Friday, August 1, 2014

Vacation, all I ever wanted

Well, close enough, anyway. Noel and I divvied up the vacations this year; he took the kids to see their Tennessee grandparents back in June, and I am taking them to see their Georgia grandparents for the next few days. When we get back, it will be almost time for school to start, and my children will be nearing their 10th and 13th birthdays.

Traveling with the kids at this age reminds me forcefully, almost painfully, of traveling with my family when I was a child. The ages my children are now comprise the age ranges where I was most acutely aware in travel, most alert and alive to its adventure.  None of the responsibilities or decisions were mine; all the exploration was available. My brothers and I took off at every stop to reconnoiter the area.

We're staying in a hotel near the Little Rock airport tonight so that we don't have to drive down from Conway in the pitch blackness of 4 am to make our early morning flight. Of course, the kids are thrilled. In their shoes, I would be riding the elevators to every floor and trying to find an arcade machine and begging for change to get something from the vending area. It's hard to imagine me setting my kids free to roam the way we were at that age. Helicopter parenting? The natural concerns of parents about a special-needs kid? Or is it just that I've raised them to be happy homebodies, not pushing those boundaries, no urge to roam?

I surprised myself during the last few days by how much I've looked forward to this trip. And it's all because I know how excited the kids are to navigate airports, ride unfamiliar highways, nail down mental maps of new places. Oh, and see their Granny Lou and Papa, who are always happy to play games and whip up little snacks and go on long walks. Nothing wrong with that, either.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Writing about writing

I shared a couple of Archer's writing camp pieces last week. Now here are a few of Cady Gray's compositions.

First thing each morning, the campers had prompts on the board and did a little writing before the official start of the schedule. The first day's quickwrite prompts were about being a fabulous writer.

What makes you a fabulous writer?
My writing is fabulous because of description and tone. I love describing objects or animals or even people, with fancy words. However, you have to keep a friendly tone, and too many fancy words spoil that tone. It is like that old saying, "Too much spice spoils the broth," or something like that. Just stay the same person throughout your writing. Don't be dramatic in some parts and casual in others. 
What could cause a writer to lose their thrill of writing?
If a writer stops writing for a while, they may pick it up again later. Then, one of two things will probably happen. One, they will "come back with fresh eyes," which means to catch things you didn't before, like spelling mistakes. Two, they will fumble a lot more and get mad at themselves, not wanting to continue and be disappointed again, and again, and again.

I think that the last day's quickwrite was about seeing a glimmer out of the corner of your eye. What happens next? You can see the influence of the YA fantasy-adventure she loves to read in this one.

I slowly creep toward the glimmer, hoping silently for gold. I reach it, and it is as if the very sun has broken through the ground to peek up at the earth. The glimmer rises from the ground, too bright to look at, and everything goes to black ...
"I am in a dream," is my first thought. A rippling effect, pink and resonating. That is what I see in front of me, all around me. A voice, soft and innocent, speaks. "Help ... you ... You must save ... our world ... You are the only one ..." A shock passes through my spine as the ripple effect becomes more violent and the pink turns to purple. Another voice, desperate and echoing, screams. "HELP!" A fuzzy vision plays in my head. An oval-spheric pink blob is there, floating above the ground. It has large eyes and a flap-like mouth. It has no nose, and purpleish spots along its sides. It is being chased by a three-headed dragon-like creature. The middle head snaps at the blob, and it all fades into white ... 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Robotboy writing

Noel and I tag our tweets about Archer "#robotboy." It's an affectionate reference to his sometimes machine-like demeanor and behavior, as well as a shout-out to a favorite Guided by Voices song, "Gold Star for Robot Boy."

This past week, the kids went to Bearswrite, a writing camp at UCA.  Cady Gray went last year, and this year the grade range was expanded to secondary school. We were thrilled that CG enticed her brother to attend with mention of the cool technology they use.

Over the next several entries, I'll share some of their writing from camp. Today, a couple of Archer's pieces -- one that surprised me with its reach toward some kind of life wisdom, and one that shows that although he's come so very far, he's still the same kid with the same autistic obsessions.

This first is a series of haikus -- the prompt, I gather, was to write in the voice of an older person giving advice. AA was most proud of the way he put the introduction (with its reference to "glows and grows," camp-speak for praise and suggestions), in the form of a haiku.

Advice from an Old Man

I made this myself.
Post glows and grows you may have
In the comments list.
“I have seen long life,
The wisdom of existence
Can still be better.
“Humanity’s claim…
‘Everyone constantly learns.’
Now for what I think…
“‘Keep on improving.
Continue renovations.
Yearn for knowledge.’
“No-one is perfect,
But get as close as you can.
That is the spirit.
“Some are silly, yet
Others are intelligent.
Humans are diverse.
“Settle with yourself.
Don’t yearn to be someone else.
Just be who you are.”

I don't know if this is in response to a prompt. But it's so wonderfully typical.

Flash Fiction #1 :-)
I was just relaxing in my hotel room when I saw someone break in! The chase was on! We both proceeded to go in our cars. I had to catch the criminal before we reached his hideout, 4.7 miles from I-40 Exit 175A. We just passed Exit 148, so the chase was still far from over. He began to speed, suddenly and unexpectedly! The speed limit was 70 (65 for trucks), but he went 87 mph! I continued the chase anyway without calling the police, because I didn’t want to call while driving. 18.2 miles later, the criminal passed Exit 173—bad news for me, because I was still 0.4 miles behind him and he was only 6.7 miles away from his hideout. I sped up to 70 mph, right at the top of the speed limit! I was so close—only 315 feet away from him—when he got off on the wrong exit (Exit 175B)! I took the chance to get off on Exit 175A and travel the remaining 4.7 miles to his hideout. While he was still on the road, I called the police. They caught him for breaking in and speeding, so he had to pay a $9,999.99 fine and serve 3 months in jail. I finally returned to my hotel room afterward.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The promise of a path

I've been here at Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the past three days as a guest of the Festival of Faith and Writing.  It's been a wonderful visit. The staff is welcoming and effortlessly competent, the students are enthusiastic and promising, and the attendees are somehow not only willing, but actually excited to show up at the crack of dawn on a weekend to hear some non-celebrity former TV critic from the boonies talk about theology and stuff.

It's a a beautiful campus, besides, dotted with low, rambling buildings whose unotrusiveness -- none are over a couple of stories high, all are the color of earth or sand -- seems to reflect the stated ethos of the college. I heard a faculty member mention that Calvin is a place where "we compete to be the most humble."

But what I love most about a college campus -- any campus, really, from corporate to clerical -- are the pathways. Curving through trees, skirting green spaces, circling fields, edging buildings.  When I set out on such a path, I always get a jolt of memory at some particular point, perhaps when the path crests a rise or veers away from structures. I remember vacations with my family, the campgrounds where we parked our rented RV, and the paths that my brothers and I immediately set off to explore.  I remember church camps, with the paths that led from cabins to dining halls to campfire pits to circles of benches out in the woods. At the end of the week, treading the now-familiar paths, I felt like a newly-minted expert in the ways of the place, a veteran ceding the ground to the next group like Charlie Brown: "I've done my hitch."

I'm not an adventurer. I don't strike out into the unknown. I like a path because a path says "this goes somewhere." I can never resist finding out where. But the greatest pleasure of a path isn't finding out for the first time where it leads.  It's knowing where it leads, the next time.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Dear lady at La Huerta

When we came into the restaurant, you were already there, a middle-aged woman in a booth across from two teenagers with their heads bent over a shared phone. We sat at a table nearby, not our usual spot, but the place was unusually crowded.

Archer was carrying on his usual lopsided conversation with his sister about videogames. I think he was talking about his plans for constructing a tournament in Mario Party 9 that we could all play together, with multiple boards over several days and a scoring system based on the ministars (or in the case of the Donkey Kong board, bananas) earned on each board.

Noel and I ordered and settled down to read the paper while Archer chattered away and Cady Gray gave the occasional response. Then you were suddenly standing by our table.

"I just wanted to tell you that your son reminds me so much of my son," you said. "My daughters noticed and were talking about it. My son is 21 and away at college."

"Just the way he's talking -- it's just like my boy," you said. I thought about mentioning the word "autism," but held back. There's no guarantee your son had a diagnosis. Maybe you just lived with his idiosyncrasies. Then you paused.

"Don't let anybody tell you ..." you said. Instantly we knew what you were trying to say. "Oh no, we would never," Noel said. "No, he's wonderful. We enjoy him so much," I said.

"Yes!" you exclaimed. "People don't understand how wonderful it can be." The waiter arrived with our food and you stepped back toward your booth. "Thank you so much," we said, and turned back to our meal.

When you left, as we were finishing up, you said "Take good care of that boy" and we all said thanks and goodbye. The waiter came to clear our table, and Noel asked for the check. "The lady at that table already paid," he said.

Lady at La Huerta, I wish I had asked about your son. One of the things we wonder about the most is what Archer might be like when he grows up. Your son must be doing well if he's away in college. I wish I knew more about him.

I know what it's like to recognize another autistic child in a public place. I sometimes want to say something, to empathize and make that connection, but I rarely do. It must have meant a lot to you, to do what you did. I wish I could tell you more about Archer, but maybe you saw everything you needed to see. You saw how his sister listens to him patiently. You saw how excited and articulate he is about what interests him. You saw how delighted he was to see something about March Madness on the TV, and to recite our March Madness motto: "Ten seconds is an eternity, dad."

Lady at La Huerta, you didn't look like you were noticeably wealthy. I'm sure $40 for our meal wasn't an insignificant expense for you. I apologize if I'm assuming too much, but I can't quite express all the ways your unprompted generosity touched me. The way you wanted to reach out, to show solidarity, to love your son by doing something nice for someone who reminded you of him -- it's so unexpected. And it seems to say everything about the experiences we probably share.

Conway is a small town. I'm sure we're not separated by six degrees; somebody I know knows somebody who knows you. Maybe this will make its way to you. I said "thank you" for your kind words when you passed by on your way out of the restaurant. If you see this, then I've got another chance: Thank you for much more, for your kind and generous actions. I hope that Archer grows up to be just like your son, and that I grow up to be just like you.