Sunday, February 27, 2011

Birthday Week

At 3pm today, my friends and I attempted to meet for my planned birthday celebration. The weather, however, didn't want to cooperate, having dumped a foot of fresh snow on the hiking trail we planned to go on yesterday. Not only that, but we were met with a fierce wind off the ocean as soon as we stepped out of the car. Having had my share of dealing with fierce winds on Thursday, I was not amused. We nixed the trail but did end walking around the Mackworth campus, which was far bigger and more interesting than I had realized. After about a 20 minute circuit, we were back at the car, and elected to go straight to Whole Foods, realizing that anywhere else in Portland would just be ten times as cold and windy.

I opened a gift that an online friend had sent me, which turned out to be maple candy. We played trivia and 20 Questions with famous people, with Rob getting all the math questions and Nate getting all the TV and movie questions. Besides eating them, we also did an experiment with the maple candies to see how long it would take one to dissolve one in water. It was not as quick as I thought...took about half an hour to be three quarters dissolved.

Some small balloons, which my stepmom had found and blown up during my birthday dinner with her and my dad last week, provided some more entertainment in the form of fun with static electricity - sticking them on each other and taking pictures. :) (My stepmom said that they would not last a week but apparently the laws of physics, or birthdays, defied her.)

Since we had an excess of maple candies after everyone had had their fill, I decided to try to give them out to the Whole Foods employees. Two of them seemed genuinely excited to have them, which made me happy; one agreed to try them; and the rest declined. I did feel slightly embarassed asking, but I am a firm proponent of the "random acts of kindness" theory and like to try to make people's days better when I can, which is not as often as I would like.

It was a very nice birthday, or belated birthday, as I felt very appreciated. This is the best part of having a birthday if done right! :) Rob paid for my dinner, Nate got me some Jodi Picoult books I wanted at Borders (yay!), Janine got me a gluten and dairy free brownie, and Amber gave me a lovely and very cute framed photo that she had done. She makes animals and different things out of vegetables and does it well. In this portrait, a dog is catching a frisbee, only the frisbee is a rice cracker! Ha! She knows me too well :)


On Thursday, I went into town on the bus because I needed something for dinner, seeing as the Irish have taken all the brisket (for St Pattys day). This was my third time on the bus. It was sunny and warm on the walk to the bus stop; I had everything unzipped. The walk was quite pleasant. The bus was 15 minutes late, which seems to be the average. Tolerable in nice weather but not in bad weather, I am sure.

I was the only person on, but we picked up a few people at Shaw's and Walmart. A guy about my age with Tourette's came on about halfway through. Never having met someone with
Tourette's, I found this very interesting, and after thinking about it, I decided to start a conversation with him. I felt bad for him, thinking how often he must be treated badly and stared at, and wanted him to have a positive interaction with the public. I also just wanted to talk to him. He was very friendly, and had a nice smile. We talked about the weather and the library a bit.

The bus went okay, I did better than usual on it, knock on wood.

In Portland, it was freezing, as the wind was coming off the ocean and creating Artic conditions. So much for a nice day. I asked Ryan if he would cut my hair as I was a bit desperate, and he said yes. We found a bench by Tommy's Park in the Old Port and I told him to go at it, lol. We all think he did quite a good job, especially considering the circumstances, and since he had never cut hair before!

Fun with balloons and my lovely haircut!

On Facebook, I got 87 happy birthday wishes. 87! I did not know I knew 87 people that would take the time to wish me HB. :)

Last weekend, my parents invited me over for a birthday dinner, and we had tenderloin steak. My relatives Steve and Gail were there also, which was nice.

So all in all it has been a good birthday week, and it is nice to feel appreciated and connected to others!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Community at work

I saw him standing at the bus stop, and I was relieved. I wouldn't have to wait for the bus alone. Not only that, but I could now be pretty sure this actually *was* the bus stop.

"Is this the bus stop?" I asked when I got close enough, a pretty natural conversation opener, I figured, for a bus stop. "I think so," he said. "Any place with a yellow sign by it is a pretty good bet."

"I made good time here. 12 minutes. I figured I should walk here instead of waiting at one of the secondary stops."
"It took me 30 or 40 minutes, I came from that direction," he said, pointing to the street at the left of Town Landing, a small convenience store in front of us.
"Oh, by Wildwood?" I said, instantly recognizing the direction he was pointing in.
"Do you live there?"

"That's where I grew up! What street are you on?"
He named the street I had grown up on.

With blonde hair and an easy smile, whoever this guy was, he made a great conversationalist. Good conversationalists, I have to say, are few and far between. A person has to have a certain kind of energy, a certain kind of vibe, as well as natural enthusiasm and curiousity for all aspects of life, to make a truly good conversationalist. These are the people that you can easily fall into a conversation with about just about anything minutes after meeting them, because you both view the world in somewhat similar terms.

The desire to learn more about other people; being nonjudgemental; open-minded; and curious about the world; the desire to learn new things about the world. With these qualities, a conversation can build quite easily on just about anything. You build off of the enthusiasm and the joy of the other person, delighting in shared communication and shared connection. So few people are curious about what their neighbors' lives are like, about who makes up their community. They stay insulated in their own lives. It is the people that want to build and experience community that I am naturally drawn to.

The bus is 20 minutes late. If not for him, I would have started freaking out about missing it 15 minutes ago. Luckily, engrossed in conversation, I hardly notice.

I get on the bus, and he follows. I say hi to the bus driver, who I recognize from years ago when I used to ride the buses regularly. It is nice to see a familiar face. I sit across from the blonde haired guy, hoping to continue our conversation. We do.

"So," I say, "you said you were in construction, but it wasn't for you. What do you do now?"
"I wash dishes," he says, with only a trace of embarassment.
"Good for you!" says one of the passengers near us. "At least you have a job!"
He, the other man and the woman in between them discuss the various ins and outs of washing dishes at different restaurants for several minutes. I love it. Community in the making.

The bus arrives at Walmart, and an onslaught of people get on. The three people in the front decide they should move to the back in case anyone getting on has trouble with stairs and can't make it to the back. I don't like sitting in the back, but I follow them anyway, figuring the value of continuing this conversation will outweigh any additional discomfort from being in the back. It does.

I sit next to the guy from the bus stop. We talk about whatever comes to mind. His sister's desire to become a winemaker spurs a story from me about my uncle, who is a winemaker. My
declaration that I write freelance e-books for money elicits a truly impressed sounding "Wow!" from him. I tell him about some of my favorite places in Portland. He tells me about the place he is from.

Does this sound unremarkable to you? It very well might. For the millions of people who move around the world with ease, and rely on buses to get where they need to go; who move around easily in the social world with their friends and acquaintances, this story may sound quite unremarkable.

But for someone with chemical sensitivities and and autism, who hasn't ridden a bus more than once in several years because of problems with perfumes and fragrances on buses? For someone who the mere idea of being stuck on a bus could induce a powerful emotional and physical meltdown? Then, this story becomes remarkable.

Because, for thirty minutes, it felt like I had a piece of myself back. And, you know, I've been searching for those missing pieces for three years now, and it's not very often I find one, despite all my efforts. The bus was full. There is no doubt that I would have freaked out and fell prey to both the physical and emotional sensations of such a situation had I not had something, or someone, else so enjoyable to focus on.

But he had my full attention. He had that magnetic pull that certain people who wear their emotions and humanity on their sleeve do. A feeling of connectedness.

On a similar note, several years ago, there was an article in the New York Times about an autism therapy called "floortime" that I have never forgotten.

Basically, it discussed different methods to keep autistic kids and adults engaged with the outside world to increase their ability to function in it. This quote stuck with me.

"If we can keep Ty engaged with us, it means that he is harnessing and organizing his energies in order to interact,” Nelson told me later. “By keeping him connected, we won’t let him be kidnapped by random fragmented thoughts. If you aren’t engaged with other people, then you are completely at the mercy of your own regulatory system. Think about a
situation where you were overcome with distress and how being able to tell someone helped you avoid becoming uncontrollably distraught.” (Melissa Fay Greene, New York Times, 17 October 2008)

What is this if not a perfect illustration of that quote? Life is about connection with other people. Some people have more trouble with it than others. But I have never stopped believing that if I could find a way to make it happen, that it would help me enormously in many different parts of my life.

Sitting there in the middle of that bus ride, looking around at all the people around me, the familiar shape of the bus, people chatting animatedly on all sides of me, I got a glimpse of what my life used to be like. I was aware of some mildly unpleasant smells around me, but I could tune them out, because of my conversation. And having that ability to be on the bus without it driving me insane, like I used to be able to do - that felt good.

Community at work. A person cannot live in isolation without serious side effects. Community at work.