Month: September 2012

My Pictures of Martians: Middle School

Martian Characteristics
Shilva, a Martian. Ancient Era, I think, though it’s hard to remember exactly–My Martian drawings and histories were lost in the Great Accident of 1991 (described here).  😛  :

Shilva

Shilva Akika: a doodle on Astronomy notes, college, 1993:

ShilvaAkikaAs a child, I made up various planets and civilizations for my stories.  Back around middle school, I developed my own alphabet for the characters and drawings I was always making for Martian stories.

These gentle creatures had their own eras, fashions, customs….They used orange to match their planet.  The women even painted their faces like Mars, with orange and white patches for the poles.

They believed in God, and did not sin, never had a Fall, as hypothesized by Jonathan Swift centuries earlier.  The alphabet was based on the International Phonetic Alphabet.

One day, I made a document based on the Rosetta Stone: English (for the planet Spimpy, colonized by Earthlings) on the top, Martian (Shah-Lee) in the middle, and some other language (Uranus, maybe?) on the bottom.

I’m glad I made this, because several years later, my mother inadvertently tossed a whole bunch of my Martian pictures and stories, including the alphabets.  Here it is:
MartianRosetta#1 

MartianRosetta#2

 

My Martian Alphabet and Rosetta Stone

As a child, I made up various planets and civilizations for my stories.  Back around middle school, I developed my own alphabet for the characters and drawings I was always making for Martian stories.

These gentle creatures had their own eras, fashions, customs….They used orange to match their planet.  The women even painted their faces like Mars, with orange and white patches for the poles.

They believed in God, and did not sin, never had a Fall, as hypothesized centuries earlier:

Ernest Tuveson, in his “Swift: The Dean as Satirist,” which I read in 1990 or 1991 for an English research paper, suggested that Jonathan Swift was influenced by concepts in Henry More’s Divine Dialogues.  These dialogues have different speakers with different points of view; one was the

theory of the plurality of worlds.  What about the salvation of rational beings who may well exist in distant planets–as well as in remote places of our own earth?

It is suggested that they may be creatures, endowed with reason, who have never experienced the fall.  Such beings would have no need of “that Religion that the sons of Adam are saved by.”

They would live a perfectly orderly but monotonous existence, and “no Properties but those either of the Animal or middle life would be needed.”

They would have all sorts of virtues, skills, knowledge–but this is just a “middle” life, with no heights or depths.  The Houyhnhnms would be like this.  This, also, became my concept of Martian theology.

The alphabet was based on the International Phonetic Alphabet.  One day, I made a document based on the Rosetta Stone: English (for the planet Spimpy, colonized by Earthlings) on the top, Martian (Shah-Lee) in the middle, and some other language (Uranus, maybe?) on the bottom.

I’m glad I made this, because several years later, my mother inadvertently tossed a whole bunch of my Martian pictures and stories, including the alphabets.  Here it is:

MartianRosetta#1
MartianRosetta#2
Martian Characteristics

 

Shilva, a Martian. Ancient Era, I think, though it’s hard to remember exactly–My Martian drawings and histories were lost in the Great Accident of 1991. 😛  :

Shilva

Shilva Akika: a doodle on Astronomy notes, college, 1993:

ShilvaAkika

My Mental/Visual/Touch Stimming: Could it be Asperger’s?

To me, NVLD and/or Asperger’s is a fascinating look into the differences in how our brains work.  I find the differences awesome, and hope that one day they will be accepted, not labeled “disorders” which must be “fixed.”

They also explain many things about myself that never made sense before, make me “normal” among people who have these same “abnormalities.”  It makes me okay the way I am.  They’re also not related to introversion, so can’t be explained away that way.

NVLD/Asperger’s quickly became, back in 2000, one of my many long-term, obsessive interests, because finally I had a reason for why I do the things I do, why my brain works the way it does, why others don’t do these things that seem perfectly normal and logical to me, or which I’ve always done but not known why.

For example, I have various little things I do which I’ve done since childhood, but they’re so subtle that I doubt anybody notices but myself.  They seem to increase when I’m going through anxious periods.

For example, sometimes I’ll feel my heel strike a crack in the sidewalk, and I don’t feel right until the opposite heel strikes a crack in the sidewalk as well.  I’ll stare at tiles and find patterns.  I alphabetize my music and movies.  I’ll stare into space, or my eyes will cross, as a form of relaxation when visuals are getting a bit overwhelming.

If I’m folding laundry and a sock or towel hits my leg, oftentimes I won’t feel right until I hit one against the other leg as well.  I do the same thing with my fingers.  I keep nibbling on the inside of my mouth without realizing it.

It doesn’t always happen, but as I noted, seems to increase in times of anxiety.  For the past 2 years, while dealing with a very emotionally traumatic situation, I’ve been doing these things more often, and added a couple of new ones.  Now my eyes vaguely cross a lot, intentionally.  Not sure why.  I try to stop it because it gives me a headache, but do it anyway.

I recall, as a kid, one day just looking at the ceiling and deciding I would start doing one of my stims, which I have never stopped doing: counting, looking for even numbers in things, such as tiles on the ceiling.

I count letters in words in titles or signs, hoping for even numbers of letters or words as my eyes sweep back and forth over the word in various patterns, doing this until it “feels finished.”  I look for symmetry.

I prefer round letters and numbers because they make easier patterns; I’ll even make a pattern with an individual letter or number.  As a child, my favorite number was 8 and numbers related to 8, such as 16–because 8 is a round number.

I’ll do the same thing with letters or numbers or pictures or other objects, my eyes sweeping over an object back and forth an even number of times to form an even pattern.

I do it to titles on books, to words on a page I’m reading, to tiles on the floor, to the iconostasis (wall with all the icons) at church, to the golden objects (crosses, etc.) on the altar, to the incense holders hanging.

I count them, see there’s this number on one side, this number on the other, back and forth, until finally the service begins.

I see a line or a word and think of the capital letters opposite other capital letters, the lowercase letters in contrast, try to form a pattern with the capitals on the outside.

An embedded web video stuck on an endless loop (such as in forum avatars or on page 3 of the below-linked forum discussion) can drive me crazy, as I start wanting to see it go through the loop a certain number of times before I turn it off.  I don’t even know how many times; just until it “feels finished.”

I’ll often look at a word or phrase again and again after having just read it, until I’m “done.”

And my brain has done these things for as long as I can remember.  It’s usually not at all related to anxiety, though anxiety can increase the frequency of some of them.

Riding in a car also sometimes drives me crazy as I start forming patterns with every sign and wire I see.

Sometimes I will sit and stare, a kind of “rest,” or just let my eyes go unfocused (crossing them, apparently) because it’s restful.

As a child in Kindergarten, and even now, I see numbers as male or female.  Male: 0, 1, 4, 5, 7.  Female: 2, 3, 6, 8, 9.  Yet 16 is female, and so is 20, even though they are mixed.

It’s something about the way they look.  I’m not sure what, exactly, because 0 and 5 are round, same as 3, 8 and 9, and 2 has a straight line just as most of the “male” numbers do.

Thoughts will circle in my head until they’re said in just the right way or I feel them in my throat the right number of times (something about, I haven’t really “thought” it unless I can feel the word in my throat).

Certain phrases will go through my head again and again and again until they interfere with other thoughts and activities and seem about to drive me crazy.  (These are not “voices in my head,” but my own thought-voice.)

It’s words I hear or read, or a few near-constant stock phrases which have been with me for years/decades (such as “Lord have mercy” since I became Orthodox, and “please forgive me” before that).

(In fact, Orthodoxy encourages stimming on “Lord have mercy” as a spiritual exercise.)  Sometimes I’ll start humming to get an unpleasant thought out of my head.

Up until now, no one has known about these mental/visual/tactile stims which I have done all my life.  Because they’re mostly in my head, nobody knows they’re going on.  Only recently have I told my husband these things go on in my head constantly.

I’m not sure if NLD has traits like these, but Asperger’s does; a quick Google search on “mental stimming” brings up a forum discussion on this very thing.

Some of these things will go endlessly through my head so much that I barely notice it, or they die down for a while, but start up again in periods of depression or anxiety or deep thought.

A blogger with Asperger’s describes stimming here, and one of his commenters described my thing with sidewalk cracks here:

However, I do the crack thing, I have to step on the cracks, or i have to step on a crack with my left foot, then step over the next crack with my left foot so that my right foot touches the next crack. I must say, you’re right about looking insane when walking. I have jumped to get to the next crack, and every time I walk it’s different. Sometimes it is not stepping on the cracks, sometimes it’s stepping near the cracks. It’s very calming.

Apparently people with normal brains stim too, so I don’t know what the difference is between “normal” and “Asperger’s” stimming.  Needs more research….If what I do is normal, then NLD is more likely, as it’s more mild than Asperger’s.

Everybody stims, Aspies and NTs alike and usually they’re unaware of it.

Aspies tend to stim more often than NTs and it tends to be more for stress/anxiety relief.

Most aspies won’t be aware that it’s a relief mechanism, they’ll probably just tell you that it feels good.

Virtually any kind of repetitive behaviour without a specific point other than “feel-good” can be a stim. The difficulty involved in stopping the stim and the frequency at which it occurs is what distinguishes an aspie stim from a neurotypical stim. –Gavin Bollard’s comment, Life With Aspergers: What is Stimming

 

Here a blogger, who after her children were diagnosed realized she herself had grown up undiagnosed with Asperger’s, writes that she can never stand still.  She shifts her weight back and forth from one foot to another.  She was sure lots of people do this, until she started watching, and saw almost nobody doing it.

I do this in church.  Since I go to a liturgical church, I can say with certainty that I’m not moving to upbeat praise and worship music (which tends to make me want to avoid swaying, anyway, in defiance at musical manipulation).

When I’m not in church, but standing at a corner waiting to cross the street, or standing in line, I rock back and forth on my feet.  I just can’t stand still without a lot of effort.

My husband does this too, so the question arises: is this common or isn’t it?  Some comments I find on blogs are that everybody stims; it’s just a question of how socially acceptable the stimming behavior is: making strange noises vs. tapping your pencil, for example.

Here the same blogger goes into detail about stimming and where she thinks the line is drawn between “normal” and autistic/Asperger’s stimming.

I don’t know, but I do know that I’ve done most of these stims since childhood.  I am getting some new ones, however, due to excessive anxiety, which is quite annoying.

Threads on this from the Asperger’s Wrong Planet forum, with which I identify so strongly that I keep saying, “Yes!  Yes!”:
Mental Repetition of Phrases/Words?
Mental Stimming

I started watching Mozart and the Whale and I realized that the guy in the movie, Donald, when he is looking around he notices things and makes combinations and associations in his mind, which is also what I do.

I do it at home and also when I am sitting somewhere in public. While seeing him in the movie, I realize that when I am doing this my eyes must be moving in a way that must come across as very bizarre to other people.

…Anyway, do u have the same thing? do you look around and make combinations all the time and observe lines, numbers,colors etc —How do you move your eyes?

Why, yes, yes, I do.  Yes, I trace things with my eyes, as well.  From that same thread, I also identify with this:

For instance, looking at a sentence on a billboard, I end up counting the letters and spaces so I can find the figure or space that is the middle of the sentence, the fulcrum of symmetry if you will.

Or if say a sentence has an odd number of words, like 3 or 5, i cut the sentence in half and count how many letters I’d have to add to one side or the other to make them symmetrical.

In case you didn’t notice, I have huge issues with symmetry and constantly striving to achieve it in everything I observe.

You’ll note these threads also comment on perseveration, which is related to the same things going around in your head all the time, or a child with Asperger’s getting so latched onto a subject/interest that you can’t get him off it.

I do that constantly, whenever I’m going through some emotional issue, or I’ve gotten interested in some new thing, such as ancient Egypt when I was 12 (or re-interested in some old thing, such as my curiosity in NVLD/Asperger’s taking a rest for months and then popping up again and I have to do more research on it), or I’m so deeply interested in a writing project that I think about it while doing other things.  It keeps going whether I want it to or not.

It’s always been this way.  No matter what it is–perseveration, or mental stimming, or visual stimming–my mind is constantly very busy.  It makes it hard to fall asleep sometimes.

Perseveration is the reason I would research as much as I could into whatever I was writing about; of course, before the Internet exploded, it was hard to find good materials.  Now, I have them at my fingertips.  It’s a perseverator’s dream!

When I got curious about Orthodoxy in 2005, I became so obsessed with it that I bought books, printed hundreds of website pages, went on forums, spent months–maybe a year–researching it heavily before visiting the local Orthodox church in November 2006.  My research filled a whole box when it became far too thick for its accordion file.

Related to perseveration and thoughts constantly replaying in the head:

Inability to get over it.
I blame the long term aspie memory for this. Many of my present actions are shaped by my past experiences. I find the past very difficult to let go of and it permeates into everything I do.

I’m terrified to let people near my stuff because of something that happened when I was in year 5 at school.  I’m difficult and resentful in certain situations at work because of a problem that happened four years ago (that everyone else has forgotten).

It’s even becoming something of a catchphrase of my wife’s; “Get over it!”. Of course, that’s just the point… I can’t. —Life With Asperger’s

One of the most effective coping mechanisms I employ is “conversation recording” where I attempt to remember an event in its entirety for later analysis.

In aspies with particularly well-developed coping mechanisms (typically, older aspies), event recording is virtually “second nature”. It often occurs without any conscious decision on our part.

When an event is “recorded”, a lot of things, particularly tone and body language which are not accessible at the time are retained.

The funny thing about this type of retention is that although a lot of input is captured, it usually isn’t available to me until I review the “recording”. Something I may not do until hours or days later – and often, unless I have a reason to do so, not at all.

I’m in the habit of reviewing “recordings” whenever I get an unexpected response from people or whenever I deem that a conversation is important and could be carrying more information than is immediately obvious. —Life With Asperger’s

Yep, I do that.

A lot of things come back to the aspie memory. Aspies often have very clear memories of events and quotations.

In conversation, they may drop a remark which links back to a particular memory but even if the NT was present at that event, it could have been years ago, or the particular part of the event to which the Aspie is referring may not form a large part of their memory. —Life With Asperger’s

There’s no doubt that vivid memories (trauma) are remembered both by animals and people. There’s also little doubt that these memories, both negative and positive affect our future actions.

Where I think the aspie differs is that key memories don’t necessarily need to be large or traumatic in order to be “vivid”.

“Can’t move on” is a phrase that is often associated with Aspergers. In fact, I’m sure it appears somewhere in the official criteria.

The inability to move on is due to a number of factors including; change resistance, routine, insecurity and memory.

Children with aspergers seem to take things in like sponges and retain them forever. They revisit those memories over and over again and after a time, even the smallest and least traumatic of them can become a major influence on their lives. —Life With Asperger’s

How can a having a good long-term memory be responsible for depression?

The key to understanding this is to approach it from the point of view of an NT [neurotypical, or “normal” brain].

Most of the time, it seems to me that detailed memories just aren’t available for NTs without external assistance. By external assistance, I mean the use of video cameras or photo albums.

In the movie One Hour Photo, Robin William’s character says, while looking at birthday snaps, “Nobody takes a picture of something they want to forget”. I think that this is particularly relevant to the issue because it means that NT’s tend only to remember the good things in any detail.

The Aspie however, with their long term memory often has perfect recall of past events and conversations. They will spend hours analyzing a conversation that occurred years ago and will often take negative feedback on board even if it was provided in the heat of the moment.

The long term memory of the Aspie therefore can be their worst enemy for dredging up guilt and other negative emotions.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m not entirely where the lines are drawn between Asperger’s and Obsessive Compulsion. It is obvious that people can suffer from Obsessive Compulsion without having Asperger’s Syndrome but I’m not convinced that it works the other way around.

To be specific, I think that the Asperger’s condition carries with it certain obsessive compulsive influences which manifest themselves in different ways. —Life With Asperger’s

On the Fear of Driving: Why I First Looked Into NVLD

I don’t like to talk much about my fear of driving, at least not in person.  I prefer to only talk about it on my blogs, where I can be anonymous and really open up.

People tend to not understand, have various misconceptions about those who don’t drive.  They think we’re not facing up to our responsibilities, as if determination is all we need.

But people are also afraid of such things as heights, flying and spiders, and with reason because all these things can be deadly if not dealt with properly.

Yesterday I watched an episode of Laverne and Shirley in which Laverne reveals she’s afraid to drive.  I felt her pain because I have the same problem.

However, in typical sitcom fashion, her problem was resolved in 20 minutes by Shirley getting her to learn how to drive.  [sarcasm on] Yeah, because all we need to get over our fear is to learn how to drive. [sarcasm off]

I learned how to drive 22 years ago, took driver’s ed, got a license, drove to the next county to work for two and a half years, still keep my license up-to-date.  But that did not get rid of the fear.

In fact, the fear was reinforced with my first car, a beater with all sorts of problems: stiff gearshift, power windows which didn’t behave in cold weather, leaky oil, constantly needing to go to the shop and get more work done.

It would get worked on, and I’d drive it to work only to find some new thing wrong with it, like the time the steering wheel started shimmying at high speeds.

Another time, the darn thing just suddenly started slowing down on the highway, I couldn’t get it back up, and I had to pull to the side, check oil, etc., having no idea what was wrong with it, then it just started working again.  (I’d give more detail, but that was some 15 years ago or so now.)

With a drive of nearly an hour across a two-lane highway to get to work, in all sorts of weather (such as some pretty nasty blizzards), watching for deer and tractors, and occasionally getting scared by seeing road work ahead (detours terrified me because I could get terribly lost), I was constantly afraid of the thing breaking down along the way.

My husband didn’t understand until he had to drive the thing to another state one time, and then he realized just how bad a car I had.

But it wasn’t just that.  I had a terrible time maneuvering the thing, such as around curves and when making turns, and nearly got into accidents with it because of that.

I almost went off the road on a very curvy and narrow rural road.  I don’t think that was the car’s fault.

I got lost on the way to an interview in the next county.  That same day, I also got terribly lost when going to get my stuff from college and take it to my new apartment.  I should’ve known the way, having ridden that way many times over the past four years.  But I got so lost that I was terrified.

This may be because of NVLD.  My trouble driving, in fact, is the reason why I looked into NVLD in the first place, in 2000.

I’d been well aware of my social problems for years, had even seen a psychologist to help me with them back in elementary school.  I discovered in an old diary entry from 1992 that I had some knowledge even back then of an NVLD-like disorder which I identified with:

First, for so many of my school years I felt ostracized.  I made friends easily [or so I thought, though looking back I didn’t], but still people would tease me about the way I walked, or being weird, or playing with my hands until about the end of the fourth grade, or whatever.  Even my best friend from down the street ended up treating me bad.

This is probably why I closed off around fifth or sixth grade and had to go to a psychologist (who, by the way, was the first person to hypnotize me).

I’ve never fully recovered from a sense of weirdness, even though I’ve made great progress.  I actually felt “not weird” for a time senior year, until those guys in art class shot me back down and humiliated me.  I still get this sense of insecurity every once in a while.

Second, part of the reason for my “ostracism” was probably the type of child I was.  I’ve read about it in the newspaper.  There’s a type of child that never picks up on all of the rules of body language, and their peers think they’re weird because they can’t relate to each other.

That was me.  I was, in a sense, in my own little world.  I never even learned the basics of social interaction and common courtesy, which I didn’t start to pick up on until I was going to my psychologist.

Even saying “hi” was foreign to me.  I finally got myself saying “hi” and eventually “bye” whenever someone said it to me, but I’ve only recently been able to start saying it first.

I’m still studying my peers to see what you do in certain situations.  Also, just ask my mom, she always had trouble getting me to say “thank you.”

As I said, I was in my own little world, and I didn’t learn these things, not even when my parents tried to teach me.  I’m still often uncertain what to do.

Third, I don’t always know why I do things.  I don’t know for sure why I refused to go up to [my friend’s] house that night [when I was with Peter in South Bend].

I think maybe my subconscious was afraid her parents would think, “What in the world are you doing out at this hour?  And who’s he [my boyfriend]?  [She’s] not even here.”

[Actually, it’s quite simple: I figured social conventions would be against me showing up late in the evening unannounced, especially if she didn’t know I was in town.  Here, the boyfriend was probably the one in the wrong about social rules.]

… I don’t know for sure why I’m so afraid of driving.  Maybe I’m just afraid of cars; I don’t know.

I also don’t know for sure why I didn’t want to go “midnight sledding” with my friends last Friday night.  I guess I’m just not one for spontaneity.

If I’ve already planned or expected my day or evening to go one way, a sudden change is unwelcome, no matter what it is.  If it’s a dance not announced previously, I probably won’t go.

If it’s a change of plans for a date, such as rollerskating instead of the movies, I’ll probably choose the original plan, no matter how much I like rollerskating.

I don’t even know why this is.  Maybe I just like to know what’s going to happen. 

Now, some people with NVLD can drive but can’t ride bicycles, though they might have navigation problems.  I learned late, but can ride a bicycle just fine.

But driving terrified me so much that even after getting a license (which was a feat in itself), I avoided driving whenever possible.

If I were just shy, then why did I have so much trouble with driving that I felt like the only teenager in the country who didn’t want a license?

If I were just introverted, then why did even the introverts find me hard to get to know, why did I get lost so easily while driving, why did my aunt proclaim to my mom that she couldn’t do anything with me, why did my mom take me to a psychologist in the mid-80s?

Why did I make so many stupid mistakes while driving that I sometimes feared for my life, why did I have so much trouble maneuvering the car into a car wash that I swore off automatic car washes and stopped going to that place out of shame, why did I have so much trouble maneuvering the car, period,

why did I get so lost while driving even on roads I thought I knew, why did I study the map over and over yet still go the wrong way, why did I have to give up driving just to restore my shattered self-esteem?  (I’m not an idiot, yet driving made me feel like one, again and again and again.)

I knew introverts and shy people who didn’t have these problems!

In February 2000, I read an article in U.S. News and World Report about adults with learning disorders (Not just kid stuff anymore: Many adult Americans find that they, too, have learning disabilities, February 21, 2000).

One woman, Sheila Price, described how she was always getting lost while driving, that she has lived in Richmond, VA all her life but doesn’t “know how to get from one side to the next.  My world is very small because of it.”

I lived in South Bend, IN for the first 18 years of my life, but college boyfriends who visited my home noted that they could find their way around the city better than I could.  Price discovered she had a visual-spatial disorder.

So I googled visual-spatial disorders, and found NVLD.  While reading articles by Pamela B. Tanguay and Sue Thompson, I felt like I was reading about my entire life, all my problems, everything that had ever happened to me–and I finally had an explanation.

I never felt weird on my own, but only because other people labeled me that.  I thought I was perfectly normal, and didn’t understand how other people acted differently, and so easily.  It wasn’t me trying to be defiant or difficult or weird.  It just was the way my brain told me to act.

Now I knew why, that I wasn’t “weird,” that my brain was wired differently than the mainstream, and that was okay.

While I don’t match every symptom of trouble with visual processing, long before I knew about NLD, I noted problems with speed, sports, understanding everything that was going on around me socially, adapting to routine changes or novel situations,

getting lost while driving even if I’d been that way many times as a passenger, everything about driving from keeping on the correct part of the road to finding my way around to reading a map during road construction to paying attention to traffic markings/signs/signals, even with correctly interpreting instructions given by teachers.

Over time I lost the rubber legs from driving home from work, as I grew more familiar with driving that route, and knew what traffic signals/lanes to expect where.  But the thought of driving anywhere else filled me with dread and anxiety, actually gave me panic attacks at times.

While I’m not so disabled in NLD-related things that it affects everything I do, being quite capable in many ways and able to learn how to do many things–it’s still enough that I identify with NLD.

I was already afraid of driving before I started, but my lack of ability to do the maneuvers or find my way or obey the signals or deal with unexpected circumstances without a great amount of difficulty, even when I’d been driving to work for a couple of years, made me even more convinced that I should not be doing it, for everyone’s safety, no matter how much it has hamstrung my ability to do much of anything that requires leaving the house.

In driver’s ed, I did well on written tests, so even though I had trouble getting through the reading every night (which took me hours), I must have been retaining the laws–probably because of lectures the following day and in-classroom quizzes.

The teacher told my parents that I knew the laws.  But the driving instructor, on the other hand, only grudgingly gave me a waiver of the state’s driving test, after I took the class’s final driving test twice and passed the second time.

So even though some people (such as my ex Phil or my brother) would say, “Don’t you have a license?”–that wasn’t really enough to make me comfortable or competent behind the wheel.

This was long before the days of graduated licenses or more stringent laws on required hours of driving instruction, and the instructor never used one of those driving simulator machines before putting us on the streets.

He just spent fifteen minutes teaching each of us to drive around the parking lot, then after that took us straight onto the busy streets around the school.

This was fine for the two guys in my car who had already been driving illegally, but not for us two girls who had been following the laws.  (Oddly, those two guys did not get waivers, but probably because they were cocky and liked to make fun of pedestrians, which annoyed the instructor.)

When I took driver’s ed, we were supposed to fill in a map of street names and other landmarks while in our assigned car and waiting for our turn to drive.  I did very poorly on this map.

My car’s instructor took our permits away (to make sure we never showed up without them), so I got very little practice.  He was always hitting his brake when I drove.

I was frustrated to no end because he’d tell me to go, I’d look and see cars coming, hesitate maybe a few seconds, start to pull out–and he’d hit the brake, saying I waited too long.

Which I most likely did, but it demonstrates that I had trouble figuring out when it was safe to turn, how far away the cars were, etc.

I’m not blind, and don’t have any other visual problems such as lack of depth perception, color blindness, tunnel vision, etc.  But I do have trouble determining how soon the cars will bear down on me, so people (in other cars or in my own) have gotten frustrated with me as I sit and wait.

This also causes me trouble crossing streets on foot, though you could argue that because this has made me especially cautious, it’s also kept me alive.

It has also made me more compassionate with other drivers, because it is my philosophy (and what I will tell my son) that only that driver can tell if it’s safe to turn or not, not the people behind who don’t see what he sees.

I’ve always had trouble explaining why I don’t want to drive; people usually think I should just be able to get in the car and drive.  One ex-boyfriend, Phil, talked down to me like I should be able to just get into the car and drive, and he’d yell at me for not doing it.

He’d refuse to drive me someplace, even when I had no other way of getting there.  He said he wasn’t a taxicab.  As Dr. Phil said on one show, if you try to do “therapy” by making a person “face her fear,” you’re really just being a bully.

It didn’t help that with my first car, I was trying to learn stick on an old car with stiff gears.  By the time I got a decent car, the damage had been done.  My work commute became familiar, but when I stopped working at my first job, I started driving less and less until, now, I don’t drive at all.

Once, I planned to drive myself to a party when hubby was out of town, but got so panicky that it affected me physically and I had to stay home.  It helps to have someone with me or in the car ahead of me to help me navigate, but without that, I don’t even want to try.  I don’t want to kill anyone, you see.

My hometown was a scary city to navigate, because not only did I have to concentrate very hard just to do the driving halfway decently, but there were so many cars doing unpredictable things, and so many lanes, so many signs, so many one-way streets, so many twists and turns to get to a destination.

When I moved away from home to a much smaller city in another state, there were different traffic laws, lights which would turn to blinking red or blinking yellow after 10pm–even streetlights were positioned differently over the intersections.

I was confused by many things:

I had an awful time parking;

I did not know that it was illegal to turn left on red (I could swear the driving instructor said you could turn left on red, but you had to do it very carefully [update: actually, in Indiana, left turns on red from one one-way street to another are legal, so maybe that was the context]);

I had the rules for four-way stops backwards (that it goes “to the right”–i.e., the person on the left goes first and then the car to the right of that car, counter-clockwise–rather than the person on the right, clockwise).

The driver behind me would see an empty space for turning, where I saw a wall of cars–hence, I got honked at a lot, which startled me and upset me for hours afterwards.

I often tried to use maps, but they made little sense to me, I could not retain what I saw, and I got so confused by whether to turn right or left, that I often got terribly lost.  Getting lost frightened me.

I had no clue why I had such a hard time driving, and could only think that I should just get off the road.  But of course, even though people say bad drivers should get off the road, if one does so, they chide him for not driving when “everybody has to do it.”

Even before I started driving, cars scared me: I was fine as a passenger, but I always crossed the road extra carefully.

One year, I had to cross a busy street to get to my bus stop–yes, I know, poor planning on the school’s part.  The kids would stand at the bus stop and jeer at me for not crossing, saying I had plenty of time, when all I saw were cars coming right at me very quickly.

Trying to turn as a driver felt like that all over again; the honks were the jeers of my classmates.

I walked to my next job, only ten minutes away, walking in all sorts of weather despite having a car.  It was wonderful.

Fear of driving is more common than you might think in this car-obsessed nation.  But while many people can overcome it through baby steps and practice, I still have mine–despite driving from one county to another every week-day for two and a half years.

Too much happens at once, I get lost easily, I have to navigate while following road rules and trying not to run into anything, and unexpected situations cause panic.

It is not a phobia, or irrational fear, if it is linked to NVLD; maybe it’s better for everyone if I don’t drive, at least until I find someone who can teach me how to compensate for my weaknesses while driving.  The last letter here sums up my feelings quite well:

Also, when I did drive, I was always scared that something would go flat, the battery would go out, etc. etc. I was always scared when I drove and that is not good when on the road. I found that by taking myself off the road, that I am being considerate of other people and their lives.

However, it is very frustrating when you “take yourself off the road” and people accuse you of immaturity or not doing what you need to do as an adult.  (Maybe if they saw you drive, they’d feel differently.)  Yet another time you will hear them complain about “bad drivers” and people who shouldn’t have been given driver’s licenses!

There are times when I see how it can affect my life to not be able to drive, especially if something were to happen to hubby.  But I don’t feel I have a choice.

Fortunately, I’ve discovered that trouble with and fear of driving is common with learning disorders, as is being misunderstood by “normal” people.  Lots of people, men and women, are afraid of driving; I don’t know how many of them have learning disorders, but I have found some of them in real life and on the Internet.

It makes sense, when you think of how lethal a car can be, that some will refuse to do it despite the inconvenience of not driving.  Even Barbara Walters–a wildly successful and well-respected woman–is afraid to drive.  (She said this on Oprah one day when I just happened to flip on the program.  The episode aired on September 16, 2004.)

Quincy Jones also does not drive.  Shep of the Three Stooges also was too scared to drive.

It also helps to know that people with NVLD can eventually master driving, so if I must do it again, I may still be able to do it.  “Some will drive, some will not” (source).

My husband has noted that I’m methodical: I like to know how something is going to end before I start it; if I don’t, I tend to freeze up and stand still rather than risk things going wrong.

I like to know what’s going to happen and have a good idea of how I’m going to deal with it.  I need plans, routines, schedules.  If I don’t know what’s going to happen, if something unexpected happens, if something disrupts the routine, I panic.  (One reason why driving is so stressful for me.)

My terror at driving never left, except after many months of driving to my first job, I finally felt comfortable doing that–as long as I did not have to do a detour.  Detours meant I could get hopelessly lost.  If I could follow a car, I’d be okay, but not alone.

My main route was torn up for quite some time, and various detours would be set up.  These detours confused me considerably, and I often found myself quite lost, unable to read the map.

When driving, I’d make various errors that seemed to make sense at the time, but someone would honk and I’d feel like an idiot for not realizing that was dangerous or seeing what was really going on with the roadway.

A curved, two-lane, one-way street appeared to be becoming one lane, so I desperately tried to get over, one day on a detour.  The cars honked; I soon discovered the lane was not ending at all, but was an optical illusion.

One day, I thought I could drive to my interview in the next county, then to a fast-food restaurant for lunch, then to my old campus to get some stuff I’d left in storage….This is when I got turned around and was an hour late to the interview, because I kept misinterpreting which direction I was supposed to turn onto Johnson.

I kept getting confused on which way to turn onto Johnson St.  I studied the map and thought I now knew exactly which direction to go on Johnson St.  But I still went the wrong way for quite a while before realizing my mistake.  But I got there, explained what happened, and still got the job.

I then went to my campus in that county to pick up some belongings I had stored there.  I figured I’d been on that road so many times that I knew it like the back of my hand.  But I ended up hopelessly lost, scared, afraid I’d run out of gas and die on one of the back roads I was wandering.

When I did find a gas station, I couldn’t even get around without hitting the building.  I asked for directions and got back on the highway, finding my way all right after that.

There were other things: A time my then-boyfriend, now-husband, asked me to drive to a place on 4th Street to get an extra key made.  I never did find the place, and went back home, distraught and scared.

I tried to use an automatic car wash: First the automatic windows froze in the frigid weather on my 10-year-old car, and I couldn’t get them back up before my ticket expired.  Then I couldn’t get my car centered on the risers on the ramp, so the car wash didn’t work.  An attendant finally had to help me get my car in the right spot.

I went home and cried in mortification and devastation to my fiancé, wondering why on earth I had so much trouble with a car wash.  He didn’t understand it, either, but fortunately this fiancé did not judge me like the first one, Phil, did.  Instead, he showed me a different, manual car wash where you simply hose down your car, so I never drove through an automatic car wash again.

Other things happened that led to accidents, or my judgment was somehow so screwed up that I didn’t know what to do after an accident.  I felt like an absolute freak, because my brain just wouldn’t let me act like “normal” people in these situations, and kept failing me again and again when I was supposed to be so smart.

I had so much trouble with driving that I finally decided I was too incompetent to keep putting myself and others at risk.  Unfortunately, that decision has led to much shame because people don’t understand why a grown adult can’t do such a “simple” thing as drive a car, and think it’s some sort of immature refusal to do what must be done.  (At least, that’s what it feels like to me.)

I couldn’t understand it, either, and wished people would stop judging and just let me be a non-driver.

My ex-fiancé stayed a summer with my parents and me.  He took a few jobs while there.  He scolded me for not knowing how to get around the city I grew up in.  He said he knew his way around much better than I did after only a few months.

Google Maps has been a Godsend: Not only do you get a map right in the area you need, but you get routes mapped out for you, verbal directions, and a photo of the intersections.  I like to print them all up to ensure that I find my way.

I don’t drive anymore, but do often read the directions for my husband when we’re going someplace.  That is, when he hasn’t already looked at the map once and memorized where to go.  [grumble]

Recently, however, I was able to buy a new bicycle.  Here is new freedom!  For much of the year, until the snow falls and the ice forms, I can ride my bike to all sorts of places that otherwise would take an hour to walk.  I can ride it to church, since my husband goes elsewhere.  I can ride it to vote, now that our polling place has been moved from its convenient spot next door.

In that rare case when hubby’s not able to take me someplace I need to go, I can use my bike, call a cab (we have several different cab companies at reasonable rates in this town), or use the bus (if it happens to be running).

The bike is also a lot of fun, now that–after 20 years–I have gotten over my rustiness.  I got a simple one, no gears, no different speeds, just push back on the pedals to stop.

I never liked ten-speeds, never wanted to deal with that.  I like simple machines that I can understand and operate simply.  Unlike a car.

 

Story: The Last Night: Romance on a Rome-like Planet

[Update 9/13/14:] This story (the top version, from 1992) received rave reviews and stirred imaginations at Writer’s Club in the summer of 2013.  🙂  I may revise it one of these days….

I wrote the first version of this story as a senior in high school, while listening to Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.”  It was July 27, 1990.  The story was based on a dream I had just had that morning.

First I’ll include the much better-written version I wrote in 1992 or 1993, in college.  Then I’ll show the original version, which does have its own strengths.

Alkin’s character in the dream was Avon from the British sci-fi show “Blake’s 7“; his appearance was the same that he assumed in an episode of Dr. Who (Timelash), in which the same actor played Tekker: Romanish clothes and medieval hair.  The planet Roke was loosely based on Rome.

Revised version, copyright 1992:

The Last Night

The young woman of twenty threw on her cloak and hid her face with the hood.  No one must recognize her.  She opened the door and slipped out, as quickly and quietly as possible.  Then she opened the gate, and hurried away with light steps.

The villa was all dark.  Even the servants were asleep.  No one would notice her.

Her parents agreed with her political views, but would not approve of her zeal for them.  They would accuse her of the rashness of youth.  Her father was a senator and had to have a respectable family.

Well, the rashness of youth was getting the emperor stirred up, and, besides, one of their group was an old man, the adviser.

She found her way through the dark streets, her eyes constantly watching for danger of any kind–a soldier, a mugger, or a mere witness.  After what seemed only a few hours short of forever, she arrived at Morcub’s house.  She gave three raps on the door, and the peephole slid open.

“Reach for the dream,” she whispered, and the door opened just enough for her to slip through.  She did, and a man of thirty closed the door behind her.

“You’re late, Ocsabia,” he said, reproach in his tone.  “Morcub was worried.”

“I was delayed.”

“Don’t let yourself be delayed.  We have little time each night we meet; do you want the morning light to reveal us?”

“Why do you always treat me this way, Alkin?  I said I was delayed.  I didn’t cause it.  It’s not as if I was hours late.”

“Let’s just get going.  Give me your cloak.”

“I get a much warmer reception than yours when I go to meet with the saints.”

“Don’t compare me to those eccentrics.  Just give me your cloak.”

Ocsabia tugged at the string that held on her cloak, whipped off the cloak, and tossed it into Alkin’s arms.  Loosening the veil over her hair, ears and neck, she strode into the meeting-room.

Sitting on cushions in a close circle were the others: Morcub Padrit, the leader, a dark-haired man in his late thirties; the old man Alukremub, whose age no one knew for certain; [name], a couple of years younger than Ocsabia, of the plebeian class; and Hifary, about Ocsabia’s age, and one of the saints.

He was a dear friend, and she knew he loved her with more than just saintly love.  She and Alkin joined them, forced to sit next to each other because of the arrangement of the cushions.

“Welcome, Ocsabia,” Morcub said, then he addressed the group.  “The emperor is now aware of our presence.  We don’t kill as some groups would do, due to Alukremub’s counsel, but his voice in the Senate and our passive resistance to tyranny have made us visible.  We have to be careful now–we are probably being closely watched.”

“I tried to warn Ocsabia of that when she came so late to our meeting,” Alkin said.

Ocsabia glared at him.  “Alkin thinks the fate of our cause depends on me alone.”

“Please, let’s have peace at this meeting,” Morcub cried.  “I want to speak with you two later.”

“I don’t see why we don’t just kill the emperor,” [name] said.

“We are resisters, not assassins.”

“Then let’s kill some of the emperor’s guards.”

“No, let’s resist without bringing death on ourselves,” Alukremub said.

“Talikula will never change the laws except as they suit him.  He’s mad, and Roke is in chaos with him as emperor.  He deserves to die.”

“If our sins were measured, we’d see we all deserve to die,” Hifary said.

Morcub said, “I’m sure we all know of the new tax, on the hours each person is awake.  Next thing you know, he’ll be taxing us for the air we breathe.  We refused to pay the tax on people with eyebrows, and the whole city followed our lead.  Talikula had to let us go, and he stopped the tax.  Maybe the same thing will happen this time, so let’s all stand together.”

He ended the meeting, and took Ocsabia and Alkin aside and into a side room, after calling a trusted servant to get some food for everyone.

“I don’t know why you two don’t get along,” he said, “but please, at least try.  Ocsabia, do as your religion’s leaders say, and live in peace with everyone, even Alkin.”

“I try, but he’s so antagonizing,” Ocsabia said.

“She has too quick of a temper,” Alkin said.  “She’ll argue at the slightest intimidation.”

“There it is, then,” Morcub said.  “Don’t intimidate her, Alkin.”

“But she’s such an annoying child, with her pampered looks and silly, womanish concerns.  Her ideals show she knows nothing of the world, thinking man can possibly live in peace and harmony.”

“Let her have her ideals.  For us to survive, we must act as a group, and support each other.  I want to see an improvement in the relationship you two have with each other.  For a start, cooperate with each other and serve the fruit.”

He grabbed the fruit platter from the surprised servant’s hands, and left with him.

“Grab a bowl and put some of the fruit in it,” Alkin said.

“There you go, ordering me around,” Ocsabia said.

“You just don’t like being considered less than you want to be, a beautiful daughter of a senator.  You think you have special status.”

“I just don’t like being ordered around.  I am not a silly child, either.  How can we ever get along if you keep putting me down?”

“I put you down because you need to be humbled.  You may act like you love all people, giving your money to the poor and helping your servants, but inside you’re still as snobbish as you always were before you became one of these ‘believers.’  I’ve known you since you were a child, a proud child, and people just don’t change like that.”

“I can’t believe you said that.”  She wiped away a tear.  “There has been a change in me since I was a child.  I can see it.  I’m ashamed of how proud I used to be.”

“There’s been a definite physical change, not a change of heart.  But the physical one–” He looked her over, from her face to her calves.  She felt like a prized horse.  “Yes, I was wrong on one point–You’re no longer a child.”

He grabbed her, and she struggled, thinking he was going to hit her.  Instead, he kissed her, and set her free.

Ocsabia stepped back, gaping.  “How could you do that?” she cried.  “I didn’t want you to.”

“You can’t tell me that,” Alkin said.  “You kissed back.”

“I didn’t mean to.”

“A woman doesn’t kiss back when she doesn’t mean to.”

Ocsabia flushed, and bowed her head.  Alkin stepped up to her, took her in his arms again, raised her chin, and kissed her more gently this time.

“Where’s that food?” [name] called from the other room.  Alkin and Ocsabia let go of each other, and silently began to put some of the fruit into a bowl.  [Name] came into the room, and leaned on the doorframe.

“A little quicker, please, before you kill each other,” he said with a grin.  “Morcub is a fool.  His age has made him mellow.”

“He gets results,” Alkin said, irritated.

“His policies are the best,” Ocsabia said, “when compared to insurrectionists.  He respects the importance of each person, bad or good as they are.”

“Well, one bad person is dead.  I sneaked up to one of the palace guards earlier tonight, and killed him.  Talkula will know we’re not to be trifled with.”

“You’re a fool!” Alkin growled.

“I take action.”  [Name] pursed his lips and stalked away.

Alkin carried the bowl into the other room.  As Ocsabia rearranged the fruit left on the platter, Hifary came into the room.

“Are you all right, Ocsabia?” he said, saying her name as if it were the most beautiful word he knew.

“Yes.”  Ocsabia smiled.

“Did Alkin say anything to upset you?”

“He loves me.  And I love him.  That’s what caused the tension between us: We loved each other and didn’t know it.”

“Then I’m happy for you.”

Ocsabia studied his face–It showed his sincerity.  Even though her news had to be painful, all Hifary wanted was her happiness.  What love he had for her.

A commotion in the other room caused them to hurry there.  The sight of soldiers stopped them cold.

They’d somehow been betrayed, and one soldier said [name] had been seen by the body of a murdered guard–This group was in deep trouble now.

A soldier herded Hifary and Ocsabia over with the others with the tip of his sword.  One of the other soldiers tried to grope Ocsabia, but Alkin jerked his arm away.

The soldier ran him through with his dagger, and he fell at Ocsabia’s feet.  She screamed.  Hifary held her to his breast as she sobbed.

“Let the Holy Spirit calm you, Ocsabia,” he whispered.  “God is with us all the time, whether we live or die.  Just keep trusting Him.”

Even in her sobs, Ocsabia knew the value of such a friendship.  Just before the soldiers led them away, he squeezed her hand.

————————————

High school version, copyright 1990:

Untitled

Their leader was a tyrant.  He imposed taxes to pay for his own pleasure, killed anyone who disagreed with his decisions, restricted anything under the sun, and he and his soldiers persecuted those who believed in only one God.

A resistance group arose on this little planet named Roke.  The leader was named Morcub Padrit, and an elderly man named Alukremub counseled him.

Close in age to Morcub was thirty-year-old Alkin, an unprincipled man whose loyalty to the group was sometimes doubtful.  His views and those of a young woman in the group often clashed, and they argued as loudly as they could without being discovered.

This young woman, Ocsabia, was a lovely eighteen-year-old with an hourglass figure and of medium height.  She, along with a young man of the same age named Hifary, was one of the group and a believer in the one true God.

This was not the same as a Christian in every way, but in many ways.  The souls of believers and non-believers both went to the same place, however, since this was not humankind.

Ocsabia lived alone, a not uncommon thing for women to do.  She was fashionable, and always knew just what clothes and hairdo to wear.

Fashions on Roke lasted for hundreds of years, and included pants, capes, and long, flowing robes, along with long hair either braided–possibly coiled–or loose.

One cloth headdress covered both the head and neck and left only the face showing, and had a slit in the back through which the hair could be pushed.  Ocsabia, as all women did, wore this headdress most often.

She had chestnut, waist-length hair.  She was still a virgin, as she’d been born into the Church and kept its statutes all her life.  She was no spendthrift, but prudent in all matters.  Therefore she never found herself in debt.

Her pagan friends jokingly called her the vestal, or, as they would say it in their language, bessaf (bes’ sif).  “Surely you are a priestess of Bessa,” they’d say, “or do you even know who she is?  She’s the goddess of the hearth and hearth fire, little believer in only one God.”

She was desired as a wife by many men.

Alkin, on the other hand, was good-looking, tall, and strong, but not a believer.  He worshipped the pagan Rokan gods and goddesses, and this was another point of disagreement between him and Ocsabia.  He lived with a friend just a few doors down from Ocsabia.

He also was fashionable, and wore his dark hair chin-length, covering his ears, and in bangs reaching to just above his eyebrows.  Men’s fashion also included pants and robes, but also had a Roman-like tunic and toga.

Hifary was pleasing to look at, lively, and a bit fashionable.  He wore tunics mostly, and kept his red hair short and ears uncovered.  He wore his bangs about the same length as Alkin’s.

He was sweet, chaste, gentlemanlike, devoted to God, and a likely match for Ocsabia.  He and Ocsabia often went out on dates together.

Morcub held the meetings in his house, and the members entered through a trap door (in the floor).  Each member had a smaller trap door in his house which led to a tunnel, which led to Morcub’s house.

During one meeting, Ocsabia and Alkin let their voices get too loud while arguing, and Morcub said,

“Please keep your voices down!  Do you want us to be discovered?  Really, I don’t see why you two can’t settle your differences peaceably.”

Once, Ocsabia came down with a bad cold-like illness and had to miss a meeting.  As soon as he saw her work outside in her garden again a few days later, Alkin went over to find out if she was recovered.

She was, so he asked to talk with her inside.  She took him into a little room with no windows and closed the door.  She lit a lamp and said in almost a whisper,

“What’s this you want to talk to me about?  Does it have to do with the rebellion?”

“Yes,” Alkin said.  “We want to rescue a political prisoner from his cell tomorrow morning.  We need you to distract the guards while we unlock the door.  He’s in solitary confinement.”

“So how am I supposed to distract them?”

“Just walking by them in pants should be sufficient.  Get them to leave their post.”

“Like this?”  She walked forward a few steps, her hands on her hips and shaking her hips.  She had pants on so she could work in her garden, and that combined with the way she now walked caused Alkin to notice her figure for the first time.

“Yes, yes, that’s quite all right,” he said.  “That’ll certainly get their attention.”  Then, under his breath, “It certainly got mine.”

“What did you say?”

“Oh, nothing.”  Ocsabia took her place in front of Alkin again, and it was all he could do to keep from examining her figure with his eyes.

He tried to content himself with just looking at her lovely face, the innocent eyes of which now gazed up at him in anticipation of his next word.  The rosy cheeks; the shapely, red lips just waiting to form words in reply….

Before he knew what he did, he kissed her.  When he released her, the eyes on that face, wide with shock, stared at him, and the lips outlined a mouth gaping in amazement.

He could utter no words in explanation to those eyes, even though he had an explanation.  All he could do was turn and walk out.

*******

Ocsabia extinguished the lamp and left the room, looked around and didn’t see Alkin anywhere, then slumped into a chair.  Her thoughts, her emotions, her beliefs all scrambled together into one huge mass of confusion; and no matter how hard she tried, she could not sort them out.

One moment she felt disgusted, another moment she remembered the kiss with a smile, another moment it repulsed her.  One moment she thought she loved Alkin, another moment she fought to keep from hating him.

Believers weren’t supposed to hate.  What was the prudent thing to do?  What did God will in this case?  What would He have her do?

All she could do was pray for wisdom and guidance, and that her feelings for this man would become clear to her.

Alkin came to Ocsabia’s door the next morning to escort her to the place for political prisoners.  He only said why he was there, nothing more.  She wore pants for this job, and this made it all the more difficult for him to keep from possibly offending her by looking at her figure.

He led her to a place just behind the building, which had only one cell inside and was more the size of a shed.  Rokan solitary confinement was this way.

The other buildings stood hidden behind a wall to the right.  This building had only one door and no windows, and could stand unwalled near the street.  Solitary confinement buildings stood near streets so everyone could see what happened to political dissenters.

Alkin and Ocsabia sneaked around to the side of the building, then Alkin sent Ocsabia around to the front.  She collected herself, then assumed her “walk.”  She passed by the guards in their armor, short skirts, gladiator sandals and helmets.  She didn’t see what happened, but she knew the plan, and that Alkin took the keys from one guard as soon as their heads turned.

She turned around and beckoned to the guards, who walked up to her and left the building unguarded, obviously assuming it was perfectly safe, if they even thought about guarding their post at all.

She entertained them with flirtatious banter as Alkin unlocked the door, went inside, unlocked the prisoner’s shackles, and led him outside, behind the building, and into the street.  As soon as she saw they were safely away, Ocsabia said,

“Aren’t you forgetting your post?”

The guards spun around and found the door open and the keys on the ground.  As soon as they turned around, Ocsabia sprinted down the street.

Morcub hid the man in his house until they could depose the emperor.  Ocsabia began to wonder if someone would have to hide her as well.  She went to Alkin’s house afterwards while his friend was out.

“I hope they won’t kill those guards because he escaped,” she said.

“You and your compassionate heart,” Alkin said.  “They’re the enemy, girl.”

“Am I in danger?  Will the guards tell who I am?”

“I doubt they’ll even say they left their post to flirt with a woman.  All their commanding officer will care about is that they left their post.  If they mention why they left, it should only be worse for them.”

“You know, at first I didn’t like the idea of having to distract the guards and do all those things; I was glad when it was over; but it was also fun while I was doing it.”

“Ah, maybe you’re beginning to become more like the kind of woman I like.”

“Oh, I hope not.”  She thought for a moment, then said, “Why did you kiss me yesterday?”

“Because you’re irresistible even to me.”

“I am?  I didn’t know I was irresistible to anyone.”

“Are you blind to your own beauty, girl?  Or just overly modest?”

“Why do you always cut me down?  Why are you always so abusive to me with words?”

“Because you have such ridiculous ideas–compassion, brotherly love, not expecting payment from someone who’s borrowed money from you.”

“They aren’t such ridiculous ideas.  Just think about them sometime.”

“I don’t want to be nauseated.”

Ocsabia bent over in her chair, covered her face with her hands, and sobbed.

“Oh, don’t cry,” Alkin said.  “I was just beginning to admire your spirit.”  She continued to sob, so he got up out of his chair and knelt beside her.  “I can’t stand to see a woman cry.  Fight it.  Then we can have more spirited conversation.”

“Don’t mock me.  Go away.”

“You realize you won’t be so desirable with puffy, red eyes?”

“Then I must continue to cry.”

“I don’t understand you, Ocsabia.  You don’t want men to lust after you and you only want to do good and pure things.  I don’t understand myself, either.  I desire you even though you’re like that.”

“Maybe you just want what you can’t have.  Or maybe you actually want to be like me, you see in me what you’re not.”

“Why?  Why can’t I have you?”

Ocsabia stopped crying and looked up at him.

“Because you’re not the kind of man I want to marry.  Such a man is kind, gentle, a believer, and my own age, like–like Hifary.”

“Hifary?  Do you really like Hifary?”

“Yes.”

“But I’m a man and he’s just a boy.”

“Do you think being a man means cutting down other people just because they believe differently than you do?”

“I was right, you do have spirit.”  He stood up and turned away.  He tried to keep his voice steady.  “Leave me.”

Ocsabia had no wish to stay, so she wiped her eyes and left.  Alkin’s fondness for her helped her influence his opinions, so he contemplated her words for hours afterwards, and began to wonder if she was right.  Or had this girl so bewitched him with her beauty that he was willing to believe the way she did?

******

Alkin, a prominent member of society, would rouse suspicion if he declined invitations to travel with his friends so he could help the resistance at home.  When a group of friends asked him along on a month-long trip to the tropics, he had to accept.

He visited Ocsabia to tell her this.  At first she didn’t want to let him in, but he said he had to talk to her.  She led him into the atrium, and he said, “I thought about the things you said the other day.”

“And you agree with me now?” Ocsabia said.

“I didn’t say that, I just said I thought about what you said.”  He smiled.  “And that’s a start, isn’t it?”

He was sincere, but the reason he admitted this was so Ocsabia would consider opening a space in her heart for him.  It worked, though he didn’t know it.  “I’m leaving for a month with a group of friends,” he said.  “I want you to come with me.”

“Come with you?  How could I come with you?  Are there any girls in the group?”

“No.”

“Then I can’t come.  It wouldn’t look right.”

“Then marry me.”

“No.  I don’t love you.”

This so frustrated him that he couldn’t control his voice very well.  “Then stay here,” he said, turning away.  He pondered for a moment, nearly despairing of convincing her.

An idea came to him, and with it a glimmer of hope.  He turned to her.  “Maybe this will change your mind,” he said, and kissed her as persuasively as he could.  When he released her, she said,

“I’ve never known of anyone who truly fell in love just because of a kiss.”

Alkin realized that if he managed to seduce her she would have to marry him, since her moral code demanded it.  They’d argued abut that part of the code before.

He kissed her again, lustfully this time, and simultaneously unbuttoned the back of her headdress and pushed aside part of the neck to expose her skin.  He then kissed her neck.  She immediately pushed him away.

“Whatever you were thinking of doing, it won’t work, either, so please leave.”

He could find his own way out.  He turned in a huff and left.  Ocsabia stared in the direction in which he’d gone, and said, “Good riddance–and good-bye.”

She didn’t really know why she said “good-bye.”  If only she could ask her heart.  It had to know more than she did about the whole situation.  Why did she long for more of Alkin’s kisses and feel repulsed by them at the same time?

During the next month, she dated Hifary, as usual, and she grew quite fond of him.  Near the end of the month he asked her to marry him.  She told him she couldn’t, her feelings were too mixed up.

“This may be hard for you to believe,” she said, “but I’m sure I’m in love with either you or Alkin.”

“Alkin?  How could you love Alkin?” Hifary said.  “You two are always fighting.  You’ve always been enemies.  He’s also an unbeliever.”

“I know.  It’s hard even for me to believe.  Maybe it’s not even true.  Maybe I love you.  I’ve got to be alone for a while so I can sort this out.”

Also during that month, Alkin tried to console himself with wine, food, women and luxury, but all of these things left him unsatisfied.  He was sure he loved Ocsabia, and she was all he wanted.  In desperation he cried out to her God.

“If you’re real, show me,” he said.  “If you make Ocsabia fall in love with me, I’ll serve you for the rest of my life.”

*****

At a meeting the night before Alkin was to come home, Morcub said, “I think the authorities have become suspicious.  I saw two soldiers watching my house today.  Perhaps the neighbors have heard us.  We’ll have to be extremely careful.”

*****

The next day, Ocsabia expected Alkin to come home, since it was the end of the month.  It seemed that she longed for him to come home.  She watched from her windows until she saw him.

As soon as she saw his roommate greet him and him go in his house, she opened her door on an impulse and ran over to his house.  She knocked on the door; the roommate opened it, and, having been told many times before by Alkin of his disagreements with her, looked at her with wide eyes and raised eyebrows.

“Baferiub, I’d like to see Alkin,” she said.

“Certainly, Ocsabia,” he said, causing Alkin to spin around and stare at the door.  Baferiub stepped aside to let Ocsabia enter.  She hurried in to Alkin, and threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.  In a few moments, Alkin haltingly put his arms around her.  When she ended the kiss, he said,

“Ocsabia, what a pleasant surprise.  Your God is real, I know that now.  He answered my prayer.”

“He did?” she said.  “How?”

“I’ll tell you later.–Baferiub, would you please leave us alone for a moment?–Look, I’m sorry about all those disagreements with you.  You may be right about some things.  I’m also sorry I tried to seduce you a month ago.  I was trying to force you into marrying me by making you do something that would demand it, according to your moral code.  Now will you marry me?”

“Yes, I will.”

They set the date for a year from then, and Ocsabia told Hifary as gently as she could.  He told her that a year might be long enough for him to get over her.  He wished them happiness as soon as Alkin became a believer.  That issue had bothered him, as he knew of situations when a believer married an unbeliever and it didn’t work out very well.

The next time they had a meeting, which was a week later, Rokan soldiers listened at the door for incriminating conversation, then burst into the house and arrested everyone.

The little group wasn’t even tried, just put into a concentration camp.  Fashion was forgotten as their clothes were taken away and replaced with prison suits, which were pants, a shirt, and sandals, plus a cloth for Ocsabia to wrap around her body as a sort of primitive corset.

This was the only part of the prison suit that looked fashionable, but the group soon forgot about such things, and thought of fashion as trivial.  What really mattered was survival–a difficult thing.

They had little food, and almost starved.  Their taskmasters put them to work around the camp, every day of the week, all day long.  Their one relief: enough sleep.

However, the beds were hard, and barracks hot or cold, depending on the weather.  All they had to heat the barracks was one brazier each.

During the evening meal, Ocsabia could finally join Alkin and the rest of the group.  Afterwards, she and Alkin would walk around the non-restricted areas of the camp.

“Will we ever get out of here?” she said one evening about two and a half years after they arrived.

“Perhaps when that tyrant Kaebar dies or is deposed,” Alkin said.

“I wonder what they did with my birds?  Did they give them to someone, or are they dying in their cages in my house?  I know it’s a bit morbid….”

Alkin lowered his voice.  “I may soon find out for you, and if they’re dead, I can bury them.”

“Why, what do you mean?”

“I mean, I’m going to try to escape.  If God wills it, I will.  I want to start another resistance group.  I’d take you with me, but it’s too dangerous.”

The next evening, about the same time, he said good-bye to Ocsabia.  That night, when everyone was supposed to stay in the barracks, Ocsabia woke to the sound of Rokan canines woofing and guards yelling.

Alkin, she thought, it must be Alkin.  Soon after she heard a man scream.  She drew her blanket over her nose and mouth and sobbed into it.

During role call the next morning, the commandant said, “There was an escape attempt last night.  A prisoner tried to go over the wire.  But our guards got him with the sword.  You may bury him yourself as a lesson to you: attempting to escape is useless.”

Hifary provided Ocsabia with a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen to her voice her emotions, but didn’t give her advice or say it would get better.  He knew better than to say that to her; what she needed was a listener, not an adviser.

And he didn’t do this to get her to fall in love with him, nor did he rejoice over Alkin’s death.  He still loved Ocsabia, and did this out of the tenderness of his heart for her.  He had no ulterior motive.  Also, he grieved over the loss of one who’d become a good, respected friend since his conversion.

About two years later, as they went on one of their now-customary walks and discussed Hifary’s plans to go to many cities and countries as an apostle, if God willed him to, he halted.  Ocsabia, whose arm was intertwined with his, immediately stopped also.

“What is it?” she said.

“I must tell you something, but it’s terribly difficult, especially considering the life I’m called to lead.”

“What do you want to say?”

He hesitated.

“If you go ahead and say it, it’ll be much easier for you to do.”

“All right, Ocsabia.  I love you. I’ve never stopped.  I prayed I would while you were engaged, and then I tried to suppress it after Alkin died so you wouldn’t feel uncomfortable around me and I wouldn’t try to force you to love me back.  But it’s only grown stronger.  You also might not want to be an apostle’s wife.  It’s a hard life, whether you come along or stay home alone.”

“It sounds challenging.  And I’d be serving God–and probably loving it.”

“You would?  Then will you marry me?  Oh, I should first ask you if you love me–”

“Yes to both questions.  Not that I’ve forgotten Alkin.  I’m sure he wouldn’t want me to be alone for the rest of my life, especially if I marry such a dear friend of his as you.”

She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him.  As she began to straighten her back again and her head moved away from his neck, in that split-second Hifary kissed her.

After five years in the concentration camp, a new resistance group deposed Kaebar, and put one of their own in his place.

During the fourteen-day celebration, Hifary and Ocsabia decided to celebrate in an additional way by marrying immediately, on the fifth day so they’d have time to prepare.

Ocsabia accompanied Hifary on his travels, and he wrote letters to the Rokans, Corinzians, Cafasians, Egebians, Gifidians, Cofothians, Zebafonians, and others.

 

St. John’s Abbey’s Bible: First Handwritten, Illuminated Bible Since the Printing Press

I remember reading about this Bible back when researching my novel Tojet (the character Merkit joined a monastery after his wife died).

St. John’s Abbey had a very informative website about the modern life of the monks living there.  One of the monks even responded to my e-mailed questions.  It was awesome.  🙂

Here’s their website now.

The St. John’s Bible is the first handwritten, illuminated Bible commissioned since the advent of the printing press.

It was commissioned in 1998 by the Benedictine monks of St. John’s Abbey and University in Minnesota to “ignite the spiritual imagination of believers throughout the world and to illuminate the word of God for a new millennium,” said Kate Candee, vice president for missions and retention at Marian [University in Fond du Lac].

“It’s hard to describe the magnitude of this,” Candee said.

The Bible was created by a team of scribes, artists and craftspeople in a scriptorium in Wales under the artistic direction of Jackson, one of the world’s foremost calligraphers and the Scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Crown Office at the House of Lords in London, England. —Marian University Receives Fine Art Editions of St. John’s Bible

More information

Video

Solace in books and creativity, Pictures of my genie Zara–College Memoirs: Life at Roanoke–Summer 1992

Solace in books and creativity

In her first letter to me that summer, Pearl mentioned a surgery that had been postponed.  Over the next four years, she was to have many surgeries because of her rheumatoid arthritis, such as for hip replacements.  It was always very worrying for the rest of us, yet she had so many of them.

My second brother was back from the military, and living at home.  So I was not alone with my parents as I had been since–I believe–around middle school.  He was 7 years older than I was, had always bullied me terribly, and to this day has not grown out of that.  But I do have a funny story about him:

On June 6, I kept calling my beloved cat, but my brother kept saying “Twinkie” (which our odd little cat was addicted to), so the poor thing was confused about whom to go to.

(She usually got upset with me for leaving for months at a time to go to school, but was normally my little buddy.)

My brother then got a Twinkie, and won.  After little Hazel (named after the old TV show about a cleaning lady) finished stuffing her face, I tried again to get her to follow me upstairs, but my brother kept saying “Twinkie” again.  So I said it, too.

While Hazel stood there confused again, my brother got up, grabbed her, and said, “I solved this.”

My friend Catherine and I exchanged lamentations about being back home with siblings and parents and without the independence we had grown used to.  She wrote things like,

I do like your hair.  Don’t worry about Shawn.  Maybe he is just shy about letting his feelings show.  Maybe he doesn’t want you to know he likes you because he’s afraid you don’t like him.  Do you have his address?  Write to him.

…Of course you know where C– [her hometown in Wisconsin] is.  This big megalopolis of 127 people which I live 5 miles north of in the suburbs of cow haven.

Yes it is real exciting.  Just like Roanoke except that the nearest mall is 45 minutes away instead of 15 minutes.  And there is nothing to do but count the flies on the cows.  Oh well, my warped mind will think of something zany for me to do.

…My pen died by the way, so I had a small burial at the old garbage can.  See, life here is just too exciting with my warped mind….PS, Party on, consume mass quantities and avoid the police!

I was put into the 1991-92 edition of the National Dean’s List.  Despite the distraction of a boyfriend and everything I went through second semester, I still did well in my studies.

It also helped that I no longer had to take classes I wasn’t good at, such as math or chemistry, and could concentrate on such classes as writing, literature, and whatever else I was good at or interested in.

In a letter on 6/17, Pearl–in response to a letter in which I said that I avoided talking about Peter because Sharon had told me it bothered people–wrote that the “tension” when I brought him up was not my fault, that people just wanted me to focus on things that weren’t painful so I could enjoy myself, too.  

But I know from experience that ignoring something doesn’t make it go away; it just lurks in the back of your mind….Also, I don’t know if anybody ever told you, but it’s kind of a consensus that we think you’re too good for Peter.

During the summer, I drew a comic strip called “Life With Zara.”  I got the idea when I found my 7th grade comic strip.  I started “Zara” on June 3 and stopped it on September 4, since with school I would no longer have time for it.

The characters were me, Cleopatra and Zara.  Cleo’s appearance was based on an ancient relief.  Zara was Moroccan because I found a story about the djinn in a children’s anthology called Magic in the Air.  I could just draw the clothes in the pictures.

The story was called “Mischief in Fez,” and had many details about the djinn myths, which I incorporated into “Zara.”  For examples, the djinn make a “whirring and humming,” and jackals love the taste of djinn flesh.

Zara’s features were adapted from a picture of a servant girl in the story, and her name came from another servant.  Somehow, I figured her eyes should be huge; maybe the djinns in the story had huge eyes.  Her clothes came from a picture of a wealthy woman.

Her water jar came from page 249 of the book.  Since I didn’t have a picture of a Moroccan bottle, I used the water jar instead.  I also drew a picture of the inside of Zara’s jar, with its torch, a table, and a bed.

I even incorporated a dream I had my senior year of high school about going back to meet the teenaged Shakespeare.  In the dream, I also met a blonde girl who was a time-traveler.

In “Zara,” there are also several allusions to the works of Jane Austen.

In the 7/29 strip, Zara shapeshifts into a fennec, which was drawn from a “Mischief” picture.

One hairstyle was taken from The Brass Bottle, a 1964 comedy movie I had seen about a genie in modern times.  Burl Ives was the genie Fakrash, and Tony Randall was the master.  Ironically, Barbara Eden was Randall’s human fiancée.  Fakrash’s brunette daughter wore her hair the same way I did in the 8/1 strip.

The very last panel was an obvious take on the I Dream of Jeannie opening credits, with the cartoon of Jeannie and her bottle.  In 1995 or 1996, I drew a picture titled “An Afternoon with Zara and Cleo.”  Zara’s dress came from Eugéne Delacroix’s Women of Algiers

Along with “Zara,” I worked on a continuation of my wacky 7th grade comic strip, mostly focusing on the Solar System characters I speak of here–now going through puberty.

I also wrote a sequel to my desert island story which included a breakup of the hero and heroine, and eventually, getting back together.  It was a way to work out my feelings–and I learned just how well emotions can help your work, as my writing seemed to improve immensely in this story.

On June 5, I had a dream which turned into the first draft of Bedlam Castle.  It included Heidi and the cast of Are You Being Served?  Spooner was the romantic lead (though I don’t recall being particularly attracted to him), so I based Colin’s looks on his.  On July 1, I had a dream which eventually turned into the frame story for The Lighthouse:

I discovered the lighthouse at the top of the hill: all you had to do was hang on while a rope took you up a mountain to it….It became my favorite hangout….My parents objected because the other kids “liked to joke about coarse things.”

…Then I’m ready to go uphill again, so I’m given the rope.  It starts tugging, sometimes stopping and jerking up again.  I have to dodge some worms and possible slugs on the wet pavement.

I go by my front yard, and the rope suddenly turns a corner.  I lose it, and make a lunge for it with both hands (possibly scraping a worm with my fingernails), but miss it; I keep trying to get it so I’m not stuck this far up the mountain, but I lose it for good.

I wait around, and someone finally picks me up and takes me either to a wait station or the lighthouse, where I wash my hands off.

My Utmost for His Highest seemed to have a relevant message for whatever I was going through when I was going through it, even though I read it twice over two years with totally different problems.  I told Pearl about this, and she said others said the same thing about it.

As a child of maybe two years when Queen released “Bohemian Rhapsody,” I had never heard the song before.  In the summer of 1992, the movie Wayne’s World brought it back onto the radio.  It became one of the most popular songs of the year, since it was timeless.

I had always been into rock.  I listened to Christian rock and metal in high school, and in 1990 or 1991, started listening to secular rock as well.

But now, dance music took hold of my imagination, especially the long, techno mixes which B96 (Chicago) played late at night.  They seemed to go on for at least 15 minutes at a time.  Techno took me to a special place in my mind, away from the problems of the world to my very soul.  It was a place of happiness, dancing, outer space, inner space, and no limits.

Music, for me, has never been just about the beat.  That’s why I can listen to both Static-X and Enya.

My weight had gone up a bit senior year (too much junk food) and the beginning of freshman year, somewhere in the 130s, but after the breakup I could barely eat for days.  I had trouble swallowing, even threw up once.

My stomach began to feel a bit better after the first few days, but there were certain foods I avoided, either because I had thrown them up, or because they reminded me of the breakup in some way.

I was depressed for so many weeks or months that my weight dropped quite a bit.  By Spring Break, I must have been below 120 pounds.

In the summer, I was 120.  But it wasn’t just depression that kept the weight off.  My spirits began to rebound sophomore and junior year, but I still lost that “summer weight” (from Mom’s cooking and my sitting around reading/writing) every September.  It was a combination of the food available and walking everywhere around campus.

People complain about the Freshman 15, but I lost 15 pounds rather than gaining at college.  After leaving college, I began to wish I still had this “magic bullet” to lose the pounds I began putting on, since I would exercise but lose very slowly.

This may have been the year that brats suddenly appeared at our family reunion (July 4, Michigan).  Brats?  In Michigan?  Now that I’d been in Wisconsin, Wisconsin culture seemed to be popping up everywhere.

I re-read Jane Austen’s Persuasion in July.  A couple loved each other, then broke up, then met again years later–and could not be civil to each other.  (I won’t give away the ending.)  It was so detailed and emotionally true that it must have been based on real events.

In the late 90s, I read in Jane Austen: A Life (David Nokes) that she had indeed experienced a similar event.  Unfortunately, her boyfriend never came back.  He had been persuaded to stop courting her because of their social stations, just as in the novel.

This was the last novel Austen wrote.  Writing it seems to have put her in mental anguish, since she had never quite gotten over the breakup.

I wrote this in a 7/30/92 letter to Shawn:

I just heard a squealing cat outside.  Catfight!  Catfight!  It got Hazel to sit up and take notice.  She has a new friend now, so I wonder if it was involved.  It’s an orange one that comes up to the master bedroom window while Hazel’s in the house.

A friendly white one lives across the street, but Hazel doesn’t seem to like her.  Maybe she’s related to the orange one.  So I guess we can now talk about ‘Hazel’s little friends.’…

Local news has been so interesting lately.  The usual murders and shootings, of course, which, unlike in S–, happen every once in a while; but what really trips me out is the controversy over train whistles.

Letters have been in the [South Bend Tribune’s] Voice of the People ever since about the time I came home, saying, ‘I live by the tracks and can’t get any sleep at night,’ ‘Why don’t you move away from the tracks,’ ‘The engineers are whistle-happy,’ and ‘The engineers are most certainly not whistle-happy.’

Some people were going to throw water balloons at the trains, but they decided to restrain such behavior, and throw water balloons at the caricature of a train instead.

Seven years later, my later adopted city, Fond du Lac, went through this same debate.

I started the novel Peter Pan on August 3, and finished it in the wee hours of August 6.  Somehow, the new song “MidLife Crisis” by Faith No More seemed to fit.  Both are dark, though Peter Pan is more depressing.

Peter Pan–that beloved children’s story–is depressing, you ask?  Yes, I say.  It’s filled with fighting, death, betrayals, and children growing up to forget that Neverland was real and that they had actually lived in it.  Yet I loved it.

Though when I read the play in 1994 it seemed meant for children (especially when the audience was told to clap to bring a fairy back to life), the novel seemed to be written for adults.

I’d heard that the play was for adults, and that its message was, “You can never be a child again.”  Yet if anything had this message, the novel did.

In August, I did the Scripture reading at church.  I suppose it shows an early predilection to do this, because many years later (2009), I began doing Epistle readings at my Orthodox church.

Pictures of my Genie Zara

Pictures of characters from my Zara strip, which also included Cleopatra:

Zara&Cleo&Me
Cleopatra
Zara
TippedBottle

Index 
Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound

January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD

 February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995: