Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Blog to Explain Why I Have Not Been Posting Regular Blogs!!

For years, I dreamed about publishing a book and figured it would be the panacea to end the suffering we non-neurotypicals seem doomed to experience in mainstream society.  I had my first taste of celebrity status after the Appalachian Trail hike when most in the community began to see more than the superficial abnormality.  I wanted more and tried to ignore the occasional hate mail that criticized me for flaunting my heroism.  But heroism and celebrity status were the only ways, it seemed, to alter my sad realities.  I stopped looking for the happy medium a long time ago because it does not seem to exist.  Writing a book appeared to be the only chance to gain that elusive respect and all of my problems would be solved forever.  WRONG!!!

I have achieved my goal to become a published author with Penguin Group (USA) – one of the largest publishing companies on the planet.  In terms of an ego-trip…it doesn’t get much better than that!  With this new accomplishment comes an overwhelming whirlwind of commitments, things to remember, issues to worry about, and, like the rest of the nation, concerns about money.  These days I am self-employed aside from a contractual obligation to lead one orientation session at Anderson Center School for Autism per month.  The large calendar in my office area is littered with upcoming commitments to deliver public orations and show up for appointments.  Even though I have become a lot more responsible with writing commitments down instead of relying on fickle memory, a nightmare still persists.  I am sitting on the couch in my underwear watching an episode of Sponge Bob Squarepants.  All of a sudden the phone rings.  “Hello Jesse!  There are one hundred-and-fifty people waiting to hear you talk in an auditorium.  Where the hell are you?!”  You are fifteen minutes late!”  I screwed up irrevocably, disappointed people who have invested a lot of resources, and lost a substantial part of my fan base.”  Furthermore, I hate letting people down and take promises seriously.  It is one aspect of my Asperger’s syndrome I am able to exert some amount of control over.

Once in a while, I will meet people whose intentions are not benevolent.  Like the aspiring writer with Asperger’s who used me to connect with my literary agency and then complained to my agent that I am too persistent after following up with him only twice in increments of two weeks between e-mails.  Or the acquaintance from high school that wrote me a very convincing e-mail about how she called up the Dr. Phil Show and connected with a producer who was interested in my story.  Instead of admitting she made a mistake, the acquaintance let me continue to waste so much valuable time following up with fictional leads.  But I have been mercifully blessed with amazing people in my personal life and business endeavors.  These individuals make it possible to continue despite the inevitable exhaustion.

I have had plenty of short-lived careers throughout my life.  There has been my fifteen months as a 12-hour night shift worker, an assistant mortician, and substitute teacher.  But being self-employed is definitely the most difficult career of all.  It is easier to procrastinate, the money comes in phases of feast or famine, the unpredictability is tenacious, and I probably will never get used to standing in front of large crowds.  Furthermore, I am struggling to provide realistic, but fair, advice for the many people that contact me after reading Atypical.  When I am up past midnight trying to get everything done, the energy to write blogs seems obsolete.
It makes no difference who has it worse in the world or this economy.  Everyone has the right to complain once in a while considering success comes with a price.  I can, however, look back at the side I came from and realize the grass was not greener.  It was as dead as the winter is long.  This is a much-better reality and I realize it will be necessary to make time for everything.  With that in mind, I shall try to do a much better job of posting the blog entries on a quasi-regular basis.  I owe that to you…my loyal fans who continue to infuse me with energy…

A Catalyst for Continued Change…

Sometimes toy nun chucks and a court jester hat are not enough to keep the young crowds awake during my anti-bullying speeches.  But I do my absolute best and must sometimes accept that I won’t have control over the situation.  One time I paid a videography company eight hundred dollars to splice an hour-long presentation into a 15-minute YouTube video and I requested they edit out footage of a little girl sleeping.  My worst nightmare is when the students fail to laugh when an audience normally laughs.  Or when the constantly interrupt the flow of my talks with obnoxious questions.  When they are not responsive toward my messages to create mercy and compassion for those students who lead lives of rejection.  I leave with the understanding that abuse will continue toward individuals regardless of whether they suffer from mild autism or are just a little bit different with no diagnosis to buffer the harsh judgments.  I have absolutely no control over what happens next and there is still a good chance my younger peers will become just as miserable and bitter as I have been most of my life.  Fortunately, these apathetic schools are few and far in between.  And the faculty, students, and parents of Hamburg Middle School in the Buffalo area were anything but apathetic.  In fact, everybody blew me away.

The enthusiasm in response to my presence was merely an acceleration of the progress that has already taken place within the scholastic body.  During the first five minutes of my presentation, they had already delivered at least four heavy rounds of applause.  The humor and comedic students were not necessary to stimulate this crowd because the passion was already present.  The best part came when a little girl asked the most amazing question I have ever heard from a student during my career.  She asked, “How can we better help students who have disabilities?”

I let her know the best way to help misunderstood students is, “Don’t be afraid.  Be a friend.”  I wish this were my original statement, but it was actually purloined from my good friend, Joey DiPaolo, who was the second child after Ryan White to publicize his HIV/AIDS status.  Ask questions even though the occasional student may shirk back and say, “That is none of your damn business!  Got it??  Most students with a disability will prefer someone actually take the “radical step” to understand than choose irrational fear or malice.  Or ignoring.  Ignoring will always be the worst form of abuse because it robs an individual of social stimulation, which is the essence of life itself.  The applause was absolutely deafening and the message shall linger.

Bullying is not a rite of passage and there are plenty of other ways to build character than entering a world full of abuse and rejection.  It is also important for the world to understand that most individuals who suffer from constant bullying are not going to write books that transform them into quasi-celebrities.  I wrote my book to alleviate my suffering upon realizing how bullying does not end when an individual enters the adult world.  In some ways, it will grow progressively worse when the irrational fear also comes with the burdens of job terminations, constant misunderstandings, and even legal trouble.  Public schools terminated me from substitute teaching positions for benign infractions, such as telling a student my name is “Jesse” instead of “Mr. Saperstein.”  (The final straw came when a bank threatened to refuse service because a fellow employee was terrified of me.)  These days, however, it seems like the public is more likely to ask for an autograph than treat me as a social pariah.  I want to believe bullying is behind me, but have an obligation to eradicate it for my peers who lack the resources to end it for themselves.  I will obsessively dwell in the past to make the present a gift for others.

The family hosting me during my visit was Christine Hoff, her husband, Tom, and their four amazing children.  Tom and Tim are both students at the middle school.  The visit ended with the relentless falls of Niagara with unseasonably frigid weather.  But winter’s death-like grip will soon be conquered with long-term vitality like a seasonal Benjamin Buttons.  But the school’s change in attitude and scenery will undoubtedly remain permanent…

Monday, March 21, 2011

Deliberately Returning to the Pain

I recently had the privilege of attending an alumni event sponsored by my alma mater, Hobart and William Smith Colleges.  It was called, The Presidential Summit and we met to discuss ways to help the campus raise money through donations.  How come I do this to myself?  Why would I even think of returning to an environment that harbored such pain and bitterness?  Throughout much of my college experience, I was haunted by the creative monikers the fellow students attached to my name:  “Sketchy Jesse, Scary Jesse, Running Jesse, the Stalker, the Wanderer, etc.”  My fellow students should have taken another look and they would have seen beauty.  But I have returned and intend to remain an active alumnus.

These days I am angry, but have learned the key to absolving such anger is to impose myself in the throes of memory.  I return to these environments as a form of catharsis because we cannot always, “let go.”  We must return to the fountain of pain in an effort to make life better for those current students.  This is the same reason why I chose to return to Arlington Middle School and give an anti-bullying presentation, “Someday Has to be Today.”

I will not let go of my pain, but instead search for ways to justify it.  My goal is to return to campus and help them set up programs to help students suffering from a social disability or trying to fit in like a square peg grinding its way into a round hole.  But my fellow alumni seem to harbor no contempt toward my presence and see a published author.  I wait for the rejection only to be absorbed in a warm embrace.  My unfettered mouth ultimately produces an idea everyone seems to enjoy.

I ran off my mouth during one of the seminars designed to brainstorm about how to help campus raise money.  “Nobody in this economy is going to donate squat to this campus unless you are doing something FOR them.  I propose creating College Fantasy Vacations.  You will turn the campus into a resort during the summertime and alumni are going to have the option of reliving their college experiences.  Free of worries, finals, stress, anger and relationship drama.  You will take away the bad and leave nothing but pure beauty.  It will be a place where an alumnus may take their children or spouses.  Give them back the beauty that was contaminated by life.”

All right.  Maybe I did not put it so eloquently.  But this is essentially what I proposed.  The room lit up like wildfire and my fellow alumni jumped on the bandwagon.  Nostalgia is the lifeblood that powers the dreams of our future.  I want my college experience back without the pain.  I also want to return in the late spring when the warm weather is no longer contaminated by final exams.  I will keep returning to campus as a published author worthy of respect.

If you have pain it is not necessary to always let it go.  Find a way to live with it and make contributions.  Just don’t do what I used to do.  Please don’t do anything to hurt yourself both literally and psychologically.  It has been a long time since one of those explosive temper tantrums in the middle of the afternoon that climaxes with me punching myself in the face and head.  I was scared straight by the reports of brain damage and knowledge that the human brain is a free-floating entity.  There are other ways to deal with pain…

A week later I received a letter stating that one of my fellow alumni made a monetary contribution in my name after being inspired by my book.  I owe her a thank you card for letting me know there were people who saw my beauty even during those tumultuous days of yore.