Tag Archives: blogging

On Writers Block, Mud Wrestling, and the Autism Blogosphere

Alternate Title: What Happens When Flappiness Wakes Too Early and Gets to Thinking Without Any Idea of What She Plans to Write

Today my heart is waiting on a phone call that my mind knows won’t be coming.  A year ago today, my daddy called and asked me for the last time, “Will you be my Valentine?” – a little tradition between us that I loved.  A tradition that my little girl won’t get to remember about him. My heart is heavy.  I wish there was a place I could safely set it and not feel these raw emotions for just a few hours.  But grief doesn’t work that way. It’s been a hell of a week.  For personal reasons I can’t divulge and other dramas I don’t want to.  Since I didn’t already have enough on my plate, pneumonia decided to vacation in my lungs.  I’m tired.

I haven’t written much lately.  It’s not because I have nothing to say.  On the contrary, I have too much to say.  All of the thoughts are pushing and shoving, trying to get out of the door in my mind.  And since I don’t like crowds, I’ve just been sort of sitting back and waiting for them to calm down and line up in some semblance of order.  But the mind is a very uncivilized place.

So is the autism blogosphere.  If you aren’t a part of it, let me suggest you avoid it.  There’s a war going on right now.  It’s ugly.  Factions of advocates are angry with one another.  They bond together over whom they mutually hate, planning strikes and counter strikes in a war of words that no one is winning.  We live in a world where recent generations have little understanding of the commonly accepted rules of debate.  Thinking is very black and white, and one’s opinions of a single subject determine whether or not he is viewed as a person deserving of kindness and respect.  Autism bloggers write posts expressing their views, and – rather than simply commenting with a reasoned disagreement – others seek to discredit them by questioning whether they have a right to be heard at all.  Name-calling and personal attacks become a game whose winner is determined by the number of shares and likes received.  Because the subject matter is so close to the hearts of the participants, all of this is easy to get caught up in.  I know.

But today, I’m thinking about my father.  A man known to never say a bad word about anybody.  He was an attorney, and he knew a lot about arguing.  When you practice law for 40 years in a small city, you know all the players.  Every judge and attorney you know and like has been both on your side on cases and has worked against your side on cases.  You duke it out using the rule of law.  You win some, and you lose some.  But, when you bump into those folks at the deli, you don’t hold a grudge.  They made arguments that you didn’t agree with and maybe even won.  They may have won a case you felt passionately about and now saddened for your client.  But there isn’t an assumption of evil intent.  You don’t race out and publish articles attacking them as lawyers.  You don’t claim they have no right to practice.

Now I know that autism advocates aren’t necessarily lawyers.  It’s not a parallel for several reasons. But I was raised with this mentality.  That you don’t have to hate someone to disagree with them.  You don’t have to make it your life’s mission to discredit them.  You don’t need to be unkind simply because they see things differently.  You can argue and reason and even declare their statements to be illogical.  But you are never going to find anybody in this world who agrees with everything you do.  And you will wear yourself out and become a very unlikable character if you go around expecting and hysterically insisting that they do.

I do not require my friends to agree with me on every important issue.  I have friends who are pro-choice and friends who are anti-abortion.  I have friends who are pro-gun rights and friends who are terrified of guns.  Gay friends, straight friends.  Jewish friends, Christian friends, and even a couple of ordained witches.  I am positive that a dinner party with all of these folks would get lively.

The problem with the blogosphere is that the people behind the blogs aren’t really real to readers.  You see a joke, assume a tone, take issue with a perhaps unfortunately worded sentence and – in the absence of any other knowledge of that person – a real human being becomes just a viewpoint that you hate.  Unlike co-workers or acquaintances whose views you might disagree with, you don’t know that this blogger donates her time at nursing homes, feeds the poor, received a cancer diagnosis, makes from-scratch chicken soup for her neighbors, or whatever.

Fifteen years of working with middle schoolers has taught me something.  (Actually, middle schoolers teach you a lot of things.) I have had to counsel more kids than I can count who are caught up in some sort of drama.  Friends who become enemies by lunch time.  Girls who insulted each other on Facebook.  Every day of the week.  And what I have found is that when you take two people who are passionately in disagreement, being egged on by an enthusiastic audience, and instead take them to a side room and close the door, they will eventually speak to one another.  It takes a long time, but usually all it takes is one telling the other, “This is how I felt”.  And the other usually says, “I didn’t intend to make you feel that way.  But this is how I felt.”  Despite all the animosity and stubbornness, they will usually find common ground and make a truce.  I’ve rarely opened the door and found them still mortal enemies.  They still might not agree, but they have become real to one another.  Usually, you don’t have many problems after that.  Sometimes, they become friends.

Here in the blogosphere, we cannot do that.  Even in an email or private message.  One’s mind interprets the words sent in the context of what one already believes about a person.  They remain just a symbol of what you disagree with.  Combine that with the anonymity of the internet, and you have a recipe for meanness.

I have been the subject of criticism this week and read some mean comments about me.  People who like me have jumped in as well.  Friends of those on both sides have gleefully infused themselves into the drama.  All hell broke loose.  And I find myself sitting here, early in the morning, wondering how to scrub off all of this caked on mud.  Realizing that everyone in the wrestling ring is also covered in it and unrecognizable.

But there is no little room to go into in which to solve our differences.  I remain the symbol of a viewpoint, as do they.  I want to disengage, but I sincerely believe the issues too important to abandon.  A friend told me last night that I just don’t have the stomach for all of this.  And I think she’s right.  I don’t like conflict.  I don’t like people not liking me. I don’t like accusations I know to be untrue but feel powerless to correct.  This ride – blogging – has a been a wild one.

I have been sitting, staring at this screen for several minutes now.  But I still have no idea how to wrap this up neatly.  Except to say that, aside from anything having to do with autism or parenting, it is my sincere belief that the first rule of discourse is kindness.  That we must remember that those whom we disagree with are not necessarily evil.  They have their own experiences that have flavored their perceptions, and those perceptions are every bit as real and heartfelt as our own.  The problem is that most people simply don’t have the right words to convey to others who they are or where they are coming from.  Not really.  We try.  We fail.  We try again. But there aren’t enough words in all the combined languages of Earth to portray a single human heart.

And there is nothing to be done for that but to keep on trying.  While trying to keep in mind that most people really are good at heart.  Most believers in any cause are sincere and want to do good.  Whether or not I agree with them is irrelevant to how they deserve to be treated.  With respect, with civility, and with the benefit of the doubt I believe every human being should be willing to give to another — that we are all just trying to do the best we can with what we have and know.  It’s a hard principle to remember in the heat of anger.

But it’s the best mud repellent around.

“I hope that one or two immortal lyrics come out of all this tumbling around.”   -Louise Bogan

Growing Pains: One Year of Flappiness

 A year ago, I sat on my couch – staring at my computer screen, trying to come up with an original name for a blog.  I don’t remember everything I tried, but I do know just about every domain referencing puzzle pieces is taken.  (I’d like to take the time, on behalf of the autism community, to issue a huge mea culpa to the online jigsaw puzzle industry.  Sorry.)  After giving up on puzzles, I started over with flapping, then flappy, then happy – and Flappiness Is was born. 

I needed an outlet.   I looked at a few autism blogs (quickly realizing special-needs parent blogging wasn’t exactly a new idea).  I noted that most of them had a presence on social media and resolved to do the same.  And then I wrote my first fledgling post.  My goal was simple.  I just wanted to talk to a few people who knew what I was going through. 

And then my world expanded.  I can tell you I never dreamed of the following this blog would attract.  The heartfelt stories of those in the trenches.  Words of wisdom and motherly reassurances from women who’ve already raised their children.  Honest, illuminating, and kind perspectives from self-advocates.  Emails and private messages comparing notes, asking for advice, and saying thank you.  The sharing of tips, advice, resources, information from so many.  I never imagined that this little labor of love would give me so much more in return. 

I’m not the same woman I was one year ago.  My skin is a lot thicker.  I’ve gotten my son formally diagnosed, enrolled him in public school, watched my beloved father pass away, dealt with probate, renovated a house, moved, put my innermost thoughts and feelings on the internet, gone viral, been published in a few places, encountered scathing criticism online, and had a major health scare.  I’m evolving from someone who cared what everybody thought to one who realizes she can’t please them all.  My sense of purpose is growing.  And I’m realizing that I still have dreams of my own that are worth pursuing.

All because of you. 

Yes, this blog has been an extraordinary experience for me.  I still cannot believe that people have been interested in what I’ve had to say over half a million times now.  And I’m so very grateful for it.   I have made amazing friends in this blogging journey.  Wonderful people who have validated my concerns, joys, and even my darkest moments.  Tireless advocates who humble me in their devotion to and efforts on behalf of our cause.  Self-advocates who inspire me to dream big dreams for my son and all those like him. 

Thank you for casting light upon this path, for showing me the surest places to set my feet, and for reaching out to hold my hand.  It’s a good thing to know you’re not alone.

Thank you.





A Very Fine Pickle Indeed – Telling Tales Out of School

Hindsight is a funny thing.  The clarity that comes with it is elusive when you need it, but it never fails to show up and smirk when you don’t.

Last year, a Facebook acquaintance ambushed me at a retirement party and suggested that I pursue real writing rather than concentrating my creative energies on Facebook statuses.  Appealing to my vanity, he told me I had a “distinctive voice”.  Yeah…you know I just ate that up.  But after years of uninspired resume, application letter, and obituary writing for friends and family, it occurred to me that I needed an outlet.   I had tried blogging before, but it lacked a focus and I soon abandoned it.

In the spirit of “writing what you know”, I went and looked up autism parenting blogs.  I found Babble’s top autism blogs, checked out a few, and found that I suddenly had a lot to say.  And realized with chagrin that I had been saying it, but to people who weren’t particularly invested (friends and family not directly affected by autism).  I had been blabbering away about my experience without a willing audience and needed to give my poor friends a break.  After reading a few blogging tips, brainstorming a name, and creating Twitter and Facebook accounts to find some readers, I created an account on WordPress, wrote my first post, and timidly entered the autism blogosphere.  My goal was simple.  I wanted to build up a readership of about 75-100 people (similar to a friend of mine’s beer blog) and meet real people who have been in my shoes and were willing to talk autism.

Imagine my surprise – and I confess my delight – when, after four days of blogging, my “Apology” post took off.  Not like those hilarious treadmill blooper videos, mind you – they’re totally awesome.   But 56,000 hits in a single day.  Which, for a four-day old niche blog, is pretty viral.  A couple of weeks after that, “Dear Shopper” took off as well.  And, in almost surreal timing, the following day “11 Things” was “Freshly Pressed” on the WordPress.com homepage.

Suffice it to say, it was a most extraordinary experience for a newbie blogger.  Suddenly I had hundreds of comments and emails—encouraging me, sharing their own stories, wanting me to guest post, asking my opinion, or offering me an “opportunity” to sell their product.   Yep, my Warhol-allocated 15 minutes was something else.  Now that they’re over, I am relieved.  Statistically, it is unlikely I’ll get any more.  And mine were a good 15 minutes – unlike those unfortunate souls whose minutes came while dangling on a ski lift with their pants down.  One really must practice gratitude when one can.

Had that hindsight been present, I would have spent more time thinking about the implications of blogging than social networking or a name for my blog.  And I would have changed my name – not merely going by my maiden name, but changing it altogether.

You see, I’m in a very fine pickle indeed – of my own making – and there’s really nothing that can be done about it.    Well, I could dramatically post a notice from a relative that I had been hit on the head by an asteroid, but that would make me unhappy.  I happen to like blogging.  I love interacting with this community of parents – who understand the value of support so much as to offer it to strangers they will likely never lay eyes upon.  Every parent would walk through fire for their children.  But you guys-along with every parent of every child who has been vulnerable in an unforgiving world – have actually all gotten the call to suit up. We come from all walks of life, but we share this one thing in common.  Nope, I’m not giving it up.

But going by my own identity was probably a less than stellar idea.  Some might think I’m saying that due to the sinister nature of the internet.   They’d be wrong.  Because it isn’t that I don’t want any of you to have my name, it’s that I wish everyone I knew in real life didn’t!  In a large enough city, it wouldn’t be a problem.

But I live in a small one.  We have one high school.  I personally know all of our local candidates for superintendent. Almost all of our school level administrators were born and raised in this county.  And, having been employed here for 15 years, I have taught with, trained with, worked for, or attended high school with most of them.  You don’t have to play six degrees in this town.  Usually two will suffice.

My point is this:  the day will come when we have a concern or complaint.  It just will.  (And I am one of the least rock the boat natured women you’ll ever meet.)

And I will have to think about whether or not this teacher or that therapist or which administrator is related to somebody else and whether it might be a problem. We have awesome people in my school system, and I do have faith that most of my colleagues want the best for every child.  But if you work for the same people you might one day have to petition, you’d be a fool to be unaware.

All this would be bad enough for any special needs parent, but then I had to go and start blogging – using my real name.  It wasn’t that it was a secret really.  My friends and family knew. I just wasn’t making an effort to promote it to whole city.   But someone saw “Apology” on the Autism Speaks site and it got out.  Now some folks are interested and asking me about it.  Which is certainly no big deal.  But at some point, someone who works with him will see it as well.  And, considering how careful and sensitive teachers of special needs kids already have to be, imagine how thrilled they would be to hear the mom in the IEP is an autism blogger.  Add to that the abundance of lawyers in my family, and I’ll be surprised if meetings with me aren’t recorded and legally represented!

In short, there are many opportunities here to royally infuriate someone with the power to make my life miserable.  And, yes, I know the First Amendment (barring stupidity or slander) will protect me.  But that isn’t really the point, is it?  I have to live and work in this town.  I happen to like most of these people.   I need my job.  But, most importantly, I don’t want anyone resenting or avoiding my child because they fear I might go and raise a stink on my blog.  I’m not going to do that to anyone who works with my child period.  But I wouldn’t blame them for being a little leery about it.

If I had blogged about, say, stamp collecting, it would have been alright.   If that one post hadn’t taken off, it would have been okay.  But the internet is an unpredictable thing.  And I have recently learned it is a very small world after all.

So here I am, blogging away while attempting to analyze every possible consequence of each post.  Who might read this?  How might they interpret it?  Does it suggest anyone’s identity?  Will a family member or friend be inadvertently offended or affected?  Might the school system see this as criticism?  And – if I attempt to minimize negative ramifications – am I remaining true to me?  Censoring myself is hardly therapeutic.

So, yes, I’m going to continue what I’m doing.  (Mainly because I’m lazy and all other autism advocacy seems to involve running several miles in unflattering clothing.)  I’m still going to talk about what I need to talk about or say what I think needs to be said.  I’m simply going to continue to look very carefully at how I say it.

No, I didn’t think about any of this beforehand, and I should have.  So those of you who are thinking about writing your own blog, be forewarned.  You really have only three options when blogging: use a nom de plume, write pure fluff that will offend no one, or grow thicker skin.  The first two options won’t work for me.  So I’m working on that third one.  While repeatedly looking over my shoulder.  And maintaining possibly the largest unpublished drafts folder in the history of blogging.

Sometimes I am not so smart.  :/

“I always feel like somebody’s watchin me and I got no privacy. Oh oh oh…”