Friday, August 31, 2012

Local Fairs and Memories

Wednesday, my wife and I went to the opening day of the Canfield Fair in Ohio. It is a regional fair, drawing from several Ohio and Pennsylvania counties. Since we moved from California, I would rate this as the best fair we've attended. It reminded me a bit of the Big Fresno Fair, with more animals than the Minnesota State Fair. The Canfield Fair had the best collection of antique farm equipment we've seen, and definitely the most food trucks and booths.

In California, there are county fairs. I've been to the Kern, Tulare, Kings, Los Angeles, and Fresno County fairs. The Tulare County fair is a nice little event, usually with some good entertainment. The Fresno County fair (The Big Fresno Fair) is great. I love the entertainment, the craft displays, and the animals. I can still remember the basic layout of the fairgrounds, especially the location of the rabbits, sheep, and horses. Fresno's grandstands are still used for horse racing.

The Minnesota State Fair, held in St. Paul next to the University of Minnesota campus, is huge. It's more like a theme park than a fair. The Space Tower, the aerial trams, and the water rides are permanent at the fairgrounds. In 2002, the race track the grandstands once served was closed. While we lived in Minneapolis, you could still see remnants of the old dirt track and some of the paved areas. This year, they completed a remodel of the area, making the grandstands better for concerts. You can't even tell there were horse and car races at the fairgrounds. I know it is a weird thing to obsess about, but I wondered what the fair lost when the track was closed.

We went to the Minnesota Fair ("The Great Minnesota Get Together") three or four times during our five year stay in the state. I've wondered if we should have found some county fairs, which might have felt more "country" to me. Maybe it is my bias, but the Minnesota fair doesn't "feel right" because it lacks the rural charm I'd expect of a fair. Even the Los Angeles fair feels like a county fair, or at least it did in the 1980s.

The Minnesota Fair did have the best honey display I've ever seen. Yes, honey. I also liked the floral displays at the Minnesota Fair better than any others we have seen. But the crowds, with 1.8 million people attending the fair, are too much for me. I dislike crowds intensely, and the Minnesota Fair is one massive crowd.

The Warner Coliseum at the Minnesota Fair was my second favorite building — it is where the horse shows are. English and Western competitions are interesting. Watching a horse perform is amazing. The rider and horse are one, yet the animal is so much larger and stronger than the human sitting atop. A draft horse is a huge, huge animal, yet they are gentle and graceful. Earlier this summer, we had an opportunity to see several draft horses at the Butler County Fair.

The Butler County Fair in Western Pennsylvania was a lot of fun earlier this summer. We went on July 4 and watched the fireworks. It was a small, hot, dirty county fair. There were small animal barns, with young people tending to their animals. The grandstands were used for tractor pulls, horse racing, and the fireworks show. It wasn't even as large as the Tulare County Fair. Fairs should be "country" — not just country music, but country in every way possible. Animals, farm equipment, 4H and FFA members, and all those things that make me feel at home.

I didn't grow up on a farm (my wife did), but we lived in the country surrounded by orange orchards, walnuts, horses, and lots of dairy cattle. I remember attending the Woodlake Lions Rodeo, the Visalia Rodeo, and events at the Tulare County fairgrounds. The county fair is held the second week of September. It is still warm in Central California during the fall — so you want to walk around in the evening. It is the last big thing of the summer, before the cool Tule Fog settles in for the winter. Growing up, "summer" started with the Woodlake Rodeo in May and ended with the county fairs in September and October.

Unless you've lived in the Southwest or Central California, you might not realize how "summer-like" October can be! The record high in Fresno for October is 101F and the average is 80F. I'm now living in Western PA, where the average for August is 81F. It's like the calendar is two or three months off what my wife and I expect. We still can't believe you can walk around a fair in July and not pass out from heat stroke.

You might imagine someone sensitive to light, sounds, smells, and all other imaginable stimuli, would hate places like fairs. Instead, I love the fairs. Fairs will always remind me some of the best things about Central California and my childhood. My adult memories of the Big Fresno Fair are pretty good, too.

Next year, my wife and I hope to visit more regional fairs. We haven't been to a fair in West Virginia, yet, she reminded me tonight.

If you are anywhere near Eastern Ohio, you should try to visit the Canfield Fair some year. I know we'll be back next year.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Back to School Stress

As we head back to school, I find the anxiety overwhelming. The start of each year is like starting a new job, with new colleagues (students) and new routines. Time to learn new people, new schedules, new classrooms, and even a new office.

I'm now in my third office, in a third building and I haven't yet reached a year as an instructor at the university. The change is constant, as the institution is trying to redefine itself in two different (and sometimes contradictory) ways. That's not really a topic for this blog post, but turmoil and confusion in higher education also make each year more of an adventure than I would like.

When I was young, the new year seemed like part of the routine. I'm from a small Central California community; the school was the center of the small community where we lived until I was in high school. Even after moving into the "city" we remained in the same school junior high (now "middle school") and high school district. I went to school with the same small group of students from second grade through high school graduation. Ten years of seeing the same people seems like forever as a child and teenager.

I haven't yet found that same sense of routine and home that I appreciated in my youth.

My master's degree was two quick years. There wasn't really time to feel like I belonged and I didn't form the strong bonds that some of my colleagues did. The professors, staff, and my classmates were nice — and I am in loose contact with several former classmates — but these are not close friendships or strong professional connections.

The doctorate process is somewhat isolated, at least it was for me. You take courses for two years, and then most of your work is alone. You might teach and do some research, but the dissertation process isn't a social one in some disciplines. Again, I formed some loose connections, and two or three friendships, but graduate school isn't a predictable and comfortable routine. It's stressful for everyone, too.

When I completed the doctorate, I imagined finding something of a permanent home. Unfortunately, I didn't find that stability that I want personally and professionally. I don't need to work one job for 20 years, but I want clarity and predictability.

The school year was once part of my "routine" and gave me a sense of order. As an adult, the end of August no longer feels like a return to "normal" as it did in my youth. Instead, back to school is a reminder that adulthood isn't orderly and routine. This week is a stressful reminder of uncertainty.

Friday, August 17, 2012

So Much for Normal… or This Is Normal?

I met my wife at the airport just before midnight, Tuesday, and thought things were back to normal again. She was home, the cats would be happy, and routine would be restored.

Then, while driving home I realized I ached all over. Headache, joint pain, and sneezing… lots and lots of sneezing. I thought the sneezing was a result of wind and pollen. Over the weekend, I had taken to the slope behind our house with a Weed Eater (one of the best lawn care tools ever invented). I wore jeans and safety goggles, but my face still ended up with marks from the weeds and grass. I looked like a red raccoon after the mowing and weed removal.

Alas, it wasn't mere allergies. I spent much of Wednesday sneezing and wheezing. I was running a fever by late in the day. Thursday was spent in bed, with chills. Not as much sneezing, but still too much sneezing. My lips and nose are chapped, from too much Kleenex use. Time to get some Puffs with lotion.

My wife said this is normal for us — I get sick way too easily. Maybe the anemia has my resistance weaker than normal. While she was gone, I went walking a few times, once in our local (empty) mall, and another time at an outdoor mall. I wasn't around many people, but I seems I was near somebody with a cold.

To deal with the anemia, I take a multivitamin, iron, folic acid, and other supplements. I'm being as proactive as possible, but apparently my immune system is still on hold. What good is exercising, taking vitamins, and eating healthy if I'm often sick?

I have no idea if I'm unusually fragile when it comes to infections or not. My wife believes I am prone to every infection, every little illness.

Maybe things are back to normal.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Return to Normalcy (sort of)

In two hours, I'll be leaving to the airport to retrieve my wife. I missed her for the last week while she's been visiting family in California. I also miss California, so while missing her I was remembering the places back home — Los Angeles, Monterey, Sequoia, and so many more. Then there were the memories of food. Yes, food. Mexican food isn't the same in Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Minnesota. (Though, parts of Ohio look promising.)

The cats have been clingy while I'm alone. It wasn't quite as bad as when we first moved, but pretty close. Then again, Alex and Mutt are clingy most of the time now. Old age stinks. I believe they miss the rest of the pack — especially Mimi and Jordan. With the return to a routine, maybe the cats won't cry so much. Even sitting with them, it was obvious they wanted Mama, not Papa.

Misty Kitty has taken to sitting on a little folding "TV tray" stand next to my chair in the living room. It's adorable.

I hope to be much more productive starting tomorrow. Then again, I can't be angry at cats demanding attention.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Long, Exhausting Night

Cats, I am told, are like two-year-old children. Last night was one of those long nights with one sick and one demanding kid, then.

My wife is visiting family in California and I am ill-equipped at the moment to deal with extra stress. I believe it is because the start of this school year is reminding me of last year — so I am already anxious.

I did okay last summer because I was focused on the new job and things hadn't yet started to spiral out of control. Then, J.C. Kitty passed away, the house flooded, and my workplace became more complex than I could anticipate. Add to that a string of health issues and my ability to manage alone withered away under stress. A few months into the school year and I needed extra help managing the household.

Last night, about 11 p.m., Mutt was sick. Very sick. He needed a bath, the bed comforter had to be changed… and then he was sick again. Another bath.

At the same time, his brother Alex was demanding food, but finding none of the choices I offered acceptable. I placed five different samples of cat food in bowls and hoped for the best. Instead, Mutt rushed to each the food while I was cleaning the bedroom. So, you can guess what happened.

Misty Kitty went into hiding following Mutt's next major problem. I'll spare the details. The stench was horrific. I had to clean a wall, the carpets, and give Mutt yet another full-body bath. This time, he was bathed in the master bathroom's huge soaking tub. Mutt has a distinctive cry, which ensured the other three cats sought shelter in what we call the "Craft Room" (or "Pumpkin's Room"). Misty went under the sewing table, Alex under the sheets, and PK hid under my writing desk.

Mutt did his best to avoid me, his wet fur making him look even angrier.

The cleaning resumed, followed by Alex having an acid stomach and more cleaning.

By the time I went to bed, it was 5:30 this morning. But, I was up by 8:30 thanks to Alex and Mutt demanding food. Thankfully, Alex decided to eat this morning.

Giving cat baths, cleaning up after them, and dealing with their picky food demands has left me exhausted.

As I write this post, Alex is next to me on the big bed, Mutt is at my feet, and Misty is in a laundry basket. I can hear Pumpkin wandering the house. So, at 1:30 in the afternoon, everything is finally quiet and relaxed.

I'm going to get some writing done while I can.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pursuit of Perfection

Perfectionism can be debilitating. We know that extreme pursuit of "perfection" is associated with body image issues, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression. Whether it is associated with ADHD, autistic traits, or something else, I have an impulse towards perfectionism.

Parents and educators know that autistic children often insist on perfect order. There is a desire to have a perfect schedule. There are also forms of perfectionism among autistics. I've met autistic adults unable to tolerate the slightest factual errors relating to their special interests. There is a desire for accuracy, clarity, and completeness. Anything less causes emotional, and physical, anxiety. I dislike factual errors intensely.

Being a perfectionist and being a teacher can conflict. Grading papers can descend into a "sand trap" where I want to correct every error. Students would never read or recall all the comments I would make on papers given sufficient time. Yet, that is a minor complication.

Perfectionism can cause an emotional and intellectual paralysis, or it can lead to an obsessive attempt to correct flaws. Either response consumes time and energy, often with minimal benefits.

We admire Amish craftsmen willing to spend hours refining woodwork. We appreciate the chef demanding perfection of her recipes and plating. There's something very human about admiring the men and women who do achieve near-perfection in any area. But, most of us are much further from that perfection we admire.

A serious problem for me is that I want everyday projects to be perfect.

I want no flaws in the woodwork, the flooring, or the paint in our house. I still hate the flaws from our renovations in Minneapolis. Our new house has flaws I want to fix because they bother me so deeply. Minor imperfections in painting are the most troubling, for some reason. I hate the mistakes and wish we could get edges and corners perfectly straight and true.

This is a good reason to seek out materials and textures with irregularities — then the "flaws" aren't flaws at all.

I am going to spend hours fixing some flaws in our house. Last night, I couldn't stop obsessing about the need for a perfect surface for a projection screen. The instructions state that the wall must be "perfectly smooth" before applying the special paint. Perfection won't be possible, but I'll spend hours trying to smooth the surface because I want the screen to be right.

The overload I experience from my unfinished to-do list is a symptom of the desire to be perfect when it comes to productivity. I know not every minute of the day can be productive, yet it bothers me that I don't produce the amount of work I consider ideal. Why can't I do more with each day? It must be because my time is imperfectly used. Realistically, there is no way to accomplish what I expect of myself… and that frustrates me.

Some people suggest that aiming for perfectionism can clear the mind. Maybe it can, but only if you also accept that it isn't attainable.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Burnout, via Karla's Page

I saw this graphic on Facebook yesterday, and wanted to share it. I have included similar information on this blog and in my other writings. Trying to socialize is exhausting.

While it might be more difficult for someone with a variation of autism to socialize, I have written that I believe others feel the same exhaustion from our society's insistence on being charming and at ease in groups. Workplaces are socially trying for many individuals, but significantly more trying for many autistics.

My wife is an introvert, and so am I. We both work from home most of the time, which is ideal for us. I do try to be more social because I realize that's how our society works. We have friends who are extroverts and they do navigate workplaces (and life in general) with greater ease. 

I'm conflicted by this. I want to be left alone, but I want to have success in whatever field I am pursuing. As a writer, social skills are necessary to promote books and yourself. As a professor, you need to attend conferences and pursue publication of research — two tasks that require social skills. Even as a computer programmer and web developer, you likely need to work with clients unless you have a partner skilled at customer relations. 

I push myself to try to be social… and the results are often more disastrous than if I allowed myself to be a "hermit" to avoid conflicts and exhaustion.