Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

Kitchen remodel animation

We spent many months remodeling our kitchen. It included a rebuild of a lot of the plumbing and electric, and we had to go through three plumbers and two electricians. And we did all the design, cabinets, floors, and counters.

Here’s the before and after, and here is an animation that runs from beginning to end of the process.

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My cat’s death

I had been sick for a long time when death came for me in pieces. It came with pain and weakness as I still tried to move and eat but lost circulation. After weeks I fell into delirium, going under then summoning a yowl or a shudder to push it away and bring me back into the light. I no longer needed food or water. Days later I lost fear and went past delirium into a new place beyond the pain, my eyes and tail motionless and only holding one breath. I didn’t know if her hand was still on me; nothing more was needed. Then I let go of of that place and moved into yet another place that no one knows about, where I was an ember of memories detaching from my pelt and claws. Now as time stretches to infinity I am releasing the ember.

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On reading auras

When I read auras, I am collecting information about someone that they present to me; I am not magic and I am not channeling some esoteric energy from another plane. I cannot guess what number they have in mind or know facts about their past for certain because it is not that kind of power.

But what I can do is listen and deduce, without letting myself get in the way. It is a superpower that certain kinds of autistic people seem to have – in particular those who have a history of being less space-filling, more scared of people, and always on the alert. By contrast, those who have a solid personality are often busy pushing their words and needs outward, and that gets in the way of the perception of auras. But those of us whose personality is wispy to nonexistant are not pushing anything out and we can be very sensitive to auras.

The kinds of things we can deduce include lies, paranoia, safety versus danger, motives, and mood. By extension we can deduce some relationship history and information akin to psychological diagnoses. Because it is not magic, we can only learn things about someone that they show, and people show a lot more than they intend to. Or it can be received through a person talking about a third person, by receiving the intermediary’s emotions about them. A person might give clues in complaining about a friend or her job, then put on a fake smile and try to get validation for something – all clues. The superpower is getting those clues as they are without falling for the lies that the person paints over them, and without filtering them through our own personality. The painted layer is often invisible to autistic people because it is socially constructed “paint” and social constructions tend to be more invisible to us.

I have seen abuse in people’s past and how it prevents them from doing things now. I have seen the ways they don’t understand the things they claim to be experts in. I have seen why they are with a partner, what they are afraid of, and what they are looking for. Occasionally it can be quite specific, like knowing someone is pregnant without seeing them. More often though it is their moods, what they are hiding, and why they are engaged in what their inner struggle is. Often I see what they are trying not to see, and my seeing exposes it to them as a mirror. Much of the time it doesn’t have words, and I only bring it into words if I happen to be asked what I think about a person or situation.

Someone might wonder what it is like to discover that you have an unusual ability like this. They might think it is like flying: if a person one day discovered they had the power of flight, the revelation would completely upset their world. But with this kind of ability, there was no discovery of it since it had always been there. They only discovery was that other people do not have the ability as much. I was often baffled by how easy someone could lie to someone else and be believed, until I understood that they were not seeing what I was seeing; they had turned off the channel that I was watching.

I haven’t talked about it much because of a few reasons. One is that I did not know other people were not the same for a long time. Also, saying that I have a superpower sounds like a claim of the ego rather than a mere observation, and there is no point in getting into a space of having to prove it over the claims of those trying to refute it. Becoming aware that it was a thing that could be discussed and refuted was a change that also brought awareness to the fact that it could be attached to the ego, which in turn led me to understand that once it was ego-driven it would no longer “work” and wouldn’t exist at all. Verbal communication about something so central can spoil it. However, I now am at a place where I doubt the ego will attach to it much, so it feels safer to talk about it.

Reading this you might also wonder how I might exploit this power. This brings me to the reason I wanted to write about this. I want people to know that it is impossible to be used against anyone. While I am using the word “power”, it is not “power over”. The information comes through compassion, not through spying, so if I learn a “bad” thing about someone that they did not want me to know, it only softens them in my perception. Even if they turn vitriolic against me (which happens sometimes) the things that came to me from their aura are still connecting, compassionate things, not leverage.

Looking back at the dozens of people (maybe a hundred) who will not speak to me any more, I can see that many were uncomfortable with the exposure and that being unable to hide from me was one reason for running. Only one (also autistic) person recognized what it was and said she could not be friends because of it. Everyone else just got nervous from seeing themselves in the mirror that is me, and needed the false safety of living in a bubble where they could keep secrets. From themselves.

I wish it could be turned off so that I would not lose so many people. But barring that, I wish I had the ability to reassure people that there is no actual danger in it.

For example one person told me about helping victims of trafficking. In the telling I said nothing but she realized I suspected that she was not only a victim in the past, but that she was reliving the pattern with her boyfriend currently and she was apparently scared she would be seen as a fraud if people knew she was still holding the fetish. I knew her motives were pure and that it is hard to get out of the self-oppression, but I didn’t say that, or say anything at all. She was only talking to a mirror about the painted over layer, accidentally giving me the whole story without words, and then possibly afraid of me exploiting it. I wish I could have reassured her that it was okay to be incomplete, and that I could not go against her, but at the time I did not understand that most people routinely exploit information they have on others; therefore I could not understand the intensity of her fear at the time, or why she ran.

If you are an autistic person who reads auras (even if you call it something else) and you have figured out how to temper it and reassure people, I would like to know how you learned that.


Four crisis questions

After hearing hundreds of people talk through their suicidal thoughts, I will tell you the main questions that have helped the most – the ones that dig the deepest for a lot of people. These big four questions are:

  • Who are you?
  • Who hurt you?
  • What do you feel?
  • What is your quest?

When we are in a suicide crisis, it is not just because of one thing that happened recently or because of a few isolated problems; the questions span from the distant past to the distant future and relate to the whole arc of life. We are all here to grow into our unique selves and fulfill a unique purpose. I visualize this arc as a person between earth and the sky. The earth is our past; energy flows from the ground into us, and the earth life force is a supporting springboard. The sky is our future and our options and ideals; its life force is pulling and opening.

When we are inclined to suicide, the life force is broken somewhere between earth and sky; there is no thread connecting the two poles of the life force. People in crisis usually report a feeling of being trapped, drowning, and consumed by earth or water, or alternately they are floating with no ground and consumed by sky. Among other reasons, we can get this way because the robotic pressures of uniformity in our schools, families, and everywhere in the culture can crush the spirit and cut those threads. When the threads are weak and then we are suddenly victimized by a traumatic thing like rape, or lose a special person, there may not be enough resilience to reconnect the threads.

“Who are you” is a question that hurting people need to hear because it opens the non-judgmental topic of being an individual in the first place, and is a gateway question to the life force. Many people are living as a number on a scale – their grades or their income or some rating of success, or they are living as a tool for someone else’s boasting or manipulation. If I ask people if they are introverted, they might say they are too introverted and they have been working on being more social. But the question is not “what is wrong with you”; it is “who are you”. Knowing that you are introverted without saying it is the problem can be part of differentiating and honoring that the way of being is fine; also it starts to point to what you might be inclined to do with your life. Play the hand with the cards you were dealt since you can’t re-deal.

Some of the most commonly vilified human qualities are sensitivity, thrill seeking, and broad focusing. Sensitive children are so often told to get tougher and not to take things so hard. But these are the people who love universally and create harmony in the world, so it is a tragedy that our culture teaches sensitive people to hide.

Thrill-seeking children are told to stop, stop, stop – stop doing everything in your nature to do. “Be safe, don’t be you.” But we need people to take risks and push limits. It’s true that a thrill seeker could die while parachuting or some other risky thing, but it a bigger tragedy if they can never live as themselves in the first place.

Broad focusing people are told to stay “on task” all the time and achieve pre-determined goals – other people’s tasks and goals, not theirs. But to be truly alive, these people need to see connections between everything, and to create.

Other identifying questions can reveal logic versus feeling, independence versus family, creative versus receptive, and many other things. Just asking the question shifts away from right and wrong (a robotic question) towards being a unique human.

Along with being vilified, people who are a step away from the normal can get labels like borderline, autistic, or ADHD and be given medications which help in some ways but also may be geared towards making them less themselves. Medications like that sometimes “work” by making people less in some way – less scattered, energetic or receptive, so they fit society better but are less able to be in the earth and sky energy flow.

“Who hurt you” is a question that helps separate a person from what happened to them. It is important to name abusers and parents and others who applied pressure, and know that those things happened to us, but we didn’t do them. It is important to list both the big victimizing things like rape along with the ongoing patterns of minimizing that often are legal or even celebrated. For example, parents who “want the best” for their children and take it out on them by constant nagging and judging might be hurting them.

Some people in suicide crisis believe that they were themselves responsible for everything that happened to them. In the extreme “I had to be hit because I misbehaved”. Anger is often absent, in the sense that the faculty for anger has been pried away from the person so that they won’t have the power to retaliate. Part of getting out of that belief is asking the “who are you” question about the parents or partner. What kind of person are they? Knowing the qualities of the others (also without judgment) helps to see how they could do what they did, and that it wasn’t the fault of the victim.

“How do you feel” is a question that our culture does not like to ask. We ask “how are you” but usually only want to hear one answer. It is important to ask and dig for nuanced descriptions because feelings are a gateway to needs; they illuminate what we need to do next. The more descriptive and accurate we can be, and the more a listener can understand feelings in detail, the more clear the needed actions become. While there are really only a few basic emotions (sadness, anger, fear and a few others), they are made more complex in three main ways that I have seen, The first way is by being layered. Only the top feeling is easily accessible, while the ones underneath can be working without our knowing. For example, a person can be sad and not feel any anger but then after expressing the sadness and letting it be as big as it needs to, it releases enough to see anger or some other feeling that was underneath.

A second complexity is how feelings are connected to thoughts and beliefs. Someone might say “I feel like I want to die” or “I feel he might leave” and the way of saying that highlights the thinking more than the feeling. The first one could be feelings of despair, grief, or being overburdened, while the second one is a fear. Nudging the language towards more direct feeling words helps release the feelings more than is possible with the indirect language. It also opens connections to other things – for example, if we open up fear as part of our experience, we might realize we are afraid of more than what we originally were thinking about.

A third complexity is in nuance. Some people want to die and others want to be dead, and others want to not be born. Those are very different. Likewise, the pain people experience is all different and just saying “pain” in not enough. It could be crushing or lonely or dull or sharp or sudden. One way to access the nuance of feelings when we don’t find the words is to make a picture or story of it. For example: like a boat drifting in a wild current, or like a dry desert with no one for miles.

“What is your quest” is a question that I never ask in those words, but it is important to try to reconnect the thread to the sky force. Often a hurting person has to go way back to remember the future. “What did 10-year old Marcie want for her future” is a question I could ask 20-year old Marcie. Quests cannot be suggested or argued; they just arise from who we are, who hurt us, and what we feel. If a person is inclined to die, it almost always means she has no options; everything is blocked. It is important to center on the kind of quest that she actually has the power do and does not involve changing other people.

Working with people in crisis is great for so many reasons, and a big one for me is how they are willing to put everything on the table, and quickly explore dark places that more stable people are likely to wall off. Change has to be fast and often they are willing to change, so having these questions in mind can help them make a significant pivot in a single conversation.


Do not resuscitate

(This is what came to me the night after my mother in law died.)


note2At the base of jagged cliffs in the river, the weapon and a used body remain but the pain is gone. Some things remain and some are free. Pines and soft grasses accept the coming and going of life. The Gallinas accepts the washing downpour. Everything proceeds in its cycle as if the suffering had never been.

In memory of Patricia Knoebel and all the stone-shaping waters that connected her to Earth.


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On spark plugs and being present where you are

Yesterday, which spanned 48 hours, my car broke down while moving a load of stuff to Las Vegas. Cruise control decided that jumping to 6,000 RPM would be appropriate on the Cochiti hill; pistons went sproing-a-tattatat; oil all gone. Until They came, the predicament had no solution because tow trucks must – according to some towing logic – leave your trailer there on the highway, amongst rain and pillagers. Towing was my only plan I could think of but would amount to giving away the trailer with three chain saws, chicken wire, a table, back packs, and basic necessities such as a croquet set and other things I can’t remember.

They came flying by and some kind of flash happened in her wild mind. Stop, she said, and that was final. (How can we leave the lady there? Can’t.) They came back, found some oil, checked everything. They were both mechanics. She explained she learned how to fix everything because she could not afford to get it fixed. The questionable tail lights caught his attention and he went to work on that too. She alternately hugged me and diagnosed the oil pump.

They helped tenaciously from that sprinkly warm afternoon through nightfall in Santa Fe, through two trips to Vegas, and sunrise outside Tecolote. What do they want, I kept thinking. If they were con artists, they were not very good at it. They were somewhat intolerable to be around in the pushy way of people selling, but they were not wanting money or anything. All sleepless night I thought, surely they put water in the oil reservoir, and they overheard me telling my address, and a looting was surely in progress. They would disable my car, then conveniently “run out of gas” outside Pecos after waiting til the bats go home when no one would ever know what happened. I facebooked my coordinates because I think ahead.

I noticed two interesting things about their language. One was the omission of names, hellos, good byes, or anything of protocol. You just start interacting in the middle of the conversation and end in the middle. Or just don’t talk if that suits you. The people involved in this thing were normally referred to as The Man or Dude (interchangeably as there were two of them, the talking one and the other one), Home Girl (the dominant one who said Stop), The Lady (that was me), Her (her who owned the Suburban), and the nephew. In this context, the formality of “nephew” stood out as oddly specific. In the 14 hours, no one asked my name or said theirs. Home Girl and I were both the age of grandmothers.

The other oddity – a syntax rule – was a way of phrasing possessives. It’s become a meme to say “my baby daddy”, or to laugh at people saying that. But their dialect took this further. The main man held up a device and said “This: home girl baby daddy phone” with no verb or prepositions, like you might (not really) say in German Das Heimmaedchenkindvatihandy, leaving the word for the actual thing as the last element in the compound word. Latin languages would start at the other end of the chain of nouns and say this is the phone of the dad of the baby of my girl, putting the word for what it is – a phone – first. English is historically undecided between those two syntaxes, apparently excepting this German-leaning dialect of Spanglish.

I also noticed two patterns about behavior. One was living in the moment. Really in the moment. Not filling up the gas tank before driving in remote country in the middle of the night. Not considering what he would do without a tow bar once he got there. Forgetting food.

The Man talked about his own Suburban (currently missing since being “borrowed” without notice) being a gas hog at one time, and then he put in new spark plugs and that raised it from nine miles per gallon to something more affordable. He said he would rather spend the ten dollars for new plugs “up front” rather than spending $60 in gas each time he drives to Albuquerque. But he announced that as if it was radical to do anything preventive or with foresight, while to me, 10<60 is pretty simple math so of course you would do that. On the other hand, the suburban of Her, which he had “borrowed” for today’s adventure, did not have features like updated spark plugs, so it still got nine miles to the gallon, a fact that one had a lot of time to contemplate in the silence that happens without gasoline.

The other behavior that was impressed on me was the dedication to being responsible that is so full that they could not seem to even consider dropping a commitment. So he stayed up all night through sunrise because I had no other choice. A middle class American would have set a limit: “It’s 2 AM, so I can’t help you any more!” That thought didn’t seem compatible with their whole way of thinking. When Home Girl saw me, stopping to help me became true forever, not just for a reasonable amount of time. It wasn’t up to me to refuse or for them to reconsider. There was no undoing of that flash.

These are poverty behaviors, they say. If people could learn to think ahead and set limits, they would get further; they would get out of the cycle of poverty. Rich people buy in bulk and do things in a durable, planned manner, so they actually spend less and save more, while the poor are forced to live crisis to crisis eating at convenience store prices and paying for gas because of not paying for tune ups. The story is that poverty thinking is the problem that keeps them always on their last ten dollars.

I agree that people who tread on others, accumulate, and hoard do get ahead. I’m just not sure I know which of the two sides is the one with the problem.

He knew how to fix tail light bulbs with scrap bubble gum, spending nothing as habit because habitually there is nothing to spend. While scientists may not have discovered it, he had become an expert in getting ambient air pressure at certain temperatures to raise gas fumes into an engine when there is no gas. He clearly had years of experience coaxing life out of broken things.

I wondered if she was a calm heart of gold on the inside with tarnish and rough edges on the outside, or maybe a con artist to the core with a thick layer of deceptive frosting. Both seemed to be true; the layers were so thin and so sandwiched together, that it was impossible to tell which was on top and which was beneath. She was in some larger battle in life and like me, losing it most of the time but never giving up.

I had a sense from them that their role in their fleeting social network is keeping things zipped together and resisting entropy. The Other Dude did not have that role; he ran reactionarily into the twilight of Tecolote, which is not walking distance from anywhere, and did not reappear in this drama.

Demonstrating the power of the Suburban while still in Santa Fe, the main man flew over curbs, and not all our stuff remained on the trailer. One of the things about moving is, if you cannot remember what else you had before, after a portion of your belongings launch from your trailer into the night, you might not have needed those things.

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On weeds and keystones

Las Vegas is an optical illusion. At first it looks poor; the city eye is drawn to cracks in the pavement and boarded up businesses, and one expects to feel poverty. Once an ornate and grand city, larger than Albuquerque, the town now shows age and depleting resources with fewer people. But then nothing bears out the expected feeling, and over time the eye learns to see different things – the beauty that is still there.

From my one window I see weeds, graffiti, and a muddy puddle in an empty lot. And I also see hand-set bricks in arches with stone sills, keystones, quatrefoils, with elms and aspens. Out the other window there’s a quintessential abandoned factory with sawtooth shaped roof, a highway bridge, and a stone hotel with a belfry and artistic parapet. With so much variation there is choice – what do I choose to see?

It reminds me of Pisa, Italy. I still have a picture I took of a goat eating weeds in a neglected brick-strewn lot, next to a crumbling plaster wall, in bleating distance from the throngs of leaning-tower photographers.

On a dumpster diving errand today I found nothing, and everything was surprisingly clean. Investment in the big city is equated with wealth, safety and the standard of living. But in reality, the distribution of money does not entirely control the use of time. New cities in the west exist because of greed, not because of natural necessity in the way port cities exist. Subdividing land, the innumerable rules, and smooth new concrete all make someone rich and define the city. Homelessness is illegal, and those who can’t meet the wealth standard congregate only where enforcement of all the rules is lacking, where there is less safety. So the city is an engine of separating haves from have-nots to its very core. And it fogs ones brain with the urgency of the struggle to have.

Politics in the west is the art of profiting from subdivision and controlling public utilities. The desert is almost free, but the value of a residential zoned quarter-acre with water and electricity is enormous. We don’t all share in that value. The winners are the ones who approved the subdivision plat on their own land.

On my errand the thing I realized is that if I myself owned things like sidewalks and too many buildings, and didn’t have enough money to make it all nice, I’d choose to spend it the way Las Vegas does. It would not be a priority to fix all the pavement. We have choices about equity and we can choose between concrete and education.

The growing city as an engine of segregation and uniformity gives a person that city eye that believes it sees education when it sees nice concrete. Nice and safe and pretty and educated are supposed to go together, and dirty, crumbling, dangerous and desperate are supposed to go together. But those are false choices; if the money is tight, we can choose education over concrete without having to have both.

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On being myself, and other animal traps

This collection of pieces forms a whole essay, but only loosely. I’m trying to find the principles behind being (a) engaged, happy, moving versus being (b) alienated, traumatized, stuck, at least for me. Each piece is a bite out of that puzzle.

1. Being “myself” is a trap


Image description: Comic panel – person says “Just be yourself”, “Not like that”.

I’ve really tried to follow the advice to be myself, but it feels unreal. Any attempt to be Something counteracts my natural tendency to avoid fixing on that thing, even if that thing is “myself”. Not-being, or the absence of attempts to be, could leave more room for me as an animal to use my built-in facilities to meet my needs. Any conscious attempt to “be” could get in the way of my nature and make me stuck. Trying to be forces identity to be made into static words. I could say to myself, “well I should just accept that I’m an introverted autistic lesbian” (or whatever string of adjectives feels like an “identity”), so I should just “be” that openly. I could even be overtly proud of it and do things like make a blog with that string of adjectives as the subtitle, thus claiming that particular identity. But those are just very partial and inaccurate words, and by following them, I’m trying to become a dead concept from my mind, rather than be all of me, always unfolding.

The cartoon feels like the advice I’ve gotten all my life.

2. Being someone else is a trap too

Some parts of the therapy industry, especially the autism part of it, are based on the notion of becoming a better person by being indistinguishable: that is, by copying, conforming, and not being at all “yourself”. This idea is also prevalent in how we treat lower and middle class children generally, from the moment of conception through school. There are “developmental milestones” that everyone is supposed to meet. If the weight gain in pregnancy isn’t “right” (meaning average) then it’s “wrong”. It’s wrong even if that weight gain is right for that particular baby. Then you’re “behind” if you can’t read when you’re six, and so on and so on. The more wrong you are, the greater is the pressure to become normal. Read the rest of this entry »

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Moving along

This piece is simply letters to people I visited on my recent driving trip as far as Maine, with a letter to me at the end.

Dear Mother,

joanneI don’t know what to do. Most adults either eventually make peace with their mothers or cut them out entirely. Making that choice frees a person to go forward in her own life. But with me, I’m walking a complex line of trying to keep going between those two poles, not knowing why, and it is so sad and tiresome after all these decades of cold war. I know how to communicate in at least two ways: the polite verbal way I use for strangers, and the quieter emotional way with friends. But within this family I’ve only been able to communicate as with strangers. Everything I’ve ever done is wrong. I can’t imagine the ice melting, not ever; even when you are dying, years from now, I can only imagine you will use your last breath to remind me how wrong I am.

On this short visit, your judgments went to a new level and became an embarassing self-parody. When a six year old asked you (referring to me) “why do you call her a ‘him’?” your answer placed the shame on me instead of admitting to a mistake. Invalidating your own child’s life at every turn is the norm, but this time you made it a project of yours to convince an impressionable young person that my experience of my life is invalid, and only your judgment matters. It should not be a mystery why the visit was so short.

On this trip I saw many people moving forward, even while working out their childhood trauma. They all have their issues, but none seem to be as unable as I am to make the mother inside let go. None have lived so long as I have without picking one way or the other. You actually matter – way too much.

Read the rest of this entry »

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On recognizing me in “them”

I’ve heard teachers say they notice some traits of their diagnosed students in themselves, pretty commonly now, and it makes me feel like there is a shift happening away from the industrial mindset of disability towards a more connected notion, perhaps a narrower gap being constructed between normal and disabled? I hear it as if the person is revealing a weakness, and that connection is starting to be ok where it wasn’t before. This possibly goes hand in hand with the greater number of diagnoses in the fuzzier disability categories, now given to people who previously didn’t qualify.

recognizing me in them

Description of graphic: Three panels. (1) Adult icon shown separate from a group of children, reading ‘Phase 1: Those are “special needs” children [completely separate]’; (2) Adult smaller and connected to the group of children, reading ‘Phase 2: Actually, I have some of those same traits, lol”; (3) Adult in same circle with children, reading: ‘Phase 3: My limitations are expressions of the same underlying diversity that causes the apparent disability of others.’

There are specific people I know who I’d like to encourage to see themselves inside the group that they say they want to help – that is, going all the way to the third phase. They may really be similar to the people in their target help group, but there may be just enough shame lingering that they can’t feel completely inside it. I think if we see the people we want to help as “us” rather than “them”, the help will be more relevant. If we can see ourselves as broken (imperfect, limited), then we can see others as no more or less broken than ourselves.

It’s easy for me to be in phase 3 in relation to kids in a classroom, and I’m getting faster in recognizing if someone is one of me. But I’m probably in phase 1 when it comes to the teachers: they feel like they are in the “completely different” box. Some days I’m overcome with oneness and some days I’m overcome with separateness. There is just one fabric with infinite diversity, and it makes big differences between people. And maybe as importantly as any possibly intrinsic difference, we face different levels of opportunity and accommodation, and get different amounts of shame and time, so we go in all different directions. Even as the one feeling like the functional helper, I might have started out in about the same place internally as the one getting my help.