Tag Archives: Fiction

Temple Thoughts

“My name is Temple Grandin. I’m not like other people.
I think in pictures. And I connect them.”

So begins the biopic Temple Grandin. This thought-provoking film tells the story of a woman living with autism. Notice that I used the word “living” and not “struggling” or some other woe is me verb. It is a life and not a battle. In fact, living is too weak a verb. Better to drop the “with” and change “living” to “leveraging.”

This thought–provoking film tells the story of a woman leveraging autism.

Much better. At least to me, since I mostly think in words. Or at least I think I do. Describing how you think seems to lose something in the description. We can communicate how we think, but that’s not the same thing as conveying it. “I think in pictures and I connect them” gives me a better understanding of how Grandin’s mind works. But that’s not the same thing as Understanding; not the same thing as knowing, “what it’s like.”

This natural – yet altogether profound — human disparity is captured especially well in an exchange between Temple and her professor [my emphasis in bold].

Dr. Carlock: Okay. Okay. Can you bring everything you’ve seen to your mind?
Temple: Sure.
Dr. Carlock: Even if it were an everyday object, like, say, shoes?
Temple: I see all the shoes I’ve worn, my mother’s and other people I’ve met. And you have three pairs, one needs a new heel. And I see the newspaper ads and TV ads and… Can’t you?

I certainly can’t. I’m not even that good at basic visualization. At least not as good as I think someone who is good at such visualization would be. Heck, even “thinking in words” may be an overstatement of orderliness regarding my junk-drawer mind. It might be more accurate to say I think in splotches of half-formed reality; a mishmash of a little visual this and a lot of textual that.

Especially lots of text of the hearing kind; that internal voice which is quiet to the world but is reading aloud inside my head what I just wrote. It judges the flow, phrasing, and so on. It’s there, too, with story dialogue, which is usually the first thing that comes to me in writing fiction.

I’m lousy with description, large casts of characters, and keeping time periods, ages, and hair color straight. I have to work hard, and do work hard, at these things. Dialogue, though, comes comparatively easily for me, as I hear it clearly in my head.

If you go inside your  head and think about your thinking, what do you feel is happening? What do you see? What do you hear? Or are those two verbs not applicable to you? They certainly aren’t always applicable to me. Perhaps you have better words; ones that would more accurately describe your experience. Or maybe you might become so frustrated trying to do so that you end up saying, “I just think and thought happens.”

Which is a valid enough statement since it is your mental milieu and no one else’s. As long as you can successfully navigate the You landscape to get your thoughts where you need them to go in order to live a fulfilled life, the route is less important.

But sometimes we focus so much on the aforementioned disparity that we spend an inordinate amount of effort trying to correct our thinking to better conform to normative ideas of thought-processing. In effect, we strive to eradicate a perceived or identified weakness.

The problem though is that sometimes such striving causes us to under-appreciate – and thus underutilize — a strength.

Grandin, however, realized early on that although autism gave her some challenges, particularly social ones, such issues were far outweighed by the gain it provided in the powerhouse visualized thinking it encouraged. She saw things in ways “normal” people didn’t and made conceptual connections that normal people couldn’t.

If she corrected her autism, she would be correcting her brilliance. So instead, she embraced it, leveraged it, as a part of her and became (and is becoming) all the more brilliant.

Temple Grandin is a living example of playing to ones strengths and the movie is a resonating suggestion for the rest of us to do likewise.

———–

JD Fox’s Awesome Opossum Bonus:

Dialogue at work.

Years ago, I took a writing class at college where one of the assignments was to compose a short piece of fiction containing dialogue. The restriction was that each piece of dialogue must be three words or less. I decided to take it a step further and told the whole story using only dialogue. Flaws notwithstanding, I think it still holds up fairly well.

MOOD SWINGS
You’re so young.
Too young?
No, it’s just…
Just what?
I’m just surprised.
Consider yourself lucky.
Are you legal?
Legal enough.
How much?
Fifty.
That’s too high.
Suit yourself.
What about twenty?
You’re kidding, right?
Fifty’s too high.
I’m worth it.
Do you swallow?
That depends.
On what?
My mood, mostly.
What else?
The person.
But you’ll suck?
For fifty, yeah.
That’s a lot.
Fifty’s the price.
I’ve got twenty.
Good for you.
And this.
What’s that?
A bus pass.
And the twenty?
And the twenty.
Hand them over.
Here you go.
Okay, then.
So what now?
Go in here.
Here?
Yeah.
It’s dark inside.
And your point?
No point, I…
Good.
What now?
Pull it out.
Like this.
Yeah. Like that.
And you’ll…
How’s this?
Oh… my…
You like that?
Yeah.
And this?
Oh, God, yeah.
That feels good?
That feels great.
You close?
I’m close.
Okay, then.
I… Oh, Oh…
How was that?
Incredible. You swallowed?
Yeah.
Why?
Because of you.
Because of me?
And my mood.
What does…?
I told you.
What’s this?
Your bus pass.
It’s yours now.
Don’t want it.
You earned it.
Don’t need it.
You’re worth more.
I know.
More than twenty.
I know.
I live nearby.
So?
Want some coffee?
No.
We could…
No.
I mean…
No. Just go.
What about you?
What about me?
It’s cold outside.
I’ll survive.
I know, but…
Don’t worry.
Too late.
I’ll be fine.
Spend the night.
No.
Please.
Why?
I’d feel better.
Oh, you would?
You would, too.
You think so?
I know so.
Nearby, huh?
Around the corner.
That’s convenient!
Sometimes.
It is cold…
Yes, it is.
Well, okay, then.
Good.
Which way?
This way.
Lead the way.
Here we are.
Already?
Up these steps.
What’re you doing?
Take my hand.
Why?
There’s ice here.
Oh. Just don’t…
Don’t what?
Get any ideas.
About what?
What this means.
A warm bed?
Spending the night.
What’s it mean?
You tell me.
Tonight you’re safe.
And tomorrow?
Tomorrow’s another day.
Tomorrow I’ll go.
We’ll see.
I will.
Whatever you want.
I won’t stay.
It’s your choice.
Yes, it is.
But for tonight…
What?
Sleep on it.

In the not so Present

This is why events unnerve me

It’s early morning. When am I?

I am currently sitting on our couch with a laptop and a cat – Amber – on my lap (making a fairly crowded lap) with a cup of coffee close at hand. But I’m only partly located in this most curious currently; this collective fiction of now.

Instead I am thinking ahead to my shift at Shaw’s grocery store, which begins in a few hours and will be day number six of eight-hour-plus shifts. I am thinking ahead and beyond that, looking forward to Thursday when I have time off (which is weird expression when you think about it).

Time off, or maybe more accurately time on, to provide feedback on a poem in my mailbox from a professor of English I met; and also review his feedback on a poem that I sent him. I plan (another non-now word) on doing so tomorrow morning.

In the morning before I go to the afternoon orientation at the library for volunteering there. Which will be before The Vermont Cares board of directors early evening meeting. Which will be before the later evening Montpelier Conservation Commission meeting.

I’m thinking to the next days as well. Friday with another Shaw’s shift. Which will be before the Montpelier Friday Night Group, where I’m co-facilitator. But also Saturday, which is another day off (and another strange phrase when you think about it), where I wil be volunteering at the Vermont Queer and Allied Youth Summit.

I type these words, this list of upcoming, as Amber makes a little half-purr noise indicating life is good on JD’s lap and closes her eyes. My eyes are open, but I’m only partly seeing the screen and her, most of me looking back to recent events that I had hoped to have blogged about by now.

Such as the wonderful film by Kubrick I recently saw called Paths of Glory. Or before that to the wonderful poetry reading I attended where sixth graders from Main Street Middle School read their poems alongside seniors (senior as in elderly, not grade) on themes of adolescence (Looking Back, Looking Forward). Or after that to a wonderful birthday party a friend had where – and this seems very Vermont to me – a recitation of Four Quartets by TS Eliot was given.

A lot of wonderful deserving to be written about. And I want to write about the not so wonderful, too. And write about the in-between wonderful as well.

Some things somehow do get written in the oh so limited now space that doesn’t even really exist, forever falling away out of our grasp.

I didn’t write about the sixth grade poets, but I got inspired to write a short story about a queer sixth grader trying to get his older sister in trouble and things not going as he had planned. Wrote it and submitted it. I haven’t yet written my response to the poet on the poem he sent me. But a dystopian poem of mine we had recently discussed has been accepted for publication by Cactus Heart.

Two, four, or six degrees of creative separation, maybe?

Daylight stirs Amber. She decides her now is better spent on the condo by the window and currently stares out into a reality that for her is happening one tick and tock at a time.

My own ticks and tocks are a jumbled mess. Past and future clicks of the clock blur together as they’re drenched in present worry of there not being enough of them left; soaked in the realization there were never enough to begin with.

I type here as I.C. Water by Psychic TV plays on ITunes. The song is dedicated to Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division. His temporality ended abruptly with a rope.

I type in this ambiguous space of when I am as the now dissolves and brings me ever closer to the far less ambiguous when I’m not.

Tick.

Tock.

Tick?

Christmas Day – A Short Story

[Excerpted from a novel-in-progress]

Atari 2600 Video Game Systems were the hot item of Christmas 1977, as everyone in Randy’s third grade class would affirm under oath. But they were way too expensive and a waste of money and no one in the Copperstone household other than Randy seemed to care or appreciate the severe gravity of the situation that everyone, absolutely friggin’ everyone, in his entire school was going to get one and that Randy would be left out and be a total complete loser if he didn’t return to school in the New Year having gotten one.

“Maybe next year, when the prices come down,” his dad said philosophically, being all Father Knows Best during one of Randy’s numerous attempts to reason with him. “And you can stop making that gasping noise, as, believe it or not, you are not going to die if you don’t get one. Now go finish bringing the rest of the groceries in.”

His mom was no better.

“Oh, quit exaggerating. I doubt everyone in your school is going to get a Safari for Christmas.”

“A-TA-RI.”

“Atari, then. Whatever. I’m frankly sick to death of hearing about it. Now get up off the floor like a big boy and go set the table.”

So cold-heartedly deaf were the ears of the wardens of Copperstone Prison that Randy eventually stopped bringing it up, though it would be a lie to say he’d forgotten all about it. Nevertheless, by the time dawn broke and paper shrapnel littered the living room, he had resigned himself to returning to Mr. Fenway’s class disappointed and empty-handed.

Well, maybe not quite empty-handed, as he did get some nifty other gifts like the little trash can of something called Slime, which was exactly – and wonderfully – what it claimed to be. The green stuff oozed through his fingers in the way that, well, slime tends to do, feeling so utterly gross he just had to share it with as many of his classmates as possible.

“You know you can’t take that to school, don’t you?” Mrs. Copperstone reminded Randy as his eyes got a certain gleam in them.

“I know, I know,” he said, even though he also knew from the moment he opened the can that that was exactly what he’d do. It was slime, for crying out loud. He had a kid duty to share it.

All in all it would have still been a decent enough Christmas, especially since Andy – provided Andy’s mom didn’t inexplicably change her mind as she sometimes did – would be spending the night.

But, out of the post-present-unwrapping, barely-past-dawn blue…

“I think you still have one more present left,” Mrs. Copperstone said, causing Randy’s heart to skip a beat. His mind leaped to the obvious and he just as quickly tried to squash that mind-leaping before his hopes could get too far up. His dad smiled. His mom smiled. Everyone full of smiles around a tree obviously now barren of unwrapped gifts.

Randy peered into the void that currently underwhelmed the tree as if he expected some new thing to fall down from the pine branches. He walked slowly around its base, his hand stretched out like searching for a secret door or portal or something.

“Though as I recall, I don’t think Santa put it under the tree,” his dad said.

“You know, now that I think about, I think you’re right. But I can’t quite remember where he put it, though…” His mom paused as did Randy, every fiber of his body listening to her in a way he usually didn’t. She put her hand up to her chin as if she were giving the matter serious thought. Abruptly she pulled her hand away and shrugged. “Oh, well, I’m sure it’s around here somewhere. It’ll turn up.”

Randy swallowed, his heart doing that weird skipping thing again. He started tearing through the house, wildly opening hall closets, kitchen cabinets, and drawers so small that they couldn’t possibly hold anything of interest but needed checked anyway. Similarly with the crowded medicine cabinet in the bathroom.

Under the bathroom sink turned up nothing as well as did behind the living room curtains. He turned up the couch cushions but the only things he discovered there besides general lived-in grime was a couple of stray quarters, a petrified Cheetos, and a cap to a pen long gone.

Randy pocketed the quarters but that was hardly worth a one more present left.

After he had searched almost the entire house and seized nothing of Christmas interest, he stood in the middle of the now disheveled living room glaring at the barren tree as if it were holding out.

Think, think, think he commanded himself.

And he thought, thought, thought.

There was his parents’ room, of course, that he hadn’t searched. But he wasn’t allowed in there. The only other room left in the house was his room, where, despite the clutter, he knew every inch of space and would certainly know if a present were lurking about.

Randy tapped his fingers against his side. Then he stopped tapping as he realized his room technically wasn’t the only room left after all.

Of course, he thought, smiling as he tore back into the kitchen and out the side door to the attached garage. Again with the rummaging through crap, more crap, and yet more crap and still coming up with squat for all his efforts. At length, he huffed back into the house proper, feeling agitated, tired, and his adrenaline spent.

The present remained hidden; remained out of sight.

Out of sight? He scrunched his face up.

Outside…?

Around here somewhere wouldn’t have to mean inside the house.

“Whoa, whoa. Where are you going, now?” Mr. Fargo asked.

“Outsidetochecktheyard,” Randy said in a blast of run-on words and already standing with the front door open.

“In your pajamas?”

“Oh,” Randy said, newly conscious of being covered in little toy boats and anchors that were fine for sleepwear but hardly fit for the public square. “Oh, yeah.”

He headed towards his room to change when his mom called out to him.

“While you’re in there, could you check and see if there’s a stray sock lying around someplace? One came up missing when I did the wash.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Randy said, letting the words flow behind him. Socks. Of all the stupid…

“Of course I don’t know how he can find anything in that pigsty,” he half-heard his mom as she continued to speak, thinking here we go again and starting to tune her out. “I mean, just the other day I was cleaning under his bed, and-“

Randy didn’t hear what she said after the and as under his bed dimly registered. Then not so dimly. He flew to his bedroom on wings of new found adrenaline and dove under the bed.

There it was in plain sight, not even wrapped, the holy grail of Christmas: an Atari 2600 Video Game System.

Despite the prolonged effort of searching that could render many an event anticlimactic, Randy still nearly wet his pants at seeing the gift as an actuality. He was sure Andy nearly did, too, as he excitedly told him – gushed — over the phone about getting the present from the coolest parents ever.

“So when can I come over?” Andy said, his voice vibrating like he was bouncing up and down on the other end of the line, which he most likely was. “When can I? Huh? Huh? When can I?”

“As soon as you quit jabbering on the phone,” Randy said, “We’ll come get you.”

All of Randy’s words may not have been heard as the other line had already hung up.

The Boat (WD writing prompt)

Writer’s Digest Writing Prompt and my ‘500 words or fewer’ response.

One day, while reading your favorite book on the beach, you notice a boat slowly drifting to shore. It eventually lands near your spot. A person, draped in pirate clothes, yells to you from the boat, “I have a treasure map and I need help. Are you in?”

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” I said, turning to page 80 like option A instructed me to do. I started to read what lame action my choice had brought me when I heard a man’s voice calling to me from nearby. The kind of from nearby that tends to make some people jump, and being one of those people I did.

A man draped in pirate attire straight out of Hollywood stood next to me holding out a map that looked so ancient it was amazing he could hold it in his fingers without it turning to dust. It was also amazing that he could hold it because quite a few digits of each hand were missing.

I looked back down at page 80 thinking I had surely read it wrong. But clear as ink page 80 began, “Yeah, sure, whatever,” and continued on as I have described.

“Here we are,” he said, thrusting a stub of a finger down on the unfolded paper between us and causing me to shift my gaze back to him. The strange markings on the map were mostly illegible to me save for the giant X upon which that same truncated finger landed, accompanied by an unnecessary, “We need to go here.”

I tried to focus on the map, but that half a finger creeped me out, as did the fact that I had just read “”Here we are,” he said” when he had regained my attention.

He noticed my staring at his mangled, finger-challenged hand and said, “If it has teeth, ye best stay clear of it.”

I nodded, but couldn’t help noticing that he smiled when he said it and an exceedingly large number of teeth occupied that smile.

“I’m glad you’re in on this with me. I’m always willing to share my treasure with the right person. I used to have a first mate but he was careless and met an, um, unfortunate fate.”

“Oh? What happened?”

I probably shouldn’t have done what I did next. I should have just waited for his answer. But curiosity got the better of me. So instead I looked back at the page again, and sure enough, the scene was written as it had played out, all the way to curiosity getting the better of me and continuing on. So I read on about me reading on.

“He had a tendency to keep reading when he should have been paying more attention to me,” he said, causing me to jerk my head back up at him. But I was too late.

Too late? I thou