Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

Precious and Happy

On my autreat trip, I met a friend. We had been pen pals and this was the first meeting in 3D. She had no experience hanging out with friends in real life, so she was worried about doing something wrong. I thought a lot about this. I just wasn’t concerned with right and wrong. I wanted to make it about precious and happy instead. Sure we did some things that were wrong in our two hours together. For example, people don’t wear jackets in summer, so that was a “mistake” when you need to look presentable. Also, you are not supposed to approach someone you’ve never seen before really really slowly, then look down at the floor for a while, listen to each other’s breathing, then suddenly hug them! One’s first words on meeting someone should probably be “hello, I’m so and so, how are you?”, not “Let’s go inside because I have to pee”. Furthermore, it is wrong to eat ice cream for breakfast or let the conversation go silent for long periods. So pretty much we did everything wrong, and I’m so happy about it! If we had been trying for right, we would not have experienced precious.

So many of us seem to have post-traumatic stress. I don’t know if it is “real” PTSD like the veteran I met whose flashbacks of killing a child were triggered by everything and as a result he could never be sober, but still it’s the kind of stress that defines our lives. Some were traumatized by past relationships, past ABA therapy, institutions, or other ways of being powerless. We’re triggered by things that are common – like certain kinds of noises, male people, overly chipper people, or dogs, to name a few. Constantly being alert eats away at us. Traumas that are frequently re-ignited do not recede into the past on their own. Despite the saying, time does not heal all wounds. However, I think these kinds of wounds can be healed in safe spaces where there aren’t as many triggers.

Being guarded like this can build an armor against relationships. Two people approach, and one is set off by the other, and protection wins. I’m set off by males, and I’m sorry for all the male people who tried to connect and I couldn’t. But sometimes a person feels safe enough and we find a way through. Occasionally a person feels extremely safe and it is like the other person is inside my world with no distance. When I was eating ice cream (for breakfast) with my friend, it was like this. We looked up and saw that the place had filled with people over a period of time in which we had been in our shell, but we didn’t see them come in. These connections can be fleeting or partial, but what connects is always the reality of me, not the skills I learned. These connections are not helped by applying social skills, and they can even be prevented by doing the “right” things in fear. I suspect that these bonds are often unobservable by other people. They don’t see anything happening because it is happening in a zero-distance way and often silently.

If it is supposedly impossible for autists to connect this way – which is the only way I can connect, then according to our “teachers” we must stop doing it and be taught the “right” way. When autistic people repeatedly ask me “how are you?” I get so sad. Someone taught you that technique, I think to myself, but now what? Suppose you get through 3 or 4 lines of boring-ass conversation like that, then what’s the plan? Some of us have been taught so well to do just the introductory bit, that we just keep repeating it. It brings to mind all the painful times when I’ve attempted to present myself according to what I thought were the rules.

Autreat’s autistic space helps me a lot. First I learned that it doesn’t matter if they find out that I’m as dull as nails. They did find out, but they didn’t care. You get no mileage in autistic space from fake show-and-tell behavior. It felt like I was officially released from having to show someone off, which I was never good at anyway. Then I learned I had boundaries. I get to decide my space for me – what a revelation; I’m not obligated to let them invade and spike my anxiety. I don’t have to worry about attraction and rejection; somehow those concepts stopped being interesting. I am allowed to try things that work for other people and see if they work for me – like ways to keep out the noise and other stressors. When the people around me don’t care about constructed identities, it gets really easy to shed them. The more I shed, the more fleeting precious I notice happening.


Theater of the Oppressed

When I’m near people who are inspired and compassionate, I become more inspired and compassionate. Loose ends get completed; I see beyond immediate setbacks and tend towards health. But when I’m near people who are vain and wandering at a great distance from their souls, I become vain and wander too. This leads me to believe that we are not made to ground ourselves to withstand this world of vanity, and that we need each other to have the strength to do it.

The winds of vanity have carried the autism world (the industry, that is) to such remote realms that I can’t find common vocabulary to even discuss it. When I’m in a classroom, and asked what we should do with an autistic child who is having a tantrum, I’m at a loss for words; I’ve lost my ground. Somewhere inside, I know that I know a good answer, but it is blocked. I suggest consoling him or giving him time alone (or whatever trite thing that comes to mind), but what I really mean is the situation is absurd: why is controlling this child so urgent in the first place? I find myself so unglued from home, and so lonely when I’m surrounded by people churning up this hurricane of “help”. I’m pretty sure that it is the energy of vanity that drives the idea that We Must Do Something. Yet I’m caught like Dorothy and as I said in a poem once, my guideposts have all blown over in a storm. When I have no ally in the sea of vanity, I make no sense; I am ineffective, disabled.

I always liked theater – the unbounded space for creativity, the games, and the way it creates equality. So I’m naturally attracted to the idea of autism theater, which is a Big New Thing (try a web search if you like). However, I was immediately lost in it, just like in the classrooms – both in reading about it and in participating in a some programs. I couldn’t identify the inspiration, direction or reason for it, other than as a form of Behavior Therapy, may god save us from that. Then I read from Augusto Boal (author of Theater of the Oppressed), how theater is the grounding for turning awareness of ones own oppression into action. In his work, theater is the initiating action that leads to action outside the theater.

The games that Boal explains (he has hundreds of them) have seeped into many other people’s repertoire of games, but they can be twisted to suit any other agenda. In the extreme, a game whose original reason for being was to connect people together to empower them to take autonomous control of their lives could be twisted into a game of controlling the behavior of a disabled class! The irony of that had been festering without my conscious awareness. Now I at least have Boal as an inspirational ally, to help me find vocabulary when I’m swept into those distant realms.

Interestingly, the person who lent me the book volunteered that he could find no connection between the concepts of Theater of the Oppressed and working with autistic actors! Privilege dulls our minds.

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Getting to independence

That there are several paths from living with your parents to independence. I visualize it like a canyon and you’re on one ledge and have to jump the chasm to the other ledge. For a lot of people, they are getting support from parents now, and they might be able to visualize having a job and supporting themselves some day, but they can’t eaily see the path from here to there. For autistic young people, the problem is compounded because some of the typical assumptions about this transition may not work as well for us.

Looking across the chasm, wondering how will I ever become independent.

So, I made some pictures to represent three possible paths. The first path is to go down and climb up the other side by working jobs starting with babysitting, mowing lawns, McDonalds, and so on. You might live in a crummy apartment shared with other people and make minimum wage, but you eventually climb the ladder and build skills and a resume, and move up. That concept is shown here: Read the rest of this entry »

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Compassionate communication, handout

This condensed handout was used in a presentation about NVC (nonviolent/compassionate communication).

NVC presentation

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How Bees Find a New Home

Bees balance the needs of timeliness and accuracy when finding a new home. Of a swarm of 10,000 bees, about 200-500 of the elder worker bees (2-5%) scout possible sites over about 30 square kilometers. About 25 bees might find a potentially suitable new site.

Each worker makes her own independent judgment of the benefits of the new site. She returns and communicates her findings: the direction, distance, and level of optimism about the site. Other scouts then go to the site and make their own judgment. While they continue to recruit and visit, the enthusiasm for less hospitable sites gradually wanes, while more scouts commuincate the location of the better site.

Ultimately, all the scouts communicate through their movements about the chosen site. When about 15 or so scouts are outside the new home and about another 30 to 50 are inside, the decision is made, and the scouts start instigating the move.


  • The process takes enough time to ensure a hasty decision is not made; on the other hand it does not go on for more than a few days.
  • The bees stay together and come to a decision even if the new home is not perfect.
  • The enthusiasm of the bees in the minority decays over time if others find the site inhospitable. No one is overruled, yet no one stubbornly remains attached to the less hospitable home. Each bee changes her “opinion” on her own.
  • A late option or an option only visited by one bee can ultimately affect the whole colony if others are supportive after they visit.
  • The move relies on many independent judgments, not following a leader. The queen bee is not involved in this decision at all.

From Science News, May 9, 2009

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My life in the city

I’ve often had to ask myself, What is the path from here to there? Particularly about the question of how do I turn my shallow modern lifestyle around and live a life of depth in natural harmony. I’ve tried getting involved in politics, getting married, starting a new career, and gardening, and none of these really changed anything because they are all Things in the way of the spirit, and not ways of the spirit. As a natural planner/engineer, I divided up “the problem” of community into steps. Some of the completely logical steps that I have taken were to buy a set of apartments, form a cohousing group, work from home, join a home schooling group… all steps towards that elusive “sense of community” that people love to talk about. Again, all Things, and burdensome ones. None of them worked.

When events of my custody battle forced me to drop all my plans and live without plans, some of those Things that were cluttering my life fell away, and I’m no longer taking those logical steps. In fact, I watch TV a lot and drive more than ever before, and it looks like I’m taking steps away from that goal of a life of depth and harmony. I’ve been eating hot dogs regularly, cutting way back on the tofu. I marvel as I watch myself Americanizing. I pay to use an electric dryer in the summer, and pay again to remove the heat produced by the dryer from my apartment with an air conditioner, and pay again to remove the heat generated by the air conditioner as it works to remove the heat from the dryer, and so on and so on. It’s like trying to fathom the size of an electron. The bizarre ways Americans do things and what we do and don’t do are mind-boggling even as I live the lifestyle. And I think about what most people do all day: shuffle papers, build weapons, and control other people’s behavior (media, schools).

In my plan-free hot-dog-based urban transition period, I’ve noticed more what is going on right now. There has been a little community and depth with the craziness. It isn’t so elusive when I find it here and now, but when I plan for it, it recedes into the future. People come to go swimming. (And yes, I serve hot dogs.) I walked over to Starbucks and cried over fairy tales in the atrium of the Hyatt. I’ve written music. We played leap frog in the park with all the random kids who were there. The spirit is actually with me, and here is that sense of community, now. It comes nearer when I go away from what makes sense. We are together even in my upscale apartment and even while commuting in my Volkswagen, and even though this lifestyle is on the brink of insanity in every other respect.

I have learned that the following are not preconditions to finding depth in relationships: (1) the environment; (2) the other person. They matter, but even these seemingly “central” aspects of life are just some of the ways of the spirit, and if I mistake them for Big Things, they become clutter.

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An egg takes three minutes, except here

[Note: I live in New Mexico, elev 5000 feet. You need to know that to get this observation.]

I have heard people say that a soft boiled egg takes three minutes, except at high elevation. These people were at high elevation. Do people at sea level say an egg takes six minutes, except at low elevation? No, because our point of reference is low elevation. Why is our point of reference somewhere else? Why can’t we just say an egg takes six minutes, period? People who have lived here all their lives do things that fail to make sense here, because they make sense somewhere else. They use a clothes dryer for 40 minutes when clothes would dry in 40 minutes anyway without a dryer. They have coloring books with deer and snowmen and talk a great deal about snow in December in school, even on warm days. They build wide open concrete spaces that might be appropriate for London.

Then there is the opposite: the chile and adobe look – trying to define “here” as something unique, something different from the point of reference, which is retained all the while. Long discussions of how hot and what color the chile was, associating a bank with peppers to make it look like the economy is local, making something look adobe without the thermal mass that originally made the material useful. All the hype about what is or was regional gives away the fact that the point of reference is somewhere else.

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“Never enough” syndrome

I have noticed that Americans don’t know “enough” when they see it. For example, how good should the roads be? I was recently in a meeting where Albuquerque’s roads were said to be rated at mostly “fair” or “poor”. It seems that no matter how good the roads are, we’ll invent a rating system that will label them all fair to poor and give people something to complain about.

In medicine, no expenditure is considered too much, and every illness is considered a good candidate for more research and better treatment; yet at the same time there is consenus that the costs are too high. How much treatment is enough?

Education also suffers from the “never enough” syndrome. In another meeting, someone recently proposed that it be an official city goal that 100% of high school students should graduate and pursue a college education of some type. My question is why is education so inefficient that it takes fifteen years to teach someone what they need to enter the work force? And how could this person not see that some people are more academically inclined than others? The quest for academic equality just brings down the standards and makes people have to spend more years learning the same stuff. Taking “never enough” to the extreme, no matter when you stop going to school, it is considered “dropping out”.

Yet another example is the amount of personal space people want to have. Only the constraints of affordability keep people from living in ever-larger spaces. Public parks also suffer from never-ending size requirements. Most of them are empty most of the time, but we keep wanting more.

And finally, “funding.” People like to say things like “in this era of limited resources…” (as opposed to eras where they had unlimited resources!?) It is commonly said that (for all X) there is not enough funding for X. Why even bother to say this?

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Cultural Education

This is my college thesis on the aquisition of culture and a proposal for education that matters.

Read it – 34 pages.

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