Sunday, September 27, 2009

Name-Dropping

As I now lead the life of a virtual recluse, I don't get out much anymore. While staying put certainly has lessened my anxiety over social situations, I have missed out on meeting some names. In the past 2 years, I had the opportunities to meet Cindy Sheehan, Cynthia McKinney, Alexander Cockburn and Angela Davis, but passed each time because it would have meant leaving my cocoon and traveling north to the big cities of Western Washington.

However, back in my former life, I did have the opportunity to meet some noted names. I tended to be very uncomfortable in many of these situations, but I always managed to muddle through it...somehow.

When I was in junior high school, my family traveled to Washington D.C. for a family vacation. One day while walking around the Capitol Building, our family bumped into a former Vice President, one Hubert Humphrey, the senior senator from Minnesota. I don't remember much of anything about the conversation, but my parents came away very impressed with the man.

At some point in my life -- it escapes me as to precisely when -- I got to meet John "Jack Danforth who served as US Senator for the State of Missouri and later as US Ambassador to the United Nations. Actually, I'm related to this conservative Republican. My late mother was his 3rd or 4th cousin once or twice removed.

However, my best opportunity to meet famous people occurred in the 1990s when I was an activist and leader of several progressive groups. The first one of my heroes I had the opportunity to meet was Ralph Nader. While I still like him as a public icon, I was less than impressed with him in person. He seemed very egotistical and used to people catering to his every whim.

Nader served as the Green Party's presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000. He made several appearances in Oregon during this time. It just amazed me how he could send an audience into a frenzy, yet be such a cold fish in person.

However, his running mate for both campaigns, environmental and Native rights activist Winona LaDuke was not a cold fish in the least. She could whip up a crowd just as much as Nader, but behind the scenes, she exuded warmth, sincerity and kindness. I had the opportunity on three different occasions to spend some quality time with her. I got to meet her husband, one child and even her mother. All I can say is that she is really cool lady.

Another cool lady I had the opportunity to meet was Sister Helen Prejean, author of the book Dead Man Walking. (Susan Sarandon portrayed Prejean in the movie of the same name.) Prejean, an ardent opponent of the death penalty, was in Salem, OR to give a speech on the subject at Willamette University.

I was tabling at the event for one of the sponsoring groups. As the event was sold out and there were hundreds of people milling about after the speech, it just got to be too much for me. I ended up going down the hall to sit on a bench away from the milling hoard. As I'm sitting there munching on a bagel, someone sat down next to me. When I looked to see who it was, I almost dropped my bagel. It was the guest of honor, Helen Prejean.

She had been keeping to a nonstop schedule and admitted being a bit tired. So, Helen, me and a close friend, Donna, sat and talked quietly for around 20 minutes. I had a copy of Prejean's book and she graciously autographed it to my wife (who wasn't able to meet her idol that night because of the flu).

I also got to meet Noam Chomsky in a similar sort of way. Chomsky, another one of my heroes, has written such books as Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media and Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance. He gave a speech at Oregon State University and later there was a private confab at the area's one ritzy country club.

To be quite candid, I was greatly underwhelmed by his speech. Maybe I had been expecting too much, but it sounded like too many previous speeches. Afterwords I and a few others had received special invitations to meet Chomsky at the country club affair. Good thing we didn't have to pay for it because it cost far more than I could dream of paying -- several hundred dollars per person!

My comrades and I were a bit annoyed that this champion of the people would even agree to participate in this really exclusive and snobbish affair. However, once I got to meet him -- and actually got to talk to him for over 15 minutes -- I found out that he almost pulled out of the contract when he learned of this after party thing. He only agreed to it ON THE CONDITION that the money raised be given to charity! His stature rose even further in my eyes.

I had always imagined that Chomsky would be a rather dry fellow, but he turned out to be quite a funny man. He kept my friends and I cracked up while we had our 15 minute talk on politics.

However, of all the named people I've had the opportunity to spend some time with, the one who I got to spend almost 2 hours with was none other than academy award winner Michael Moore. He came to Salem to give a speech and hold a book signing for one of his many books (I don't remember which one.)

After the event he and his entourage along with a bunch of my comrades descended on a now-defunct coffeehouse in downtown Salem for dinner. We sat around the table laughing and talking like old friends. My wife & I sat next to his wife who is just as much an activist as he is. And let me tell ya, the Michael Moore you see on camera is the real Michael Moore. He doesn't put on any airs. He's just a good 'ol boy who has made it big and sometimes is amazed at his own popularity.

So, there's the short list of my brushes with the quasi-rich and/or famous. While each of these meetings is a special memory, most of my special memories involve ordinary people like you and me. In the end, whether a person is a known quantity or not, we each put our pants on in the same way.

11 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed this post, Trey. But I am concerned, as are you, I'm sure of your increased social isolation. You don't lay it all at the feet of Asperger's do you? And if so, why? I'm curious in an observational sort of way.

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  2. It's a combination my two disorders: Asperger's AND Schizotypal Personality Disorder. As I get older, the social anxiety caused by both is almost too much to handle. So, in truth, my self-imposed isolation doesn't really bother me.

    As I'm a person who needs set routines and patterns, this is now my established pattern. So, while I understand why it concerns people, I'm quite happy puttering around in my own little world. : )

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  3. I like Michael Moore too! Especially if he really is the person as portrayed in his movies. I appreciate his movie, Sicko.

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  4. You know what bothers me Trey? Is that you appear content to be defined by these clinical labels, to use them as crutches, as excuses and justifications for your fears and isolation, that you appear content to be disabled for life, and that you appear to have no interest in getting any better, overcoming your social fears, becoming a mentally whole, balanced and able rather than disabled person.

    It seems to me that you are getting exactly what you want, that you want to isolate yourself and live exclusively in your own private interior world, while intellectualizing about integration and the interconnection of all things, while you yourself withdraw and disconnect from people in your real 'offline' life, and you use your clinical labels of Asperger's, Schizotypal Personality Disorder, as if they are death sentences, with no possibility for cure, so that whenever you have any social problem you can just blame it on the 'disease' and not have to do anything about it, because you believe nothing can be done.

    The first step to healing a disorder of any kind is you've got to want to be healed. You've got to want to get better, you've got to want to overcome your fears, otherwise you won't. People get exactly what they want, even if their wants are at an unconscious level.

    This is why I could never be counselor, because I've been around too many mentally ill people who truly have no desire to get better, when getting better requires personal effort and responsibility. When a person is sick, and all they do is complain about being sick but never make the choice to get better: that's insanity, and there is little hope for such people. A doctor can't actually heal you, they are just a facilitator and guide, the healing has to come from within, and it all begins with a choice.

    If you want to be a recluse, fine, but don't blame it on a disorder, embrace it for the choice that it is.

    You'll probably respond that it's not a choice, and while you probably didn't consciously choose those disorders in the first place, you do make the choice everyday of your life whether you want to try to get better or not.

    Because if you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep getting the same results you've always gotten.

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  5. Cym,
    I lived in the "outside world" for decades and was constantly trying to "get better" to no avail. It's only within the last year that I've learned I -- like other aspies -- possess key neurological differences that simply can't be overcome by a different outlook or attitude. That would be like suggesting to a paraplegic that he/she can walk again if they simply decide they will or telling a person with Down's Syndrome that they can be as smart as anyone else if they only put their mind to it.

    Taoism teaches that each person needs to discover and embrace their own nature. My nature -- as the result of my physiology -- is to not fit in in the social world. The neurons in my brain simply aren't fused together in the typical way. For most of my life, I've been fighting a losing battle against my own self. The difference between then and now is that I'm trying to accept who and what I am, then live accordingly.

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  6. I rest my case.

    Though I'm glad for your sake that you found Taoism, and that it has brought you some peace of mind in helping you accept yourself for who you are. But I hope that despite your social isolation, you at least get outdoors regularly, for some healthy nature therapy. It's some of the best medicine on earth.

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  7. I don't understand how that rests your case.

    As to getting out, I don't get out as much as I would like. My physical infirmities often are a big stumbling block. I used to be an avid hiker, but due to my arthritic hip and fibromyalgia, walking more than 2 or 3 blocks is difficult.

    So, the best I can generally do is explore the most upper reaches of the forest behind my house. Every now and then, my wife and I take a drive to the beach -- my most special place in the world.

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  8. I say 'I rest my case' because your response corroborates everything I said, in that your comment expresses to me that you have made your choice to conclude that your disability is incurable.

    Down syndrome is a form of brain damage caused to the fetus by a pregnant mother consuming alcohol. A para-pelagic is someone who, either due to illness or accident, has lost the physical ability to walk.

    So you're arguing that Asperger's is an entirely physical condition, a neurological disorder that you were born with, having nothing to do with your thoughts or beliefs or your personal history and family upbringing, and cannot be effectively treated, or cured?

    I'm not convinced of that. My reasoning is that I'm not convinced that there is any mental disorder that can't be improved upon through the modification of your thinking and beliefs. To me the mind is of paramount importance in influencing the quality of your health, both mentally and physically. Thoughts influence reality, and beliefs effect biology. Maybe there are some things that can't be entirely cured through modifying your thinking, but there would at least be some improvement.

    I wouldn't tell a person with Down Syndrome that they can be as smart as everyone else, but I think that education and therapy can have some improvement on people with mental disabilities. There's people without legs that are told they'll never walk again, but with the aid of an artificial leg or wheel chair they end up winning marathons and climbing mountains, defying all the odds wagered against them, because they wanted to overcome their obstacles and they didn't give up.

    It just sounds to me like you have given up, and that is why I say I rest my case, because it is your choice to do so.

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  9. It seems to me that you are misinterpreting the meaning of the power of belief. Thoughts without actions change nothing on their own. I'm not talking about faith healing here. For example, if you have lost both of your legs, it is not simply the belief that you will walk again, that will enable you to walk again. It is the belief that you walk again which motivates you to actually seek out and implement the ways and means that will enable you to walk again. In this case, obtaining a wheelchair or artificial legs. A belief must be followed by action for it to be actualized. That is why in my earlier example I said that many people with mental illness don't want to change, and likely won't change or see much improvement, because they are unwilling to do the work that is required, involving personal effort, perseverance, and self responsibility.

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  10. I suppose this is where we have a difference of opinion. I don't view Asperger's Syndrome as a mental disease or disorder or as mental illness. It's a physiological condition just like any other form of autism.

    Now I will grant that science doesn't quite understand yet the complex differences in brain development, but the latest theories are that certain areas are underdeveloped in relation to most people and certain areas may be overdeveloped in relation to most people.

    The current thinking -- which differs dramatically from the science of the past -- is that aspies feature atypical brain neurology.

    I would suggest you visit some aspie sites like Wrong Planet. Most of us have felt out of place in this world our entire lives. We try to connect with others and it doesn't seem to work. It's not for lack of effort nor for a lack of wanting to be "normal".

    You might also want to read back over my blog under the Asperger's label. For most of my life, I was an introvert. But in the early 90s, I tried to force myself out of my shell. By doing so, I ended up with a host of psychological and physical problems -- many of which I'm having to deal with today.

    Me thinks trying to force myself against my physiological nature is the cause of a good deal of these problems. This is precisely WHY I have made the conscious decision to pull back. I don't want to continue to make the same mistake over and over again.

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  11. Looks like our last comments overlapped a bit. You're right, I don't know a lot about asperger's, and maybe I shouldn't even comment on it, but still, the point I'm aiming at is to don't be so quick to dismiss the role your thoughts may play in being able to modify the severity of your symptoms. I mean because you have this scientific label to explain what you are experiencing, you very well could be subconsciously talking yourself into fitting more into that role. Our thoughts really influence and help shape the entire realm of everything we experience. What we see is filtered through our preconcieved beliefs. So that if 100 people see the "same" thing, each may describe it slightly differently.

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