Thursday, April 18, 2013

Happiness is dollars and sense

Happiness, like love or hate or the perfect vanilla milk shake, is entirely subjective and is intangible. Like the ideal shake, there is not one correct recipe for happiness. (Sidenote: feel free to send me milk shake recipes to try to prove me wrong.) Some people like their shakes with more milk and others with more ice cream and other people are lactose intolerant so they don't know the awesomeness of a great vanilla milk shake. It can be hard to describe what an amazing shake tastes like to someone who has never had one. How do you describe happiness to someone who doesn't think they are happy?

When people ask me for advice, or just talk at me hoping I'll find an answer for them, I have been known to come up with weird analogies. I can't top my friend's classic rejection line, "We just aren't right for each other. It's like you're a koala and I'm an eel." But every once and awhile I say something really smart and it just makes sense of everything. As we finally change seasons, people begin the process of questioning what they really want in life. Awoken for their winter slumps and ready to change things, people really stress over what makes them happy. I often pose one question to my friends when they come to me with life queries.

If you could do anything in the world and money was not a factor, what would make you happy?


The United States dollar can be divided in several different ways. It could be 4 quarters, 20 nickels, 10 dimes, 100 pennies, or any combination of those. It doesn't matter if you have 2 million dollars or 2 dollars, each dollar is worth the same monetary amount. Hugh Jackman can go buy a few packages of ramen and it would cost him the same amount as you However, if you only had 2 dollars you might value them a little more than if there was 2 million waiting for you back home in a safe under your bed.

Happiness is a dollar. It's a combination of our relationships, jobs, health, and dreams. Each piece has a value important to our daily lives. We can arrange the balance any which way, say 2 quarters or being in a loving relationship, but we need to get to a dollar. My combination of change and life values will be different from my friends and family. It's very personal how we balance our lives and I've seen way too much comparison of the change in our pockets. Just because someone else focuses on the nickels or their job, it doesn't mean you need to or should.

I've spent many years working to get to a dollar.
Call it bad luck or tests of a divine nature, but I've been 'broke' too many times. I've owed the universe a few cents in some cases and have paid my debt with parts of myself.
I got my sense of humor back when I started dreaming again and looking towards the future. Making plans for next year or even the next day helped to make me happy.
When my health was bad and I was missing school, my mother instilled in me the importance of maintaining my friendships. She knew if I locked myself away from the world I could never be happy. Even if one part of my life was not going my way, I had the power to compensate with another aspect of my life.
Then I met some people and reconnected with some old friends who showed me where to find change. Like the bottom of the Trevi Fountain, I saw a town shining against the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Everyone who has ever used money knows it can go in an instant. It's a constant job to not just get the dollar but also keep it.

It's easy to say we shouldn't compare ourselves to one another, but that doesn't mean we always listen. Some people we meet in life will be blessed with an abundance of dollars. We shouldn't feel jealous of them,  as we clutch our own dollar in fear of them only seeing the assortment of change and a rogue button, because we don't know what their dollars are made of. They may have dollars composed entirely of first edition shiny State quarters, but they may never have even seen a button like the one you hold in your hand.


I'm happy, I truly am. I have wonderful friends, blessed with good health right now, a good job, and technicolor dreams for the future. I'd like a bit of extra change from my work, but that's normal. My dollar is in many different pieces. Some of it is Pennies, Yen, Pesos, Lira, Euros, and random things gathered in the corners of pockets. Like reaching into a pocket, the shapes of coins are so familiar I can identify them without looking.

One of the biggest problems with finding the "perfect" milkshake is the need to compare it to other milkshakes. How do you know it is the most perfect one in the entire universe until you try a few different ones? Well there in lies the problem, you can't know it's perfect until you taste a mud shake with booger sprinkles. People sometimes get stuck looking for their next shake and they forget to enjoy the one they have. That's not to say our tastes won't change as we grow. I'm positive I can't stand the sugar drenched shakes of my youth; covered in syrups and sprinkles. I crave a simple shake perfectly blended with whip cream on top. What's the whip cream in this whole big analogy? To basterdize a quote from Sigmund Freud, "sometimes whip cream is just whip cream."

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Slushie and The Toy Store

When I visited the city as a little kid, we would go to a magical place called F.A.O. Schwartz. It was a multi-level toy store where instead of all the pretty things just sitting nicely on shelves, you were able to play with them. Walking around in a giant toy box, which is basically what the store was, made everyone smile and think of positive things. So when I walked into a bar in Savannah with beautiful swirling colors adorning entire wall, I felt like a kid back in the toy box.

"What's the blue one" I asked to the young guy standing behind the counter.
"Blue Lightning. It's blue curacao with vodka and moonshine."
I was caught up in the hypnotizing swirl of the alcoholic slushie machines in every color imaginable.
"What's the green one?"
"It's Sour Apple martini with moonshine."
"Well... which would you recommend?"
"You can get them both swirled together."
In a cup about the size of a kid's drink at any fast food place, I found solace from the horrible karaoke going on in the rest of the bar. This would be my first time hearing drunken people belt out Shania Twain, but not my last.

I had always had a connection to Savannah and wanted to visit it since I first read a book called Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The book painted the town as an other-worldly place filled with cobble stone streets, characters of all natures, and weeping willows. It was really those trees, those giants reaching up and covering the town in a bubble of moss that have stayed with me. I spent the earlier part of the day taking a ghost tour and getting to know the local history of the town. Now I was going to relax before heading back to my 'hotel'. My 'hotel' was just the nearest Walmart parking lot so I could sleep in my Prius for another night.

I was newly 21 on this trip and because I didn't drink until I was 20, I was still figuring out this whole alcohol thing. I had choices besides warm PBR and "jungle juice" made of whatever we could get our hands on. The whole reason for this trip was because I had lost my grandfather a month before. He raised me with my mother and will always be the model for what a perfect man should look like. Losing him was hard and as I said to my mother, "Escapism is more entertaining than therapy". So I ran away, or drove away, to see the places I always wanted to go because life was too short to wait for 'someday'. I pondered all this as the singing started giving me less of a headache and more of a desire to sing along.
Oh shit.
I was drunk.
I was drunk off one cup of moonshine slushie and alone in a town I had never been to. Oh yeah, and it was almost 1am. So with my last minutes of cell phone life I called my mom and bestie Angela to tell them my plan for the night because I couldn't drive.

"I'm going drunk ghost hunting by myself for awhile until I sober up. Love you!" BEEP BEEP BEEP as the phone died.

Armed with only my camera and stupidity, I made my way through the empty streets. The gas lights placed around town were separate enough so there were pockets of darkness underneath the willow adorned courtyards. The wooden benches I had passed hours before now seem to be waiting for someone, as if they were in an active state of being ready for something next. Like a sprinter waiting for the gun to go off, the benches were waiting for something to happen.

The cemetery was once a lot bigger. When the town started expanding, relatives would have to call up to have the town move the deceased to a new location or the town would just pave over the graves. Not everyone called. So as I made my way to the cemetery walls, because where else is the perfect place to go ghost hunting, I said a silent prayer for those who may be under my feet. There is a ghost said to be living in the cemetery called Rene. He was a large man who was said to have murdered animals while alive and the town rallied against the 'Demon' to purge him from their town. The children were said to taunt him when he was alive by calling out "Rene Rene come out and play." The guide I had for my ghost tour viewed the stories as the town's prejudice against a handicapped person who was misunderstood and feared for being different.

After many Halloweens of watching ghost shows on ABC Family, I knew if you took a photo with a flash spirit 'orbs' would show up. Walking along the stone wall whispering "Rene Rene come out and play" is not my smartest moment, I'll admit that. So I clicked my camera with the promise I'd only look at the photos later, when I got safely away from any possible ghosts.
I lied to myself.
I began to click and look, only not seeing just faint orbs in the background. There was almost a solid one to the left of the last photo I took. It was almost out of frame, so I sped up and shut up. But I didn't stop clicking my camera. 20 feet from the last photo I stopped to take another picture. The orb was still there but more in the picture. Nothing was on my camera lens, but I began to freak out.
Faster and faster I walked until I was almost at the end of the cemetery.
I took one last photo, hoping to ease my fears and it did.
In the photo, where the orb was, I could see.... a fingerprint.

It was my finger in the shots.

Laughing to myself, I made my way back to my car. It was almost 3am and there was nothing more appealing than the sleeping bag in the backseat of my car. When I looked at the photos the next day, after calling people to let them know I was not dead in a ditch somewhere, I laughed at myself for many reasons. I laughed because it was easier than crying. I had taken some orb photos, but I didn't get the afterlife communication I was looking for. I didn't want to believe that once a person dies, they are gone forever.

I believe people do leave a mark after they leave this world and sometimes they can communicate with us. My grandfather was a funny guy who loved to tell stories about his life. Every time I have a story, somewhere out there he's watching. He's laughing at me and pointing me out to the other angels like a proud parent. Just like all those years ago in the toy store, he's standing on the edge with a smile on his face. When the other parents would ask if I was with him, he would look at the person and say "Yes she is. She's a good kid like myself."

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Autism Awareness Month: My month

Morgan Freeman caused a lot of stir during a 60 Minutes interview when he talked about not liking Black history month because "Black history is American History." April is Autism Awareness month and it's my Black history month. I can't walk through a mall or watch TV without seeing the word Autism. Awareness isn't a bad thing, it's just the loads of miscommunication and division in the Autism community that upsets me.
Full disclosure: I have Autism.
Surprise! Or not really if I've ever said anything not 100% appropriate around you or if I've ever been completely oblivious to anything around you.

I'm a single 24 year old woman with Autism who gets told on a regular basis that people want to cure me. Being the "high functioning" person I am, I also get parents who are angry at me because I can't give them easy answers to all their questions. I only went to one Autism support meeting when I was in college. I had to leave early because a father almost jumped over a table at me because he was so upset I dared to say I have Autism when his 4 year old daughter could barely talk.

I live in a divided community.

I've met parents who want to remove any trace of Autism from their child, sometimes through dangerous alternative methods.
I've also met parents who do their best to foster their children's special interest and accept the child they have been blessed with.
I also see adults on the Autism Spectrum who have to fight for jobs, housing, relationships, and understanding because they don't fit into the stereotypic image the public has for Autism.
And I've heard the cries of children born into a world too loud and too bright with people listening to them but not hearing what they need.

I don't want Autism Awareness as much as I want Autism Acceptance.
When we reach a point where people will accept the social flaws that come with Autism, we can begin to work together to create a brighter future for our children. Yes, dietary changes do help some people and therapies will help people, too. You know what doesn't help? Telling your children you wish they were "normal" and making them feel like they need to be just like everyone else in the world.

I've traveled the world a little bit and I've seen Autism in many different cultures. Autism is not going away and Autism existed before people were getting vaccinated against things. Why is Autism more diagnosed now than at any other point in human history? I have my theories.

Yesterday was World Autism Day and I'm proud to say I know some of the individuals who presented at the United Nations. Yesterday I hung out with a bunch of friends, picked up a new car from the dealership, and acted like a goofball. My label didn't matter, but I was still the same person. I'm always going to have Autism and will have struggles my friends sometimes don't know how to relate to.
That's okay.
This is me.
This is Autism, every day and every month.