Friday, April 22, 2016

The Same as You. But Different. A Hero’s Journey

          “We are the same as you,” the Emcee said in a halting voice. “But different!”
          It was the annual production of the music therapy group my son belongs to. It’s diverse, with a wide range of ages, races, disabilities and functionality levels.
          This year’s show was unique in that its lines were written by the performers themselves. “A Hero’s Journey” expressed the joys, frustrations, and triumphs of life with a disability.
          Some participants wrote their lines conventionally. Some used picture boards. Some used a methodology called Rapid Prompting Method (RPM), which helps non- conversational individuals express themselves by spelling out responses on a letter board. Students used whatever methodology best gave them a voice.
          Dreams. Fears. Intelligence. Some wrote many lines, some only a few. What shone throughout this fun evening of song, dance, and drama written by the kids was that we have under-estimated the special needs community.
The audience heard of dreams, with the talent and intelligence to fulfill them. We heard fears. Society as a whole discriminates against the inability to express oneself, to do life in a typical manner. Special needs make people different. But they are the same: desiring to excel, to be given a chance, to study, pursue their dreams, contribute to society. I could write a series of blogs on what I heard that night. Mostly, we heard their desperate need for a voice.
          To hear them, we need to listen slowly. Intently. Without preconceived notions. Sometimes, via methods and technologies we aren’t comfortable with.
          People with special needs deserve respect. Because they often can’t talk well, or don’t appear intelligent, we make assumptions. We think they don’t hear or understand us. What we heard, over and over that night, was that they get it. There’s a smart, sensitive, feeling human behind the foolish façade. They understand when they’re dismissed as irrelevant. When they are cut, they bleed.
          Our son has autism. He is verbal, but doesn’t express feelings well. Using RPM, he wrote this line:
 “I am afraid of the frustration of this sucky autism life.”
My husband and I were devastated.
We didn’t know he felt that way. We hoped we could compensate for the pain of disability. We hoped he wasn’t bothered much by the things he couldn’t do. We hoped he was content.
Hope is not a strategy.
He’s been doing well, but sometimes the frustrations of sensory overload and seizures and not being able to make himself understood overwhelm him.
Then there’s a meltdown . He’s 19, husky, strong.  The meltdowns are ugly, the consequences steep.  
He’s getting better at control and medication helps, but sometimes it’s not enough, and Vesuvius blows. Afterwards, he cries and apologizes.  We all cry. It is sucky, this part of his Hero’s Journey.
Now that we have heard his voice, we won’t stop listening.
We’re all on a journey called life, with enemies and allies. But with special needs, the enemies are stronger and more numerous. Sometimes they are in unexpected places, like the school system. The allies are fewer. Many are scared because the needs overwhelm them. They feel helpless.
There are basic tools. Care, try to understand. Be willing to reach out.  Overcome your fear of what could happen, and invite a special needs person on an outing. Suggest your organization sponsor a special needs event or scholarship. Teach your kids they don’t have to be afraid of someone who drools, or talks funny, or doesn’t talk at all. It’s hammered into us not to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, religion or sexual preference. Let’s add disability to that list.
Special needs individuals are on a tough journey. They are Heroes, but if they’re going to make it, they need allies like you and me.
What do you think when you see someone with special needs? What do you do? How do you react?
Think through that.
Because after all, people with special needs are the same as us.
          But different.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Hummingbird Hostility

Hummingbirds fascinate me. From wings that beat seventy times a second, to the iridescent, jewel-toned colors they can turn on or off as needed, God's smallest birds are a marvel to watch. My office window has a large hummingbird feeder hung in the middle, so I can watch them when I should be working. It beats cleaning out my sock drawer.
  The feeder has four “blossoms” – room for four hummingbirds to satisfy their hunger. Around the corner there is a similar feeder, again with four flowers beckoning the thirsty to come and drink. Beyond the feeders there is a natural area filled with flowers that supposedly represent a delicious  buffet heaven for hummingbirds. Nectar abounds.
So why, in this Promised Land I’ve created for them, do the hummingbirds fight over the feeder? There’s plenty of room and syrup for four at a time. But, often when I look up, it’s to see one bird dive-bombing another, at a speed, I’ve read, of up to 60 mph. Why hurtle its awesome body like a torpedo against his fellow bird instead of peacefully going to the next blossom, or the next feeder, or one of the many flowers in the garden?  If he connects, it’s bound to hurt. If he doesn’t pull up in time-ouch! It’s like watching a World War I dogfight, where you know either Snoopy or the Red Baron is going down.
It’s a territorial thing, I’m told. But hummingbirds are very smart- their brain is, proportionately, the largest in the bird kingdom. They remember where each nectar “blossom” is, and how fast it refills once their long, hairy tongues have sucked it dry. Experience tells them the besotted human inside will refill their feeder with fresh, homemade nectar the minute it drops below an easily obtainable level. They won’t even have to strain their lovely throats to suction the last ambrosia-like drop.
Knowing this, they have to be aware several birds can feast at once.
A fast metabolism dictates they spend their time eating, not fighting. Their hearts beat over 1200 times a second, so they need to consume up to eight times their weight, daily. They have to eat at least half their weight daily in sugar. I could handle that requirement!
Yet instead of four of them cozying up to the nectar bar to drink in sweet harmony, they chase each other away. And while one chases another off, a third sneaks in and slurps nectar!
I want to set up a mini-stereo outside and play the hummingbird version of “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” I asked the neighborhood bird expert about hanging multiple feeders, like one per window pane. He said it wouldn’t help. The hummingbirds would apply some arbitrary bird-logic to determine which one blossom among all the feeders was the most desirable, then they would all fight over it, ignoring the wealth of nectar going neglected all around them.
I wonder if God watches His humans and wonders the same thing.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


Useless Things Humans Do
Hello. I am the Grand Duchess Scarlett, Ruler of the Renner Household. Occasionally, I wake up and feel led to impart wisdom to my subjects. I have graciously decided to allow Mama to share today’s insights with her friends, so they too can bask in my astuteness. 

Dad says not all mom’s readers are blessed with felines. Meh. Let them get cats.

Today I will share ten useless things humans do. If you will cease wasting time on these tasks you will have time for more important activities, such as petting, preparing tasty homemade cat treats, etc.

1.       Preparing “Lighter” Meals-   Seriously? A waste of time and materials. No one likes them. Bleh. Take your corn chowder, for example. Divine recipe. Even I, an avowed carnivore, LOVE it! I’ve even gone so far as to leap to the countertop and sample a few mouthfuls from the crockpot when you aren’t looking. But, the other day, you made it with skim milk instead of cream, and sautéed the onions in ghee instead of butter. Highly unfortunate decision. Dad usually eats three bowls and takes the rest to work to “share.” He choked down half a bowl and suggested you take the rest to the new neighbors as a welcoming gift. I hear they’re thinking of moving. Cook the way you always have and no one will get scratched. Don’t bother looking for your “Healthy Eats” cookbook. I gave it to the dog and he ate it.
2.       Sucking Your Tummy In- Wastes energy. Consider me. I have a lovely, fat tummy. I’ve earned mine, just as you have, despite your talk about hereditary factors. But you seldom see mine, BECAUSE I WALK ON ALL FOURS. My tummy hangs down, and is much less noticeable. My hair grows down and hides it, and the nice, slim line of my tail distracts from it. Of course, you don’t have much of a tail to speak of, and what you do have shows a distressing tendency to spread horizontally instead of vertically, but work with what you’ve got.
3.       Vacuuming- Ok, I get it. The beast you call a dog sheds all the time, and it IS disgusting. Get rid of him. Then all you will have to deal with is MY hair. Since I present most of it to you in a moistly packaged hairball, it’s not like you have to vacuum it. Simple. Ax the dog.
4.       Buying Organic Foods- It’s expensive. There are other options for healthy.  Let me outside for a few hours. I’ll bring you some nice, plump, organic chipmunks. Half for you, half for me- you can even have the back half. And the grass outside is really tasty, try it instead of that kale stuff. Dad and the kids put so much dressing on it, kale CAN’T really be good in the long run.
5.       Well, I had ten, but, yawn, it’s time for my 10 am nap. Later, maybe. If I remember.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Germ Warfare

I read some 1950’s mystery fiction. As we enter flu and cold season, I’ve noticed a difference in the way people back then handled germ warfare.

They went to bed!

Sounds good to me. Evidently they had servants to handle day to day affairs. At my house, servants are noticeably absent.  So I slug some rid-a-flu and keep going.

There weren’t nearly as many antibiotics, and almost no symptom relievers at the time. The kindly doctor made a house call, dispensed what medicine was available, then told them to stay in bed and drink liquids. If they had money, he was paid. If not, he departed with a chicken or homemade jam or a promise.

Now, if I’m feverish or spewing unpleasant things, I probably visit the doctor. She gives me an antibiotic designed to quickly kill the germs. My health plan and I pay a total which my doctor friends tell me is a fraction of what they used to make. They probably wish, sometimes, there was a nice, plump chicken to be had.

I may go home and rest awhile. Or not. I’ll probably telecommute until my boy gets home from school. Then it’s off and running until my husband gets home, when I can usually go to bed. Multiple interruptions are likely, as I am, apparently, the only one in the house who knows where critical things are kept. My daughter will flip on the lights, and demand to know why I’m in bed. She will ignore my subtle hint that she should leave- "Go away, I’m sick!- and recount the various dramas of her life.

In my books, the patient usually recovers. Unless, of course, he or she is helped to his or her reward by a wicked murderer who hopes to pass the death off as natural. I also usually recover, at least partially. But let’s get back to the part where the 50's doctor says go to bed.

Seriously? I don’t have time for that! I pop something to suppress the symptoms and continue with regularly scheduled programming at 95 mph.

Just as soon as I'm physically well enough to dress myself without missing a critical button, and mentally astute enough to open the garage door before I back the car out, I'm back in the game. It’s not generally acknowledged that driving a car under the influence of the flu is as dangerous as driving drunk, so off I go, hacking and weaving. Because my world will fall apart if I'm not there to run it, right?

I share the pain with friends and co-workers, gather some new bugs while my resistance is low, and the next round of germ warfare begins.  But the germs are gaining on me, developing resistance to the antibiotics so freely available.

I’m ready for the days when the local doctor put us to bed, took his chicken and left, confident we’d contain ourselves and our germs until we were well. There’s just one problem I see with going back to this plan:

Where will I find servants to carry on while I’m down? Do you think anyone will still work for homemade cookies?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Over-Editors Anonymous


  Hello. My name is D’Ann and I can’t stop editing.
Last week, my finger was poised to hit send. My new novel “Grandi Needs Killing,” was finished. Edited. Complete. Edited again. Done. Edited and re-edited, ad nauseum. I had four requests to send my full manuscript for consideration.
Time to send my eaglet flying into the world of publishing, to make its way or crash. Time to really work on my new novel.” Time to tell Grandi good-bye and move on. So far the furthest I’d moved was a loose plotline for a new novel, a title I dislike, and five pages I should probably scrap.

And  yet…
I never reviewed the chapter breaks in “Grandi Needs Killing.” Were they ideally placed to insure readers would be compelled to keep reading?  I would just take a quick peek.  Spend  fifteen minutes, an hour, tops. Then I could send “Grandi” out and be done with her while I wrote “Murder at Whiskey Oaks Plantation.” (Meh. Mediocre title. I can do better.)

I seated myself at my laptop, ready to quickly modify a few chapter breaks, then move on to “Murder at Whiskey Oaks Plantation.” (Awful title! Perhaps, “Death on Whiskey Mountain?” Should I stop and research names?) I shook off the digression. Grandi needed a final, fifteen minute facelift.
Two days later, my quick peek had morphed into another line by line re-edit. Wasn’t that a rather weak verb here? Certainly I could find a more evocative way for my heroine to express angst. And, wait surely I hadn’t written “there” when it should clearly be “their?” Readers will think I’m an uneducated ninny! And how did the misspelling of kaleidoscope, a mistake of infinite magnitude, escape detection in the first 39 edits?

My first novel “Dancing  From the Shadows,” had significant printing problems. Three months after its release, a second edition was needed. I was only supposed to go through the manuscript and mark the printing problems. I lost sleep doing a line by line edit of a book that was already published.
I’ve increased my speed though. It only took two years to write and edit “Grandi Needs Killing,” as opposed to the three and a half years required to complete “Dancing From the Shadows.”

I’m getting better. I’m NOT editing too much. I can give up editing whenever I want.
Who am I trying to fool? At a book signing, I will probably hand the reader a slip of paper and say “I’m afraid I used too many adverbs in the third paragraph, page 198. If you’ll replace that paragraph with this one, the prose will be stronger.”

I need an intervention! Anyone want to help me form “Over-Editors Anonymous?


Monday, January 11, 2016

The Peel

 Peeled onion Stock Photos

I’m not aging as gracefully as I’d like. This isn’t a comforting thought to someone now doing a good bit of speaking, in a culture where 50 is the new 30. So I was intrigued when I was invited to a “peel party,” where a registered n dermatologist’s nurse would give light chemical facials called peels.
The hostess gets these peels often, and says they minimize the appearance of age spots and fine wrinkles. Although her age is within a few years of mine, she appears much younger. I decided I should try either her makeup or her peels. Since I don’t wear much makeup, I decided to attend the party.
It was interesting. The nurse asked questions, I filled out the inevitable forms, and then she applied the peel to my face. It burned, but not so much I couldn’t stand it.
I glowed the next day, like I’d been sunbathing, but nothing happened. On day two, I started to flake a little, scattering little pieces of my DNA wherever I walked.  You aren’t supposed to pick at the peeling spots, but who can resist a little tug? Not me.  It was gratifying to see that beneath the scales of dead skin, my face did look fresher.
By day three, I looked like a molting iguana. I washed my face often, applied lotion, and wore white or cream colored tops, so I wouldn’t look like I was suffering from a case of runaway dandruff.
In the midst of this skin-sloughing process, my aunt came to visit.
She’s a really cool auntie. Only a dozen years older than me, she’s retired now, and spends half the year traveling all over the country in her fifth wheel.  Sometimes she travels with a friend, but most of the time it’s just her and her pound pup, traveling wherever the spirit moves, dropping in on relatives who are always overjoyed to see her.
I wondered a little about that. She came at a particularly busy time for me, but I was delighted to see her and didn’t mind a bit. Why is that?
I came to the conclusion it’s because she’s been “peeling” for years. Life has brought her a lot of pain. She’s used these experiences to sand off the less desirable aspects of human personality: selfishness,  pride, pretensions, and judgment. The process has revealed the easy-going, generous, humble woman God created her to be. She’s not perfect, but she’s a lovely work in progress.
I may do more of the facial peels. I haven’t decided yet. But I do know that I’m going to make sure that along the way, I’m doing constant character peels. In the final analysis, while I’d like to look youthful and attractive, it’s inner-beauty I want to spend the majority of my time and energy on.