Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fewer Autism Blogs, Infrequent Posts?

I haven't been posting much to The Autistic Me blog in the last six months or so. I could list all the excuses, and there are many, but I've noticed that my blog isn't alone with less frequent updates. I've also noticed many blogs have either been abandoned or changed managers/authors in the last year. My "autism" group in NetNewsWire, my RSS reader of choice, is shrinking. On the Autism-Hub site, some pages haven't been updated in six months. Only ten have been updated within the last 30 days.

What's happened? Have we all shifted to Facebook? I doubt it.

Maybe we are exhausted, as a community? That seems plausible, after several busy years. Maybe there will be another spike in discussions once the new DSM-V is published, but we might have exhausted those debates, too. Opinions seem fairly set on many of the subjects.

Blogging requires some compulsion to address a topic, or at least to tell a personal story. I'm not sure why anyone would care about our daily lives.

There aren't many exciting topics to address in a blog. My wife and I are a normal couple, living in a nice new development, with normal (boring) concerns about life. We are preparing to sell our previous house, we are hoping the Jeep lasts another year or two, and we are trying to get some time to decorate our new house. Nothing exciting, nothing unusual. Having a normal life, relatively speaking, is not a bad thing.

Yes, there are still "autistic" issues, but they aren't that interesting. I don't like Pittsburgh's disorder and over-stimulation, but we live closer to Boardman, Ohio, anyway, so shopping and eating in Ohio is becoming part of our routine. I want our house to be perfect, but that will be a matter of time and energy. Paint needs to be touched up and I want to get some bookcases installed. Again, my intolerance for disorder and "mistakes" in the house is nothing exciting or particularly interesting. (I still hate flaws in the Minneapolis house, and we sold that home a year ago.)

Trying to work side jobs is one reason I haven't blogged. We're paying for two home loans, at the moment, and both homes need minor improvements. The old house is nearly done, though. Once it is sold, I want extra income so we can finish some projects around the new house.

I'm applying for a few academic posts, nearby, because my contract ends in April. Again, not exciting: people have to look for work. Welcome to a weak economy and the world of higher education, which has been a tough job market for two decades or longer. If I don't locate another academic post, I'll be doing something else — whatever I need to do. Being uncertain about the future worries me. It worries my wife. Nothing unusual about a couple wondering what's next when a job is going to end. (Okay, I am anxious, hoping I'll either find a good job or be able to create a good job for myself.)

The one thing that is on my mind is how isolated we are, my wife and I, compared to other people. We don't entertain at our house: we don't know that many people. We don't go out to bars, clubs, or movies. We keep to ourselves. Sometimes, I do wonder if we should have some sort of social network. We are trying to be a little involved in some local groups, but we both find social gatherings stressful. In the end, I find that I like being alone with my wife, the one person I seem to understand well.

As you can tell from this rambling post, I don't have much to say that is captivating.

If there is something I should be writing, I'm uncertain of what it might be. Maybe you have some suggestions. Maybe there is something people expect when they visit this blog.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Driven to Distraction: City Drivers and Me

I learned in Minneapolis that congested freeways and surface streets can contribute to migraines — fairly quickly, too.

Since I lived in Los Angeles, and I happen to like driving there, I've been struggling to explain why some cities give me a headache and others do not. In a previous post, I explained that I like grid-based cities. But, that alone isn't enough to explain the migraine triggers. Los Angeles is not a great grid and the traffic is notoriously slow. Los Angeles drivers deal with mountains and coastline. The "grid" of L.A. is messy, but navigable for some reason.

My wife noticed that it might be the attitudes of drivers. In Los Angeles, despite the city's image, drivers have been fairly nice. The infamous ramp from I-5 to State 110 (Golden State to Harbor Freeway) near Dodger Stadium is actually not bad after my experiences in other cities. As you exit 5, traffic is two lanes. (I long ago learned to use the "merge lane" as long as possible.) People know how to "zipper merge" in L.A. — taking turns before climbing the hill to the Harbor Freeway towards downtown.

Trying to change lanes in L.A., people actually slow down to give you a bit of space. Signal and the other drivers make an opening! A friend tells me that's because everyone is afraid of upsetting the one screwball with road rage. Whatever the reason, I like polite drivers. There's a sense that everyone is in the mess together. Driving etiquette is a good thing to have in a congested city.

Tangent: "The 5" or "The Golden State" or "The Santa Ana" (south of the Four Level) all refer to U.S. Interstate 5. If you're in Northern California, people simply tell you, "Take 5 to 580 to 80 into the city." Oh, but not in Los Angeles. You'll be offered several routes, Most with names. "For Beverly Hills, take the 5 south to the San Diego or the Hollywood Freeway, unless there's an accident, because then it can be easier to go down and take the Ventura back to the Hollywood…." I used a Thomas Guide in Los Angeles and AM 1070 to navigate the traffic.

Forget any hope for driving etiquette in Pittsburgh or Minneapolis. There are "worst driver" lists [link http://autos.yahoo.com/blogs/motoramic/10-u-cities-worst-drivers-tilt-towards-coasts-161143248.html], and they do reflect my experiences: cities with weird traffic patterns result in angry drivers.

Dallas drivers were polite. Not great drivers, but they were polite about it. I say they weren't great because they seemed to use shoulders as extra lanes. But, they waved and smiled. My assumption is that Dallas was in serious need of more freeway lanes. Since I last visited the area, the freeways have been expanded. Maybe there are now merge lanes for the shoulder drivers.

I didn't like Central Florida or Northern Florida. Jacksonville was populated by drivers unwilling to stop moving: even for stop signs and traffic signals. I don't get it, but Florida drivers are lousy and rude. Maybe they are displaced New Yorkers and their version of "polite" isn't mine. They don't signal, they roll through stop signs, and are impatient. Hand "signals" were common during my visits to Florida. Driving is stressful enough without rude drivers.

Minneapolis-St. Paul is shaped by the worst on/off-ramp designs I've ever seen. Short on and off ramps force drivers to accelerate quickly or stop abruptly. The geography is partially to blame: 10,000 lakes to circumvent. I've watched cars entering at full-speed suddenly stop at the end of an on-ramp. Mix in some snow and black ice, and you have the worst driving conditions I've experienced. St. Paul doesn't patch potholes until sufficient numbers of tires have been blown and shocks ruined.

Pittsburgh drivers are more impatient than Florida or Minneapolis drivers. I have no idea why. Maybe it is the narrow, cluttered streets. Personally, I imagine other drivers are trying to avoid the Port Authority busses. Busses in Pittsburgh attempt the impossible, and sometimes they prove how impossible the task is. In the half-dozen trips I've made into the city, I've seen three bus vs. parked car accidents. I'd be trying to avoid busses, too.

Are the streets and freeways of a city merely a reflection of the city's personality? "Minnesota nice" is a passive-aggressive driver. Florida is a driver desperate to get to a destination, no matter what color the light is. Texas is a driver making his own lane. Pittsburgh is a driver afraid of what might be about to exit the alley or turn the corner.

I can only imagine the mess of Boston or New York.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pet Therapy: Mutt and Misty

Someone asked me if I suggest a pet for children with special needs. That question struck me as odd. Shouldn't everyone have an animal in his or her life? I love animals. I don't think of it as pet ownership so much as having feline "kids" and friends. Our kids are important to us, and we have done everything we can for them.

Though I try to avoid too much social contact with people, I spend as much time as possible with my cats. I think about our little family often, missing old friends no longer with us and doing all I can to love the kids still with us.

Two of our cats (we have four) demand constant attention — and another demands food every two hours, but that's a different topic. Mutt and Misty are our little clingy kitties. They want to be where we are, especially if either of us might be making a lap with room for a cat.

Mutt is elderly in cat years. He is deaf, has arthritic hips, and seems to get a little confused at times. His brother, Alex, is in a bit better shape for their age. We've wondered if Mutt wants us because he feels insecure in a world he can no longer hear. He will walk around the house crying until we locate him and carry him around. Mutt would love it if we could hold him constantly.

Misty is our little baby (nearly four years old). She wants attention because she wants someone to play with her. She's tried to convince Alex and Mutt to play, but that's not going to happen. I know if J.C. were still alive, he'd love Misty. She's naturally affectionate.

Animals are therapeutic for everyone. Mutt and Misty help me cope with stress. They need attention, and I need a warm, purring cat after a long day. Actually, I need the calming influence of the kids throughout the day.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Why (Most) Cities Aren't for Me

Most cities are not places where I can thrive. My wife knows I can barely function in some cities without wanting to scream. Okay, I have screamed, turned the car around, and headed back to the country. I hate some cities that much.

While my biggest complaints involve the crowds and the sensory overload, I don't think I'd like the cities even if we were the only two people in one of them. An empty city is still a city.

I've written on this site several times about the problems I had living in Minneapolis, an older city with narrow roads and a cluttered, illogical downtown. The cramped nature of older cities is too much for me. The traffic, public transit, and tall buildings add to my anxiety.

Historically, the cities on the East coast evolved "organically" over the decades and centuries. Walking paths became wagon ways, which became roads. The streets of cities were shaped by geography, too, with roads going around hills and avoiding other obstacles. In the rare instances cities do have grid patterns, the grids are only a few blocks. Forget trying to navigate with the assumption that some roads are North-South and others run East-West. No, the roads just happened.

Below is a map of Pittsburgh. It is a map from Hell. Trust me, Mephistopheles would get lost trying to locate the financial district in Pittsburgh. Even when you can see the tall buildings, you can't drive in a straight line towards them. Recently, my wife and I were headed to the Bloomfield neighborhood to meet friends for dinner. A construction zone forced us to veer onto something like a highway, but not quite, and we ended up right back across the river near Mt. Washington. GPS was useless, since roads twist and turn faster than you can read the map. Good luck finding a city map anymore — first you'd have to find a decent bookstore or retailer with maps.

I hate the disorder. I despise it.

Compare Pittsburgh to Fresno, California. Notice the nice, perfect grids. You can drive along Shaw Avenue from State Highway 99 across Fresno and into Clovis, right past Fresno State. It's a straight line that crosses other straight lines. There are breaks in the grid and a few winding roads, but the major arteries are organized. This reflects the open, flat lands of the West. The cities were and are planned. Even new developments follow grids, or at least the commercial districts are on grids.

When I visit cities, I find that I like the cities that are organized. I like open spaces, too. This means I like the cities of the West — the "new" cities. San Francisco, with all its hills and strange traffic patterns, is still a grid. Los Angeles isn't quite a grid, but the major streets do at least attempt to be something of a grid pattern. Order matters to me. Simply looking at a map, I know if I'll be okay in a city. Not great, of course, but will be "okay enough" in a city with a grid.