Friday, November 7, 2014

Surviving An Overloaded Schedule

As readers know, blogging frequency varies with live events and schedules. This semester, my schedule allows little time for blogging — or even taking much needed breaks to recharge my body and mind.

The list of activities remains long, as always. I've mentioned my to-do list many times on this blog and the list never seems to shorten.

Don't misunderstand: I love teaching and the opportunity to teach extra courses enables my wife and me to pay down some debts and create a little safety net. But, an overload means no time for blogging, creative writing, gardening, or other hobbies. Forget projects I've long wanted to complete.

For any teacher, three or more hours of lecturing and office hours without a break would be exhausting. It is draining to "perform" for 90 students, 30 per class, three days a week (MWF). The classes have personalities, too, which are difficult for me to interpret and address some days. The other two days, I teach one 80-minute class, immediately after office hours.

There are other jobs equally social in nature, and as draining. I'd never want to be a doctor, going from interaction to interaction all day, every day. Sales? No thank you. I cannot imagine walking a sales floor for eight hours a day. Forget call centers or anything else social, too.

I want a break from reading people and trying to align with their communication styles.

When I am not teaching, I'm trying to prepare for teaching, while recovering from the social demands.

After this semester, I'm sure things will be easier. I'll have a much better set of lecture notes, a better schedule, and more confidence.

Forgive the low-frequency of blog posts and know that it is because life is relatively good and the job is going well.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Barriers and Space

One of my personality quirks is that I like clear delineation of "my space" in the world. I don't like fuzzy barriers between the bits of the world I occupy and the rest of (human) world.

I don't mind if my yard leads into a forest. That's great. But I do want to know where my yard ends and the neighbors' yards begin. I want lines drawn, nice and clear lines that clarify my responsibility. Admittedly, I also want others to know… "Hey, I'm not responsible for whatever you see over there!"

The same is true at work. I like my desk to be… mine. I like my desk clean, my filing cabinets organized, and my books shelves by topic and then alphabetical. Don't enter my space without asking, and definitely don't return books to be helpful — other people never seem to place them back in order!

Controlling my space, and wanting it as perfect as possible, is more than preference. It borders on a need — a desire to have a little bit of order and control, when we know control is so limited in life. My spaces are at least something I maintain, along with my equally picky (and sometimes pickier) wife.

I don't like that our house isn't done, that boxes and filing cabinets aren't organized, that we need to organize many things and never have the time to complete these tasks, but at least we are in charge of our spaces.

Friday, September 12, 2014

ASDs, Anger, Violence... Advocacy

I am faced with conflicting impulses: positive advocacy vs. negative reality.

Like many advocates, I wish to remind people that most autistics are not violent, bullies, or any more "risky" than other people in classrooms or workplaces. If anything, people with special needs are more likely to be bullied and to be victims of violence in various forms, from verbal abuse to physical abuse.

But, I have met students (and adults) who engage in self-harm, have violent outbursts, and are a genuine risk to others.

When you see a young person throw things, pull hair, scratch skin, and scream, it is impossible to deny that some small number of autistic individuals need some sort of cautious, caring, protection from their own actions.

The problem is, I'm not sure how to balance the need to protect with the message I wish to promote as an advocate.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Better for Me, Better for (My) Students

Perfection and compulsive organization drive me to over-prepare for the courses I teach. I've found that some instructors, especially at the college and university level, are comfortable with a loose seminar approach to teaching, I like to have lots of notes, outlines, slides, and handouts. Without the structure, I would be easily distracted or my pacing wouldn't fit the class meeting time limitations.

I post most, but not all, of my notes online for students. Having the slides and handouts gives them a chance to review materials covered in class, something I would value as a student. Because I'm a perfectionist, as a student I reviewed materials throughout each semester. My assumption is that many students want that same ability to review and learn at their own paces.

For assignments, I like detailed handouts with all due dates at the top. I describe the assignment, the objectives, the grading criteria, and mention any additional resources available to help complete the assignment. I also prepare grading rubrics that guide students, but reserve flexibility for grading if students fail to meet major objectives. It's not enough to write the perfect paper technically, the paper also has to address the assigned topic! (And yes, I've had students argue that they deserved "B" grades for assignments that were "perfect" except for missing the required topic entirely.)

Having such a structured course, from a detailed calendar to grading rubrics, does not preclude making adjustments nor does it limit my ability to be creative. The structure exists to help cram a lot of material into a 16-week semester, as best I can.

In the business school, my approach is considered standard and reflects the practices of many of my colleagues. However, some of the writing instructors I know bristle at the use of rubrics and the slides I use to guide lectures. These philosophical differences run deep between the disciplines, and I find myself an outlier when I read writing forums or lists. But, my approach would have been what I sought as a student and aligns well with the students I teach, primarily STEM majors.

I was the students I teach. Hopefully, they help me meet their needs effectively.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

School Approaches

Although I am complaining lately that my syllabi, lecture notes, quizzes, and homework prompts have yet to be finished, the reality is that I look forward to the start of school and the return to scheduled, predictable days… and a paycheck.

I'd be content sitting at home and writing. That would be my perfect existence, except I also need money for food, shelter, and some entertainment. Teaching about the topics I enjoy is a pretty good compromise for survival. I enjoy teaching, since it does connect to my passions.

School for me isn't about seeing old friends or being in familiar surroundings. Instead, it is about the books and the opportunity to learn. The idea that I'll be challenged to learn something, to try something, that's what excites me.

As I've written many times, the "year" is an academic year in my mind. July starts the new year, as I receive class assignments and start preparing for the first days on campus in August. The year ends with finals, graduation ceremonies, and the filing of final reports in June.

I worry every year if I will do well. Only a few years ago, I worried about my abilities as a student. Now, I worry about the quality and content of my lectures. Information and knowledge matter to me; I want to be as accurate as humanly possible. There are few topics I don't wish to study, or in which I can't find something fascinating to explore.

As with any job, there are concerns about my body and mind being focused and available on the schedule required. The commute bothers me, because I dislike driving in the city. (I love rural drives, but not urban driving.) The need to interact with so many people (120 students, a dozen colleagues) overwhelms me. Each day, I will need to balance the job with my mental and physical limitations.

A few weeks into the school year, everything settles into place. I learn my classrooms (four of them), my office space, the parking situation, and so on. My daily "paths" around campus become routine and safe. (I'm already plotting how to get from place to place on time.)

Summer was too short, as I failed to make much progress on my to-do list, and I don't know how I'll work on the long list of tasks I wish to finish while teaching. But, there's no better job I can imagine.

Each year is like a new job. It's exciting, with a fair amount of anxiety tossed in for good measure.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Musical Play Needs Sponsors (LGBTQ, Race, Religion, More)

My wife and I are from Central California. The region is hard to explain to outsiders, because people assume "California" means L.A. and San Francisco, yet geographically those are little dots within a sea of socially conservative counties. To this day, it feels more like the Deep South (circa 1976) than anywhere else I have been -- and I've been to the South.

I wrote the play The Gospel Singer many years ago, but it wasn't finished and developed until 2013. In a few short weeks, the play will premier in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania... in another region where race, religion, and daily life can seem stuck a couple of decades in the past.

We need to keep raising money to get this play and its message heard.

News Articles and Context

First, it helps to know the Tulare County, Calif., where the play is set, was home to the self-proclaimed "new KKK" of the 1980s and 90s. There were also active "Moral Majority" groups, drawing from the large Evangelical, conservative Catholic, and LDS (Mormon) communities. Thankfully, most of the religious leaders were disgusted and offended by the KKK, but that doesn't mean they didn't harbor prejudices rooted in the past.

From the L.A. Times:
In 1986, business owner Loren Lowdermilk announced that he would be named grand titan for the Ku Klux Klan in California and Visalia would become the KKK's headquarters. That set off demonstrations of protest by large crowds of townspeople outside Lowdermilk's auto-parts business. He keeps a low profile these days. 
The Gospel Singer is set in the late 1980s, but homophobia continues to be a problem in the Central Valley of California. 

From "The People Project" website:

These are some links to [2001] coverage of anti-gay and anti-lesbian harassment. We've detailed how the harassment was overlooked, what it does to students, a specific example of "FAG" written on a student's pickup, new laws, developments in a lawsuit against the school district, and how the district targeted the press after the stories ran.

The Ongoing Struggle
Former students who are gay or lesbian say they were harassed, ridiculed, threatened and attacked at area high schools while school personnel failed to intervene and disregarded their complaints.

Epithets scar student's truck
The words "fag" and "Pedro is gay" were found sprayed on a pickup on Nov. 14 in the eastern parking lot of Golden West High School in Visalia, and the school principal says he's "not familiar" with the incident.

New laws protect homosexuals on school campuses
Gov. Gray Davis signed two bills into law last year that would help curb on campus harassment based on sexual orientation, but Visalia Unified School District officials say they haven't yet become familiar with them.

Homosexual students live in constant fear
Suddenly, it seemed all of Golden West High School knew that [Student] was a lesbian.

Anti-gay bias suit has new plaintiff
Another plaintiff has joined a federal lawsuit that alleges Golden West High School personnel overlooked anti-gay harassment directed at a student, a move lawyers who filed the action say will solidify their case against the Visalia Unified School District.

School board promises legal look at media access to schools
Visalia Unified School District trustees announced Tuesday night they would look into restricting media access to schools.

ACLU wants change in gay, lesbian policies
FRESNO -- The American Civil Liberties Union pledged Wednesday to force the Visalia Unified School District to protect its gay and lesbian students from harassment.

Trustees call VUSD policy adequate
Measures already in place should address issues raised by gay and lesbian students in a Jan. 20 Times-Delta story, Visalia Unified School District board members say.

Until All Are Safe
Local school districts, especially Visalia Unified School District, must take the lead in correcting the problem of hate-motivated conduct against gays and lesbians on high school campuses.

This Play Still Matters... Sadly

I wish this play didn't seem to have universal themes, but that appears to be the case. People still find reasons to hate others in religion, race, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnicity, and other differences that should make the world more interesting, not dangerous.

Click to Donate and Sponsor

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Carnegie Mellon Statistician Roeder Finds Genetic Risk for Autism

Press Release: Using New Statistical Tools, Carnegie Mellon's Kathryn Roeder Finds Genetic Risk for Autism Stems Mostly From Common Genes -Carnegie Mellon News - Carnegie Mellon University
I've written before about spontaneous, de novo, genetic variation and autism. The theory, which I consider favored by current research, is that genetics represent the primary factor contributing to autistic traits. Now, with statistical modeling, researchers find a likely correlation between genetics and autism.

If mild autistic traits are within inherited genetics, this suggests autistics are somewhere along the "spectrum" based on which additional variations occur.
"Within a given family, the mutations could be a critical determinant that leads to the manifestation of ASD in a particular family member," said Joseph Buxbaum, the study's first author and professor of psychiatry, neuroscience, genetics and genomic sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS). "The family may have common variation that puts it at risk, but if there is also a 'de novo' mutation on top of that, it could push an individual over the edge. So for many families, the interplay between common and spontaneous genetic factors could be the underlying genetic architecture of the disorder."
After you have the predisposition for an ASD, the expression of autism varies based on the de novo variation. Copy number regulation (CNR) is a common source of genetic change. Duplication of genes is an amazing event, and it is astounding more errors don't occur with serious side effects. Term pregnancies are something of a statistical miracle.
Now that the genetic architecture is better understood, the researchers are identifying specific genetic risk factors detected in the sample, such as deletions and duplications of genetic material and spontaneous mutations. The researchers said even though such rare spontaneous mutations accounted for only a small fraction of autism risk, the potentially large effects of these glitches make them important clues to understanding the molecular underpinnings of the disorder.
Random variation rarely is caused by environmental (external) factors. But, most people outside science mistakenly assume genetic means inherited. In fact, the genetics that shape us most are often little more than random variation without a specific cause.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

New Play: A New Death World Premier

This is why I haven't been blogging a lot this summer. I've been working on several new plays… 


A World Premiere

By C.S. Wyatt

Directed By Kaitlin Kerr
Assistant Directed By Sarah McPartland

July 18 - July 26
The Grey Box Theatre
3595 Butler St, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15201



Andy Coleman 
Chelsea Faber
Hazel Carr Leroy
Eric Leslie 
Tonya Lynn 
Sarah McPartland
Jared King Rombold 
John Henry Steelman

Friday, July 11, 2014

Support a Theatrical Production with Purpose…

The LAB Project, a new Pittsburgh, PA, theatrical company, is producing my musical play The Gospel Singer this August. The producer hopes to raise an additional $4000 for community outreach and education efforts. The play is about a gay gospel singer and his partner, during the 1980s. It's based loosely on real people. The play was awarded a development slot by Bricolage Production Company last year, as part their annual "In The Raw" festival.

Some people ask if a play about a gay couple arguing about faith and community is still relevant in 2014. Yes, it is. Laws are changing, and society is changing, but understanding the struggles are incomplete — especially within religious communities — is a valuable lesson.

Please consider supporting The LAB Project.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Abuse and Autism

Autistic traits can contribute to being abused and exploited by others, as the following survey data suggest:
Half of [UK] autistic adults 'abused by someone they trusted as a friend'

A startling 44% of those questioned admitted they stayed indoors as much as possible for fear of being harassed. Almost a third reported having had money or possessions stolen, while 37% had been forced or manipulated into doing something they didn't want to do by someone they thought of as a friend. Almost half (49%) of the 1,300 people surveyed reported having been abused by someone they thought of as a friend.
Being bullied is, unfortunately, part of life for many people. The small, the weak, the different, will be bullied. There might be evolutionary and cultural explanations for power dynamics, but we should resist our worst natures.

I'm less and less trusting, but it took me more than 40 years to realize how many people have no moral compass. I still make mistakes, assuming the best of people and their intentions. In the arts, I've also come to realize people dream big and ask for time, energy, and money… but that's not because they intend to take advantage of anyone. It's important to recognize "zealous optimism" versus genuine manipulators.