"Like the study of science and art, accounts of historical events can be intrinsically fascinating. But they have a wider significance. I believe that people are better able to chart their life course and make life decisions when they know how others have dealt with pressures and dilemmas---historically, contemporaneously, and in works of art. And only equipped with such understanding can we participate knowledgeably in contemporary discussions (and decisions) about the culpability of various individuals and countries in the Second World War. Only with such understanding can we ponder the responsibilty of human beings everywhere to counter current efforts at genocide in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia to bring the perpetrators to justice."
"...we humans are the kinds of animals who learn chiefly by observing others---what they value, what they spurn, how they conduct themselves from day to day, and especially, what they do when they believe that no one is looking."
----Howard Gardner, from The Disciplined Mind, published in 1999

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Happy Thoughts; or, Always Keep Your Focus

Tomorrow LG has off from school, as do I.
He's announced what he thinks is our best course of action for the day: drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows in bed while watching cartoons.
I think he's on to something.
It's these vanishing points that become focal points when you're juggling, dear reader.
May you have such lovely focal points.
I'll talk with you soon.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Through the Looking Glass; or, There and Back Again

Visualization has always been a most helpful technique.

This is what I am visualizing lately:

and meanwhile, moments such as scratching an itch on LG's back he just can't reach, BG making a joke, Snowy stirring up shrimp and grits on the stove; Student 1 and Student 2 taking a structured peer-to-peer play session and running with it--- not needing my prompts at all after the first few minutes, indeed, taking their prompts from each other to the point we were all howling with laughter, literally on the floor---this---this is what my eyes remain fixed upon.

May you be happy with what your eyes are fixed upon, dear reader. I'll talk with you soon.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

To Make a Long Story Short; or, Words, Don't Fail Me Now

Dear reader, I don't have a long post for you this week.
Today I spend cozily cooking in the kitchen. Vegetarian lasagna that we all devoured: whole wheat noodles, roasted fennel and eggplant, good olive oil, parmesan reggiano, and soy Italian sausages. Spiced tomato gravy, with ground smoked almonds, chilis, garlic, cilantro, and tumeric to serve with charred sweet peppers stuffed with potatoes mashed with wasabi, lemon, garam masala (thank you Anita!) and tumeric.
Imagine me as the cheery cooky today, with a tofurkey drumstick.

Dear reader, I don't have a long post for you this week.
I know, it's only the second week that I've returned to the blogging community, to you, my dear readers and neighbors all.
You see, part of my renewed commitment to live a better-balanced, better-quality-of-life life is that Mr. X has, through that beautifully sharp double-edged sword we know as the internet, found me.

Dear reader, dear neighbor, I debated as to if I should share this; I've ultimately concluded that I should because silence has always been the bluntest of weapons.
I'm still running the trials, dear reader: figuring out what I can have and what I can't.
We'll talk about it soon.

Cheery Cooky
Mixed media on book 6.5 x 9" ©2006

Sunday, January 4, 2009

You Can't Have That, But You Can Have This; or, Maybe Some Interruption-Transition Trials Are In Order


Dear reader, it is my best and most essential wish and hope for you all that you have been living well in this past year, and that the new year brings all of the best that you could hope for. Perhaps even better yet: things that you could never imagine for yourself, all to the best, and then even more.

This past year has been a challenging one for me in my new position---although not-so-new now, as this week, I will celebrate my one year anniversary in this placement.

My biggest challenge has been balance.
It has been difficult for me to leave my work at work. It is common for many people in many professions to do so. It is indeed common for team members who support learners identified as having autism to the degree to which our learners are identified to do so.

Below is a plan written for one of our kiddos. It's not an unusual or unique plan by any means. It is what is commonly referred to as an "interruption transition trial" protocol. An interruption transition trial is indicated for learners who have difficulty moving from one area/activity to another area/activity.
I thought that I would use our dear X's hard work and progress as an inspiration for myself this year: where X's goal is zero occurences of behaviors of concern per week, my goal will be to actively create more balance and smooth transition between my professional and my personal lives.

I've chosen to use this protocol for myself as opposed to an "accepting no" protocol (essential to this learning: you can't have that, but you can have this...please scroll downpage in the above link for a description of this trial) because I do believe that I can have both. I believe that I can be a good educator and a good daugher/friend/mother/wife.
And yes, even a good blogger.

So when reading "X," substitute "neroli." I will.

Goal: When given an adult direction or direction to transition, X will comply with the demand without engaging in behaviors of concern in the for no (0) occurrences of behaviors of concern per week.

Before teaching:
· Team develops a “bank” of transitional demands that will be presented to X.
o Team groups transitions by level of effort as well as level of interest/motivation to X.
§ Remember to consider:
what X would choose to do on his own/are easy for X to do, and group these as the "easies” or the “fun;”
· what X would rarely ever choose to do independently/are hard for X to do, and group these as the “hards” or “no fun.”

· Team develops a “bank” of reinforcers that will be used as a promise reinforcer when presenting the transitional demand to X.
o Team groups reinforcers by level of interest/motivation to X.
§ Remember to consider:
· what X would always choose if given free choice, and group these as highly-valued.
· what X would rarely ever choose if given free choice, and group these as least-valued.

Team develops a systematic list of transitional demands that will be presented to X.
Begin the list with the transitions that are easy/fun for X using a corresponding highly-valued promise reinforcer.
Continue to develop the list by gradually and systematically adding in transitions that are less easy/fun for X
Gradually and systematically changing the promise reinforcers used from more highly-valued reinforcers to lower-valued reinforcers.
When this has been organized, teaching may begin.

Staff: “touch this,”
X: touches
Staff: “Great job touching! You can do (name reinforcing activity). “
X: returns to engaging in reinforcing activity

Gradually and systematically increase the level of transitional demands to those that are less easy/fun (such as “get up and come here” when “here” is a chair 3 feet away.

Getting ready for a teaching session:

Staff puts system into place before teaching session begins.
to have all activities and reinforcers that will be used ready and readily available before the first presentation of demands
to have all transitional demands and promise reinforcers that are to be used recorded on the data sheet to be used for the session before the first presentation of demands

Teaching the sessions:

Always remember to show promise reinforcer first; then present demand. Do not talk to X about the promise reinforcer.

Begin the teaching with the transitions that are easy/fun for X using a corresponding highly-valued promise reinforcer.

Staff: Shows X a highly-valued item or offers a highly-valued action, and says “touch this,” or “Do this.”
X: touches, or does
Staff: “Great job touching/doing (name the action)! You can do (name reinforcing activity). “
X: returns to engaging in reinforcing activity

Gradually and systematically change the promise reinforcers used from more highly-valued reinforcers to lower-valued reinforcers.

Staff: Shows X a lesser-valued item or offers a lesser-valued action, and says“Touch this,” or “Do this,”
X: touches, or does
Staff: “Great job touching/doing (name the action)! You can do (name reinforcing activity). “
X: returns to engaging in reinforcing activity

Continue to develop the teaching by gradually and systematically adding in transitions that are less easy/fun for X
Staff: Shows AS promise reinforcer and says in a playful tone,“Hey, X! Do____!”
X: (does the action)
Staff: “Great job touching/doing (name the action)! You can do (name the reinforcing activity)”
X: returns to engaging in reinforcing activity

Increase time that X is required to comply with staff direction before allowed to return to the reinforcing activity: for example, from count of 1 to a count of 10 to the count of 60, and so forth.
Increase distance that X is required to physically move from the reinforcing activity: for example, from standing up from a table where X has been engaging in a reinforcing activity to moving to a chair incrementally further away from the reinforcing activity to all the way across the room from the activity, and so forth.

If X complies immediately with the demand, and does not engage in behaviors of concern, immediately deliver the promise reinforcer.
If X does not comply immediately with the demand, but does not engage in behaviors of concern, provide the least intrusive level of prompting possible to assist him in complying with your demand.

If X complies immediately with this initial prompt, deliver the promise reinforcer.
If X does not comply immediately with initial staff prompts, remove the promise reinforcer. Do not refer to the promise reinforcer in any way.
Keep the demand on,prompting X as necessary with the least intrusive level of prompts possible to assist X to comply with your demand.

Do not deliver verbal praise for this prompted compliance. Do pair poor quality compliance or prompted compliance with language such as “you are doing (name the action demanded), “that’s how you (name the action demanded).”
Differentially reinforce this level of response.
Staff can also then say, “do (name the action demanded)” while also stating the positive behavior expected : for instance, “ stand up quietly.” Staff can then differentially reinforce this level of response.

The least amount of prompting as well as the least amount of time that X requires to comply with demands should be be more highly reinforced than other more highly prompted or less timely responses.

Always let the data inform your programming. Always remember that learning can look like and feel like fun.
I'm running the trials. I'll need all the help that I can get.
I'll talk with you soon.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?; or, It's Been a Hard Day's Night (and I've Been Working Like a Dog)

I've been thinking about you , dear reader---and wondering how you are doing.
How I miss our visits together!
My new job is requiring so much of my time right now; thus, my lack of posting.
But you, dear reader, as kind and as clever as you are, you already knew this.
I'm taking it day by day.
Take good care.
I'll talk with you soon.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Show Me Your Jalwa; or, Neroli's First Day at Her New Job

Dear reader, one of the most essential things that we do in our work with our children is to pair ourselves with reinforcers in order to establish instructional control.
In other words, we provide students with things and experiences that they like; in so doing, we make ourselves appealing to our students so that they can tolerate our presence---and ultimately enjoy our presence enough to be able to begin all the good work that we can do: show for me, I'll show for you.

A, B, C, D---they're ready for me to show them the good stuff.

Have a great day, dear reader.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Dancing with Sir Isaac; or, Maintaining Equilibrium in a New Year

"Make problem behaviors irrelevant: Developers of the plan should identify those situations (stimulus conditions) that set the occasion for problem behaviors and organize the environment to reduce the likelihood that these conditions are encountered....Making the problem behavior irrelevant typically involves structural changes: altering the physical settings, enriching the environment, improving the activities or curriculum, increasing predictability and choice options available to the person.

Make problem behaviors inefficient: The efficiency of a behavior refers to the combined effects if (a) the physical effort required for a person to perform the behavior, (b) the number of times the person must perform the behavior before he or she is reinforced...and (c) the time delay between the first problem behavior and the reinforcement...When feasible, the support plan should define an alternative, socially appropriate, and more efficient way for the person to achieve the same reward. "

--- O'Neill, Horner, Albin, Sprague, Storey, Newton;
Functional Assessment and Program Development for Problem Behavior: A Practical Handbook, Second Edition



---Sir Isaac Newton


B1/ B1+B2 = R1/R1 +R2
(proportion of responses = proportion of reinforcement)
---The Matching Law , Richard Hernnstein

...Physician, heal thyself.
---The Bible, Luke 4:23

Dear reader, I do thank you for joining me this past year. You have helped me so very much with this thing called language, this thing that is one of the most social of behaviors. You are most excellent teachers, all; I wish for you the good stuff of your best hopes and dreams in 2008.
You know, when I was a girl growing up, New Year's Eve and Easter were always ever more exciting for me than Christmas, more than Valentine's Day or birthdays. New Year's Eve and Easter, these were the holidays that truly seemed holy: out of nothing, something comes.
That to me, was always the Good Stuff, something not to be taken lightly for sure.
But I must share with you before this new year is any older something that happened this year that very much affected me in the same sleight-of-hand manner. Hopefully this will answer my dear friend Artist's question that she posed to me in
this post closing my writing about violence for the month of October.

Dear reader, it is difficult to explain how one can move beyond violence.

I often think about the urban legend that says that the sounds of the eruption of Vesuvius were recorded, Edison-style, on the clay that was being built up upon the potter's wheels of that day: spinning on the wheel, taking the voice of the hands, but ultimately overwritten by doom and petrified. Once impressed and solidified in such a manner, such a pot could only repeat those sounds; there would be no way to retrieve the sounds of the potter's hands before it.

If you looked at the pot as a vehicle for sound, then you would have no choice but to accept its record. If you cannot accept its terrible record in your possession, than you would have to change the record by destroying the pot: it could be broken into shards, the shards ground up and made into slip, some cycle of creation and destruction begun anew. All in all, a most inefficient way to address the situation---at least for me, dear reader.

Or you could look at the pot as a vessel; when you see the pot this way, you change it. When you see the pot this way you change yourself. All in all, a most efficient way to address the situation---at least for me, dear reader.

I was in the habit of googling X. I had done so mostly for concerns of safety. I wanted to know that BG and I had that buffer zone that physical distance gives. Sometime in the summer, I retrieved hits that I had never before seen in association with X. When I opened these links, I saw that they were conversations from an internet discussion group. In some, X was a participant; in others, X was the topic of conversation. The common thread in each and every discussion was the absolute social isolation of X. He was completely isolated from the others, and frenetically, vehemently oppositional, hostile: at every turn, his attempts to establish himself by aggression and vitriol landed him in an even more derisive position with the others. Just as suddenly as he sprung up, he was suddenly quiet.

I cannot tell you what it was to me to read all the invective hurled by him and hurled at him. It broke my heart. It was deeply distressing that such a being could still be caught in such patterns of suffering---and this was, when it all came down to it, the biological father of my BG. I felt incredibly saddened. I began crying for no reason while doing dishes, while walking from my car across the parking lot into the grocery store. It took a little bit of time to accept that feeling. Not long after, it lessened: in its place, I felt confused. Uncomfortable. Off balance. Out-of-kilter.

Where did it come from, this compassion? I had abandoned attempts at any concepts of forgiveness towards X, truly I had. You can't get blood out of a turnip, they say. You can't get that out of neroli, I said. And yet it came anyway.

Truly, without my experience with X, without that Vesuvian destruction that altered my record, that song that would play if anyone would apply pressure with the right instrument---without that, I would not be able to understand what it feels like to be in another place, another world, separate from everyone else you are my world and I should be yours, he says as he tightens the ties that bind, nor would I be able to appreciate difficulty in using language to communicate from that place. I would not be able to accept physical aggression on the job as calmly as one who has never experienced it. I would not be able to see behavior as communication as clearly as I do today.

I would not be able to understand the beauty of looking at something in a different way, in a way that looks for inherent goodness, rather than its flaws.
I would not be able to understand the chain of reactions that occur, the momentum one can achieve, when one chooses to look at something one way rather than the other way: yes to this, no to that.
I may be marked, but I won't replay the sounds of violence.
I've got capacity to be what is useful, and therefore, good: perhaps even beautiful.
And that's the good stuff: something from nothing, dear reader.
Hey Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!
That's what new years are made of.
I wish the best of this one for you.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Neroli's Last Day; or, A Social Story of Sorts

It was the night before Neroli’s last day with Black Diamond’s class. Neroli was asleep. She was dreaming about school. In the dream, she met the School Fairy. The School Fairy told Neroli that before she could go to what comes next, she had to take a test. Neroli remembered how well the students in Black Diamond’s class do when they take tests. She thought she would do her best just as Black Diamond’s class does.
The School Fairy told Neroli that she would have to pick her favorite student. The student that Neroli picked as her favorite would have a great year at school when the New Year came. Neroli thought this was a hard question, but she remembered that she had to do her best, just as Black Diamond’s class does. She began to think about the question. This is what she thought:

Vermillion…maybe I should choose Vermillion. Vermillion is always willing and ready to be a leader and a helper. Vermillion always remembers the words and the melodies when I forget how to sing them. He always can tell when his friends or teachers are feeling happy or sad and knows how to use his words to tell them so. When I trip and fall down, Vermillion always laughs with me about how funny it is to fall down and get back up again. Definitely Vermillion…

Madder…of course, I should choose Madder. Madder always makes friends feel welcome with a sense of humor. When it is his turn to be weather helper, he speaks to the group as if he were a weatherman on the news. He has such a wonderful way of talking about the world. I really like when Madder smiles and gives me high-fives when he’s proud of his good work. Certainly Madder…

Camouflage…well, maybe I should choose Camouflage. Camouflage has so much happy energy, and is always looking for ways to be a helper to his teachers and his friends. He remembers how to do his best work, not to do his fastest work, and that is such a great thing. Camouflage always gives nice words to his friends. When Camouflage and I have to sometimes wait in Teal's office, he makes shadow animals on the wall with me, and that is really fun. Absolutely Camouflage…

Naples Yellow…certainly I should choose Naples Yellow. Naples Yellow enjoys being at school so much. When he is happy, we all know it, and it is contagious. Naples Yellow does such a wonderful job of keeping time and schedule during the day, and what a help that is. He is a really good dancer. Naples Yellow is always patient with me when I ask if he will draw a picture of something for me, and his drawings are lovely. Of course, it’s Naples Yellow…

Cobalt…what about Cobalt? Cobalt has such a way of looking at and noticing everything around him. He uses wonderful words to tell his friends and teachers what he sees. Cobalt has a great smile and is a great playmate to his friends. When Cobalt and I wait after school for his van, he always can point out to me things that I would not have noticed if he weren’t with me. Positively Cobalt…

Rosegold…really, I should choose Rosegold. Rosegold always looks for ways to include all her friends wherever she is and whatever she is doing. She thinks about different ways to write about and draw about what she sees and hears and thinks. Rosegold loves to laugh, and she encourages her friends and teachers to do the same. When she lost her tooth during lunch, she smiled, handed me the tooth, and kept right on eating. Without a doubt, it’s Rosegold…

Prussian Blue…maybe I should choose Prussian Blue. Prussian Blue has so much energy for everything. Prussian Blue thinks so much about his friends and teachers, and is always willing to be a helper. He really loves everything about being in school. He does not give up easily, and he can use this to help himself wherever he goes. When Prussian Blue asks me to go down the slide with him at recess, we laugh all the way down. Really, it is Prussian Blue…

Then Neroli realized that she couldn’t choose any of these students as her favorite. They were all her favorites, each in his or her own way. Neroli wasn’t sure if this was the right answer to the School Fairy’s test, but she knew she had done her best work, just like Black Diamond’s class, and so that was the answer that she gave. The School Fairy smiled. This is what the School Fairy said:

You have passed the test! Each and every student in the class is any teacher’s favorite in his or her own way. Each boy and girl brings something just right to their class…so all these students will have a good year in school in the New Year!
Sometimes it is hard to think about and to do what comes next, and that is okay. Black Diamond, Paisley, and the other special teachers who help them---they will keep on seeing how special those students are. Neroli, you can go on to what comes next.

And with tears in her eyes, and love in her heart, she did just that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Surprised by the Past; or, Pork and Parathas

Dear reader, I had intended this weekend to finally getting down to the business of answering my friend Artist's questions in this previous post.

I obviously did not get to do that.

What I did do was to finish re-reading Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It is a captivating read: there is so much richness to consider; a gem that one can turn about this way and that to see the what and the how of catching the light.

There are many more qualified persons to discuss Pirsig's metaphysics than I, so we won't be doing that here.

What I loved to think about this weekend's reading was Pirsig's evocation of the ancient Greeks, and how they perceived themselves in relation to time. He explained that in our modern western society, we view ourselves facing the future as we move forward in time and the past is shown our backs; yet, to the ancient Greeks, we faced the past: it was the future that was shown our backs.

What do you think about that, dear reader?

It's true, isn't it, how we have such a habit of reading the past, of seeing our stories as we replay them, tell them, perhaps even perpetuate them, and then, suddenly, as we keep walking backward, we bump into our future?

Isn't that just the good stuff?

On Saturday, BG and I drove to the Indian grocery. I bought the spices I'd need to make and replenish my garam masala. I chose to use dear Anita's recipe for Punjabi garam masala.
Making the masala was at the top of my priority list. I needed it in order to make the parathas stuffed with peas that I was so hungry for, and that are so handy to freeze and to pull out and warm up in the toaster on those evenings when the easiest supper is the only one that will satisfy.
The fragrance of Anita's masala was spellbinding: the freshly-ground fragrance of the masala seeming more akin to a low, bee-humming sound than a smell. In the air as well was the unmistakable scent of the ubiquitous local dish, pork and sauerkraut, cooking away in the crock on the kitchen counter for Snowy, BG, and LG. Whenever that particular dish cooks, always, it evokes family dinners of times past, when we were all children, when my elder brother was still alive, mixing it all into the mashed potatoes, when we were all there at my grandmother's table. Cauliflower does this as well, dear reader.

Sometimes it is easy for us to see the ways that we are different in my family, I am the only vegetarian-Buddhist-post-undergrad-Bollywood-loving-etc., etc. when it is ever so much as easy, it seems, to see the ways in how we fit within our life. As I rolled out and stuffed the parathas, BG eagerly awaiting the first from the griddle the smell of hot iron, of fermented cabbage and roasting meat, of Punjabi garam masala and toasty wheat, BG hitting replay over and over for the title track of the Aaja Nachle soundtrack, it all seemed to make sense, every last bit of it fitted, in place.

Feeling this fit, it was not so much an issue of whether we are oriented in a position to face the past or to face the future. No, rather, it was like floating above that positition, able to see in any direction; and when coming back down to earth, the past, the present, the future, why, yes: they do reach out and receive us with open arms.
That's the good stuff, dear reader.

The next time I make parathas, they will be filled with mashed potato and sauerkraut.
Wish you could be there.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Long Story Short

I got it!
I start with the New Year.

How's your week been, dear reader?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

No News Is Good News?; or, The Importance of Being Earnest Redux

Dear reader, dear friend, thank you for stopping by. I'm always glad to see you, I truly am. Your kindness is a very good thing. I hope you are doing well!

I've been away from blogging longer than I had anticipated. The end of the semester, with all its density of work (the end of the semester marking one year of graduate work, dear reader-who would have thought it?!?); the sisyphean feat of arranging with the very large and removed and oftimes disorganized main campus of my university for student teaching placement in my current classroom after the new year; the concurrent application process for the possible teaching position I've written about in my last post; and a bout of head and sinus cold followed in quick sucession by a virulent stomach virus first visited upon LG, BG, and then myself: all of these things have made the days go by very quickly. And of course, the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry...

It seems, in some aspect, as if we've just visited together yesterday; it seems, in yet another, that it's been a great long while.

Truthfully, dear reader, I'm tired. I feel as if the past battered-girl-slut-bitch-nobody and the future happy-girl-boddhisattva-somebody are coming together in some confluence: high and low pressures creating one terrific storm.

There has been no news of the position. No news is good news, as they say.
I've always practiced the thinking and belief that the classroom that is meant to be will present itself to me. I'll continue to think about that.

Today was Rosegold's birthday party. It was a very nice party. R's parents are gracious and convivial hosts. It was a lovely thing to go and laugh and not worry about having to take care of anyone or anything.
R's parents grew up in a different country. As I was leaving their home, R's mother made certain to approach the door and open it in a certain way.
A custom in our country, she said, to make certain that you return again.

Thank you again for stopping by, dear reader. I'll do my best to follow my dear friends' example. I may be Rosegold's teacher, but I am also a student: R and family are most excellent teachers.
Take good care. I'll talk with you soon.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Break on Through to the Other Side; or, The Importance of Being Earnest

Sweet Frida, Jean Wertz

Dear reader, how are you?
This past week has been a long and busy one here: what with work, end-of-the-semester homework, domestic and familial responsibilites, and my sojourn on the couch for a long hazy weekend of sickness. I am feeling better, and for that, I am glad, for so very many reasons.

One major reason, dear reader, involves my opportunity. It seems only fitting that I share some detail with you, no matter the ultimate outcome.
Tomorrow I will be visiting an elementary classroom in a different school district. It is a small class of children with autism. All of the students are non-verbal.
Their teacher will be leaving around the Christmas holidays. And I, dear reader, am one of the candidates to take that teacher's place.
And that, as Forrest Gump would say, is all I have to say about that.

I wonder what selections we will all be plucking from that proverbial box of chocolates before the New Year?
What do you think, dear reader?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Two Painters; or, Perfect Timing

Frida Kahlo. The Two Fridas. 1939. Oil on canvas. 170 x 170 cm. Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, Mexico.
Today was a long day. I am feeling under the weather; the students have been sick and I am swiftly following suit.
Prussian Blue, who yesterday went home early due to such an explosive bout of diarrhea that not a stitch of clothing was left unscathed, returned today not feeling quite right. Begrudgingly doing the simplest of tasks, Prussian expressed extreme displeasure throughout by continually signing stupid, a daredevil feat when at one point one of Prussian's hands was holding a pair of scissors. (Yes, Prussian is able to speak; yet when deeply feeling emotions, signing, gestures, and facial expressions become Prussian's mode of communication)
Madder's aggressive behaviors have been increasing in frequency; today some of those behaviors were self-injurious. (Yes, Madder is able to speak; yet when deeply feeling emotions, aggression becomes Madder's mode of communication.)
And so on, and so forth.
I returned home tired, late, and feverish. I checked the mail. I found a package from a Dear Friend. I opened it, and laughed out loud with joy. How wise of you, Dear One, to wait for such a day to drop your treasures in my lap. I love the gifts; I love even more your generousity; your thoughtfulness and your metta. I'm glad you got to see her first.
Thank you!
They say that a person can't help the family life gives to them, but that a person can choose the family that they want to be in their life. Under that principle, you have been a sister to me since we first met.
For that, I am very glad.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Naples, This One's for You; or, A Short Post

Our dear Naples Yellow is one of our returning students from last year. This year, the weather has become an object of perseveration for Naples; additionally, anything but sunny and clear weather has become something that causes much anxiety.
It's bleak and rainy today.
Our lead teacher is out for the next three days.
Naples, this one's for you.

I'm still waiting for the outcome of the opportunity I spoke of earlier.
(Waiting is helping me to think about perseveration: remember, autism falls on a band of the spectrum of human behaviors. We all have these behaviors, more or less.)
For some reason, when I think about waiting, I hear Kahe Ched Mohe from Devdas.

We all have our ways to lessen our worries, yes?

Have a wonderful day, dear reader.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

We'll End at the Beginning; or a Preview of Dancing with Sir Isaac

Maimed for Life, Yet Merciful

'I Have to Forgive Him,' Bowie Woman Says of Man Who Burned Her
By Keith L. Alexander

Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, August 29, 2007; B01

Fire changes everything it consumes. But some flames, roaring and dangerous, are more difficult to extinguish.
Patricia Scales still cares for the man who tried to kill her, dousing her with gasoline as she sorted laundry in her bedroom and throwing a lighted cigarette lighter her way.
She still takes Terrance James's calls from the D.C. Jail, listening without saying a word as he cries and tells her that he's sorry.
She keeps dozens of his jailhouse letters to her and their 6-year-old son, Terrance Jr., known as Tank, in two dresser drawers in her bedroom in Bowie. She can't read them all. It tires her fire-damaged cornea.
And yesterday she asked the court to have mercy on this man who disfigured her for life. At the sentencing hearing in D.C. Superior Court was the first time Scales came face to face with James since the attack in December.
"He's my son's father," Scales, 46, said a few days earlier. "He was good. He just lost it."
But Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr. had other thoughts. Calling the attack "deliberate and cruel," he sentenced James, 48, to 25 years for aggravated assault and malicious disfigurement.
Fire is increasingly a weapon of choice for enraged, jealous men trying to prevent the women in their lives from ending up with another man, domestic abuse experts say. They want the women to suffer. And they want to watch them suffer.
Yvette Cade of Clinton became a national symbol of domestic violence after her husband walked into a store where she worked and set her on fire two years ago. She often gives speeches on the topic.
But Scales does not want to be seen as another battered woman. In an odd and terrible way, she says, the fire has made her realize it is time to turn her life around. Time to give up the crack cocaine she smoked for more than 10 years. Time to plan for the future by enrolling in college and getting a real estate license.
"I am not a victim," she said. "I am moving forward."
She wants to put the case -- distinct from the man -- behind her.
"I have to forgive him to move on," she said softly, almost pleading. "If I hold on to that anger, it will keep me sick."
* * *
Crack was a big part of Scales's adult life, and her relationship with James.
After graduating from Bladensburg High School in 1979, she enrolled at a local cosmetology school. She didn't graduate but styled hair in her home while taking odd jobs doing clerical work.
She met James in 1999 when he delivered newspapers to her apartment building. It was the first time she had been seriously attracted to anyone since she had separated from her husband, Paul Scales. That marriage ended largely because of her drug problems.
At 40 and with a teenage daughter, Scales got pregnant, long after she had given up on conceiving again.
She and James stopped using drugs until Tank was a toddler, Scales said. Then she started using again, off and on.
James was a good father, Scales said. He reminded his son to do his homework, say his prayers and brush his teeth. He bought matching outfits for himself and Tank and attended Scales's family get-togethers. It doesn't make sense, she said, shaking her head: "I have to believe he didn't want to hurt me."
On the morning of Dec. 16, Scales was sorting laundry in her Benning Heights apartment in Southeast Washington. According to Scales's daughter, Taira, 16, James had come looking for Scales the night before. He told Taira he thought Scales was with another man. Actually, Scales said, she had been getting high with a female neighbor. Before James stormed out of the apartment that night, he grabbed a spare key, Taira said.
The next morning, Scales heard the key in the front door. James kicked in her bedroom door. He was carrying a can of gasoline. He threw the gas on her and lighted it.
Flames engulfed Scales's upper body. Pain shot through her body, she says, as if hot nails were piercing her skin. "I felt like I was being crucified," she said. James stood over her as she was burning, saying, " 'Who is in control now?' " she recalled, according to prosecutors.
Scales suffered second- and third-degree burns over 40 percent of her body. She has had 20 surgeries and is expecting to undergo at least two more. She spent a total of 5 1/2 months in the hospital.
Today, pink and brown scar tissue lines Scales's face, chest and arms. The marks trail down her back and legs. Her neck is covered with open sores from her scratching to ease the feeling of bugs crawling over her body, a result of skin grafts.
She has limited use of her left arm. Such simple chores as making her bed are a struggle with only one hand. She can't stand long in front of the stove to make Tank waffles. And she's awaiting a surgery that will widen her mouth to allow her to eat more comfortably.
Scales ingests 12 antibiotics and vitamins a day, paid for mostly by Medicaid. No painkillers because she's easily addicted. She steps into a cold shower 10 times a day and slathers on medicated lotion to cool her skin.
The walls in her house vibrate from gospel music. As each inspirational tune comes across the radio -- "Let Go, Let God" or "Silver and Gold" -- Scales sings along. The songs keep her from feeling sorry for herself, she said. Depression is always lurking. So is the desire to get high. She can't afford a visit from either.
* * *
Scales had always prided herself on her appearance. A photograph graces her foyer wall. In a portrait taken 20 years ago, she is smiling and looking over her shoulder, her doe eyes sparkling.
Looking in the mirror since December hasn't been easy. In April, three months after doctors removed Scales's bandages, an aunt, Frances Washington, visited her in the hospital. Scales was sitting on the bed, crying. Washington marched her niece to the mirror on the wall and made her repeat: "I am a beautiful queen. I am a beautiful creation that God has made. And God loves me so much." Both women stood there in tears. Then Scales laughed.
Family has become a calming salve in the months since she glimpsed relatives gathering around her bed in the burn unit at Washington Hospital Center.
Tank is her biggest protector. He climbs into bed with her to see if she needs anything. He rubs medicated lotion onto her back and arms. A talkative and energetic boy, Tank remembers the morning when he saw his mother on fire, his teenage sister screaming and his father standing nearby. "If I wasn't awake, I would have been hurt too," he said.
Scales is determined that Tank not grow up hating James. She doesn't disparage the father in front of the son. She wants to make sure that Tank doesn't feel guilty or ashamed of talking about his father. "No child should have to live with that," she said. "This is not his fault."
Some family members question why Scales isn't angry at James and why she even communicates with him. Scales says it's an expression of her faith.
"I don't understand that," Taira said of her mother's attitude, rinsing out a cloth that she presses on Scales's neck. "But my mother is still here. So that's what I focus on."
The fire that damaged Scales's eyesight, turning her world blurry, seems to have cleared a new path for her. She plans to become a real estate agent and attend the University of the District of Columbia. She's applied for Social Security benefits. She's sworn off crack and other illegal drugs. The only stimulants she relies on are nicotine and chocolate. She dreams of taking Tank to Disney World during Christmas break.
Meanwhile, for Scales, yesterday was about moving on. She stood next to Assistant U.S. Attorney George Hazel, wiping away tears as he read from a letter she wrote to Dixon: "I have to forgive him. But I'll never forget. God has a plan for him."
She walked back to her seat in the front row, and James swiveled his head to face her. Dixon ordered him to turn back around, eyes front.
"I was wrong," James said, tears streaming down his face. "I am sorry. Very sorry. I don't know what I was thinking. It hurts. I loved her. I still love her. I love my son and daughter."
Dixon gave James credit for his remorse, for pleading guilty and for having a "minimal criminal record." But his words were unsparing.
"These acts you committed were deliberate and cruel," Dixon said. "You intended to punish the victim, and you committed these acts in front of two children."
After Dixon announced his sentence, Scales slumped over in her chair.
"It's over," she said, walking slowly out of the courthouse.
She can now deal with her most immediate struggles.
"God saved me for a reason, and smoking crack is not the reason," she said. "I can't waste another minute or another day of my life."


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Pel, This One's For You; or, Jizo is Just Alright With Me

As promised, here is a picture of my Buddha made from Potato Head parts. He is a 4-armed Chenrezig . I can't tell you how much I love having him on my kitchen windowsill along with the prisms that throw rainbows about the room.

Here is the little Jizo that I made for my personal Segaki this week. Jizo is often depicted as child-like, so I chose to use a miniature potato head. His gem is a crystal drop coated in dichroic glass. I've worn this pendant for 3-odd years now. I chose to use a set of measuring spoons to approximate Jizo's special ringed and clanking staff. It seemed appropriate.
I like this little Jizo very much.

And Snowy made a pizza!

Hoping all good things to you, dear reader. It was good to visit with you all.
I'll be a little bit busier in the next few weeks than usual.
Remember that fortune from the fortune cookie?
An opportunity is knocking. I'll be pursuing it. I don't really want to tell you about it until it becomes definite, dear reader. What I can tell you is that there is writing entailed in the pursuit. I do so thank you for helping me to practice!
I'll talk with you soon.
Pravs, I'm digging up a jam recipe just for you...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

This Buddha Has Four Arms (Brought to You by Hasbro and SRA); or, Good Times Were Had By All

BG had a very good birthday. He did mention, however, that he would welcome a bathtub like the one that Francis had:

Me? This is what I wish for (though in my version the bacon is veggie, the cereal is whole grain and sugar-free, and the Potato Head is fashioned into a Buddha!)

But this music does play into my head often. It seems to fit.
I hope these clips make you as happy as I am: welcome to my world, dear reader!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Trick-or-treat; or, Once When I Was a Hungry Ghost

Mark Rothko, No. 9 (Dark over light Earth/violet and yellow in Rose), 1954
Dear reader, I've been distracted by assignments for grad school, and I've missed posting even once a week this past week. More importantly, I've missed visiting all of you. I'll be visiting soon, I promise!
Today is BG's birthday. It's exciting to see him mature and grow.
Next week is Halloween and trick-or-treat, as well as Segaki.
I was very much looking forward to the Segaki liturgy at the sangha that I sometimes attend. I don't get to the sangha often, as it is far away. For many reasons, this year, it seemed especially important to send things up in smoke before the Jizo in the little sangha garden.
This year, the sangha's liturgy is on the same night and the same hours as our township's Trick-or-Treat night.
So, as we go door-to-door in our neighborhood, LG will be a pirate.
I will practice the realization that I've probably attached myself to the desire to go to the sangha because I want to do in an external, physical way what I've probably already done in an internal, quiet way. I need to practice the realization that sometimes we humans don't have to show off, to act out.
Trick or treat.
For me, they are most potent hand-in-hand.
Have a great week, dear reader. Be well. I'll see you soon.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Neroli's Day Off; or Gimme Gimme Octopus

Today on my day off I thought I would return to writings about violence and the awareness of violence.
Somehow, while looking for a link about the Milgram experiment, I wound up watching videos from a Japanese children's TV show from the 60's.

My mind just works that way, sometimes, dear reader.
Doesn't it look like he cracked open a star pinata in the second video?
Hope you are having a great week---like a pinata, full of whatever is good to you.
(Fortune-cookie fortunes would be ever so lovely wafting down...)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Time Flies: or, Are You Having Fun?

Dear reader, it's been a week of Very Long Days.
I hope that you've been well.
Last night, we had takeout from our favorite local Chinese joint.
My fortune cookie told me that I was ready to take on the world.
Don't you just love it when that happens?
Be well, dear reader. I'll talk with you soon.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A Visual Strategy Formerly Known as a Graphic Organizer; or, I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends, Redux

If you go here, and type into the box any word that you will spark, reflection; connection, isolation; violence: these were the first words that came to my mind you will see, dear reader, what I think is a representation of what we are all meant to be for one another: when sometimes words are just that; and yet again, they are entirely something more.

Yesterday, at the farmers' market, I saw lovely cheddar-colored cauliflowers, dusky dark leaves intact, furled. I thought instantly of my friends at Jugalbandi. So after a day of connections with family and friends, near and far, I set to making a simple subzi of golden cauliflowers, new red potatoes, and dark green leaves.
It's these simple little things that matter so much, that call out I'm glad to be here.
Thank you, dear reader, for all the good that you do in this world.
I'm glad you're here too.

Friday, October 5, 2007

I Guess I Was Always a Strange Little Girl; or You Know What They Say About Good Intentions

A Few Small Nips. Frida Kahlo, 1935. Oil on metal. 38 x 48.2 cm. Dolores Olmedo Foundation, Mexico City, Mexico.

Sometimes we as human beings are our own worst enemies.

Sometimes, we think that if we are only good and patient, strong and determined---if we are these things, we will prevail against conditions that are not positive or healthy.

When we make this contract with ourselves and with the condition that we find ourselves occupying, we begin the process of losing control: we've turned against ourselves.

And so it begins: we paint ourselves into a corner.
That's where violence waits.
Shame is most obliging in keeping us there.
(It's only a few small nips: who are we to say otherwise? )
(Remember that the sky isn't really blue?)

It is good at biding its time; in fact, that is what ensures its success---sure and complete.


Some of us have never been lucky.
I've grown tired of waiting. I've fashioned my own luck. Now:
I'm one of the lucky ones.
Who are you?
And what sort of world do you wish to live in?
(Let's tell it like it is and live it as if it's already here.)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Neckties, This One's for You; or, I Love to Laugh (long and loud and clear)

Dear reader, my good friend Neckties reminded me of a song that always made me laugh.
We got a good laugh out of it.
Please do join in.


Have a great day. Thank you for stopping by.
I'm always glad to see you.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Why Doesn't She Just Leave?, Part Two; or, Multiple Views of the Same Problem

I didn't make it in time to intercept my son.
I needed to go back to the game of cat-and-mouse-sky-isn't-blue. Being the mouse, I was already at a disadvantage: being beaten black-and-blue (when I see someone bruised, even today, I can guage the timeline of their injury by the color of the bruising: it takes a decided sequence of color progression---greenish-yellow means you're almost home free), I was even more so. Unable to lift my arms even a little, unable to perform even the simplest of tasks (no cracked skull or socket, but the ribs: well, they weren't as lucky), in order to stay close to my son, to stay ready for the time we could literally escape, I had to return in the care of X.
And so it was X who would brush my hair; it was X who would feed me and the baby. It was X who dressed and undressed me; who laid me down, but not to sleep.
Why doesn't she leave?
Because sometimes she understands that she must maintain frozen: fixed in position, down in the trenches. It's a war of attrition.
And so they wait: holding patterns.
Children are worth the wait.
She knows this is the only thought that makes sense; and to have a thought that makes sense seems a secret luxury.
He knows this; he knows she is thinking this.
She knows she may only get one chance.
As does he.

Why Janey Can't Speak; or, This Is the Picture

Why Janey Can't Speak is, as I'm certain you recognize, a riff on that worn catch-phrase Why Johnny Can't Read: a catch-phrase that has come to be just that, a catch-all-function phrase, one that is as is rhetorical; one that assumes the listener or the reader receives it in the negative. It signals: something is not right here.(Why doesn't she just leave?)
This is the picture.
Any similarity to persons living or dead is entirely intentional.

Hospital photo circa 1992

Janey can't speak because she is coming out of shock, quite literally. She had awoken on the floor in the same place she finally came to rest the night before. So far this morning, she has convinced the person who did this to drive her to the babysitter and drop off the toddler the baby hit her with a hammer, he said as the babysitter peered at her through the windshield of the car and drive her to work. She went into shock before she could assume her place on the line. She got to ride in an ambulance. They cut her clothes from her to assess the extent of her injuries on the way. She's embarrassed by this. They know her husband did this to her. Perhaps that is why they don't also assess her for rape. It's just as well. She would have been even more deeply embarrassed by that.

She's met by a trooper upon her arrival to the ER. He stands over her; he wears his uniform. She's laid out on her gurney, dressed in a paper outfit. He's talking to her about pressing charges.

She's cold. She feels like death, literally; it's hard to concentrate on what he's saying. She's embarrassed to have a man there, a stranger: usually, she is not allowed to speak to anyone. To enforce this, there is no telephone at home; she is watched at work, and at home---even in private moments in the bathroom, to shower, to toilet---and sometimes she is bound. Talking to people has become painful and uncomfortable to her. Remember operant conditioning? She and those rats would have a lot to talk about.

Deep inside her head, at the tail of at what seems a long winding thought, in the deepest part of the nautilus shell that is her skull is it cracked? two young girls snapping gum and bantering back and forth about, of all things, boyfriends---this x-ray tandem-team will direct her to contort in fixed positions, face pressed against the glass, to determine this (it's not) she can hear and see and feel the minutes ticking by, becoming lost: she remembers before being loaded on the gurney that the plant management said they would stall him so that she could somehow get her son and get away. She knows that even if she understood, and had the energy, the force of will to engage with what the trooper was asking---she knew that it would cost time that she could not afford.

Time doesn't pay sometimes.

When you are in these kinds of situations, you are always choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. Your thinking becomes thinking that no one else can quite understand; it becomes response-cost thinking, save for the part about the cost being logically related to the response. You learn sometimes to agree that the sky isn't blue, because, well...it may result in less of a negative situation than insisting that it is.
We'll call that the devil in our two-option menu, as blue is reserved for that deep-blue sea.

So sometimes you decide what you can afford to lose; sometimes, more importantly, you decide what you cannot.

And that, dear reader, is why Janey can't speak.

Janey, of course, is me.

And as I dislike having the above image lingering in my mind, and the entire purpose of this month is to speak about hope and survival, I leave you with a different image:

Neroli, as drawn by Naples Yellow, 2007

And yes, dear reader, it is possible to be that happy.

We who survive are proof positive; you, dear reader, are our witness.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

What Do Fleet, Massengill, and the Name of a Rush Album Have in Common?; or, My Apologies to Lee, Lifeson, and Peart

Something in me, dark and sticky
All the time it's getting strong
No way of dealing with this feeling
Can't go on like this too long

I'm digging in the dirt
Stay with me I need support
I'm digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt

To open up the places I got hurt
----excerpted lyrics from "Digging in the Dirt" by Peter Gabriel.

Tonight my county is beginning the observation of Domestic Violence Awareness Month a day early. The community event is called A Show of Hands.
For myself, the irony of naming the event after the easiest, and therefore, one of the most common weapons of choice in domestic violence situations is somewhat uncomfortable.I don't much care for the term domestic violence. It sanitizes it: pretties it up somehow.
For instance, in spoken language and in what is written on the package, an enema is just that: an enema; even the graphics on the box are generic, straightforward.
Yet a douche? It's feminine cleanser. The graphics on the box are most often limpid, flowery. Most importantly, those things aren't really of any use: a woman can actually do more harm to her body than good in using such a product.

Just tell it like it is: get rid of the crap; then leave well enough alone.

But I'm uncertain as to what to call it, this very specialized form of violence: a product of any silence that has ever met any violence against those perceived as weak---be it stranger-to-stranger; familiar-to-familiar. Putting words to things has never been my strongest suit.

But A Show of Hands?

Maybe my visual way of thinking is too informed by images of experience. I'll take good intentions wherever they may be found, dear reader; and really, we all help each other that way, don't we?

A Show of Hands
Hospital photo circa 1992
Nurses holding back hospital gown to show bruising---some of it taking the shape of the hand of the abuser.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Preview of Coming Attractions; or, ...Silence Is the Mother of Violence (Silent All These Years)

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month here in the U.S.
Here at neroli.108 we will not only observe this, but look at the topic of violence against women in total.
I'm going to be digging in the dirt.
I invite you to stay with me, dear reader:
most likely I will need your support.


Random Non-attachments; or, A Short Post

Pop culture has been a consistent source of amusement for me, particularly when it behaves as its name suggests: when it "pops" out of nowhere. You know me, dear reader---cognitive dissonance is one of my favorite jokes.
Madder was having one of his verbal episodes yesterday, on the way to the bathroom:

Man Raid, Man Raid---
the Dir-ty Bub-ble! the Dir-TY BUB-ble!

And, dear reader, if Frida coming in November doesn't already make that month extra-special, look what else does!


And also: Myanmar is very much in my mind.

My faith practice asks me to see all these things as "pop."
Sometimes that joke just isn't as funny.

Namaste, dear ones, all.

Monday, September 24, 2007

I Can Only Dance with the Ones That I'm Given; or, Don't Go Changing to Try and Please Me

Today Cobalt's mother hurried up to me as she was dropping Cobalt off for school.
She was flushed, excited.
I don't often see her with this kind of smile, dear reader.
She began to tell me how she had been doing a lot of reading. And that she had a plan for Cobalt.
She wishes to cure Cobalt of autism.

Autism can be reversed, she said. I've seen it.
Cobalt is doing very well here at school, I say.
But Cobalt could be doing so much better, she says.
She pats Cobalt on the head as she says this, in front of all our students who I've brought on this sunny day to greet their friend.
Jenny McCarthy and Oprah have unwittingly caused more people to feel---well, a strange happiness that comes from promises of changing unhappiness: the kind one feels when it is felt that what you have just isn't good at all.

I think about Cerulean, who is, at last account, on the fifth classroom placement in four years.
I wonder if Cerulean yet receives plankton, hyberbaric oxygen, crystal therapy, and the like.
I think of Cerulean's family.
Of how they would be over-the-moon happy---if Cerulean was at the same place that Cobalt is.

I thought yesterday about beginning a different meditation practice into my routine: the making of enso. One every day.
After my encounter with Cobalt's mother, I think tomorrow is a good place to start.
Namaste, dear reader.
Thalo Blue