Sunday, April 25, 2010

Only 16 Days Remain

Countdown is 16 days. At this point, one finishes "just because" and for no other reason or purpose. After May, I hope -- more than anything -- to never set foot on campus again for any reason. I'll even switch medical specialists if I can, to avoid being near campus. I literally feel sick when I'm near the university… I despise it that much.

Monday, April 19, 2010

End of Job Hunt, Beginning of... Plan C

The academic job hunt is over, concluding after 61 applications and near-exhaustion.

I did not locate a post at a college or university and do not intend to look again next year.

My Ph.D defense is May 11. That, and a handful of remaining conference appearances, will mark the end of my time in academia -- at least until a university invites me to teach based on my creative writing success. That is not sarcasm. I have faith in my writing.

Plan A was to complete the Ph.D and locate a tenure-track post, enabling us to have something of a normal life. I'd write and teach. Plan A is inoperative.

Plan B was to find work locally, allowing us to save money towards moving back to California. To date, this has proven to be an unsuccessful plan. I have "Monster.com" and Indeed alerts, but this is a lousy job market. Researching teaching K-12 again, I realized that teaching in a state that is closing dozens of schools isn't promising. So, onward…

Plan C, the current operational objective, is to pursue writing full-time and hope things work out for the best.

I happen to like Plan C, though I do wish we had some financial security. Such is life.

Writing is a full-time business. It means completing manuscripts and sending out dozens of queries. You can't merely hope for success, you have to make it happen. While my path has been changed by circumstances, I believe this is simply a new route to what I should be doing.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Autism Spectrum Quotient

I generally skip the Facebook app nonsense, but after a few friends took the "Autism Spectrum Quotient" inventory, I thought I'd complete it again.

From the application:

I've calculated my Autism Spectrum Quotient as 45, which is very high. Most women score about 15 and most men about 17. Most people with Asperger Syndrome or high-functioning autism score about 35. However, many who score above 32 and even meet the diagnostic criteria for mild autism or Asperger's have no difficulty functioning in their everyday lives.

I'd have to look up what my original score was. I think it was 42. So, I'm more withdrawn after four years in Minnesota. There's a shock -- cold winters and a miserable city leave me alone at home. Duh?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Struggling to Reset

It has been three days since I attended an academic conference. I only attended one of the two days, knowing I was not doing well physically.

I'm still "shaky" -- the best adjective I can conjure at the moment. It is like my senses are turned up a notch even more than usual. My assumption is that when I am tired I cannot block the input. The refrigerator, the ceiling fan, even the buzzing of lights are distracting me. I was listening to music to block out everything else.

Today was going to be a day out of the house, to sit and write at a bookstore. Instead, I'm too tense to drive. Every pothole would be annoying, not to mention the struggle I have driving in our neighborhood anyway. The bookstore, with the people and associated input, would have been miserable.

I hate being tense like this. Three days of wanting to hide under covers and avoid the world.

Tomorrow I have to teach and Wednesday I'm heading to an audio store to replace my Jeep's radio and two speakers. I'll be tired, afterwards, but I do want to get the radio repaired. I notice static and problems with the speakers too much.

Sitting and listening to classical music helps. Sitting with the cats is good, too. The key is to realize I can't fight the sensitivity, but I can try to let fade.

The worst thing to do is to ponder upcoming conferences… which I would rather avoid, but are essential to my career if I remain in academia.

Back to caffeine-free chamomile tea and the cats.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Post-Conference Decompression Needed

I attended a regional academic conference on Friday and had planned to attend Saturday, but one full day left me completely exhausted.

I presented on autism and writing courses, in particular how we might better accommodate the needs of students with ASDs in our classrooms. I presented during the last hour of day, from 4 to 5 p.m., which is never a good time to present. That's especially true of a holiday weekend when people leave early.

My presentation left me with the sense that at least some in the audience thought I didn't understand autism. I concluded this when they offered stories about their experiences. Unfortunately, anecdotes are not data and personal experiences are not the same as statistics on course attrition.

Hopefully, everyone understands that data on any group are generalizations -- and generalizations never apply to individuals. When someone suggested I didn't know much about her particular student with Asperger's Syndrome, I tried to explain that the data collected were not people, but medians and means of a group. I was frustrated, definitely.

What do I know about gifted students with autism? How do you answer that in a 20-minute session? I certainly could have used an hour or more.

Also, my purpose was clearly not shared by many of my colleagues.

In the sessions and during lunch, politics is never far away. It makes me wonder if astronomy conferences include hours of complaints about evil politicians or if they actually discuss how to improve their field and the quality of observational data analysis. I don't control Washington D.C. or my state legislature -- I control what happens in my classroom. An academic conference, as opposed to a union event, should focus on teaching and scholarship.

Anyway, I ended the day with a horrific headache and skipped the next day. I was too tired to deal with people.

The tendency for conferences to be political gripe sessions is annoying. I don't teach politics -- I teach writing. I don't see what I teach as some sort of political crusade, and I tire of the "everything is political" absolutism of many in academia. The purists can argue all they want about every life choice being a political statement, but my goal is keep students in class through graduation. It's a basic goal. How can we better serve students with special needs? What works and what doesn't?

I teach because I enjoy writing and want other to enjoy it. If the students use those skills to obtain jobs or to write letters to congress or to simply write poems in private journals… I'm okay with it.

I'd rather learn about teaching methods than spend hours hearing about how evil some politicians are. I can't change that tomorrow or this week or this month, but I can alter and improve my teaching methods within my classroom immediately.

So, I have different expectations at a conference than many of my colleagues. I want utility, they want a group therapy session and political rally.

How can I teach students to be better peer reviewers and editors? How can I help them learn professionalism? My questions are basic and immediate.

Best to skip day two, I decided.

The clue for me were the conference session titles: "Interrogating the White Student" and "Writing Ecologically: Ecocomposition." I was a "white student" and have no idea why I should be interrogated. I'm sick and tired of assumptions that white students are "privileged" (word used in the session) over others. What about disabled white students? White students from Appalachia or New Orleans or any other impoverished setting? None of this has much to do with teaching writing skills, unless we are going to address how student vernaculars affect academic performance.

There was a session on "Black English" as a language. I'm sure chemistry and biology teachers want papers written in Black English… uhg. Let's drop the political correctness and serve our students in the here and now. Minutes wasted discussing if it is "Black" or "African-American" English. My answer? Other disciplines do not care. They want papers that can be read and published in academic journals within their fields. Our students need to write whatever you want to call "College English." There is no way a vernacular is going to be acceptable in other fields. Be realistic and teach realistic skills.

I'm sure others would love the political nature of writing conferences. I'd rather ponder how we can teach students to write the necessary documents to pass their courses and exams.

It is "autistic" to want utility from a conference?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Frustration with Autism Groups

Earlier today I was asked: "May I ask the reason you are even ON an ASD list if you're so self-sufficient and never need any assistance for anything?"

Of course, I've never claimed life is a solo project. My presentations begin with a reminder that most successful people depend on many, many other individuals. Family, teachers, mentors, etc., have all helped me along this path. But, I also don't sit around waiting for help.

Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail. When I fail, it is usually because I did something or failed to do something. Maybe I failed to anticipate a problem, which might include other people, but that's how life is. Sure, I probably fail with spectacular regularity. And? What's wrong with falling down time to time?

I'm not going to wallow in what my disabilities or challenges have "cost me" as a person. They haven't cost me anything of serious consequence. Jobs? Grades? Whatever. I have an incredible wife, great family, and cute cats. Definitely not suffering as I sit in my house watching the clouds and writing.

How can I be somewhat content? Don't I realize how horrible things must be? Don't I realize we need to fight, argue, yell, shout, and march in protest?

Sure, I have stress. We all do. My stress, though, is pretty normal: Will I have a job next school year? Will I finish my writing on deadline? Will we be able to finish remodeling the house?

I want better services and opportunities without being a bitter, angry, annoying person. I could never spend every hour that upset with life. It's not that bad. Maybe I'm not passionate enough for some groups. That's okay. It simply isn't me.

When I do need some assistance, the key is to approach the problem with professionalism.

Within the advocacy community, I was told my call for "professionalism" was code for wanting people with ASDs to imitate "neurotypicals." Actually, most people have to learn to be professional. My students are generally normal young adults. Trust me, they don't have "professionalism" mastered yet.

If you want to be taken seriously, you act professional. You don't scream and curse and insult people and expect to win arguments.

The quick-tempered, angry insults too common within autism communities aren't of interest to me -- except in the most scholarly, curious to understand way. In the end, I've decided I'm never going to be what many advocates want.

I suppose this was my final (second) departure from a self-advocacy community. I'm not bitter enough, it seems… and don't want to be.

Plus, it is a nice sunny day and I'd rather think about the flowers blooming and puffy clouds than angry people. Life is what you make of it. Too many people have chosen anger.