The Imitation Game and Autism

Let's talk about The Imitation Game, or rather, let's talk about the print advertisements for The Imitation Game. As you may know, The film The Imitation Game is about British mathematician Alan Turing, who led a team that broke the Nazi code "enigma" during World War II. The print ads, which Deadline notes began in January and are no doubt bent on winning Oscar votes, focus on Turing's homosexuality. One ad reads:

"Alan Turing and his team broke the German Enigma code and saved millions of lives during World War II. Rather than be recognized as a hero, he was persecuted for his sexuality. All these years later, the injustice remains."

As the movie acknowledges (it is no great spoiler), Turing killed himself one year after being arrested for "indecency," which was code for hiring a male prostitute. When sentenced, he had the choice of going to prison for two years or undergoing chemical castration. Clearly, in every sense of the word, Turing's life was ruined--it ended--as a consequence of his being a closeted male in an age when being a closeted male was not only socially unacceptable but illegal.

But I want to talk about something else. If you watch the movie, it it hard to come away with the feeling that, while Turing's postwar life was turned upside down as a consequence of his homosexuality being discovered by police, his life was also affected by his being a person with Autism.

The movie does not say Turing was on the spectrum, but it uses all the tropes that writers and moviemakers use to signal a person is on the spectrum: he is presented as socially awkward and inflexible, he cannot read people, he cannot tell when a person is joking. From his childhood (seen in flashback) to his days working for the military, to his post-war encounter with the police who ultimately discover his homosexuality, the thing that makes Turing stand a part is that which makes him be A part: his autism. His literalness, intransience in the face of authority and change, and his seeming petulance and childishness in the face of opposition--all hallmarks of autism--isolate him from others. In the worst of circumstances they lead to his being tormented and bullied and in the best of circumstances they lead to well-intentioned individuals (namely the Keira Knightley character) having to interpret the world for him and to him. Indeed, the success he ultimately has in breaking the Enigma code--if the movie is to believed--comes only when he is able to marry (nearly literally) his genius to Keira Knightley's social skills assistance.

All of this is a very long way of saying: why are we only talking about his homosexuality? Why is Turing being presented as a hero and a martyr for gay rights but not ALSO as a hero for the autism community?

I'll tell you why: Because making it an autism movie will not earn the movie any Oscar votes. Now--I want to be clear here--I think a movie that starts a conversation about the injustice faced by the LGBT community after World War II is important and I think that conversation is important. But in an age of ever-growing awareness of and diagnosis of Autism, a movie that tries to start a conversation about being on the spectrum is also important--especially a movie that says no less than three times that it is the people we often expect the least of that sometimes achieve the most amazing things.

Here is where we are as a country: We are at a place where we can advocate loudly (and rightly so) for gay rights. We are at a place where we can advocate loudly for more people of color being nominated for Academy Awards (and rightly so). We are at a place where we can advocate for more women in media (and rightly so), but we are not a place where we can even call a movie about a person with autism a movie about a person with autism.

Have you heard the saying, "Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, but backwards and with high heels"? It is sort of like that for Alan Turing: Alan Turing did not just break the Nazi code: he did it while trying to negotiate a social world that dismissed him and that he could only imperfectly fathom. Maybe the next ads going out to Academy voters could focus on that.


New Year's Fortune

I know it is already the middle of January, but I have totally been meaning to get you ready for 2015 with a special new year tarot reading. This one is just for you!

As you can see, your first card is the Empress. This is a major arcana card, which means that this is a continuing influence in your life, which is, like, duh, because you are totally The Empress. You have authority and wisdom and everyone totally wants to know your opinion and do what you say. You are especially valued for your nurturing spirit, so let the mama lion out and rule through roaring and swiping your paw at all those annoying people you hate. 

Your second card is the ten of pentacles. This is a minor arcana card, so this refers to something passing through your life right now. And the thing passing through your life is a sense of achievement. You are feeling good about where you are and what you've done, and, of course, Mama Lion, you should! That one thing that was such a hassle and it seemed like it was just going to fall apart and leave everyone wailing at you worked out, and all because you were so RESILIENT during the WHATNESS of it all. I'm still impressed just thinking about it. Don't hide your light under a basket. Now is that time to accept the recognition that you deserve, and if no one is giving you the recognition you deserve, now is the time to roar and swipe your paw according.

Thank God! Your third card, also a minor arcana card, suggests that while you might be going through a transition right now there are better times ahead. Hallelujah! Because that whole WHATNESS of the WHATNESS was so stressful that you were, like, gulping down the wine and chocolate like there was no tomorrow. But now things are going to be calmer and you will be able to relax a bit and enjoy the moment. The only bad news is that--thank you Buddha--change is inevitable and it will all turn to shit before you know it. But you aren't there yet so now is a good time to practice gratitude and to continue to have that wine and chocolate but to, you know, slow down and savor it.

Enjoy the new year! This is the one that will finally be super fabulous. 


The Fire Prevention Week Miracle

Friends, you have waited patiently. For my promised story of something "unexpected" I will regale you with one of my greatest childhood triumphs and the tragic hubris that it inevitably provoked.

It was around second grade. We had recently moved from the great metropolis of Great Falls, Montana, where there was a mall and an Orange Julius, to the small town of Whitefish, where there was a small main street with a five and dime and a two-lane bowling alley.

I was used to moving--we moved a lot--and so I was used to being the new girl. I am sure there are many ways to be the new girl, but I played this role by laying low and getting a good sense of the land before inserting myself too directly into the limelight, which is why, when my teacher announced that we would all be participating in a Fire Prevention Week coloring contest, I just took my piece of coloring paper with the outlines of a fire engine and a fire hose and--I don't know--maybe a burning building, and I went to my desk and I did what I did best: I did what my teacher told me to.

Now, when we were still living in the BIG CITY, my first grade class had actually visited a fire station, and so I had a little worldly experience, and I knew, for example, that fire hoses were often red, so I did not even think twice: I took out my red crayon and colored my hose.

The boy next to me laughed. "Red! Ha! Hoses are green. Who has ever heard of a red hose?" And then, to my humiliation, it seemed as if everyone was staring at my picture with it's red hose, and everyone was laughing, and everyone was agreeing with the boy: "A red hose. Who has a red hose?"

My cheeks burned. I tried not to cry. It was awful. There I was: The new girl, just trying to make her way in a new school without drawing too much attention to herself, just trying to figure out how to BE a person from tiny, little Whitefish and already I had blown it, already I had marked myself as a martian who believed in a world of red hoses.

In my mind it seemed like months past, like the whole school year even had passed, and then one day we were ushered into this big multi-purpose room and we sat down and, for each grade, a winner to the coloring contest was announced. And there it was: my name! My name! Me of the red hose! I had won. I burst out--really, really embarrassingly loud--"Oh, Jesus!"

Then, like Miss America, I went up and collected my award. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen! It was a wooden plaque about the size of a large coaster and it had a little metal emblem on it, and it said my name. Oh! I loved my plaque. It was the first thing I had ever won--it is still one of the only things I've ever won. I used to take my plaque with me everywhere. I kept it in my backpack. When I rode my bike, I put it in the basket. I'm sure I was a nightmare.

But pride cometh before the fall. Yes, my friends, it doseth. One day, riding on my bike with my beautiful little plaque shining up from my perky little basket, I ran into a friend. I do not remember if I tried to show her my plaque, or if I said something about my plaque, or if she just saw the plaque and just wanted to throw up, but this part I do remember. She said, "You are so stuck up. You think you are so great because you won that coloring contest. Well, you aren't, and you're mean. So there." Then she rode off into the sunset, leaving me and my little plaque alone, her words ringing in my ears.

Well, you do not need to tell the new girl t
wice to just BLEND IN. Don't be too awesome. Don't be too awful. Keep a low profile, and when you win a plaque say as little about it as possible and do not ride around with it in your bicycle. I went straight home and put my beautiful plaque away. I said nothing more about it. But I knew: I won that coloring contest, and I won it for one reason: fire hoses were not green. They were red. I didn't need to think like everybody else. I just needed to think like me.

(PS: There I am in all my glory. I'm the blond. Next to me is Chris. She was my best friend when I lived in Whitefish. I ended up really liking Whitefish. It was a great place to be a kid.)


Christmas Story Assignment

Okay. Are you ready for another adventure in storytelling? One just in time for Christmas? I know! It's late! You already have a million things to wrap and do, but don't overthink this. You can tell a story and you can invite everyone around you to tell a story.

This time, for Christmas, the theme is Unexpected. Tell a story--maybe a happy one since it's Christmas--about a time that something unexpected happened.

I have one in mind, and I will be sharing it over breakfast tomorrow. I'll tell it to YOU next week, and then you tell me yours, okay? You know, you could post it in the comments--or even on your blog if you have one.


In the meantime, happy, happy!


PS: That's my big girl hiding in that holiday wreath. Younger daughter is very Marlena Dietrich: She vants to be alone.


#Christmasmiracle #Gradesposted #Wineandwhinearedifferentthings

It's a Christmas miracle! I have finished and posted all my grades! It's been a long quarter, my friends, and it has been a quarter marked by two time things:
1. Teaching (which I enjoy)
2. Driving (which I've never really liked but which I am grateful to be able to do). My big girl started community college in the fall and, as you know, she cannot drive because of the whole seizure drama. Likewise, because of the whole Asperger's drama we wanted to minimize the number of big changes she had to adapt to. Bottom line: I was driving her to and fro, to and fro. Blah, blah, blah. But--here is the good news--she passed her classes! So we are all very proud and pleased.

These thing were sacrificed upon the alter of being a responsible professional and mother: writing (sad), networking (sad), reading lovely blogs (sad), eating enough vegetables (sad), having even one moment of time to myself (tragic), a clean house (HA!)

I was helping a friend's daughter work on her college application essays, and, as part of the supplementary materials for one school, she had to come up with a hashtag that defined her and then explain why. Nerdy me, I thought that was the most fun thing I'd ever heard: Here are some for me:

#I_vant_to_be_alone #Pour_mommy_a_glass_of_wine
#Help #Dustbunnyapocalypse

PS: as for the photo: they are succulents in a planter in my front yard. Aren't they pretty?


The time we roasted a pig

Did you tell your Thanksgiving story like we talked about? Well, go on! Tell me all about it.  As for me, I really struggled. I considered telling the story of the cooking class I took while studying abroad in Sienna, Italy, and then I thought, no, I should tell everyone about the time I spilled soda all over a crowded Carl's Jr. and a friendly homeless guy said to me, "I would advice you to take advantage of the free refills." So many stories. I didn't know where to start. But finally, I realized the story I needed to tell was right in front of me. It was the story of my silverware.

My Uncle Howard was the youngest of my father's four siblings, and he fought in the Vietnam War. From time to time, my mother would put together care packages and we would send them to him, which always seemed to me a very exotic thing to do. We would fill them with things like crackers and sardines and homemade cookies and ship them off. One time, Uncle Howard visited us when we were living in Utah. It was decided somehow that we should have a pig party. The next thing I knew, there he was pulling a whole slaughtered pig out of my mom's Volkswagen Bug. Much of the rest is kind of a blur, except I remember these things:

We roasted that pig in a big pit.
A lot of people came over to eat that roast pig.
The meat was, alas, dry and bland.
Soon thereafter our neighbors built a fence.

My Uncle Howard used to bring us lots of stuff from his R&Rs. He brought us stuffed koalas and platypuses covered in real fur. (I think it was rabbit. Don't go all PC on me it was a long time ago). He also brought my parents the coolest set of flatware ever. He got it in Thailand, and it looks like this.

It's made of brass and wood, and it comes in a great big wooden box. The set includes fantastic pieces, including extra-long spoons and serving pieces with long necks that twist around like rotini.
My mother has since handed the set down to me, and I love that it didn't just come from Macy's. It came from my Uncle Howard, who, tragically, like many of my tribe,
had a drinking problem and was, ultimately, a tragic figure who died fairly young, ambushed, at least in my mind, by memories of loss and violence and an uncooperative liver.


The Tomato Pilgrim

Alas, this would be a better post in early summer, but this is my pilgrimage story that I told at my cockTALE party. You are ready for storytelling this Thanksgiving, right? The theme is FOOD. Tell a five minute or less story about food and ask everyone else to share one too. I'll post mine next week. Enjoy your holiday!

In my mind, the perfect tomato is big, as big as a grown-man's fist. It is deep red, firm. It is cut length wise into thick rounds and it is sprinkled with salt and pepper. I encountered such a tomato for the first time when I was five. It was in Fresno, and it came straight from my great-aunt Minnie's garden. Minnie was my grandpa's sister, and she had made an enormous luncheon because my mother had brought us to visit from Utah. I had never met my aunt Minnie or most of the people sitting at that table, but I ate tomato slice after tomato slice and I felt not only perfectly happy but also enthralled with the larger world those tomatoes introduced me to--a world that did not consist of frozen corn, frozen peas.
            I did not have tomatoes that delicious again until we moved to Northern California some years later and I had my grandfather's tomatoes. He grew them every year, and he grew so many that all summer long he would give us big grocery sacks full of them and we would eat them every night. By the end of the summer we would be unimpressed---pleased to have them and always ready to eat them, but also bored by how pedestrian they had become. We were like Adam and Eve. We didn't even know we were living in paradise until we were kicked out. Although that's not quite true because I did know how good I had at. For as long as I had my grandpa's tomatoes and a good decade afterward, I refused to buy supermarket tomatoes. I found them offensive in the same way that a lover of Michelangelo might be offended by a paper-clip sculpture I put on a pedestal and call La Pieta.    
            But as the Buddha tells us, change is constant. And my tomato paradise that I took for granted could not last forever. Eventually, I settled in Southern California and my grandpa moved to a retirement home. One day, I went to the grocery store, and I bought tomatoes. Then I went again, and soon I didn't even notice how bland they were.
            But when we moved to my house, I slowly began my pilgrimage back to the perfect tomato. My first attempts failed, the tomatoes I produced tasting watery and tough. But I persevered, learning more, getting stronger as I journeyed longer. Now I have raised vegetable beds. I flirt with homegrown lettuce and basil, but those are trifles. Everything I do with those beds, from what I grow and where I grow it is really all about growing tomatoes. Last spring I literally went to an event called "Tomatomania" to buy my seedlings. And I can tell you that this year I produced really outstanding tomatoes.
            But my tomatoes are not as good as my grandpa's or his sister's. So I pilgrim on, always hopeful that each new summer will give me tomatoes like the ones I had growing up. But I wonder if I ever will, and not only because I lack the heightened taste buds of a five year old, but because those first tomatoes were always more than tomatoes. They were my grandpa. They were his sister. And now that they are gone I wonder if, as good as it is, a tomato is just a tomato.



You are invited...to throw a party

Who: YOU!

What: Are invited to throw a cockTALE party. A cockTALE party is something I invented, well sort of. There are lots of venues these days where you can go and listen to people tell personal stories (I'm participating in one tomorrow! Feel free to come!), but in a cockTALE party you gather people you love and tell each other your own personal stories. Think of it as your own personal Moth.

Why in the world would I want to do that? Because stories are what define us and what connect us to one another. You are the only one who can tell your story, and if you don't tell it it will be lost forever.

How do I do this incredibly fun-sounding thing?  I tested it all out for you on Saturday. It was so fun! Here is what you do:

  • 1. Gather about six or seven people (or more if some people just want to listen. Anymore than eight and I think people will get too antsy).
  • 2. Invite them to come to your house ready to tell a five minute personal story focused on a theme. Our theme was pilgrims because it is almost Thanksgiving, and we heard amazing stories about times in people's lives when they felt they were sort of on a pilgrimage.
  • 3. Put out some food and wine (my husband made lemon drops and my guests also brought finger foods).
  • 4. Mingle and enjoy each other's company and start your stories when you're ready.
  • 5. That is all you have to do! Trust me, you will have a great time.

When: Whenever you want! But you could also incorporate this into your Thanksgiving dinner! How fun would that be! I even have a theme for you. Super easy: Food.

A few tips: 

  • 1. Keep your theme general enough so that people can interpret it in different ways and not so obscure that you'll scare people. I think now that pilgrims may have seemed too obscure at first, but, really, in the end, it turned out great.
  • 2. Mix things ups. I struggled for a while with the worlds collide problem. Should I invite one particular friend group or mix things up? I mixed things up, inviting friends from different parts of my life, and I think it made it really fresh and meaningful. But you do what you think best.
  • 3. Don't be afraid to go inter-generational. My teens came, and one of my daughter's friends came and told a terrific story that really highlighted how one word can mean something different at different times of our lives.
  • 4. Don't make people tell a story if they don't want to. My husband and younger daughter did not tell stories. People should participate at their comfort level.
  • 5. Don't worry if people's stories go over--or under--five minutes. It will all work out.
  • 6. Have fun and realize that sharing stories makes us human and it is an honor to have someone share their story with you.

Later this week I'll post the story I shared. If you do have a cockTALE party let me know! I'll be so excited. Tell your friends to have their own. Let's not just OWN our stories, let's share them!

PS: The photo is of the finger food my friend Cathy brought. She got the idea from what she calls The Google. I like to call it the Story Snake.

Happy Storytelling!


Where in the World Do You Want to Go?

I'm telling you, people, between teaching and grading and driving people around I am feeling spent.

Top five places I think about visiting when feeling whiny:

1. The British Isles (My friend Alexandria is very keen on Scotland, but I would like to see the old country--Ireland. Plus England, of course. Pemberly awaits.)

2. Hawaii. I've never been. That just seems wrong.

3. Greece and Turkey: I wanna see all the ancient Greek archeological sites. You know I like me my goddesses.

4. The other old country: Germany. I am descended mostly from German farming stock, so pass the bratwurst and hand me a dirndl dress.

5. Kyoto. Everyone says it's beautiful, and I wanna see the giant Buddha statue.

How about you? Where are you itching to go?


Five Keys to Maintaining Zen-like Calm in the Midst of Chaos

Well friends, you know I am all about stress-free living, what with my everything is bullshit and all that matters is love and my Kumbaya let me find you a goddess or read your tarot cards, and my let's all just have some chocolate and wine in my special meditation/wine-drinking/far enough from the house that you can't hear anyone yelling zone.

So I want you to listen to me and believe me when I tell you how to totally own a zen-like life when you are crazy busy with work and driving a million places and trying to keep everyone in relationship with one another, etcetera, etcetera, fill in the blanks of your own personal cocktail of chaos.

To maintain totally zen-like calm in the midst of chaos you must:

1. Think positive. For example, the next time you need to get your hair cut, don't think of it as an annoying errand that is eating away at your precious time, but think of it instead as a mini spa day that will nourish your soul! Think of the hair wash as a sort of massage and totally don't worry about your neck being pushed back into the small of your back and the fact that you feel like you are a chicken about to have its neck broken. As for the blowdryers, think of them as a refreshing sound scape reminiscent of beach sounds or tornadoes.

2. Multi-task. Here's a way to kill two birds with one stone: clean your house. It's nature's way of staying fit. All that bending! all that stretching! As with any new regime, at first you will be all, "Oh, I hate this; it's so boring," but--believe me--once you find your zone, you'll be an addict. You'll be all, "Oh, I can't wait to go home from my long day at the office and get my heart pumping with some serious vacuuming!" Soon, all your friends will be like, "You are so looking good!" and you'll be all, "Yeah. Meet my trainer, Mr. Hoover."

3. Put away your electronics and get down to business. Electronics are totally time sucks. Your digital scale, for example. Put that shit away.

4. Prioritize! People! Seriously! Do I really have to tell you that you should not have fun writing on your little blog until you have graded that seriously boring and increasingly larger stack of papers that is sitting not even two feet away? Work before pleasure. Did you not get the memo? And no. Dthis before you grade those papers either. Because that would totally be irresponsible of me--I mean you. So there.
on't look at

5. Delegate. Seriously. Does someone want to come grade these papers for me?