Discrimination has no place in Oregon

Religious freedom to me is a personal thing. Religious freedom is to have the freedom to love and worship God without persecution. Religious freedom is the freedom to love my neighbor unconditionally.

When I read about the different business owners who have turned away some sex couples in the name of Jesus, it greatly disturbs me.

“Everything I do, I want everyone to see Jesus through me, ” I have heard being said.

The problem there is that Jesus would not turn anyone away.

http://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/opinion/2014/04/06/discrimination-has-no-place-here-in-oregon/7357183/

Sounds of jazz, through the layers of my mind

I am sitting in a nice jazz lounge with a couple of friends, listening to the music. More than music. The interplay of acoustic guitar, upright bass, alto saxophone, and a soft sweet voice. Back and forth improvisation between the sax and the bass. Heavenly sounds.
It occurs to me that jazz was the first music I loved as a child. I never really understood it completely, so I often wondered if I could really claim that musical space the same way that a true jazz aficionado might. Maybe I just wasn’t listening correctly. But, I could still feel the music running through me like it was second nature.

As I sit here listening to this, I finally get it. Jazz, the music of the soul. The many layers of music, each player playing their own thing, but in support of each other. I can tune out everyone else but one player, or I can hear all three players distinctly, at the same time.

As a person with Aspergers, I now get it. My mind needs to process five things at once, sometimes each thing is proceeding at its own pace, but at the same time, in conjunction with everything else. That’s jazz. That’s planned improvisation (must be planned since I can never actually turn off to let things just happen on their own).

Jazz was my first love. Jazz is how my mind works, though much more orderly. Jazz takes me into those places that aren’t quite as orderly.

Sounds of Silence

Generally, I have excellent hearing.  Even after all the loud concerts I have attended, I still hear very well.  But sometimes the words someone says do not match the mouth movements.  Or sometimes, after a period of intense focus on something, a small sound or if there is something that will quickly jar me out of that concentrated focused place, I all of the sudden hear all of the noises around me much louder–white noises, along with every conversation in the room, and any music or keyboard clicking–all of this become very loud and overwhelming.

If I am at a restaurant or bar, deep in conversation with someone, sometimes a plate might be dropped or a glass breaks or a door slams–any sharp noise.  When that happens, I all of the sudden will hear everything 10 times louder and no longer can distinguish the voice of the person with whom I am conversing.

 Phone calls can be very difficult. The background sounds must be very quiet on both ends of the line, or I cannot focus on the voice on the other end and I will have to ask the other person to repeat themselves often.  This makes it extremely difficult with all the political work I do.  Phone banks actually give me migraines due to the stress of working so hard to focus on the voice on the line.

 At work, I pretty much always need to have music playing at all times.  It is the only way to drown out the white noise and background conversations and phones ringing and keyboards clicking.

 At rare instances, I sometimes cannot understand the words spoken on the radio (difficult for someone who enjoys NPR as much as I) or sometimes during a newscast on TV, the words spoken do not connect with the mouth movements of the newscaster.

 This is how it has been for me for several years. 20-some years ago a doctor possibly mis-diagnosed me with adjustment anxiety syndrome because I would have out-of-body experiences when having conversations with coworkers–I could observe both of us having the conversations, as if I was floating a few inches above my body.  When that happened, it took an even greater amount of focus to interpret what either one of us was saying (yes, I even didn’t know what I was saying).  I now know that this was likely due to my Aspergers–add the stress of moving to a new place and starting to work with a new group of coworkers and this would be triggered.  Or when I had to work 70 or 80 hours a week, this would happen then, as well.

 These are real problems for some people with Aspergers. Some don’t have auditory problems at all and some have extreme auditory issues.  This is part of my reality and I am reminded of it daily.

It was a day on, not a day off.

I am so overwhelmed with emotions from today. After several months of planning, we started early this morning to sort and divide the overflowing amount of donated clothing and personal items for the LGBT homeless youth served by SMYRC in Portland and Triple Point in Vancouver. We ended up filling about 220 bags of personal items and many boxes and bags of clothing for them. These bags and other items will hopefully be distributed to the homeless youth for the next 12 months.
We had volunteers front all over, from St Michael’s Episcopal Church, from the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union, the wife of Senator Jeff Merkley, and many others.

Everything came together so well.

This reminds me why I devote so much of my life to the organizations of my choice. I see where the work directly affects those who are often neglected. All in the spirit and memory of Martin Luther King, Jr.

That is what this day is all about.

Rough Waters: irregular employment of an Aspie

I recently read that up to 85% of the people with Aspergers do not have full employment. That is a hard number to fully comprehend and accept, especially since, apparently, I am (mostly) one of the 15%.

Thinking about this further, however, and I understand. Even for someone asks highly functioning as myself, I see continual challenges and barriers even when I am employed.

I think back to the beginning of my career, right out of college. I had graduated with a B.S. In Mathematics with a Minor focus on Computer Science. I really did not know what I should do with that.

I knew about a large computer services company that would hire bright people out of college and train them to be even more than programmer/analysts. In 1987, this was one of the best programs around. I saw that they were interviewing in the Portland area, so I arranged an interview.

I was invited twice to interview with Electronic Data Systems (knowing that the third interview was usually the hiring interview). I thought the interviews went very well, so I was surprised to receive a letter after the second interview that said that I was not a fit–and they explained why. Mostly, it had to do with me not asking many questions and generally the recruiter feeling that I seemed uninterested.

I turned around and wrote a long letter explaining that I had already done very extensive research about EDS and their training program, and I knew a couple of people who had entered the program. I knew that this is where I belonged.

The letter worked. I was scheduled for the hiring interview and then I ended up working for that company for several years.

Throughout the course of my employment, there were often one or two leaders who ‘didn’t get me’ and with whom I would have many disagreements. Every year when it came time for my performance review, it was always very mixed. I always excelled in problem solving and usually got good marks on customer relationships, but generally lower marks on teamwork and I would generally find that coworkers were uncomfortable coming to me with technical questions.

Really? My few close friends always told me that I was very friendly and tried to help whenever I could. Why was I not approachable in the workplace?

Despite the difficulties and challenges I faced, generally, it was good employment and I learned a lot and still became one of the technical leaders, one of the handful of people in the entire company who knew the business functions behind the managed care health insurance delivery system, specifically as it interfaced with Medicaid. I had worked on managed care systems all over the country, so I knew how it worked in many States. I had earned the respect of Medicaid IT managers in a couple of States, especially in Tennessee.

Everything came to a head when I was working as the Managed Care functional team lead on a project to replace the Medicaid system for Tennessee, which was entirely a ‘Managed Care’ State. One member of my team did not like me and would bully me and harass me daily. I thought that this was because I was gay and that is what she didn’t like. When I protested one time, she claimed that I was harassing her—and when a woman accuses a man of harassment in the workplace, then that is pretty much the end for the man, regardless of what the reality says. She was a person who was very unhappy with her life and she found someone who was different who she could transfer her unhappiness upon.

While I thought at the time it was because I am gay and she was a conservative Christian woman, I now believe that it was because of Asperger’s. I was an easy target for her daily bullying.

I ended up losing my job as a result of her protests against me and a middle manager who didn’t like me because the Tennessee Medicaid IT director told him directly to listen to me. Yeah, no one told him what to do and who to listen to, especially not the person who is not seen as a team player.
Since that time, more than 10 years ago, I have gone from job to job, unemployment to unemployment. I have a very impressive resume, and I’m usually told that I am the top candidate being interviewed for a full time job. Each time, I thoroughly research the company prior to the interview. Each time, I am invited to interview multiple times, with different managers and potential coworkers. Each time it ends with one manager telling me that I am not a fit for the team or I didn’t connect with the team or the manager when I was interviewing.

This falls in line with a lot of what I read about others living with Asperger’s and it matches my experience in other areas. When interviewing, there is usually one or two people with whom I cannot connect. Whenever I do have a job, there are always one or two people who are there to bully me or to otherwise make things difficult on me since I’m the odd one. I’m the different one.

I used to think that it was everyone else who didn’t try to reach out to get to know me and work with me. I now know that this is ME and part of my neurological makeup and there are things I can still learn that will help me finally find that perfect job.

I am not good enough, I am better than that

I hear it often.

“You’re not a fit for the work team” when trying to get a job.

“You’re not good enough to sit on our board or be a leader in the organization”

Or maybe it just isn’t quite verbalized because the person thinking that is afraid to be honest.

I know  that as a person with Aspergers, I do not have a dynamic personality that draws you in. I know that many people do not even remember meeting me, even after a long conversation. I’m just not that person who most people even see.

But really, every time I am given the opportunity to prove myself or given the time for that one on one conversation over coffee or drinks, I can nearly always impress you with my knowledge and my passion for the subject.

But yeah, I understand. You aren’t used to dealing with someone who has Aspergers and really, you don’t even know that about me. To you, I’m just weird.

But I know that I am better than that. Take a chance, get to know me. Understand that we are all wired differently.

Life from a different perspective for a new year …a coming out of sorts

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Whenever I was asked to talk about my life and describe who I am, I often spoke about the person I was at 5 years of age. Being the only left handed, eyeglass wearing child was just the beginning. I knew other things were different and I knew that I thought differently from everyone else.

After all these years of ‘thinking differently’ and sensing a common disconnection from most people, I was challenged this year to finally move beyond that 5 year old lost boy. After all, I’m not 5  anymore, and I have achieved so much, so to hang on to the child I was, due to the unanswered questions I have about who I was, does a great disservice to who I am today.

But the question is still unanswered. I know that I react to issues differently. I know that I solve problems in a different way. I know that some people think I’m without emotion. I know that smalltalk and ‘goofing off with friends’  is such a foreign concept for me. I know that sometimes in group settings, I connect patterns of responses and then take things extremely personal when I determine that I receive more negative response to my ideas from anyone else. I remember conversations from six months ago, and remember who said what and what decisions were made. I then know when those same people change their minds and it has always baffled me to find out that they don’t also remember the reason for the decision in the first place.

So, yeah, it really is my problem and I cannot really move forward without determining how to fix myself. After all, I can fix every other problem, so why can’t I also fix myself (if, in fact, the problem is me and not everyone else).

It really came as a shock when a close friend told me that several people who I consider mentors asked him what was wrong with me. It seemed to a couple of them that I might be autistic or something.

So, yes, I can now tell the world that I do have Asperger Syndrome. This really is difficult to say, but it also answers so many questions for me. As a person who prides himself in problem solving, I finally have that one puzzle piece that I have been seeking for all these years.

As I was challenged to put that five year old boy behind me, I can finally begin to do that. I finally understand so much more about myself and I can much better recognize my behaviors and responses.

I can end the year knowing that the five year old boy was smart enough to know all the ways he was different, but also be strengthened in knowing that the five year old kept me searching for the solution to the one puzzle I could not solve.

I can begin the new year with a new understanding of myself and so many new possibilities. I no longer have to hold myself back from any achievement. I can do anything.