Thursday, October 28, 2010

Speaking, Job Hunting... Health Issue

I haven't had much time for personal writing, even the creative writing I have been pursuing this year. I've made two public speaking appearances this month, both two hours long. Thankfully, one was a panel discussion so I wasn't speaking nearly as much.

The academic job hunt has continued, subdued after last year. The applications have also taken a great deal of time. One university required four applications, though all four fell under one job description. I'm certain there's a legal reason for this, but it was a lot of work because they wanted so many documents. Not only did you have to submit the documents online, they asked applicants to mail copies of the documents, too.

The main reason I've only managed eight-hour days is that I'm dealing with some medical issues. I am anemic, with severely low hemoglobin and iron levels. Last time this happened, two years ago, I ended up spending Christmas Eve in the hospital getting a blood transfusion. On the positive side, I only missed one teaching day and kept on schedule with my doctoral exams. How many people can say they did well on tests with half the normal amount of hemoglobin? (Yes, low blood counts affect mental performance, supposedly.)

Trying to focus on the job hunt (and speaking) has been mildly difficult. I know I need a minor surgery to stop the blood loss, nothing serious, but it will mean yet more unproductive time.

I don't deal well with doctors (who does?) and hate medical procedures. However, you learn to adapt when you've had as many medical appointments as I have. At one point, I averaged one medical appointment a week. Thankfully, 2009 wasn't so bad.

Doctors do not listen well. As a result, I've asked my wife to join me for the serious appointments. She'll be more assertive with the doctors and tell them issues need to be solved immediately. More importantly, issues should be fixed before I land a job.

Ideally, things will be fine by the end of this year.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Reflecting with Jo

Yesterday I spent several hours holding one of our cats, Jordan, knowing she needed love and attention. It was, sadly, the end of her battle against the ravages of age. I don't know how strange it is, but I spent much of the time telling her how much I enjoyed various things she did throughout life. I whispered to her and told her how much she had meant to me during the roughest patches of life.

She would fade in and out of sleep, exhausted. I've read research pointing increasingly towards emotions, memories, and even self-awareness in animals. I want to believe that Jordan knew how much I loved her as a companion.

Jordan and her sister, Mimi, have been with us for almost as long as my wife and I have lived together. That means they have been through the good and bad with us. I thought about those times a lot over the last few days as Jordan needed more care and attention.

For all my shortcomings, and they are many, the one thing I am certain I have done "right" for and with Susan is the cats. Though many things are on my mind, a litany of past failures and bad choices, I'll never doubt the cats. I will never, ever regret bringing our little pride / clowder together. Jordan and Mimi belonged together, and I don't think any two people could care for them better, or more, than Susan and I have.

Mimi is still healthy and active at 17. I've given her many hugs today.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Communities

The word "community" is overused in academic fields, but it is the best word for what it on my mind today.

I closed "The Autistic Place" today. It was meant to be an online community dedicated to issues of autism and education. The reality is, however, that online communities come and go so rapidly that what was popular a year or two ago is often "inactive" now.

There are dozens of Yahoo groups that are dedicated to autism. Most of these were active five years ago, but have since fallen out of favor with users. Just as the Usenet groups and most "listservs" have faded away in the last five years, so have many online forums.

The Internet has accelerated the speed with which a community grows, propers, and then declines. The timeline of the Internet is punctuated by technologies and business ideas that were "hot" for a moment. When is the last time you used IRC or read a newsgroup? Remember CompuServe? Prodigy? And Netscape was nearly synonymous with the World Wide Web.

Autism communities are difficult enough to maintain in real life. Online, they exhibit even less civility than physical gatherings. I am not surprised that some autism-related communities cannot manage to survive online.

Many of us live in physical regions or communities for decades, even lifetimes. I've read that most people end up living and dying within 500 miles of their birthplaces. Humans demonstrate a bond to physical communities we simply haven't developed, and might never develop, with online settings. I read a study in "Population and Environment" finding only 92,000 U.S. citizens migrated in or out of California in the 1980s (international numbers were much higher). Thirty million Californians remained in the state.

We enter and exit online communities impulsively. We form few lasting online bonds. For the most part, we use online spaces for a purpose. Once the purpose is met, we exit. How many truly close, lasting friendships are formed online? They come and go, like most school year friendships.

Are there virtual autism communities that have survived more than a few years? I doubt it. Maybe online isn't designed for lasting communities. Virtual spaces can help maintain connections with real-life foundations, which demonstrates that we still need physical, face-to-face communities.

I wonder if Web pages will matter in a decade. I now read more news and information via non-browser technologies. My iPod Touch is my primary Internet device. Specialized applications present the information. The Web? I navigate it indirectly.

So, The Autistic Place is simply another example of how short-lived online spaces are. For all the hype about virtual worlds, it turns out they are fragile places.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Plans to Close The Autistic Place

This blog is continuing but in the next week or two, I will be terminating The Autistic Place -- a failed attempt to create a Web portal for all things autism.

The Autistic Me has many readers and seems to serve a purpose.

While I might be recognizing the impossibility of establishing a thriving portal in a virtual world with far too many autism-related Web sites, I am not going to stop blogging. In fact, I think terminating the relatively inert portal is going to free up a little tiny bit of time and energy to focus on other tasks.

Updating the Drupal CMS and the backend databases proved to take a few hours every month. Yet, there were never any active users for the Web site.

For those seeking autism-related portals, there are many of them. I was unable to create something better -- and definitely not able to fund any sort of advertising campaign to launch a portal.

One of the things I am noticing is that the Internet itself is evolving. The mailing lists I have read for years are slowly dwindling. The Usenet groups I read religiously on matters of programming were discontinued by my ISP two years ago. Online forums are less active, too.

So, I am admitting that The Autistic Place never worked out. It didn't become an alternative to Yahoo Groups or LiveJournal for people interested in autism. I was the only regular user. A community of one.

The domain autisticplace.com will be forwarded to this blog until it expires sometime in the next few months. Who knows, this might even result in more traffic and readers for this blog!

Keep reading The Autistic Me. I'm not going anywhere, yet.

If anyone has a reason to keep The Autistic Place, let me know. Right now, I don't see much reason to salvage the portal.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Decompressing, Sometimes

When I am anxious, there are a few things that sometimes help decompress. These things do not work always, but most of the time they do.

Because I don't like street noises, which are particularly painful, I seek out isolated park-like areas when I am not home. In Dallas earlier this year, I found several amazing park-like settings, include an enclosed mall with a duck pond and sculpture garden. Parks, arboretums, and gardens are followed closely by museums and galleries.

The worst places for me are urban downtown areas. Even the park areas are often too close to the buildings and streets.

If I am at home, I turn to cartoons and family entertainment, from Disney to Warner Brothers. I love films with a family pulling together in the end. How can you feel bad after a Pixar movie? Friends and family always win the day in a good movie.

I do seal the windows, close the curtains, and drink herbal teas when I am at home and anxious. I do not want to think about where we live, which is much too urban for me. I want to forget about the neighbors, the buses, the sirens, and any other inputs. I'll sit with the cats and write while watching DVDs.

At night, I turn to music and radio dramas. I need to drown out the world at night because too often the only loud sounds are the local sirens. Welcome to a city, I realize, but I hate it. I listen to a lot of music while typing and when I go to bed I'll fall to sleep with old-time radio mysteries.

My iTunes library has a "Happy Place" collection of songs that are upbeat and make me feel good. I love "novelty" songs, from "Atomic Dog" to the classics of the 1950s and 60s. The sillier a song, the harder it is to be tense listening to it.

When all else fails, there are baths and bed. Who doesn't like those things? Some days, you just need to sleep.