someone who’s asked you to stop. If someone has asked you to stop touching and talking to them, the proper thing to do is to listen to them, even if you suspect they really want you to continue. In this world of rape culture it is so important to take people at their word and not do anything to them that they haven’t consented to. I’m not going to say that the show glorifies rape or touching people without their consent though because Hannah’s rape and her witnessing of someone else’s rape factor heavily into her decision to commit suicide.

I do think that Thirteen Reasons Why glorifies suicide, not because it makes suicide seem pleasant or admirable but because it sends the message that suicide is a way to be noticed, to get your voice heard, to make the people who wronged you feel bad about what they did, to make them suffer for it.  The people who wronged Hannah didn’t seem to feel bad about what they did or realize how much they’d hurt her until she killed herself. They also were not held accountable for their actions until she killed herself.

For people who are not depressed and who are respected and treated well by their peers, I think the message this story sends is a good one and that it has the potential to influence their behavior in a positive manner. If you hold the social power, you should use that power to be kind to others, rather than to be unkind because you never know what kind of a battle someone is fighting or what effect your actions could have on them. Yet I have serious concerns about the effect this story could have on a depressed, tormented, socially rejected adolescent. Those are the people who feel powerless and this story presents suicide as a way to gain power.

Another criticism I’ve seen of Thirteen Reasons Why is that it portrays suicide as a revenge tactic and that stigmatizes people who commit suicide. There was certainly an element of revenge to Hannah’s suicide but I did not get the impression that was her sole or even her primary motivation for ending her life. Her suicide scene was graphic and maybe if I hadn’t heard about it beforehand I would have been shocked and horrified by it but I’d heard so much criticism of it beforehand that it ended up not being as graphic as I was expecting it to be.

I had a lot of sympathy for Hannah but I did not find her to be an entirely likable character. However, I do not see Hannah’s flaws as a flaw in the story. I don’t think someone needs to be a perfect angel in order for their suicide to be a tragedy or for us to mourn the loss of them. The truth is that if someone is suicidal or suffering from mental illness, there’s a good chance they will behave badly, that they’ll do things that others find hurtful and off- putting. That does not mean the suicidal person is a bad person.

It is often said that suicide is selfish. I don’t think that’s a fair criticism because while it’s true that suicide is devastating to the surviving loved ones, the mind of a severely depressed person can convince them that they are so horrible and such a burden to everyone around them, that they are doing their loved ones a favor by killing themselves.

I can personally relate to this story on multiple levels. I’ve never attempted suicide and I’m not sure that I’ve ever been truly suicidal but I have been severely depressed and had thoughts of wanting to die. I wasn’t bullied or ostracized by my peer group much as a child or an adolescent but I was as an adult.  The bullying did not make me suicidal but it did damage me emotionally. I’m not sure that the people who bullied me realized how badly they were hurting me or that they thought of what they were doing to me as bullying.

I’d like to say that I’ve never bullied or been cruel to anyone but that would be a lie. The truth is that when I was in high school my friends and I played a cruel prank on a girl who was emotionally vulnerable. Our prank did not result in the girl’s suicide but I know that it could have. In fact when the teachers found out about our prank we were required to write a play to show that we learned our lesson and I proved that by writing a play about our prank that did result in a suicide attempt. A few years later there was a news story about an adult who played the same kind of prank on a teenage girl and it resulted in her suicide.

The prank I participated in was not something I ever would have done on my own but people tend to be influenced by their peers and to do cruel things in groups that they wouldn’t do individually.  This was an extensive prank that went on for months and there were times when I did feel guilty about my participation in it but I always brushed that guilt aside. I told myself it was just a silly prank so it wasn’t really bullying and surely it wouldn’t hurt her that badly and if it did she deserved it because she”d been mean to me and she wasn’t a very nice person and….we can always think of ways to try to justify cruel, bullying behavior but at the end of the day there really is no justification for it.

As I said before, you never know the kind of effect your actions will have on someone else, whether they be acts of kindness or acts of cruelty. Something that seems insignificant to you could have a profound impact on someone else. At the end of the day, unless you’re a psychopath, you don’t want someone else’s blood on your hands so play it safe and don’t be an ass.  If you see someone being an ass to someone else stand up to them and reach out to the victim.

As Thirteen Reasons Why proves, cruelty and indifference to cruelty can have devastating consequences. I can only hope that the predominant consequence of Thirteen Reasons Why will be a decrease in cruelty in the real world, rather than an increase in suicide.

I’m officially a blogger!

Well, technically I’ve been a blogger for almost a year but now I’ll be a blogger of a different kind. The other day I lost some Facebook friends after I was accused of ableism for posting a status about being annoyed by atrocious grammar. Before I lost those friends one of them made a jab at me for not having a job. The piece of writing I submitted yesterday about grammar abuse resulted in a much better outcome.

Today I got an email informing me that I am now officially a writer for a blogging website. I know “Your post was very professional and we think our customers will love your style” is just a stock phrase they use in everyone’s acceptance email but it was still good to hear.

At this point my post has not been accepted by the client and if it is I will only get paid $8 for it. I don’t think anyone has ever been this excited about the prospect of making 8 bucks.  It’s not really about the money though. It’s about the sense of self worth that finally having something that’s kind of, sort of, almost a job gives me. It’s about finally having it confirmed that I have a skill and a talent someone would be willing to pay me for. It’s about finally having an answer to that awkward question of “What do you do?”

I can say that I’m a blogger.

The Fountain of Youth

I drank from the fountain of youth the other day. I mean that almost but not quite literally. What really happened is that I spent an hour of pure bliss at the King Fountain in Millennium Park in Chicago. It was the most amazing fountain I’ve ever been to. A shallow pool of water flows on a granite floor between two impressive glass towers that are lit up and have showers cascading down their sides. On the front of the towers are projection screens that have rotating images of faces of various ages and races. Periodically spurts of water gush from the lips of those faces.

What made the atmosphere of the fountain so enchanting was the people in it. The vast majority of those people were children. Some were boys, some were girls. Some were in diapers, others were approaching adolescence. Some had light skin, others had dark skin. They splashed and frolicked through the fountain. smiling, laughing, holding hands and shouting with glee. Most of the few adults who entered the fountain were standing still keeping a stern eye on their children but there was one adult splashing through the fountain with as much joy and exuberance as the children. That adult was me.

I am someone who looks much younger than my actual age and in some respects I act much younger than my actual age. In some ways my life situation resembles the typical life situation of a child. People often express shock and disbelief that I’m as old as I am. When they say they’re shocked by my age because of how young I look, it’s usually meant either neutrally or as a compliment. While I imagine there will come a time in my life when I’m delighted to look 15 years younger than I am, at this point I find it humiliating to be mistaken for an adolescent. When people tell me I’m like a child or an adolescent because of the way I live or behave, it’s almost always meant as an insult.

When I’m told that I’m childlike or I think about how much my life resembles that of a child’s, I’m usually filled with shame and sadness.  I can’t really be blamed for having a youthful appearance but living and behaving like a child when I’m an adult mostly feels like a character flaw and a bad choice. I mostly feel inferior to all those adult-like adults, as though they’re living their lives the right way and I’m living my life the wrong way.

My constant need for movement and sensory stimulation has been another source of shame and humiliation in my life, another thing that has me feeling like I’m different from everyone else in a bad way. When I go out in public it gets me stares of disapproval and inquiries of concern.

Yet experiences like the one I had at the fountain remind me that it’s not all bad. I’m also childlike in good ways. Being so childlike as an adult has left me feeling depressed and alienated, like I’m missing out on some of the best things life has to offer. However, it also gives me an enhanced capacity for joy and wonder, an enhanced ability to live in the moment and appreciate the little things in life. My hyposensitive nervous system and my resulting need for constant movement and stimulation has been a source of embarrassment but it’s also given me a heightened sense of pleasure from sensory experiences.

I could have stayed at the fountain all day and not gotten tired of it.  Sometimes when I’m engaged in pleasant activities my mind drifts to unrelated unpleasant thoughts but for the vast majority of the time I was frolicking through the fountain, feeling the water flowing over my feet, seeing the streams cascade down the walls and hearing the children shout with glee, my prevailing thought was “Wow, this fountain is awesome.”

Most adults wouldn’t frolic in the fountain because of messages they’ve gotten that say that’s not something adults do, because they’d be afraid of what it would make others think of them. They wouldn’t immerse themselves in a shower of water because they wouldn’t want to get their clothes wet. On that day in the fountain I had no such inhibitions.

On that day at the the fountain there may have been people giving me looks of bafflement, disapproval or concern but if there were I didn’t notice them and if I had noticed them, I wouldn’t have cared.  There may have been people who upon observing me decided there was something “not quite right” about me and they may have felt sorry for me but in that moment they were not the ones who should have felt sorry for me. In that moment I was the one who should be feeling sorry for them. In that moment they were missing out on a wonderful experience that I was having.

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Profile of an NLD/ASD kid: Part 2

Occupational Therapy Evaluation

Child’s age:  3 years, 8 months

Background: Kira was referred for an occupational therapy evaluation by staff from Project Child’s Assessment service because of concerns with gross and fine motor development. Mrs. Baker originally brought Kira to Project Child because of concerns about her social abilities and questionable attention to task.

Kira is the product of a full term pregnancy, with delivery achieved through Cesarian section due to a breech positioning. Mrs. Baker reported her recollections of gross motor milestones being mildly delayed, although independent ambulation was achieved by one year. Medical history was remarkable in that Kira was born with congenital torticollis, which has since resolved. Health has been generally good. Kira attends nursery school.

Tests Administered: 

Michigan Early Intervention Developmental Profile

Michigan Preschool Profile

Ernhardt Prehensile Profile

Parent Report

Observation

Behavioral Observations: Kira entered the evaluation room with her mother, appearing fairly comfortable and interested in her environment. She sat at the table when directed to do so.  Eye contact could be elicited but was fleeting, particularly as language or task demands became more persistent. Kira was generally cooperative and happy, although she seemed to need to be encouraged to participate in dialogue. Mrs. Baker reported concerns that she needs to direct Kira’s play and that she frequently reverts to hand flapping episodes. Occasional episodes of hand flapping were observed during this assessment, but not in an uncontrollable fashion. She also held one hand in the air, while manipulating with the other hand.

Kira benefited from focusing prompters to direct and maintain her attention to task. She occasionally became fidgety in her chair. She seemed more distracted by her own movements and thoughts than by external stimuli.

Gross Motor: Kira displayed a full repertoire of primary movement patterns, with a fully complete repertoire of secondary more integrated movements. Active range of motion and muscle tone appeared to be within normal limits as well. Overflow was observed on occasion as noted previously, with shaking of the arms, as well as occasional fisting, and oral overflow. The quality of her movements was judged to be age appropriate.

According to the Michigan Preschool Profile, Kira functioned on a 3 year 6 month level. She walked with heel strike, and ran fairly smoothly. Mrs. Baker reported that Kira ascends and descends stairs in a reciprocal fashion. She was able to jump twelve inches in a forward direction and repetitively. She stood two to three seconds on one foot. By report, Kira uses the slide, climbing bars and swings on the playground. She pedals a riding toy as well.

Perceptual/Fine Motor: Kira could use her hands in a coordinated, assistive fashion, displaying a preference for her right hand. She manipulated objects comfortably in her fingertips. A very mild tremor was occasionally evident in the hands in unstable postures. Release appeared immaturely developed in both control and precision in placement. Kira had difficulty isolating the movements of her thumb and individual fingers imitatively.

According to the Michigan Preschool Profile and EDP, Kira functioned on a 30 to 32 month level in perceptual/fine motor development, achieving a basal score of 28 months and displaying a scattering of skills up to 3 years 6 months. She was able to stack 6 one inch cubes, and aligned the blocks. She did not actually duplicate building a 4 cube train. She completed the three piece formboard in a forward and reversed presentation. She did not complete the rotated two piece puzzle. She placed six pegs in a six holed pegboard in 19 seconds.

Kira held a marker in a static tripod grasp. She was able to copy a vertical, horizontal and diagonal line, and a circle. She drew an eye, an ear and some hair on a complete-a-man drawing. Kira held scissors in both hands, and is mastering snipping. Kira achieved a 3 year level on the Erhardt Prehensile Profile.

Self Care: Kira is toilet trained during the day, but not at night. She eats using a spoon, and occasionally fork. She spreads very little. She can take off her socks, shoes and underwear, and put on her underwear, and sweatshirts.  She is cooperative in dressing and not yet handling fasteners.

Summary:  Kira was referred for an occupational therapy evaluation because of concerns about hand flapping, difficulty involving herself in play, and delays in gross and fine motor development. Gross motor abilities were judged to be within normal limits. Perceptual/fine motor abilities are judged to be moderately delayed in both quality and skill achievement. Overflow, as noted by Mrs. Baker, was also observed. She will probably gradually outgrow this behavior.

Recommendations:

  1. Kira has been referred to the Perceptual/Motor Clinic. If vacancies are not available, she will be placed on the waiting list.
  2. Mrs. Baker may be able to gradually lead Kira to making her own decisions about play by providing two or three choices, start her on the activity, then encouraging her to play independently for increasing periods of time.
  3. Kira should be encouraged to give and maintain eye contact, by using the directive “Look” (point to eye) and delay speaking to her until she does look at speaker.
  4. Games that encourage Kira to follow directions, move slowly, or sit quietly may also help (i.e.-Giant Steps, Follow the Leader, Simon Says, etc,)

 

 

Profile of an NLD/ASD child: Part 1

Preface: Me and my father are both pack rats. Because of this I have found many treasures from my past in our houses. Among those treasures are my childhood psychological/neurological/educational reports. I have decided to publish them on my blog for the sake of education and enlightenment concerning the presentation of an NLD/ASD child. NLD stands for nonverbal learning disorder. ASD stands for autism spectrum disorder. I was diagnosed with NLD at age 12. I do not have an official ASD diagnosis. Some professionals consider NLD to be on the autism spectrum, others don’t. NLD is not currently listed in the DSM and there is debate over whether it is a valid diagnostic framework. For more information about my experiences with NLD/ASD see my blog post The problem with being smart and stupid at the same time

Disclaimer: Details of these reports have been changed and omitted for the sake of brevity and privacy. This is meant to represent my experience and my experience only. Everyone experiences NLD and ASD differently.

Now without further ado, let’s begin at the beginning…

Application for screening and/or assessment:

Child’s name: Kira

Child’s age: 3 years

What concerns do you have about your child?:  Doesn’t seem interested in playing with toys, drawing and coloring, etc, Won’t focus on an activity for more than a couple of minutes. Spends much of her time running through house flapping her arms and talking to herself. Doesn’t interact with other children much. Very shy.

What questions do you hope to have answered by this screening and/or evaluation?  Is she hyperactive?  Does she have an attention deficit disorder? Any other behavioral dysfunction?

 

 

My 4th of July Weekend

It started with me scouring the internet for the times, dates and locations where I could see fireworks. I may be misremembering and entering ‘Get off my lawn!’ territory here but back in my day you didn’t need to worry about looking up the dates for fireworks because you knew that they occurred on the 4th and only the 4th. The 4th was the only day you and your pets had to worry about being bothered by the loud noises of the fireworks from neighboring towns or the illegal fireworks of your neighbors.

These days it seems Independence Day is a week long extravaganza and the length of it seems to increase every year. Now pets and people get to be traumatized in the days leading up to and the days after the 4th. Sometimes finding fireworks to view in your area on Independence Day is difficult because they’ve been set off on other days. In my case Princeton wasn’t having fireworks this year. Mercer County Park was but they seemed to want to keep their fireworks a secret, as they made information about them so hard to find that I didn’t hear about it until it was too late.

I found that Washington Crossing Park was having a concert and fireworks on July 2nd. The weather was supposed to be nice so my mom and I decided to go. We bought some sandwiches to take there and went on our merry way.  All was well until we saw a sign saying that all state parks were closed. Thanks, Chris Christie. That same day he was seen tanning his fat ass on a beach that he’d closed to the public. No wonder he has an approval rating of 15%

“Oh crap!” my mom said. I told her I believed Washington Crossing Park was in Pennsylvania but when I looked it up online I found to my dismay that Washington Crossing State park was in New Jersey. We were about to turn around when I realized that there’s also a Washington Crossing Historic Park in Pennsylvania. After some confusion as to whether the fireworks were at the state or historic park, we realized they were at the historic park, which was at the end of the bridge that separated New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We had just barely escaped Chris Christie’s evil clutches.

At the park the people and dogs dressed in their Independence Day garb made for interesting sights. I wanted to photograph them. The trick was doing it inconspicuously enough so as not to be noticed and deemed a creeper. Thank god for the zoom function. At one point while I was taking a picture of a group of kids tossing a ball around a boy grabbed his pants and shouted to his friend “Guess what I’m mailing to you? THESE NUTS!”  Kids these days…

We were treated to a dazzling display of fireworks accompanied by patriotic music. Even though we had forgotten our bug spray, we did not get bitten by bugs. As we were walking back to the parking lot my mom pointed this out and of course the second she said this I felt a bug bite my arm.

Unfortunately on our way home we got lost in the ghetto of Trenton, which is not a fun place to get lost in at night. What made it even less fun was my mom blaming me for us getting lost. A guy had cut her off on the freeway and she decided to respond by raising her middle finger. I know how out of control road rage can get so I figured it was best not to antagonize the guy. I yelled at my mom not to flip the guy off, causing her to get distracted and make a wrong turn. I was only trying to help…

Thankfully I made it out of the ghetto in one piece and was able to accompany my dad, Gabrielle and her daughter Lorelei to another dangerous city to continue my 4th of July celebration. Once again I was leaving New Jersey to celebrate Independence Day in Pennsylvania. This time it was in the patriotic city of Philadelphia.

Once we had traded our original hotel room for a hotel room that would not require me and Lorelei to share a bed, we explored the city. After we’d been walking for a while I tried to get my father to take us to The Hard Rock Cafe for dinner but if you’ve read my Florida blogs you know how hard it can be to get my dad to agree to a real meal while on vacation. When we got back to the hotel he generously gave me money to go get a meal by myself. I’d planned on going to a restaurant but I couldn’t find one nearby. I didn’t feel comfortable roaming the streets of Philadelphia at night by myself so I settled for the food mart across the street, which had virtually nothing of any nutritional value. My dinner ended up consisting of yogurt, Goldfish crackers, vanilla milk and a York peppermint patty.

The next day there was a parade. At the last minute I realized we had no sunscreen. I didn’t want to get burned so I stayed in the hotel.  When my dad returned from the parade he said there had been shade to sit in so my refusing to go was an extreme reaction. He did have a point but what can I say? I’ve been warned about the dangers of melanoma and I’ve heard that famous commencement speech that begins with “Wear sunscreen.”

That night as we made our way downtown to the fireworks extravaganza my father made small talk with the cab driver by asking him where he was from. The cab driver in turn asked my father where he was from. When my dad said he was from Romania, the talk turned to communist countries, at which point the cab driver told us that he loves communism. Yeah, that was kind of awkward.

Once again I was treated to a concert and people in festive 4th of July garb. All was going well until we found ourselves caught in a sudden torrential downpour. We hadn’t brought an umbrella so we used the elastic sheet we’d been laying on as a makeshift umbrella. When my dad noticed me using my phone amidst the rainstorm he said “Kira, what the hell?  The world is ending and you’re tweeting?” The truth is that if I’m around when Armageddon strikes, I probably will be posting about it on Facebook. I might as well go out with a clever status.

My Facebook status on the night of the 4th of July read: “Let me tell you, when it comes to 4th of July fun, nothing beats getting trapped in a sudden torrential downpour in Philadelphia with no umbrella right before the fireworks start. I’m only being about 53% sarcastic.”

In reality I was being considerably less than 53% sarcastic. We were giggling the whole  time and really did find the experience to be great fun. It wouldn’t have been so fun if it had cancelled the fireworks but luckily it went away as quickly as it came. The concert resumed and we impatiently waited for the fireworks to begin.

As we waited I paced back and forth. If you’ve read this blog long enough you’ll know that pacing is something I always do because that’s how I’m wired but strangers view it with alarm. True to form, a woman came up to me and asked if I was lost. I said no and she asked me if I was okay. I said yes but she wasn’t going to take my word for it. She told me I seemed upset and then asked Gabrielle if she was with me. That’s what happens when you go out in public while not being neurotypical and also looking very young.

Eventually the fireworks started and I got to experience another spectacular light show. Once they were over I waded in the fountain since I clearly didn’t get wet enough in the rainstorm. Then I continued my pattern of fine dining by having those good old Philadelphia pretzels for dinner.

The next day on our way home we got a flat tire. My father got angry when he thought I was posting about the flat tire on Facebook but I assured him I wasn’t. I’m sure he won’t mind me posting about it on this blog. When we went to the auto shop to get the tire replaced my father promised us that if the repair took over an hour, he would treat us to a dinner at a nice restaurant in New Hope. Lucky for us, it did take over an hour and we got to have a lovely dinner on the waterfront.

So that was my 4th of July weekend. I was going to end by wishing you all a belated happy Independence Day but considering that as of last night I was still hearing fireworks go off, it’s really not that belated.

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Blogger Stereotypes

Phil Taylor of the blog The Phil Factor wrote a blog about blogger stereotypes. He asked his readers which of the blogger stereotypes they fell in to and if they could come up with any more stereotypes. I said I fell in to the humor blogger stereotype ( A lot of my blog is serious but contains dark, self deprecating humor. I certainly don’t fit in to any of the other stereotypes listed) and came up with my own list of blogger stereotypes. Phil said I’d nailed enough categories to write a whole other post. Of course as a stereotypical humor blogger I think I’m just hilarious and want my readers to fawn over my comedic genius so I’m publishing my blogger stereotypes list on my own blog. Enjoy!

The blogging awards blogger: Always posting about blogging awards they’ve won, nominating other bloggers for awards and inviting bloggers to nominate other bloggers.

 

The ‘I’m too busy to blog’ blogger: They don’t post much anymore but once a month or so  they pop up to say they’re sorry for not blogging but they’ve just been so busy lately.

 

The ‘Sorry not sorry’ blogger: They write a blog post that offends someone and the next day they write a blog saying “I’m sorry you were so sensitive that you were offended by what I said and that you’re too stupid to understand what I meant by it.”

 

The ‘Social media is the devil’ blogger: They talk about how they’ve quit social media and it’s the best thing they ever did.  They’ve realized you’re a pathetic human being if  you enjoy getting likes and follows on Facebook, if you have to post all the details of and pictures of your life on Facebook. Meanwhile they’re tracking likes and follows on their blog and posting more details about their life there than anyone ever does on Facebook.

 

The vague blogger: They post about something that’s upsetting or angering them but you don’t know what the hell they’re talking about because they don’t explain the situation. I’ve been guilty of that myself.

 

The humblebragging blogger: They post about how many posts they’ve written, how many likes, follows, views, visitors and comments they’ve gotten but of course they just want to say how surprised they are that their blog took off so quickly and thank all their readers and followers for making this all possible and giving them this amazing opportunity.

Image result for it used to be that people got mad if you read their diary, now they get mad if you dont

 

Book Review: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy is the true story of a lawyer’s work to win justice for those who have been failed by our justice system, especially death row inmates.  For as long as I can remember I have been adamantly opposed to the death penalty. I think it is inhumane, abhorrent and has no place in a society that calls itself civilized. When I read this book I needed no convincing that the death penalty is wrong and should be abolished but if I did need convincing it surely would have swayed me.  I feel that anyone who reads this book and still thinks the death penalty is acceptable is much more of a monster than any of the death row inmates profiled in it.

One of the reasons I am opposed to the death penalty is that there is the possibility of executing someone who is innocent and death is irreversible.  I assumed that executing an innocent person is rare but that one innocent person executed is one too many. I assumed that when an innocent person was placed on death row it was the result of a terrible mistake. This book showed me just how wrong I was in that regard.

It’s said that one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. This book presented both the horrifying death row statistics and the horrifying individual stories of death row inmates. For every nine people on death row that are executed, one is exonerated. The story that gets the most attention in this book is that of Walter McMillian. He was put on death row for a murder that there was no evidence he committed and plenty of evidence he didn’t.

Over a dozen people could vouch that he was at a fish fry when the murder took place. Another criminal who was a notorious liar was coerced by the police to claim he’d seen Walter at the scene of the crime in exchange for a lightening of his own sentence. The story he spun made no sense and was full of holes but the police were feeling pressure to solve the case and Walter was an easy target because he was a black man who’d had an affair with a white woman. The town where Walter lived, where he was unjustly condemned due to the color of his skin, was a town that took pride in being the setting of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Apparently the irony was lost on its residents.

The death penalty is disproportionately applied to African Americans, who are condemned by juries that are disproportionately white. Other groups of people who are vulnerable to the death penalty include the poor, the mentally ill and the intellectually disabled. When you look at capital punishment in that light it seems like a form of eugenics.

There are a lot of great quotes in this book. Regarding the classicism inherent in our justice system, Stevenson says the system treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent. He says capital punishment means those without the capital get the punishment. So much depends upon a good lawyer and those who can’t afford to hire a good lawyer end up paying with their lives.

McMillian’s story is just one of many horror stories in this books. There’s the story of the woman who gets 10 years in prison for three bad checks to buy her children Christmas presents, the woman who is sentenced to life in prison for supposedly killing a stillborn baby that she couldn’t afford prenatal care for, all those children from abusive homes who are sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison for non-homicidal crimes.

The saddest case of all is that of Jimmy Dill. He was an intellectually impaired man from an abusive home who was imprisoned after being involved in a shooting. When the shooting victim died nine months later as a result of poor medical care, he was sentenced to death. Bryan tried repeatedly to get Jimmy’s sentence overturned but ultimately he was unable to. On the night of his execution Jimmy spoke with a stutter to tell Bryan how grateful he was to him for trying to save his life. As Bryan listened to Jimmy speak, the tears rolled down his cheeks. As I read his account of Jimmy’s last words to him, the tears rolled down my cheeks.

The other part of the book that made me cry was the story of Avery Jenkins, a mentally ill death row inmate who had been severely abused as a child. Bryan had learned that his own career, education and socioeconomic status could not protect him from racism. Because of his skin color, a policeman had treated him like a criminal for listening  to music in his car in his own neighborhood.  When he entered the courtroom as a lawyer the judge would assume he was the defendant on trial. When he went to meet with Avery at the prison he noticed a car full of racist symbols and slogans that referenced cotton picking. When he entered the prison a guard made sure Bryan knew the truck was his. He then proceeded to talk to him in a threatening, aggressive manner and subject him to a humiliating strip search even though it was against protocol.

Avery experienced psychotic episodes and his speech was often incoherent. Every time Bryan met with him he would ask for a chocolate milkshake and Bryan would have to tell him he was sorry but it was against prison regulations. When Bryan appealed Avery’s death sentence in court he talked about the horrific abuse he had endured in foster care.  The next time he went to meet with Avery at the prison he was surprised to be greeted by the guard in a friendly manner and not to be subjected to a strip search. The guard told him that he’d listened to what he’d said about Avery’s experiences in foster care. He said that he’d been abused in foster care himself and he hadn’t thought anyone had it as bad as he did. He also said that on the way back from the hearing he had bought Avery a chocolate milkshake.

Ultimately Just Mercy is a book that is as touching and uplifting as it is shocking and horrifying. Amidst all the misery, cruelty and unjust treatment, there is compassion, insight and mercy. Mercy and compassion are ultimately what are needed to fix our broken justice system. Bryan Stevenson would tell you that our broken justice system is a symptom of our broken selves. Through his work with the incarcerated, Stevenson came to realize that we are all broken. Sometimes we are broken by our own choices, sometimes by circumstances we never would have chosen but we have all hurt and been hurt by others. He realized that his motivation for doing the work that he did was his own brokenness  He wanted justice for his clients and would do anything to get it for them but although the ways in which he and his clients had been broken were different, he could not pretend that their struggles were disconnected from his own.

Of all the great quotes in this book, the one that spoke to me the most was “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” If you lie, you’re more than just a liar, if you steal, you’re more than just a thief and if you kill someone you’re more than just a murderer. Too often when someone commits a crime, I see and hear others speak of the accused in scathing categorical terms, as though the second they emerged from the womb they grabbed a physical or metaphorical weapon, committed a heinous crime and that is the sum total of their life.

And that’s where my own brokenness comes in. I’ve never been incarcerated but I’ve done plenty of things in my life that I’m not proud of and I’d hate for anyone to reduce me to those things. I spent 6 weeks in a mental hospital diagnosed with a mental illness I didn’t have. Walter McMillian spent 6 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.  The other day I was walking through the city reeling from an encounter I’d had with a stranger that had made me think bout how different my autism made me from everyone else, how hard it made my life, how it caused people to make false assumptions about me.  I saw a mural on a building that featured a picture of a woman along with her name. She was listed as being a mural painter, an architecture major, a former prison inmate and an advocate for prison reform.

The sign also said that the U.S. contains 5 % of the world’s population but 25% of its prisoners. Black people are similarly overrepresented in the prison system in proportion to their population.  I’ve come to realize that sometimes the difference between those who are imprisoned and those who are free does not come down to a difference between their behavior or their morality but a difference between the shade of their skin color and the size of their bank account.

Bryan Stevenson says that we seek to to crush, imprison and kill the most vulnerable among us, not because they are a threat to public safety or beyond rehabilitation but because we think it makes us seem tougher, less broken. We’d be better off using our brokenness as a source of compassion and mercy.  The measure of a society’s character and commitment to justice is not how it treats those who are rich, powerful and respected but how it treats the most vulnerable. We all suffer when members of our society are treated poorly and we all benefit when mercy is shown, for all of us need mercy at some point and mercy is a healing transformative force that allows us to see things we would not see otherwise.

A common argument in favor of the death penalty is that some people deserve to die and some people don’t deserve to be shown mercy. Stevenson says mercy is most potent when it is directed at the undeserving and that the question is not whether people  deserve to die but whether we deserve to kill.

The answer to the question of whether we deserve to kill is a resounding no. The answer to the question of whether I would recommend this book is a resounding yes.