Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Flummoxed

I have the coolest friends ever.

Some of my very cool friends are working on the coolest project ever - Flummox and Friends, a live-action video series designed to help kids with social impairments develop the skills and understanding they need to navigate the complex world of peer relationship.

It's fast-paced.  It's engaging.  It's clever.

It's exactly what Bud - and millions of kids like him - need.

But my friends need your help.  Please watch the video below.  Then click on this link to give what you can to support this extraordinary project and help it come to life.  Flummox and Friends will make a real difference in children's lives.  It will make a difference in Bud's life. 

Flummox and Friends will help reinforce the goals that we have for Bud and the skills that we are working so hard to help him develop.  They'll help bolster his confidence, so that when he's ready to seek out meaningful interpersonal relationship with his peers, I know that he will succeed.  And when he does - when his peers are really able to know the Bud that I know - when they have that sort of close, reciprocal connection with him that I have - I know exactly what they'll say:

"I have the coolest friend ever."

Please give what you can to help make it happen.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Insider blogging

A friend of mine is teaching a Creative Nonfiction course this semester and he's asked me to cover a couple of classes while he's out of town. He wants me to focus specifically on blogging and the aspects of writing creative nonfiction in the blog format that make it unique. I'm delighted to have the opportunity - and not just so I can be the cool, fun substitute teacher - but I could use the collective wisdom of the blogosphere as my plans come together.

I'll be teaching two classes. In the first, I thought I'd introduce elements that are characteristic of the medium and decisions that bloggers make and debate as they craft their voices and shape their blog personae. I'm thinking about things like:

- The decision to use your real name or a pseudonym, and the pros and cons of each decision. (There have got to be some great posts out there that dissect this issue. Can anyone point me to one?)

- The ethical implications of using other people's names - or, even, other people's stories, even if the names are changed.

- The further implications and considerations for bloggers who write about their children: Where does the blogger's story end and the child's story begin? What rights of privacy should a child automatically be afforded? What happens when the cute story you wrote about naked five-year-old Sally is discovered by the classmates of awkward eighth-grade Sally?

- The many ways that parent-bloggers negotiate and balance the right-to-privacy or safety-and-security issues with the establishment of veritas and the bringing-to-life of the narrative: real names with photos; fake names with photos; real names without photos; fake names without photos - and the potential benefits and pitfalls of each.

- The self-referential nature of blogging - the ongoing narrative, the link-back to previous posts, the assumption that the reader already has - or knows how to find - the backstory, the presumption that there is always backstory.

- The phenomenon of comments - the dialogue that can ensue between author and reader, or between readers - the way that the best, meatiest, most heartfelt, most meaningful part of a post often appears in the comment section.

- The communities that form through blogging - the circles that emerge - the politics of the blogroll - the danger of creating "insiders" and "outsiders" among one's readership. I remember reading a post somewhere long ago that talked about how blogging was like being back in eighth grade - and then reading a response post on a different blog about how blogging is, in fact, nothing like being back in eighth grade. Does that ring a bell with anyone? Can you point me to a link?

- The existence of blog trolls - people who seem to stalk your blog obsessively, waiting for new updates (and the fact that you know about their existence because you have been tracking your blog stats obsessively) - and people who leave nasty, hurtful comments - almost always anonymously, with no reply address, like grenades lobbed through the blogosphere.

- Flame wars and the way that misunderstandings can escalate quickly and divisively, with lines drawn and opinions entrenched within hours.

- The crafting of a blogging persona and the assumption by some that because you are writing about your own life, the blog reflects exactly who you are - and the reality that blog writers shine spotlights on the areas of their lives that they want you to see, leaving the vast majority of their lives - and themselves - in the shadows.

I'd be delighted - and eternally grateful - if you can point me to any blog posts you've read that delve into these subjects and capture well any perspective on them. I'd like to avoid turning these into classes on autism blogging or mommy blogging, so I'd especially welcome suggestions from further afield (though, by all means, I'd be happy to have examples from closer to home as well).

At the end of the first class, I'd like to assign each of the students some reading, asking them to read a post or a series of posts that captures a quintessentially bloggy phenomenon - something that could only happen through writing on the web - that they can showcase them for us in the second class. Some ideas:

- Real-life implications of online writing - how the same things that make for a wonderfully snarky post can really come back to bite their author. I'm thinking, especially, of things like being Dooced (or, fired for blogging about one's job), pointing them here - or more recently, the blogger who found Child Protective Services at her door because of a post that she'd written.

- The collective power of blogopshere - The Bloggess's recent response to spam mail from a PR firm comes to mind, though I'm sure there are examples with greater heft and import (Like...? Help me out here.)

- The equalizing power of the internet and the instant access that blogging can grant to the often unsuspecting blogger - there was some story I read once about a kid with autism who got to meet his country music superstar hero. And, of course, the one in which the autism mom got invited to the White House to share her thoughts and expertise.

And what else? What posts out there capture the essence of blogging? What are the things that happen in the blogosphere like nowhere else? What makes us who we are?

Oh - just thought of another one. There was that blogger who enlisted the blogosphere to help her teach that class...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dierks Bentley and NPR

Two great tastes that taste great together.

Click here to listen to Melissa Block's recent interview with Dierks Bentley on National Public Radio's All Things Considered. In it, Dierks talks about his latest single, "Home" - a song that pays tribute to the U.S., not by glossing over its troubles, but by acknowledging them. It's a song that reminds us that our country was founded on struggle and challenge, that patriotism should never be blind, and that what we have, despite flaws that can sometimes be overwhelming, is worth preserving, worth repairing, and worth celebrating.

Melissa Block contrasts the messages in "Home" with other songs in the genre, saying, "If you listen to a bunch of recent country songs about America, patriotic songs that came out, especially after 9/11, there was a lot of chest pounding, Jingoistic tone, us versus them."

Dierks responds, "I was trying to write a song that's just honest... That's where you find a real relief, real inspiration, real hope, real understanding of what's going on. I mean, it's easy to sell something to say 'We're number one!' It feels good, but it's not necessarily truthful or really helpful."

To me, the release of "Home" is well-timed as we head into another election season, because it's a reminder that being truly patriotic - being a REAL American - requires us to look at our own mistakes and missteps and misunderstandings, as we try to move forward - together - in a better direction.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Steve Jobs: Thinking different, changing lives

I have to admit, I'm surprised by the intensity of my reaction to the news of death of Steve Jobs. I'm devastated. I'm stunned. But, of course, I know that his death really wasn't a surprise. We all knew that it was coming, right? What was I expecting? Did I think he would show up unannounced at the next shareholders meeting with "one more thing," as he pulled the cure for cancer out of his back pocket?

No, I didn't expect that. Not really.

But, damn. He was Steve Jobs. If anyone could have pulled that off, it would have been him.

But it wasn't. And now it never will be. And I'm really, really sad.

It wasn't just that Steve was a genius disguised as an Everyman - like he was just cool Uncle Steve, always showing up for holiday dinners with the hottest new toys. It wasn't even that he singlehandedly made it cool to be a geek, raising the market value for so many of us as we make our way in this world.

It was that Steve Jobs changed my son's life.

Where would Bud be right now if Bill Gates had not had Steve Jobs to engage him in the continual battle of one-upsmanship that made home computing what it is today? Where would he be without the point-and-click technology that Jobs pioneered - the technology that works in absolute congruence with his non-typical brain? For Bud, computers are the one intuitive thing he has in a world that is otherwise almost entirely counter-intuitive. Bud has been computing since he was a toddler, and in all that time, computers have not just given him a sense of competence. They have given him a sense of mastery. They are the arena in which he knows that he is not just on par with his peers; he surpasses them.

And it was Steve Jobs who brought us the iPad, the device that has been transformative for so many children with autism - the device that has given them independence and helped them find their voices. While the iPad has not been quite as life-changing for Bud, it's clear that we have only begun to recognize the possibilities that it holds for him as an educational tool. For now, though, it is the ultimate imagination machine, which Bud uses to experiment with multimedia, casting himself as designer, producer, narrator, and foley artist of his own creations. And where will his iPad take him from here? It will be fascinating to find out.

And the iPod - the single most powerful tool in Bud's arsenal. The iPod is Bud's armor in battle, his passport in interaction, and his solace in times of stress. A quick glance through the pages of this blog would reveal how often the iPod makes an appearance here. A look through our (digital - thanks, Steve) photo albums would show you that the iPod is Bud's personal American Express - he won't leave home without it. Would Bud ever have become the model patient at the pediatric dentist if he hadn't had his iPod to help him self-regulate through those early years of visits? Would he ever have conquered his fear of thunderstorms without his iPod to temper the fury? It is hard to imagine.

Without Steve Jobs's iPod, Bud would probably spend most of his time in the public arena with his fingers in his ears or with sound-blocking headphones standing between him and the rest of the world. From a distance, he would look, to strangers and peers, a little different, a little odd, a little "other." But now, with his iPod in hand and his earphones in place? He just looks like the cool kid that he is.

The iPod is his conversation starter ("Hey, Bud - what are you listening to?"). It is his shelter from the storm. It is his socially acceptable and entirely private way to restore local coherence when the world gets overwhelming, allowing him to replay brief snippets of songs or sound bites, over, and over, and over again, as he reclaims control when his world is too unpredictable, as he restores his own sense of internal order when his external environment seems in chaos. For Bud, it's a life-saver - and a gift that only Steve Jobs could give.

Perhaps most importantly, though, it was Steve Jobs who framed a cultural philosophy that makes the world a safer place for my son to be himself, because it was Steve who challenged us to "think different." And for a child whose brain is designed to think different, that celebration of difference, that trumpeting of both the value and the importance of difference - well... it's everything.

We will miss you, Uncle Steve. The holiday dinner table just won't be the same without you. But, truly, your legacy will continue in ways that even you might never have imagined were possible - and, as we all know, that's really saying something.

And, oh yeah, one more thing: Thank you - from the bottom of my heart.