We've decided that I will read the audio book version of Look Me in the Eye.
My Executive Producer is Orli Moscowitz, one of the top people at Random House Audio. She's done Harry Potter and many other huge titles. I'll be recording the book next month. Since I'm reading it myself, you can listen carefully for special treats that only I can insert!
Next week, when I am back home, I'm going to record a reading sample that you can download. I'll post it on www.johnrobison.com
Thursday, May 31, 2007
We've decided that I will read the audio book version of Look Me in the Eye.
When I was little, I watched the world around me. Initially, everything was exciting. But when I tried to join in; to be a part of the exciting stuff – it didn’t work. And in the end, the things I saw left me lonely, angry, and frustrated. I observed what happened around me, but I could never be a part of it. I was always an outsider. Try as I might, I could not figure out how to get "inside." It seemed everything I tried went wrong.
My first success “joining in” came around age ten. I became a trickster – or, depending upon your perspective, a juvenile delinquent. Whatever you want to call it, I did engage with the world to a greater extent than ever before. But it still wasn’t “normal.” I knew it, and the grownups around me knew it, too.
The pranks showed me something, though. For me, creation is the key to success. Some of my first joy and satisfaction came from thinking things up, and making them. I might not have known how to join a group of kids playing, but I figured out how to create something that other kids wanted to join themselves, or watch, or be a part of some other way. And for me, that was success.
Going my own way is another term for what I did.
After quitting school and joining a band, I became part of the supporting cast – and engineer making sound equipment and special effects. Night after night, the musicians stepped up on stage, and played my equipment. I was the happiest I’d ever been, standing behind the stage, watching the crowd watch my creations. No one in the audience had any idea who I was, or that I was even back there, but it didn’t matter. I knew.
The musicians were the stars – the names everyone knew – but people like me made the performances possible. And that knowledge was enough for me. My creations became a part of the larger whole of the show.
Now, twenty-some years later, I’ve discovered why I never fit in; why I struggled, and I’ve written a book about growing up Aspergian. And from being the frustrated little boy who watched but never joined in, I’ve become the star. At least for a moment. For those of you with Asperger’s, or an Aspergian child, I hope the story of my journey provides hope and inspiration.
If I came this far, you and your kids can, too. All of us look at things and say, I can never do that! Well, I am proof that you just never know what you can do. Twenty years ago, if I had laid out a million things I could do, the list would not have included being a book author or anyone in the public eye.
And yet, here I am.
So today, I start meeting people here at the Book Expo America, and my book is let loose into the world. It won’t be in stores for a few months yet, but the booksellers who learn about Look Me in the Eye this week are the beginning. What will happen? Where will it lead?
It’s a little bit frightening, but the messages from those of you who read my blog and comment (or email me privately) have been a tremendous source of support. I don’t know what I’d do without you all – it’s scary being out here in front. The thing that keeps me going is the overwhelmingly positive responses I get every day.
Together, we will show the world what it’s like, being Aspergian.
Posted by John Elder Robison at 8:53 AM
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
I will be at the Crown booth - 4328 - at 1PM Friday to sign copies of Look Me in the Eye. I'm looking forward to meeting whomever stops by.
I will also be at BEA Saturday early, and I'll post a time for meetings on Friday.
Anyone who wants to meet me this week should email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and make sure you hear back from me with a confirmation.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Last night, three A.M. My sister in law awoke to the distinct sound of a door opening and closing in the kitchen. She reached over to her husband’s side of the bed, where she felt Magnus sleeping. It wasn't him, she thought. They don’t have kids, and they didn’t have company that night, either. At least, they hadn’t invited any. Who was in the house? It was a chilling moment.
As she lay there, she heard a crash. Something in the kitchen had fallen. A drawer opened and closed. She knew the knives in the drawer were sharp. Was someone creeping down the hall to get her at that very moment? She lay perfectly still.
There was another noise, one she didn’t recognize, and silence. She lay in the dark, waiting for the bedroom doorknob to turn. But she was lucky. The intruders had other plans that night.
The last thing she heard was the sound of something being dragged across the floor.
Five long minutes passed, during which Annie made no noise at all. Through it all, Magnus slept peacefully.
Finally, she could not wait any longer. She got up, and carefully opened the door and walked down the hall to meet her fate.
The lights came on to reveal . . . an empty kitchen. A cake pan lay on the floor, empty. Annie knew the pan had contained brownies when she’d gone to bed. Was the killer eating them right now, before pouncing? She wondered. Quickly, she looked through the rest of the house, but there was no one there.
Just then, she heard rustling. Out back, in the yard. Were they coming back? Feeling brave, she switched on the outside lights. And that’s when she saw them.
Two raccoons. Sitting on the patio. Eating her food.
She opened the door and shouted at them, but they didn’t move. They just looked at her, then wordlessly returned to their dinner. She went to wake Magnus. Something’s outside! The two of them gazed at the raccoons from the kitchen door. Suddenly, it hit Magnus.
“That raccoon has my brownies!”
It was time for action. Magnus stepped to the fireplace, grabbed a log, and threw it at the larger raccoon. It hit him in the rear, and he turned around for a moment.
His gaze at Magnus said it all. I am not a beaver, nitwit! I do not eat logs. Throw me a cake! And then he turned and devoured Magnus’s brownies.
At that moment, their cat Taz walked up, tired from a long night hunting woodland animals. Taz and coons gazed at one another. There was no question whose patio those coons were sitting on. Without a word, they got up and left. Annie and Magnus went out and retrieved what was left of the cat food bag they’d dragged from the kitchen cabinet. Taz went inside, and went to sleep.
The raccoons sauntered across the lawn, to the next house. After all, there were two more hours till dawn, and a whole neighborhood to raid. And best of all, most of the houses have pet doors. And no locks on the cabinets. At least, they did that night.
A number of people have written asking about my appearance next week at Book Expo America (BEA.) Here is the offical show link to BEA, for general information
On Thursday, I will be attending Crown's BEA kickoff dinner with a small group of other Crown authors, our publishers, and Crown's guests, most of whom are book retailing professionals.
The show floor will open the next day, Friday, June 1. Crown is featuring Look Me in the Eye, meaning they'll have bound galleys to give away, and enthusiastic sales staff with whom you can sign up and order books by the thousands.
On Friday, June 1, I will be at the Crown booth - 4328 in the Random House area - to meet people and sign galleys. I will be at the booth at 11, and again at 1. I'll make sure I am available at other times so I can meet as many folks as possible. If you would like to schedule a meeting at BEA, please send a note to me at email@example.com
I will be staying in New York through Saturday afternoon. I'll stop by the Crown booth on Saturday before returning home, and I'll be available for meetings then, also. I am looking forward to meeting new people and taking another big step on the publishing journey.
See you in New York.
Posted by John Elder Robison at 7:22 AM
I'll be reading a short passage from Look Me in the Eye at the Lifespire Center, as described below:
The first annual Writers on Autism reading will be held at 7 PM on Thursday June 7, 2007 at the Empire State Building in the Lifespire Education and Conference Center. Barbara Fischkin, Michele Iallonardi, Rachel Kaplan, Sheila Kohler, Landon J. Napoleon, John Robison and Kim Stagliano will read from their books, journalism, stories and essays and join in a panel discussion. Books will be on sale and the event – free and open to the public-- will close with author signings.
The Lifespire Education and Conference Center is located on the third floor of the Empire State Building, 350 Fifth Avenue, New York, New YorkThe readers and panelists, all of whom have written either about autism or about issues of importance to the autism community, include established authors as well as up-and-coming writers. Three are mothers of children with autism and, as parents, represent a total of seven children on the Autism spectrum. Included among the other writers are two individuals who are on the Autism spectrum, themselves. More writers may be included.Fittingly, this event is hosted by Lifespire, Inc., a beloved 55-year-old, not-for-profit organization that each day serves 5000 developmentally disabled individuals in New York and New Jersey. http://www.lifespire.org/home.htm
Writers on Autism is a community event which aims to further the understanding of autism, a communication disorder that has reached epidemic proportions and according to federal government statistics is now diagnosed in one in every 150 children. The participating authors have been invited to donate a percentage of their profits to the autism organizations of their choices.
Any of you in the New York metro area are welcome to stop by and meet me in person.
Posted by John Elder Robison at 7:17 AM
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
The Fedex truck just arrived with the bound galleys of my new book! We've come so far since that winter day, when I drove to New York and met my editor and publishing team for the first time.
It's hard to believe that Crown will be giving these out to the world at the BEA show next week.
The press is already starting to pick it up. Kirkus Reviews chose Look Me in the Eye as one of the big books coming out this fall. It's featured in their May 15 BEA special issue.
Posted by John Elder Robison at 3:28 PM
Those of you who visit my blog regularly know that community and traffic has been building at a slow and steady pace since I started posting a few months back. All that changed with the "What's wrong with our kids" essay and the one that followed.
Traffic jumped more than tenfold overnight, from a few hundred page views per day to three thousand.
And what, you may ask, was the result??
Google "locked" the blog, as a possible SPAM BLOG. From Thursday till yesterday, I was locked out of posting, though some comments still got through. Yesterday, the "Madness" post that I'd written went up, but Google had blocked comments on that.
I had been wondering why no one had commented, and I finally figured it out. So now, it should all be fixed. Everyone is once again free to comment away.
Now, I just have to get the Google Analytics to work. For those of you who have not tried that - it's a really cool accessory that gives you a world map showing where blog visitors come from and more. Mine quit working when the blog was unlocked.
Posted by John Elder Robison at 10:22 AM
Friday, May 18, 2007
I’m sure all of you - okay, maybe just one or two of you - have a nutty aunt, or a crazy uncle. For me, madness was always a little more up close and personal. Those of you who’ve read my brother’s book, Running With Scissors, have some idea what I’m talking about.
And those of you who haven’t read it – go buy it and come back once you’ve read it. And pre-order Look Me in the Eye while you're at it . . .
My parents were both nutty, but of the two, my mother was more consistent. Starting when I was about 13, she made regular visits to the state hospital. Her form of insanity was serious - eat your cigarettes under the gaze of the ceiling demons, then kill them all sort of crazy. My father, on the other hand, was only caged up once, for drunkenness and depression.
My father was violent, and my mother never was. Both were highly disturbing, in their own ways.
Here's a photo of the nuthouse where they were incarcerated. http://www.pbase.com/robisonphoto/image/56970459
For a long time, I lived in fear that the same thing would happen to me. One day, I decided to do something. I decided to research the odds of sinking into madness. I started by making a chart, listing all my family members and what was wrong with them.
When I reviewed my list, I realized that those who went bad, did so young. I was over forty – beyond the age where any of my relatives had turned. Whew! That was a big relief.
As I looked closer, I saw something else. The insanity, depression, drunkenness . . . it was not evenly distributed. There was a distinct pattern of madness, on my mother’s side of the family. A pattern of madness . . . what a nice set of words. You can just see them, frothing at the mouth . . .shaking the bars of the cage . . . throwing vile things at the jailers as they passed.
I set out to research my family history, and over a period of six years I amassed a database of 14,000 ancestors, close relatives, and distant cousins. As I spoke with second, third, and fourth cousins I’d never met, I learned a lot.
My immediate family wasn’t that bad, and they were varied – especially on my mother’s side. Some talked to toasters, and others drank themselves to death. But not all of them were crazy. Many of those who weren’t, were brilliant. Music was another thread that ran though my mother’s side of the family. My grandfather was a songwriter. One of my uncles was a dirt poor molasses farmer, and he lived in a house without electricity or indoor toilets. But he had a piano. And he named three of his kids Tenor, Alto, and Soprano.
Others on my mother's side were writers. My brother and I are just the latest manifestation of a long line of writing talent. And before our words went into books, my ancestors preached them. All over the south, and before that, back in Germany. Writing has a long tradition for us.
As I dug deeper it became clear that the Richter side of my family is distinguished by these things:
- We are highly creative
- We write, paint, compose and perform music
- Some of us have an aptitude for numbers
- Others have an aptitude for philosophy and the esoteric
- Some never fit in, and sink into depression or drinking
- And a few tip over the edge, into out-and-out madness.
Some of you might think a history like that is troubling. For me, it was a relief. I realized that I was not doomed to end my days in a cage. Whatever was going to happen to me in terms of mental illness has probably already happened. And I now understand where my Aspergianism comes from, at least in part. Traits such as I exhibit are visible in other Richter relatives, though it’s hard to follow as we go back in time.
Still, my grandmother always told me I was the sum of my ancestors, and the evidence I collected suggests that’s true. Almost any trait I possess can be picked out of the biography of one or more ancestors. The combination manifested in me may be unique, but the building blocks all came before.
Have you researched your own past? Here’s a link to my database if you’d like to see what I’ve done. http://wc.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?db=johnrobison
Some Aspergian and autistic people may be the way they are as a result of accidental metal or chemical poisoning, or some disease or accident. Others of us are probably mostly a result of genetics. It's possible that it's a combination of both.
I don't doubt that a skilled observer could have picked up a good many of my Aspergian traits in my parents. Other factors certainly may have magnified them, but it's clear (to me at least) that's where they started, for me.
I wonder if the prognosis for people like me/us will turn out to be the same, or different? I suspect that autism is going to get more complex the more we learn. I’m afraid we may have situations where three autistic kids look and act alike, but one inherited his autism, another kid became autistic as a result of a disease, and a third became autistic as a result of mercury or lead poisoning or by some means as yet unknown. Different treatments and therapies may be needed to help each child achieve his potential. All three may have vastly different potentials. But most worrisome of all, the treatment that helps one kid might hurt another.
I consider that myself. I've read about metal poisoning, enough that I've started testing myself. And it definitely makes me wonder how much of the way I am today is a result of my physical environment. Before starting down this road, I had not really considered my phsical environment to be a big contributor to my developed self. I'd not seen beyond genetics and "training, discipline, or nurture."
I used to think I had all the answers. Hell, when I was ten, I knew I had 'em all! Now, I don’t know what to say when I see parents arguing about treatments for their kids. What saves one could seriously harm another. How’s a parent to know what to do??
This is a problem that’s going to get harder before it gets easier, I’m afraid.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Yesterday’s essay on the fate of our children struck a chord with many of you, but I noticed something interesting - you are quiet. In the past sixteen hours, almost 1,000 people read the previous post, but only six left a comment. That's the lowest rate of commentation I've yet seen on the blog. It's OK to just look and read, but I do wonder why you're less vocal?
I want to thank those who called and emailed me today. The dark side is that your conversations reminded me of my own poison troubles – something I had put out of my mind long ago. Some of you told me about infants who acted normal until receiving vaccinations. Many of those moms blame the mercury in the vaccine for their kid’s troubles. Others told of lead poisoning, and other scary things. I realized I am not just an observer. I’m involved, as they say.
Did you chew on lead sinkers, the kind we used for fishing? I did. And my mother used lead to make stained glass. I’d take the lead channel and ply with it. I was fascinated by its smooth supple feel, its weight, and the fact that it was a metal I could chew. My brother says I ate paint too, but I don’t remember that.
Did you ever break open a thermometer and roll the mercury in your hand? I did that, too, on several occasions. I can remember my father and me, gazing in wonder at the mercury balls in my little hand.
Did you ever wash your hands with methylene chloride or tolulene? Don’t recognize those names? How about lacquer thinner? I did that too, more times than I can remember.
I used to paint cars and breathe the fumes. I’d work till I was too dizzy, air out in the yard, and go back in. That was about the time my asthma starting sending me to the emergency room. Obvious as the connection seems now, it escaped me then.
At least I didn’t smoke. But does that count for anything? When I was 18, the bands I was with spent 7 nights a week in smoke filled bars. Some nights, the smoke was so thick that the overhead lights looked like columns.
Listening to some of your stories, it’s a miracle I’m alive, let alone able to think.
I’m going to have my blood tested, and I’m going to see how much metal and other stuff remains in me. Then I’ll work to get it out, and I’ll monitor the changes.
Before I go, I'd like to share another thought with you, thanks to Roy Powers of Afton, Ohio . .
Those of you who are 40+ . . . think about your parents as young people. And remember their friends. If you are like me, those adults from back then are, well, more robust. More rugged. And that's despite the fact that they smoked like chimmneys, drank hard liquor, ate fried food, and never saw a gym.
And yet, they say people today are healthier. But go back in time, 200 years. Read how people lived in 1807. How many of us could survive, let alone thrive, under the conditions under which many lived their lives back then?
Sure, many died at age 50, but most of us - I'd bet - would die by day 7 under the same conditions.
And meanwhile, back in the present, I remain a reasonably functional Aspergian and I'm glad to be part of a community where I learn new things every day.
Posted by John Elder Robison at 3:12 PM
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
This past winter, the CDC released a landmark report, saying 1 in 166 people in the USA has some kind of autistic spectrum condition. At the time, I didn’t make too much of the report, figuring that most of the increase over past surveys was not an increase at all – it just represented better identification and reporting.
I, of course, am a proud member of the Centers for Disease Control's 2007 "Class of 166."
Their report came out at the same time that I was showing Look Me in the Eye to my publisher for the first time. In our meetings, some of Crown’s editorial people asked me if I thought Aspergers and autism were on the rise, and at that time, my answer was, “I don’t know.”
Now that I’ve learned more, my answer is: Yes, there is a striking increase! And it’s only the tip of the iceberg . . .
In the past four months, I have met many parents with autistic kids. They have shown me things that would have been unheard of thirty years ago. And it makes me wonder: What is happening to our kids? Have we mutated, so that humans are defective? The stories I read about our declining fertility suggest that’s a possibility. Are we feeding our kids things to damage them? As much as we hate to admit it, many of us think we are. Did we ingest poisons ourselves, and damage our offspring as a result?
The range of possibilities is just staggering. Did the DDT sprayed in our yards and neighborhoods damage us, and lead to our damaged children, thirty years later? Is it the mercury in vaccines? Is agribusiness’s reliance on corn monoculture making us weak? Everywhere you turn, decisions that seemed so right in the fifties, sixties, and seventies seem so wrong today. And what about the decision’s we’re making now? Are they any better?
No one knows the answers. Or rather, some people feel they know the answer, and it’s A. Other people, with equal certainty, say it’s B. And there are more folks out there advocating C, D, E, and the whole rest of the alphabet.
Until meeting some of these families, I didn’t realize how lucky I am, having a fairly regular, trouble free kid. I’ve now met people with two, three, and even five deeply autistic kids in one family. How does that happen? Those of you who are 40-50-60 years old . . . think back to your high school days. How many autistic kids did you know? My school had two. Today, the same school has at least twenty. Ten times as many? Why? And several in one family . . . I grew up thinking autism was a one in 10,000 sort of condition. But it's not anymore. It's everywhere. Where did it come from?
And it’s not “just better reporting.” Many of the autistic kids I’m seeing are seriously impaired. These kids are autistic today, and they’d have been diagnosed as autistic in 1970. Better reporting does pick up a few high-functioning folks like me, but we do not make up the majority of these new cases.
The moms I meet are quick to point out that autism isn’t the only thing on the rise. What about the “peanut free” tables in school cafeterias? Does your kid’s school have one? Mine does. And it’s the same high school I attended, 30 years ago. The only difference is, there was no such thing as a “peanut free” table back then. In fact, peanut butter and jelly was a staple on the school lunch menu. Not any more. Now, kids eat the stuff and go into shock? Some even die. Why? What’s gone wrong?
When did peanuts become lethal? All my life, they were FOOD.
And how about asthma? When I went to Amherst high school, there were 700 other kids serving time in my school. I wasn’t friends with them all, but I at least recognized a good many kids. And how many had asthma? One that I knew, Dan Rausch.
Today, there are kids with asthma in every one of my kid’s classes at Amherst high. It seems like half Cubby's friends carry inhalers. Why? There’s no industry here. This is a college town. Where’s it all coming from? Surely it’s not made up. I see it myself. And it even affects me. At 21, I developed asthma, and I’ve had it ever since.
How about all the fat people? They’re everywhere. Even right here. I eat well, exercise, and I’m fat. Look at photos of your family today. Look at photos from the turn of the century. What’s the difference? They aren’t fat.
And diabetes? And who knows what else? Are we falling apart? I thought life was getting better and life expectancy was on the rise. I guess I was wrong.
I don’t have any answers, just questions. How about you? If you’re like me, you may not have even seen what’s happening right under our noses.
Science and technology are moving ahead at such a rapid pace that none of us – however smart and educated we may be – have even a hope of staying on top of all the ramifications of the new things our scientists and engineers create. How can we? The creators don’t know themselves, in many cases.
In most cases, new technology is unleashed upon the world for one reason: Because someone can make money from it. I’m sure most technology is safe, most of the time. But is “most” good enough, when jet planes and the Internet spread technology across the world in hours? Are we allowing ourselves to be sacrificed in the name of profit?
Should our government take a more active role in assessing the impact new technology will have upon us, and our planet? Do we even know how to do that?
I’m no Luddite. I don’t think we should smash the machines. Frankly, I don’t know what we should do. We make our best decisions based upon the available information, and twenty years later, we discover we went terribly wrong. And we’re left with things like asbestos-filled schools. How can we improve our ability to foresee the results of our actions?
I may not have answers today, but I’ll sure be looking for them, now that I see what’s going on.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Today, I looked at my statistics program to see where visitors to my blog come from. A few came from Kim Stagliano’s blog, http://kimstagliano.blogspot.com/ so I went over to check it out. Her post on music made me think of the part it’s played in my own life. My first career was in music. I built sound and lighting equipment, and special effects, that traveled all over the world. Sometimes, I even got to watch and hear my gear perform. And occasionally, I just went to a concert. Here are a few of the shows I remember . . .
Perhaps you readers can add some memorable shows of your own.
I remembered Kim's songs . . . all those discos I installed sound and light in, all over New England. Every one of them played Sylvester's Mighty Real. And the other standbys of disco life . . . I Will Survive. MacArthur Park. . . even Always and Forever.
The mirror balls. The neon on the ceiling. The colored lights under the raised dance floors. Mark Anthony's with the velvet walls. The VIP, with the mechanical bull. Do you remember that?
Disco's all gone now, at least from clubs. The only Discos today are Land Rovers - Discoveries. I have a white one.
Long before disco, I remember Leslie West and Mountain playing Long Red and Nantucket Sleighride at the Student Union Ballroom, Amherst, Massachusetts. I helped set up the equipment, stacks and stacks of Sunn amplifiers. 2000s, 1200s, and Coliseums. Some were still stenciled with the name of the former owners, the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
I remember The Guess Who and Blue Oyster Cult at the Springfield Civic Center. As the band lit into the first song, the MC howled, “On your feet or on your knees! For Blue Oyster Cult!!”
There were all the bands that played my sound equipment at the Rusty Nail . . . local legends Fat and Clean Living. James Montgomery. James Cotton. Lydia Pense and Cold Blood. The New Riders.
I remember B.B. King and the Royal Philharmonic playing Royal Albert Hall in London. When you listened to the tapes of the show, in the soft passages, the hall was so quiet you could hear footsteps on stage. And when B.B. played his guitar alone, you could hear the low A notes set the hardware on the drums buzzing.
I remember Canadian artist Dan Hill singing his hit, Sometimes When We Touch, through my sound system at the Orpheum in Boston. That night, he played with Phoebe Snow, and at the end of the show we had a tussle as a limo driver arrived to pick up Billy Joel, and he blocked the ramp and got into an argument with the police.
I remember every song KISS played back then, and how it looked and felt, the pyrotechnics and the bass kicking you in the chest. Sometimes Cher would stand next to me, on the right side of the stage, and I marveled at how big she looked on TV and how tiny she seemed in real life.
I’ll never forget the roar of the crowd when Ace Frehley of KISS stepped out with my guitar in Madison Square Garden, 1979. As he started into New York Groove, the flashing lights on my guitar reached all the way to the back wall, where tiny faces flickered in the rippling light.
Meatloaf, with Karla Devito, singing Paradise By The Dashboard Lights to a sellout crowd at the New Jersey Center for the Performing Arts. I’ll never forget that show, because on the way home, I saw an unforgettable fight between a pimp and a female gas station attendant who proved to be 200 pounds of solid muscle. The pimp, no small guy himself, ended up under his 1972 Cadillac Fleetwood. His knife lay in a pool of greasy water twenty feet away.
That was the first show for my first five-way sound system. And we were back there again a few weeks later, for Barry Manilow. I’ll always remember the medley he sang, Commercials of Your Life. It seemed like he’d written every big jingle from every TV ad of the 70’s that night.
And how could I forget Diana Ross, in a sequined gown, playing the big hall at Caesar’s Palace? And Wayne Newton, the Fifth Dimension, and all the other wonderful acts who played there?
And Peter Frampton, who I first heard on Humble Pie, Rockin’ the Fillmore, playing Toad’s in New Haven. We were all wild back in the early days, but that night, I watched the show with the musician’s wives and families and marveled at how far we’d come in 20 years.
And those were a few of the ones who played my sound equipment. There were so many more. There were also the ones I photographed . . .
There was Rick Springfield, dripping sweat after a hot performance, still carrying his guitar, picking up the roses and gently brushing them against his face.
There were the hot girl bands . . .Destiny’s Child. Dream. Mandy Moore. Standing by the edge of the stage, I met Mandy’s mother. I had no idea she was only seventeen.
And all the rockers. . . Def Leppard. Styx. Roxy Music and the Kinks. Talking Heads. So many bands. And I mustn’t forget all those country musicians . . . Clint Black. George Jones. Travis Tritt. Willie Nelson.
Sometimes, in my photography, I see faces from the past. In 2005, in northern Vermont, I shot KC and the Sunshine Band on an outdoor stage. As I watched them, I remembered KC and Terry, thirty years before, playing a sellout crowd though my PA at the old Rusty Nail.
I’ve shot so many of the great old bands as they tour the big state fairs. Hundreds of them, for sure. The Irish tenors . . .Frankie Valli . . . Brooks and Dunn . . .The Village People . . . there’s something for everyone at those fairs. Even Larry the Cable Guy, and the Great Pig Races.
I didn’t even hear those shows. I just saw them, through the viewfinders of my cameras. Nikons, mostly. A progression of models marked the advances in technology. f4 . . f5 . . d1 . . d1x . . d2h . . d2x . . d2xs. And now, even the old Leica's back, as the m8
Some of those people, I haven’t seen in years. With other’s, it’s almost like yesterday. Do you remember the Fillmore East? One of the owners still comes around – retired now – and tells us of jamming with Dylan and sitting around backstage with Janis Joplin.
Taj Mahal’s brother walked in the door the other day, and the Rolling Stone’s stage chief’s car is parked out back. . . walking along the waterfront at Newport, and there's Peter Frampton now, with John Regan! I have to ask whether John's still got that Mercedes we bought together, down at Manheim. Somehow, I never seem to leave music behind.
Perhaps you’ll meet a few more of these folks in my next book.
Posted by John Elder Robison at 9:50 PM
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Posted by John Elder Robison at 4:20 PM
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
It’s a remarkable thing, what’s happened to me in the past year. I listened to my brother, my kid, and everyone else, and I sat down and wrote a book. Then I sank into depression and assumed no one would ever want to read it, let alone publish it.
But I was wrong. Everyone wanted to publish Look Me in the Eye, and the accolades poured in from all the editors who read the book. I was stunned – it was all completely unexpected. With the sale of my book to Crown, it seemed like I was off to a fresh start, and a new career.
Even still, I felt hesitant. I described my ideas for a second book to my editor, and she said, “I’d love to do that book too!” My own self doubts aside, all the indications are that I can write more books, and publishers will want to print them.
Of course, we’re still waiting for the final proof – will the public want to buy them? But the indications sure seem positive. I sure am anxious for that September 25 on-sale date. This year, fall can’t come soon enough!
But meanwhile, the old career is still with me, and it’s tough to do both.
Before I wrote about Asperger’s, I wrote about Land Rovers, Rolls Royces, and other high end cars. I answered tech questions for people from all over the world. I wrote articles for the club and enthusiast magazines. And I wrote all the material on my own web site, which became one of the most popular service sites for those makes online.
But writing was a sideline to actually fixing cars. I’ve spent twenty years building Robison Service into one of the most successful independent service centers in New England. We’ve increased our capabilities and grown every year.
All that time, I was the manager. I was the one everyone went to. But last fall, as finishing my book took more and more of my time, I realized I could not do both things. So I hired a manager. You’d think my problem was solved, but it wasn’t.
Now, I find myself with a full time job as an author. I have a second book to write, a blog to maintain, twenty to fifty emails a day to answer, and I have to plan appearances and work to finish and promote Look Me in the Eye.
I love doing all that, but I also have a second job.
Back at Robison Service, the car owners still ask for me, and I take phone calls all day. I answer another pile of emails with technical questions. I still write the car articles, and I still maintain the Robison Service web site.
Having a manager has reduced the demands on my time, but other issues have arisen, and they take time to address. What will I do with the company? Will we still service the cars? People seek reassurance in the face of change. Customers and employees worry.
What should I do?
I am thrilled to find that my writing can actually help people. The response to the words in my book and on my blog is just remarkable. I am filled with pride and joy at this heretofore unknown ability of mine. It’s like a dream come true.
But at the same time, I don’t want to abandon cars. I’ve tinkered with them since I was a child. I just want to find a balance, where the manager runs the company, and the staff does the work. And I act as a figurehead, talking to customers, and bringing in work. It’s proving difficult to accomplish that, but I hope I succeed.
For the last four or five years, I have been telling people I want to do something to benefit society, and I’d like to get out of commerce. I’ve also had a strong desire to do creative work, like I did when I was younger. My new career as an author seems to offer the promise of both. That’s exciting, but change is scary for me, too.
It’s tough, juggling being an author, overseeing the car business, and doing all the other things I do – the real estate management, the photography, our car events, and maintaining a family and home.
It’s not like quitting a job, where you walk away from one thing and start another. I don’t want to quit cars. I just want to find a balance. But it’s hard, especially on days like today. Yesterday, I left work at noon to meet people back home. I came in this morning, and everything is in disarray. It’s frustrating. I hope I can work it all out, so that I’m an author, a business owner (but not the day-to-day manager), and I can do everything else people expect of me.
Posted by John Elder Robison at 11:44 AM
Sunday, May 6, 2007
I just finished reading an advance copy of Lottery, by Patricia Wood. Lottery is a novel, but it's not just entertainment. It’s a beautifully written tale of human nature that led me to think of some of the people I’ve known in my own life. I recommend you go to Amazon and pre-order it, immediately.
Lottery is the story of Perry, who’s slow. Not retarded, just slow. Perry wins the Washington state lottery and his life changes forever. Perry is not a fast thinker. He’s a methodical, careful thinker. But he doesn’t have to think about his feelings. And those are like all of ours, but they are rendered clearer by the lack Perry’s lack of “mental clutter.” In fact, you might say Perry is a giant, a genius, when it comes to understanding human nature.
Patricia’s book made me think of my own life, and my friends, and some of the people I’ve known over the years who are “slow,” or just “slower than me.”
Her book made me glad I was never one of those kids at school that called the slow ones, "retard!" But how could I? Thats what they said that about me. I was one of them, just smarter. And with less feelings, or so it seemed.
I remember the first time I realized I was smarter than someone else. I was thirteen years old, showing my grandmother what I’d learned about electronics. It hit me out of the blue: she did not understand what I was talking about at all. Somehow, I just knew: she was not quite as smart as me.
Suddenly, I felt sad, and scared. I was sad because she wasn’t as smart as me. I assumed that meant she would not be able to share in what I was doing. I felt scared, too, because she was the grownup I looked up to most of all, and she was supposed to be better than me. She was the one who was supposed to be smarter. I was just a kid.
As it turned out, my feelings were misplaced. My grandmother did share in what I did, and right up to the end of her life, she bragged about her John Elder to anyone who’d listen. And I didn’t look up to her any less.
As a grownup, I’ve written about what it’s like to be Aspergian, and I’ve written about the advantages of being the way I am. If you read my stories, you’ll find that one thing I never claim is any Aspergian advantage in finding happiness.
Like other highly intelligent Aspergians (there are a fair number of us) I have a lot going for me. I’m smart. I’m creative. I’m kind and gentle. I have a nice family and a successful business. With all that, some would say I have it made. But even with all those things, happiness and contentment continue to elude me.
I’ve written how I’m happier now than I was as a teenager, but that’s not saying much. True happiness and contentment are what you see looking into the eyes of a well-loved dog. Those pure feelings are seldom seen in humans. Why not? I don’t know about you, but I always second guess what I hear. Do they really mean that? Are they just trying to take advantage of me? What do they really want? I can never just accept things as they are.
And dogs can tell who likes them, and who doesn’t. They know it, almost instinctively. With all my brains, I still can’t figure that out half the time.
When I do a job, I never stop worrying. Will people like it? Did I make a mistake? What if people ridicule me for it? Even though I am confident in my technical skills, I am never able to sit back and enjoy my accomplishments.
I believe this worry, self doubt, and angst goes hand in hand with intelligence. The smarter you are, the more you realize all the myriad ways things can go wrong. Without that understanding, a dog is content to live his life day to day, something I can never do.
I felt a little sad at the end of her book, realizing Perry had found something I may never have, and there are real people just like him around me now. Knowing that makes my own advantages, such as they are, seem a little less wonderful.
I guess the grass always seems greener. It’s a powerful book, and I’m sure you’re all going to read about her this summer.
Posted by John Elder Robison at 10:06 PM
Friday, May 4, 2007
Most people who read my post http://jerobison.blogspot.com/2007/05/myth-of-living-dead-autistic-child.html enjoyed reading (my) (the kid’s) point of view. A few people wrote me and asked, What about the mom’s point of view? What about her guilt and frustration? My response would not make the mom in the story feel very good if she read it.
Well, my intent was not to make the mom feel good. My intent was to express how I would feel if I were that kid, reading what my mother said about me. From that perspective, I’m sure most would agree, I would not feel very good.
I’m sure my parents found me endlessly frustrating, too. The mom in the story is probably doing her best and it’s quite possible she regrets her statement. But it’s also possible that she does not even know how hurt her kid might be by it.
Some moms will say things they shouldn’t from frustration. Far more utter words borne of ignorance. They only regret their words much later, with the arrival of greater knowledge, and by then it’s too late.
So the next time you hear something like that from a mom, think enlightenment, not criticism. And remember, for every mom like this one – quoted in a newspaper – there are hundreds more we never hear from.
And don’t forget to stop by tomorrow if you’re near Ghent, New York. www.celebrationofcelts.com
Last night, I went to Williamstown to photograph the Berkshire Symphony, with Ron Feldman conducting.
There are a number of books I’d like to write, now that the first one’s done. My second book is going to discuss Aspergian behaviors in more depth than Look Me in the Eye. After that, I’d like to do a book on Asperger’s, photography, and the creative process.
To make that book possible, I’ve been collecting images of performers. Here are some photos of the Symphony musicians. It’s something different; I hope you like them
Posted by John Elder Robison at 10:36 AM
Thursday, May 3, 2007
On her blog, http://www.autismvox.com/ Christina Chew quoted the following statement from the May 2 Minnesota Spokesman-Reporter:
“Parenting a child with autism, in many ways, is like parenting a child who is alive but dead at the same time,” she says. “The body is there, but the senses are gone. It’s a loss.
“But Tajh is my heart; he is not just an autistic child, he is my world,” Cherry adds, “and he is the strongest person next to my grandma that I know. Not many people can understand what it would feel like to have a need but not be able to say what it is, every day. This is what children with autism experience. It’s like being thirsty, and even though you feel it, you can’t describe your intense thirst. Imagine having to experience that every day of your life.”
I find that passage very troubling. It implies a fundamental lack of understanding on the part of a parent, which is, to say the least, a very dangerous situation for a small child.
I agree that, to the casual observer, autistic people can seem dead in some ways. I myself am an Aspergian, toward the more functional end of the spectrum, and I was quite flat and emotionless as a child. I frequently declined to respond to others, and existed in my own world.
As a grownup, I can understand that it would have been frustrating, trying to interact with me. But here’s the thing . . . if not for the efforts of intelligent grownups who drew me out and caused me to engage with society, I might well be locked away somewhere today, out of touch with the world.
When I was little, there were people who looked at me and said, “No potential in that one,” and moved on. I don’t owe those people a thing. There were others who looked at me and said, “There is an exceptional child in there . . .” and those are the ones to whom I will always owe a debt of gratitude.
I was a child who might have been described the same way 45 years ago. Indeed, I probably was; I just don’t remember all the bad things people said about me. Today, I’m a successful grownup whose book – Look Me in the Eye - on growing up Aspergian will be in bookstores everywhere in just five more months.
Allow me to share some thoughts from my own Aspergian childhood experience. I don’t purport to speak for all autistic people, only for myself. But my thoughts may still be worth considering the next time you observe a “living dead” autistic person:
I am not “alive but dead.” I am fully aware of what’s going on around me, in fact, I am more aware of some things that ordinary people. I’m very quick to pick up very subtle things. As a misfit, I am well aware that I must always be on my toes – a jump ahead of the others. I just don’t always display visible reactions to things I see I see, smell, or hear.
The idea that “the body is there but the senses are gone” is just wrong. I have always been in full possession of my senses. As a child, my senses of hearing, smell, and taste were considerably sharper than those of my parents and most others around me. And my eyesight was at least average.
The words that followed those in the quote, if applied to me, would make me feel like a stuffed animal. I would not like them. Not one little bit.
And the final passage: “It’s like being thirsty, and even though you feel it, you can’t describe your intense thirst.” People might have said that about me as a child, but time would prove them wrong. People today say my ability to express my thoughts and feelings in words is extraordinary for anyone – autistic or otherwise. Folks who can’t describe their thirst don’t generally grow up to see their books published around the world, as I have. Be careful jumping to conclusion about children – we don’t always grow up the way you think, and we might have attributes you yourself are not sharp or observant enough to see.
As you can probably discern, I’m not left feeling very good about the parent in that article. If I were that person, I would be very concerned those words would come back to haunt me later.
Thanks to Christina Chew for bringing the article to my attention.
What defines a successful Aspergian?
In a post a few days ago, I wrote about being successful. Several of you took exception to my definition of success, which in the post appeared tied to financial success. I certainly understand that there are many ways to measure success other than net worth. I also know many wealthy people are unhappy, and many happy people are not wealthy.
I’d like to expand upon the concept of success below.
For purposes of discussion, here are what I believe to be seven essential truths about success:
1. People that are friendly and able to get along well with others will have more options in life.
2. The more knowledge a person has, and the better developed his reasoning power, the more life options will be available to him.
3. Given the ability to choose wisely, a person with more options will be more likely to achieve success in their chosen field, and elsewhere in life.
4. Successful people are more likely to feel like they are in control of their destiny. And people who feel like they are in control often prove in practice to be in control, thereby influencing their lives for the better.
5. People who achieve success in their chosen field are more likely to be happy than the general population.
As an aside, I believe people who get along with others, are knowledgeable, and have good decision making abilities are much more likely to help others. A person who likes and is liked by others will naturally want to help those around him, and a successful person who likes other people will have powerful means to help.
Powerful may mean many things in that context. It may mean the charitable businessman’s power to buy home heating oil for the poor in winter. It may mean the preacher’s power to call a landlord and find shelter for a struggling family. Power can even be a politician’s power to call a business owner and get a reformed drug dealer a straight job. People who wish to do so may deploy their personal power in many ways to help themselves and others.
6. People who achieve success in their chosen field are more likely to be financially well-off than the general population.
7. Public health studies have repeatedly shown that happy, affluent people in control of their own destiny have a better quality of life and live longer, healthier lives.
As you can see, they all build upon one another. In the end, happiness, the feeling of controlling one’s destiny, and financial success often go hand in hand.
It is my contention that the giant stumbling block for many smart Aspergians is #1. If they can overcome that issue, they are well on their way. I’ve experienced that in my own life. I was a smart kid, and I had no trouble devouring the available literature on any topic that interested me (Item #2.) But my ability to grow and benefit from my store of knowledge was limited because I was not good at communicating and working with others. When I worked on that, the results were immediate and dramatic.
And now, I have to go to work. I will ponder this thought during the day.
Posted by John Elder Robison at 7:39 AM
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Yesterday I decided to have lunch among the Panerians. The West Springfield Panera has some of the best fresh sandwiches and salads around. When I went in, to my surprise, I saw my friend Matt, in a corner facing the door, slouched behind a tall laptop.
“What brings you here?” I asked.
“This place has the best girls of any restaurant in Western Mass.” His answer would have surprised me, but I have long experience of similar responses from him.
“With your Asperger’s, you probably don’t even notice.” He paused, but I didn’t say anything. I knew any possible response would leave me sounding dumb.
“You’re always reading.”
I realized I needed a girl-oriented response, and fast. All I could come up with was, “Why do you think the girls here are best?”
His answer surprised me. “This place has the healthiest food. It’s trendy. It’s obvious. The people that eat the best look the best.”
"Do think that's true for guys too?"
"Of course, he said," sucking in his belly and straightening up a bit.
I considered my own sorry feeding habits, and slothful, disheveled appearance.
Woof, I said.
Is that really true?
I made a resolution. I will not catch and eat anything more from the edge of the road. I will only eat trendy, healthy food. And this time, next year, I will be one of THEM.