Cometary Tales Blog Oh, right, I’m on Mastodon

Oh, right, I’m on Mastodon

Everybody’s making the move. Most of the people I’ve followed on Twitter have slowed down engagement. Some stick to it purely for promotions, so maybe it’ll become the book-promotion site. For those of us looking to connect with other writers, with readers, with people in the business or whose creativity overlaps with ours…Mastodon is the place to go.

I’m CometaryTales over there, like I am everywhere, because that just makes it easy, doesn’t it? I’m a member of two instances, and sfba, because one is for SFF people and one is for SF Bay Area folks and that lets me feel connected in two ways. But, mostly, I’m on hanging out on, where you’ll find me posting about the works in progress (WIPs), the upcoming books, things that happen to interest me, and my friends’ bookish stuff. C’mon over!

Here are a couple of useful resources to help you navigate the move: This one gives you all the basics if you’re an author moving to Mastodon (but, really, the advice applies to anyone). This one tells WordPress users how to do the fiddly bits of verifying your website connection, if you want to do that.

Awwwriiiight! Let’s go!

You might also like to read:

Rain(man), Rain(man), Go AwayRain(man), Rain(man), Go Away

This isn’t so much a blog post as a paper. There are footnotes and citations. Bear with me.

Have you had this experience? Someone in a group discussion notes that April is Autism Awareness Month. Then someone else says, “Oh, remember Rain Man? I watched it again recently! Isn’t that a great movie?” And then everyone has a lovely chat about movies. Unfortunately, this kind of response is what gamers call an Epic Fail. Let’s walk into April with some better awareness.[1]

So, what is autism? What isn’t it?

Photo Credit: Nina from Australia, Rain, Rain, Go Away (CC BY 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

What it is

Autism is a set of neurological characteristics found in as many as 1 in 50 people [2,3] that can lead to difficulties with social interactions, repetitive behaviors, or intense engagement in special interests. Not necessarily all these things. (So, you know 100 people? Well, you likely know a couple of autistic people.)

Nobody knows what “causes” [4] autism, although probably there are combinations of genes that are more likely to yield autistic characteristics. (It may run in families, like other polygenic characteristics, such as height.) Autism presents on a spectrum, so its current designation is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)…though many autistic people will counter, “there’s nothing disordered about me!”

What it isn’t

Autism has absolutely nothing to do with vaccines—that absurd idea was generated by publication of fraudulent research, a real-world hoax that has harmed untold numbers of people [5,6,7]

Autism is not Rain Man. Dustin Hoffman did his best, and the film made a positive difference at the time, but that was over thirty years ago. The movie is now woefully out of date, and most autistic people find it discomfiting, stereotyping autism, families of autistics, and the way the world perceives them.

Autism is not sociopathy/psychopathy/other-mispercepathy. The number of mysteries or thrillers or police procedurals in which the murderer/terrorist/stalker is a shifty-eyed, unempathetic, twitchy weirdo whose speech patterns and movements and sometimes specific labelling code them as “autistic” make my hair curl. No, the autistic people of the world are not spying on you, plotting the perfect murder, or designing weapons of terror. Instead, as a class, they are the kindest people you know.

Autism is not the strange child. The vast majority of autistics are adults. Autism doesn’t go away when you grow up. Why don’t you notice? Those whose difficulties with the world are great still live in relative isolation. As for the rest, they’re “masking.” This isn’t a lighthearted improv exercise. It is a progressive modification of behavior—often unconscious, in ways learned over many years—to appear more like you, because they’re pretty sure you won’t accept them otherwise. (So, maybe this should be Autism Acceptance Month.)

Masking isn’t perfect; you probably think of your autistic friends as ‘the little-bit odd one’ or the ‘cute, quirky one.’ You may not see them around as much as your other friends—because keeping up masking is hard work. The older an autistic person is, the better they can be at masking—but then, it’s harder for them to change that. Also, be aware that if you realize a friend is autistic, it doesn’t help to tell them to stop masking. It’s a difficult process, and they’ll let you know when they’re ready.

Photo Credit: Dietmar Rabbich (CC BY 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, old movies like Rain Man leave the impression that all autistic people are weird geniuses, can’t take care of themselves, and suffer extreme difficulties with life. Yes, some are in that boat (and a rare few are even geniuses). It’s important to be sure everyone’s properly supported in life—can we simply agree to support autistic people with needs just as we support neurotypical (NT) people with serious life issues?

A few thoughts to keep in mind, no matter what type of neurons you’re thinking with:

Autistic people are, as a group, extremely honest. This presents complications—because most autistic people don’t react in conversation in quite the exact way that neurotypicals expect. For instance, if someone doesn’t look you in the eye all the time—a favorite behavior of NT’s—they’re perceived as “dishonest”. That’s unfortunate…which is why ambitious autistic adults work hard to make eye contact, even though it may be enormously stressful to do so.

Autistic people are empathetic—and have all the same emotions you do. They may express their emotions a little differently, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the exact same feelings you experience. Your autistic friends may even be more likely to notice how you’re feeling and to empathize with you, because they are observing you and working to figure you out, all the time. So they’re not just in possession of that deep, humanizing characteristic, they’re actively working at it, every day.

This doesn’t mean that autistic people are all perfect, wonderful, nice, diligent, hardworking, or what-have-you and are somehow better than neurotypical people. Everyone has shortcomings—and autistics don’t need to become the next perfectionist minority. It’s just that the stereotypes (weird, twitchy, untrustworthy) are contradictory.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably part of the reading/writing community. Here’s another thought for you.

Well. Ummmm. YOU might be autistic. Nobody wants to think of themselves as “different,” but writers—whether they’ve gone the publishing route or not—draw heavily from a well of “difference.” Lots of us grew up feeling like we were “on the fringe” or “the odd one out.” We dive deep into the special interests that drive our work. We can go on and on and on about a character or a situation or a plot point—whether in a story we wrote or in one of our favorites. Heck, some of us can sit down and hammer out 50,000, 100,000, a million words. That’s hardly what nonwriters would call “typical.”

If you’ve secretly, quietly wondered if there’s something you don’t know about yourself that maybe you should, here is one easily-accessible book to read: Cynthia Kim’s Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate is a clever, affecting story of one woman’s journey of self-discovery. Some terminology it uses, unfortunately, became outdated the year after publication, with the elimination (for very good reasons) of the problematic term Asperger’s [8,9], but the self-realization content still holds up.

A cautionary note: take with gigantic doses of salt anything coming from the group Autism Speaks. They will be rather shouty during April and their old puzzle-piece logo will be cropping up all over, but this group is widely derided by autistic people as not speaking for them and, worse, actively spreading misperceptions about autism [10] and promoting [11] the application of abusive ‘therapy’ [12].  Many autistic people therefore consider Autism Speaks to be a hate group [13], but even without that label, their role in the politics of disability is subject to serious question [14].

Ready to raise awareness a little (or a lot) more?

Below are a couple of helpful, easy-to-access resources. You can find deeper reading by continuing to the Notes and Citations section.

Ask Autistic Adults is my current favorite website for quickly-accessed on-point information on what grown-up autistic people feel you should know:  labels, appropriate language, effective support, fake/abusive “therapies,” and more.

The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism is a web-based organization that provides a broad array of resources and connections to useful information for autistic people and their allies.

To catch up on the current zeitgeist in the autistic community, try the hashtag #actuallyautistic. To some extent, outsiders have tried to co-opt it, but the hashtag has withstood that pretty well so far.

Now, have a very happy Autism Awareness Month, everybody!

Below the blue umbrella: Notes and Citations

A bright blue umbrella floats upside-down

Photo Credit: Tom Mrazek, An Umbrella In the Dark, (CC BY 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Yes, lots of notes and cites. Because a blog post needs to be brief, but the topic is complex!

  1. No one person speaks for all people in any marginalized group. I make no claims that my perspective, or those of the autistic individuals I’ve cited here, is more worthy than that of any other member of the broadly-defined autism community. This essay cannot be perfect, but I will update it as necessary, and I welcome honest, fact-based critique.
  2. “U.S. Autism Rates Up 10 Percent in New CDC Report” Bloomberg School of Health. Johns Hopkins. 26 March 2020. (Accessed 29 March 2022),2016%20(or%201.85%20percent).
  3. “Rising rates” of autism do not reflect changes in the incidence of autism; rather, reports like the Johns Hopkins article reflect how wider application of diagnosis reveals that more people are autistic than was thought previously. This article in particular highlights a progression over time, as researchers began attending to this data and improving their diagnostic techniques. I linked to this article because it is quite readable and provides links to the academic papers and data, for those who are interested. The choice of a headline in a public-facing news presentation can be misleading—remember to read more than headlines.
  4. Autistic people, by and large, dislike using “cause” to describe the mechanisms underlying autism. It makes it sound like a disease, something you can “cure,” and that detracts from attending to what can truly help autistic people thrive in a largely non-autistic society, understanding what “therapies” are harmful bunk, and listening to what autistics think. However, it’s the term that’s easiest for a casual reader follow in the context of a (supposedly) brief article like this one. As a reminder, this is a note to a sentence stating clearly that the mechanics are still unknown.
  5. “Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent” British Medical Journal (BMJ). 6 January 2011. BMJ 2011;342:c7452.
  6. Wakefield’s horrific piece of hoaxery was published in the Lancet in January of 1998, and its awful effects have flowed into every corner of our medical landscape—even influencing vaccine resistance during the current pandemic. By the time the journal retracted the piece, the damage was done and the evil thought-virus of ‘vaccines are scary’ had spread too far to eradicate it.
  7. Eggerston, Laura. “Lancet retracts 12-year-old article linking autism to MMR vaccines” Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ). 9 March 2010. Accessed via National Institutes of Health, 29 March 2022.
  8. Hans Asperger, the man after whom the so-called “high-functioning” side of the autism spectrum was (temporarily) named, is now known to have been a eugenicist, Nazi-assisting child-hurter, and all-around guy-you-wouldn’t-invite-round-to-dinner. The article below [9] is an accessible read and includes references.
  9. Juntti, Melaina. “It’s Time to Stop Calling Autism ‘Asperger’s’” Fatherly. 9 December 2021.
  10. Lutterman, Sara. “The biggest autism advocacy group is still failing too many autistic people” Washington Post. 14 February 2020.
  11. I’m not going to glorify this page with a detailed citation. This cite is here to prove that the organization supports this kind of treatment.
  12. Ira. “Why ABA Therapy Is Harmful to Autistic People” Autistic Science Person. Accessed 29 March 2022.
  13. Sequenzia, Amy. “Is Autism Speaks a Hate Group?” Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network. 19 August 2014.
  14. Ne’eman, Ari. “Autism and the Disability Community: The Politics of Neurodiversity, Causation, and Cure” 1 February 2017 (Initially presented at Emory University in 2013). Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN).  Accessed 29 March 2022.

Secrets and Mysteries of Rafting the Grand CanyonSecrets and Mysteries of Rafting the Grand Canyon

So, for the next month and more, this blog, or at least most of its available posting space, has been claimed by a fan of the Grand Canyon.  Yes, a fan of a really big hole in the ground.  It’s not as big as Valles Marinaris, but there is still a river at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, which greatly facilitates travel by river raft.  The goal is to take you along on a fourteen-day expedition, from Kaibab Sandstone to Vishnu Schist, through rapids, slot canyons, waterfalls, and thunderstorms, and along the way reveal a few of the deep dark secrets of these trips so few of us take.  We’ll cover over 180 miles on the river plus many miles afoot on canyon trailways.  Why use up a month to take you on a two-week trip?  Because that’s what it feels like.  You forget what day it is, how long you’ve been gone, how much time is left.  If you don’t keep a journal, you’re lost.

I kept a journal.

I also took about 3,000 photographs and an hour of video.

Yes, there will be a fair amount of “what we did”, but I also want to share the background information the guides (and other travelers) shared with us, the additional tidbits I’ve gleaned from research (the addiction of the Ph.D.), and perhaps even paint the picture well enough that if you can’t go on this trip you can claim you did and provide your friends with a verisimilitudinous description.  Just pick one of the falsified names in the diary segments & say “yeah, that’s me”.   Also, if you’re a well-heeled adventure traveler planning your own expedition, I’d hope you’ll come away with enough information to know where you should not take short-cuts—and with some clues about how to find experienced, capable guides to get you through safely.

In the meantime,  I don’t want to wear out your eyeballs with more than a few photos and a thousand words of gushing per post.  There will be directions to see more photos, but, I promise, this won’t be a session of “Watch my Vacation Slideshow”.

Time for the first installment of Secrets of Grand Canyon River Rafting.

Deep, dark secret #1.  Not everyone wants to go on this trip.  Three husbands who could have joined their wives refused the chance to walk away from work, television, and electronic connectedness for a week.  A young backbacker—who had completed the climb of Mount Whitney with his mother just a few months previously—turned down a free ticket and sent his retirement-age Mom on her own.  She said he didn’t like the idea of not being in control on the trip.  Another traveller’s wife sent him off with a (female) friend he’d recently reconnected with after a thirty-year hiatus, because the wife just can’t stand camping.  His son, a golf enthusiast, only agreed to chaperone them if they took the shorter trip, to be sure he’d be home in time to watch the Master’s.  Me? No, actually, I didn’t want to go on this trip.  The only person who couldn’t tell was my husband, he was so excited about going.  Why would this nature/science/ancient-peoples-loving photographer want to sit this out?

First of all, it’s frightfully expensive—if you want to travel the Canyon and not spend a fortune, you need to be able to work there.   I am not the correct age or physical type to start a new career as a river guide.  Nor do I have the right background or training to get hired by (or even volunteer for) the Park Service or any of the scientific research teams with feet on the water down there.  So when my husband Clark declared that it had “always” been his wish to make this trip and that he had, after all, a big landmark birthday coming up, I made him pay for it out of his IRA.  That was the only place we had enough money set by.

Second, Clark got the idea from a friend of his, a childhood friend who’s facing the same landmark birthday this year.  When these two get together, they tend to devote a significant amount of our time to recalling those good-old-days.  Days I did not share.  Oh, great, my jealous heart predicted:  two weeks of traipsing along behind while they play “remember when.”  Well,  I did end up trailing along behind, but not quite the way predicted.  You’ll see.

And the third and most sensible reason:  I broke my shoulder in January and my orthopedist’s solid opinion about my going river-rafting in April was: “I wouldn’t recommend doing that.”   The bone knitted on schedule, but shoulders are complicated messes of tendons and muscles that don’t take kindly to the whole process.  I was told it would be a year or more before I’d be back from this injury.  My physical therapist did what he could to get some of my range-of-motion restored and added a couple of exercises to build back a little strength, but I went off with one arm fully-qualified to hang on tight and one that complained bitterly about any extension beyond a basic stretch while it simply refused to raise my hand beyond about 80 degrees.   One upside was that Clark got to haul all my gearbags, because I just couldn’t handle them.

The other upside is that I would not want to have missed out on this trip.  Even though we couldn’t afford it, it was worth it.  Does that make any sense at all?  Well, it will.

So, all right already, let’s go.  For a teasing sneak-peek, here is a picture from Day 5.  Oh, aye, it’s the Grand Canyon.

Day One

Friday at BayCon 2013Friday at BayCon 2013

As exemplified by Thursday evening’s brief exposure to the timesense-warping effects of Triskaidekaphobicon, clearly the theory of attending BayCon is direct and clear, albeit a little boring, while the practice thereof is circuitous and exciting.  Here we will continue our study of these contrasts by once more comparing plans and realities with a half-day experience on Opening Day:

Time Frame What the Plan was What really happened
Friday afternoon Arrive early, go to opening ceremonies, then “Irreproducible Results” panel, then to a reading by Lois McMaster Bujold. Just couldn’t get out the door.  Forgot reading glasses, then key, then left door slightly ajar while trying to find my sunglasses (for driving), then became convinced (older/medical-issues) cat had sneaked out, so searched out front and called out back and looked under furniture.  Finally discovered cat hunkered down behind a chair.Arrived halfway through Irreproducible Results panel, but got a front-row seat & enjoyed panel, from nuts and bolts revelations such as that the staff of JIR are unpaid to the audience teaching JIR’s editor the song “There’s a Hole in My Bucket” and locating for him several online sources for flexible rubber with which to make graph paper.

I took a quick look at the Art Show, where they were nice enough to take care of my bag for me.  Theresa Mather‘s dragons were there.  Which one is it that I bought for Tirion?  I wondered, Should I bid on one of these dragon-butterfly prints?  I decided to come back later and sign up as a bidder.

All of the cat-oriented artwork reminded me that I was worried about my cat (not to bore anyone with a pet’s medical issues, but no-one was home to check on Manta that day), but didn’t want to miss the reading.  So stayed put for that.

Bujold read a piece she doesn’t really plan to publish at present, a work-in-progress that may or may not become part of something, but it’s a “Miles” story, so she knew it would please her fans.  The humor bits got big laughs.  And she was good about doing a little Q&A while waiting for late-comers to arrive. Turns out that one intellectual goal for “Curse of Chalion” was to work out a society in which religion had a basis in physical reality.

By then, it was after five, but decided to drive home to check on the cat –through Memorial-day weekend traffic.  The freeway was a parking lot from San Thomas Expressway to, probably, LA.  So, enjoyed elaborately costumed Fanime fans thronging streets of downtown San Jose on the unfreeway route home.  Made pretty good time, actually.  Oh, yes, and the cat was fine.  Time for a quick freezer-cleanup dinner and half an episode of “Castle” before evening sessions.

Friday evening Find out what a “boffer weapon” is and make one in the new DIY Room.  Then go upstairs and learn some Regency dancing.  Maybe get in to panel on talking to people. Boffer-making was not in the DIY room.  I had to go alllll the way to the “Ballroom” and creep past the big room where they were having the “meet the guests” reception.  Way too scary in there.   In the farthest room, kids were whapping each other with foam objects.  Aha, that’s boffing.

But no one was making weapons.Wandered about. Became “brave” and strolled nonchalantly through the reception.  Darn, there had been food.  Extroverts were  happily chatting each other up.

Wandered back to boffers room to watch the swordplay.  Maybe the “make your weapon” thing is over?  I wondered.  The program said they started at 6 and it was already nearly 8.  Suddenly, someone called out, “Who wants to make a weapon?”  Apparently, I had arrived at exactly the right time.

Two hours later, I was working on the trickiest duct-taping tasks on three swords at once, after two teen sisters frantically realized they must dash off to what they described as “Mom’s Concert” and begged for coverage while they were away.   Another hour later, and they were back in time for adding the blade tape and the final decorations.  Clever girls.

So finally 11:30 rolled around and I had myself a lovely PVC and pipe-insulation and duct-tape sword.  But not prepared to wield it yet–too exhausted.  Parked my sword in the car and wandered about a bit.  Regency dancing was already up to a lesson on the Congress of Vienna waltz, which I can’t do with my broken shoulder yet, and which they use as the final dance.

Oh, well.  Time to go home.  Big plans for tomorrow.


There are anime fans at BayCon, too.

There are anime fans at BayCon, too.

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