Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Autism Answer: Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself!

We are all living and learning. Some of us start in one place, others in another. Some have challenges with poverty, others with disability and others with prejudice. Heck, most of us probably have a little of it all! There is so much we can gain from one another. Yet I find it much easier to learn from others once we've practiced actively learning from ourselves. ~~

When I was seventeen, I got a job that was perfect for me. It would have been dangerous for me had I gotten it a year or two earlier, and I never would have taken such a job a year or two later. But for seventeen year old me, it offered lessons that would change the trajectory of my life. The choices I made and the things I thought about myself.

I would wake up early every morning to a quiet house, before my mom and sisters and four autistic brothers were up inviting noise and needs into the home. Dressed in grown-up clothes (skirts, blouses and shoes with heels) I would pour myself a cup of coffee and head out to the bus stop with other adults off to start their day. I felt like a woman.

Battling the snow and smiling at strangers, I would pull out a book and read on the hour long commute through the city of Toronto. Arriving at a square, brick, forgettable building that held the office I worked in I would chat with my co-workers and shrug off my long winter coat, stopping momentarily at the water cooler to grab a cup of water and a snippet of gossip before heading to my desk. I felt like a professional.

I would then pick up my phone and begin to telephone people—mostly widowed older ladies—in the United States and introduce myself as Kim Dawson. This was not my real name, but when I had been hired to work for this company they told me to come up with a pseudonym. According to them it would make me feel more comfortable when chatting with strangers and would also keep me safe.

Safe from what? Well, seventeen year old me hadn’t wanted to ask. She only wanted a job that made her feel like a grown-up. So I would telephone people as Kim Dawson and ask them if they were interested in selling the gems in their possession. I knew beforehand that the names and numbers on my list belonged to people who were in possession of jewels, and it was my job to talk them into faxing us the certificates so that we could possibly turn the gems into money for them. As Kim Dawson I was pleasant and excited for these people who were mostly thrilled at the idea! I felt like friend.

However, I did have a few questions that began to get louder over time. Why, for example, did we have to hide in the lobby of our building on more than one occasion just because some strange men were visiting the office? Why did we only phone and request certificates from people who resided in the United States? And what was I being kept safe from when using the name Kim Dawson at work? 

As a seventeen year old who loved the idea of being grown-up, loved being liked (I was quite good at the job), loved being out of the house so that I wouldn’t have to do chores, and loved commuting and feeling like an active part of my favorite city, it was easy to ignore these quiet questions. But as they got louder, I became more and more like the me who I was trying very hard to pretend I wasn’t.

I started flirting more with the men in the office as a distraction. I would avoid getting home at a decent hour and smoke too many cigarettes in coffee shops. I even started adding a shot of Bailys Irish Cream liqueur to my morning coffee, a sad attempt to remind myself that I was being a grown-up.

Two things happened that made me decide to figure out what we were really doing in our office. Firstly, I made one of my routine phone calls and the gentleman on the other end decided to give me a heads-up. “Kim,” he began, “if that is even your real name, you sound like a nice young lady. But what you guys are doing is morally and legally wrong. You take from people who are hopeful and then you take some more. You take until they have nothing left to give. I don’t know how aware you are of what is really happening where you work, but I suggest you open your eyes.” The fifteen year old me would have ignored him and continued with the flirting and high heeled shoe wearing. But I wasn’t fifteen anymore, and I wanted to not only feel like a grown-up, by to try acting like one too. So, I asked one of our sales guys what exactly it was he did. His honesty and lack of empathy surprised and frightened me.

“It’s so cool!” he told me with excitement, “I call these people up and tell them that I have a buyer for their piece, but the buyer only wants to get a set of gems. So I tell them that if they buy the missing piece from someone I have lined up, they can get tons of money. They usually go for it, and then I say—guess what? I can get you even more if you buy this other piece.—and I do that until they catch on and stop sending us money. They never actually get anything from us, it’s all a hoax, but I’m really good at it!”

I didn’t know what to say, and so I just told him I wasn’t surprised that he was good at it and headed to my desk. I sat and ran all sorts of justifications through my head. I wasn’t in sales; all I did was get the certificates. And no one can be taken advantage of if they don’t let themselves. And it’s just a job, and I get a paycheck. That’s all.

But when one of the bosses-- a very old man with a large veiny nose-- asked if I wanted to ride with him to pick up sandwiches, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I had to get out of there and possibly ask him if there was any truth to what we were doing. However, as soon as we got into his car I knew that I was going to chicken out. We rode in silence to the Deli, and before I could get out of the passenger seat his hands and old man lips were all over me. I just kind of let him kiss me and tell me I was sexy and touch my breasts. Then we got some sandwiches and headed back to the office. I felt like my old self.

The next morning I made it to the bus stop, but I didn’t get on the bus. I walked to the nearest payphone and called work. I told the receptionist I wasn’t going to make it in, I wasn’t feeling well. Then I walked to the donut shop near our home, the one where I had gotten my very first job, and ordered coffee.  I figured it was time to have a little chat with myself.

I couldn’t go back to the office. I couldn’t make those phone calls knowing what I knew. And I knew that if the old man asked me back into his car, I wouldn’t have the guts to say no. I also didn’t have the guts to call anyone—police, FBI—whoever it is you call when you know about illegal practices. Heck, I didn’t even have the guts to call and quit the job properly. I knew that day in the coffee shop that I would never go back, but that I wasn’t even brave enough to tell them so. I was not feeling very grown-up.

Ordering a second cup of Joe I started to think about a few other things. There were many people in that office that were going to work knowing full well what they were up to. There were people who were happily asking seventeen year old girls into their car only to cop a feel and eat a sandwich. I was making an intentional decision not to be one of them, and that counted for something.

And the old me would have gone back, in order to seem nice and like a team player. The fifteen year old me would have pretended she liked being felt up by the old man because his interest in her meant she was mature. She would have even thought that it meant he wanted to leave his wife for her. Her head would have been so filled with the need to feel grown-up and desirable that it wouldn’t matter if the old man was stinky and ugly and just plain gross.

Sitting there sipping coffee I realized that I was growing-up. That, although I had much more to learn and more stepping-up to do, I was doing the best I could with what I knew, and I was opening my eyes.

This learning has been huge for me over the years. As an individual, as a friend, and as a mom. To remember that we are all at a different place in our growing-up and that there is no ending point.  To remember that though another person would have had the guts to say no at the age of fifteen, it didn’t mean there was something wrong with me that I was learning it when I was seventeen. We all learn different lessons at different times, and they seem to be the same lessons over and over and over, just with more awareness and understanding that comes with experience. Making the lessons bigger and more all-encompassing.

It also meant a lot to me that, had I not been challenged by a random stranger on the phone, I may not have discovered exactly what we were up to until I was more deeply involved. Till I felt the need to look at it only from how I benefit, as the sales man who spilled the beans to me must have. It reminds me to share what I know with others, always with kindness (if he had yelled at me, I likely would not have listened) and always with an understanding that they may not know.  And that they may just now be ready to.

I have made most of those same mistakes over and over in my life. Not asking for information when things seem a little off, not saying ‘no’ to horny old men, not stepping-up when I see things that seem wrong, doing things only to seem grown-up or nice or smart or open minded. But I have also done them less and less, and gotten better at forgiving myself and sharing with honesty.

I am spending a lifetime spinning in circles and learning from myself. And I’ll admit, it’s a dance I enjoy!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!

# # #

Authors note: Inspiration for this piece came from listening to the song CRAZY TO SANE by Lynette Louise. The lyrics ‘Spinning in circles and laughing to myself’ had me laughing AT myself, and wanting to share!

UPDATE: My book is published!!! The title? Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories That Slowly Grow Up. Check it out!

Storytellers are powerful, and we are all storytellers. Journey with me as I tell my stories with intention!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Book Review: Dirty Virgin ~ by Jessica Sitomer

Sassy, sexy, and sneakily insightful! 

That's how I would describe Jessica Sitomer's delicious read, Dirty Virgin: A Romantic Comedy Girl's Self Inflicted 12 Step Program for Finding Her Happily Ever After.

I met the author briefly at a conference in Los Angeles, and immediately fell in love with her energy and smile. Here was a woman whose life couldn't be more different than mine--and yet I felt a kindred spirit. Ladies, can't we tell when we meet someone who loves to think and wonder and take responsibility for who they are? Don't we feel a "we get each other" vibe when meeting another chickie-babe with a desire to discover herself with intention and an eye on moving forward?

Yes we do! Unless of course, we don't, but then... folks who don't aren't likely hanging out on my blog now, are they?? tee hee!

The main character in Jessica's book is the chronically hard working RCG - aka - Romantic Comedy Girl - aka - Reese Channing Gibson, and much like the movies she fashions ideas of love and romance after, her tale is a delightful romp into the very challenging world of life and romance. The road to finding our "Prince Charming" can be fraught with dragons (hurt hearts), evil step-sisters (bad habits), cruel kings (mis- communications that tear our world apart) and wart bedazzled witches (addictions we simply don't want to acknowledge as "a big deal") and Reese shares her hard truths in this adventurous tale with a big dose of fun!

Beginning with creating her very own 12 step program fashioned after the many programs that have helped countless others, but personalizing it for her own goals and her own personality. With steps as brilliant and diverse as "Make Decisions to Take Care of Your Mental and Physical Health" to "Stop Comparing Yourself to Others" and--one of my favorites!--"Embrace Embarrassment You're not Perfect". 

Okay my friends, I have to admit to being surprised by how much of me I could see in this sexy single looking-for-love lady! I fully expected to enjoy the story, but never imagined I'd totally get her! 

I've never thought about my relationships with men the way Reese does, but as you all know I'm "addicted" to breaking down, making stories of, and learning from my relationship with my sons. Who, it just so happens, are men. Huh, interesting.... but I don't want to start tangentalizing! (Read the book, you'll get it!)

The point is, we discover more about ourselves, and people in general, when we take the time to both enjoy and examine who we are and what we attract in our relationships. With friends, lovers, wives, siblings, children, teachers, yoga instructors.... who are we with them? What do we attract and encourage from them?

While we take each step with Reese, the clever and sexy and fabulous friend that is the book's heroine, we are encouraged to do a bit of fun and thoughtful introspection ourselves.

And with a drink in our hands!!

As a non-drinker Reese loves to "look like a party without having a party in her glass" and so each chapter comes with a corresponding drink and recipe. Both dirty and virgin. 

Of course, I was drinking coffee..... shhhhh! Don't tell Reese! Giggle!

Ladies, this book is for you. Married or single or somewhere in between, you'll find fun and comfort in these pages. And because most of my followers enjoy reading blogs (okay, I didn't do the research but since this is a blog and you're here, I brazenly made the assumption!) you'll appreciate the many blog posts weaved into the story. Truly, we writers can all imagine gong back to our posts and examining ourselves in much the same way Reese does!

So I say grab a glass, mix up a dirty virgin Mimosa (recipe on pg. 25 of the book) and make a few new friends in the pages of the sassy, sexy, and sneakily insightful Dirty Virgin. 

Step 1: Purchase the fun on Amazon

Book Title: Dirty Virgin: A Romantic Comedy Girl's Self Inflicted 12 Step Program For Finding Her Happily Ever After
Author: Jessica Sitomer 
Cover Design: Kathy Hoffman
Publisher: Greenlight Publishing
Number of Pages: 389
Buy the book on Amazon
Check out the Dirty Virgin Sisterhood site!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Autism Answer: Teenager-itis and Building Tools!

My sixteen year old son is dealing with a rough case of "life is hard and relationships are harder and I just want to be the boss of my own life but want everything tough to be someone else's fault and I really want a relationship but they're hard". You know, teenager-itis! 

Because he's pro-active (okay, because he's surrounded by pro-active people who bugged him into being proactive... tee hee!) he filled out a form that claimed to help folks pinpoint their struggles so they could take steps to help themselves.

Before he was quite finished, an impatient and overly curious mamma (aka me!) asked how he was enjoying the process.

"Well," he answered, adjusting his heavy glasses and putting down his number two pencil, "some of the questions are fine, but it sure asks a lot about my looks."

"What do you mean?" I was truly interested.

"It keeps asking if I'm happy with my appearance, if I ever wish I was bigger or smaller, if I feel good about my looks, if I worry about how my peers think I look.... that kind of thing. I don't really worry about my looks, but it's like they think I'm supposed to!"

I gave an upbeat giggle and then rubbed his back as he picked the pencil up and looked at the last few questions. Just as I was about to say something he interjected,"And now it's asking if my peers are uncomfortable around me! I don't know, THEY have to answer that question! This is a funny form, mom."

It was awesome! My son identified immediately the possible power of questions and how they can plant ideas. He announced confidently that he can't know what his peers feel, only they can. And, we chatted for quite a while about the questions he would suggest for such a form!

The next few days were more comfortable for both him and me. He had identified a few things about himself--for himself. And he'd identified them for me too. So I was a little less nervous about not being able to help him.

Of course, he's still sixteen, and an unusual sixteen at that! So his teenager-itis isn't cured. But it is healing and headed in a comfortable direction. Will there be flare ups and back slides? Of course! But every day we're given opportunities to discover and practice with tools that'll help us build something beautiful out of the mess.

And every day we try our darnedest to get comfortable and familiar with those tools. We aren't exactly sure what we're building, but it'll be unique.

And we'll love it in all of it's stages!!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

                                            Enjoy this trailer for the international reality series: 
on The Autism Channel. 

AUTHOR'S NOTE: When your mom is THE BRAIN BROAD, you find answers and inspiration and fun everywhere. Please help her spread that fun and those answers with us by contributing to her IndieGoGo Campaign: FIX IT IN FIVE with THE BRAIN BROAD--Next stop: Israel! Please share, contribute, and take absolute advantage of the kick-ass awesome perks!! Every episode of FIX IT IN FIVE offers us a lot of awesome, so become a FIX IT IN FIVER by giving your time, money, shares, tweets, likes, or ideas to this fantastic campaign!! Hugs!!!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Autism Answer: Video Game Passions and PewDiePie

When I'm passionate about something I love seeing all the benefits it offers. Coffee helps your brain and your colon, an open mind allows me to love freely and choose wisely, reading novels is a doorway to other worlds that travels comfortably in my purse, etc. etc. 

Video games, well, they bore me. They look like a time waster, a responsibility avoid-er, an exercise eraser. But for my youngest son they are so much more than that!

He feels the stories the way I feel the books I read. He generates ideas and opinions based on attempts, failures, and wins the way I generate ideas when writing and reading articles. He problem solves and reaches for help the way I do when I'm parenting or creating a campaign.

Also, he avoids social challenges, the way I do when I'm reading books. He blows the importance of the problems to be solved out of proportion, the way I do when I'm parenting or creating a campaign. Also, he proves his business by pointing to ideas and opinions generated as a way to procrastinate, the way I do when I'm writing and reading articles.

The other day I saw an article claiming that PewDiePie had the #1 Rated YouTube channel, by terms of SlateScore. I wasn't surprised. PewDiePie is a Swedish video game commentator. Basically, he plays video games and talks about them on video, and people watch. Lots of people!

My son has been a fan of his for years now, and I'll be honest. I used to find it perplexing! Why the heck would he want to spend hours watching someone play video games?? I mean, I wouldn't sit and watch someone read a book. Not even my favorite book!

Though, I sure would love to sit and chat about it passionately when they're through....

And that's the thing. My son is passionate about video games. They're both his abler and enabler. So watching someone else be passionate (which is usually fun, regardless) about something that's a passion of his--well, I kinda get it!

PewDiePie sees things my son doesn't see while playing, and points them out. PewDiePie sees things my son does see, and talks about it alongside him. It's exciting!

As much as I think it would be a "better" world if Lynette Louise aka The Brain Broad had the most popular YouTube channel, well... that's selfish and even prejudiced of me. Passion is passion, and judging another person's path to finding themselves and their values is NOT what I hope to teach, or believe!

So I will continue to help my son keep his passions healthy, and insist on keeping an eye on my own so that they also remain healthy. And when we dabble in the procrastination or avoidance zone--we'll laugh and smile and change and totally get each other!

My books are nice. 

His games are nice.
Our passions are us.

And they're equally valuable!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

Playing at his Passion!!!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Autism Answer: Job Interviews & Hickies!

My eighteen year old son and his girlfriend just got their own apartment and spent the weekend packing and preparing for the three hour drive to their new place. They moved in yesterday. I got a call from my son last night. 

SON: Mom, I have a problem.

ME: Okay, I'll see what I can do! 

SON: Well, my girlfriend had to go back and see her mom so I'll be alone here for a little over a week. I had big plans to get a job, introduce myself to the local fire station and offer to volunteer, and check out the local community college to find EMT courses.

ME: That sounds like a proactive plan my dear! What's the problem?

SON: My girlfriend gave me three really big hickies on my neck. How can I look for work or go the fire station with those things? I don't look professional!

ME: (stifling a laugh) That is a bit of a problem. Welcome to the challenges of living with someone! Go to the store and get concealer, it's in the makeup section. I think, I haven't been in the makeup section since I was fourteen.

SON: I tried that last time this happened. It didn't work. It just drew more attention to the area.

ME: Hmmmmm.... I know! Wear a long scarf and act important. No one will see your neck, and they'll feel compelled to invite you into their crowd because you seem so important!

SON: Very funny! Oh, wait.... that's my girlfriend calling on the other line. Gotta go!

I said goodbye to my rug rat and marveled at motherhood for a moment. Though it's true that my advice was silly, it's also true that even if I wasn't being silly, if I'd have been brilliantly weaving answers that got him money, fame, happiness, and disappearing hickies, he still would have said goodbye to me when his girlfriend called. She's the one he lives with now. She's the one he's working to impress and protect now. She's the one he snuggles now.

But still, I'm the one he called for advice.

And that's the role that's most important to me anyway! The one who is trusted to come up with ideas, to not judge the problem, and to be there when he needs exactly that.

Our kids might move out but they don't have to move away.

I wonder what color scarf he's wearing today?

tee hee!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

My son and his lovely lady!!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Autism Answer: The Genius of Comedy and a Comedy Genius~Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers, she will be missed!

Her humor was raw and crude. When her jokes (and the jokes of comedians like her) don't offend us, we laugh. When we agree with the callused and comical observations, we laugh harder. When a refusal to be politically correct or even kind hits us where we are tender or easily hurt, we tell our friends and teach our kids what not to joke about. 

Today when entertainers cross a line that irks us and our personal sensibilities we tweet or post or write long winded explanations and complaints with headlines meant to trigger clicks, shares, and conversation.

Comedians like Joan Rivers help us see ourselves and our incongruity. They help us know what we think is appropriate or inappropriate and remind us: A joke too far in your mind isn't more right or important than a joke to far in the mind of the next guy or gal. 

Comedians like Joan Rivers let us see ourselves and our culture while laughing, or while absolutely not laughing. That is a beautiful gift!

Can we talk?
A comedian who uses satire and commentary to say things he or she sees in the world, and to say it without pillows or apology while rarely saying it only for easy laughs, is a kind of hero. It's easy to say mean things that are funny-- "Went on a blind date, because I figured blind people can't read so I'm probably smarter and I like being the smart one, but when I got there and he was a fat old guy in a diaper I wished I was blind, not the date. Then I found out he wasn't even blind, just gross! I didn't stick around, but I'm betting I still would have been the smart one." and it's easy to stay away from controversial topics (aka anything worthwhile... wait, actually pretty much anything!) and be funny--"The difference between men and women is simple: Men don't like talking about their feelings and women's feelings are that they don't like men!" or "Have you tried one of those online dating sites? It's a great way to be rejected multiple times without even leaving the house!" or "Gas prices are so high I started hitchhiking. It's great because I've actually met some of my 70,000 social media friends in real life! You know, they're kinda losers." But to craft and deliver jokes that are fearless and true (to the person who crafts and delivers them) takes guts and a passion for making people laugh.
Joan Rivers had that passion during all of her years, she never grew tired or bored of us and our need for funny.

Joan Rivers and funny people like her are brave, and put themselves out there for our benefit--because we are healthier, happier, stronger and more connected when we laugh. And we should laugh often and loud!

My heart goes out to her family and I make a promise to laugh extra honestly this weekend.

Hugs, smiles, and love!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Autism Answer: My Texas Body and My California Body~Different but Equal!

Author's Note: This piece was originally published on Yahoo Voices, but Yahoo Voices no longer exists. Which means we writers were given back rights to our articles. Sooooo.... I'm sharing this one here with you!!!! Happy reading! And feel free to love your body too!! xoxo ~~

I live in two states. Texas and California. Softer and harder. I find it's healthy to discover a love of both.

I am in a fun and unique position to learn love for my body. As with many women I've struggled to see myself as sexy or cute or beautiful. There have been times when it was easy; not because I was well proportioned physically so much as because I was well balanced emotionally. And there have been times when it was horribly hard; not because I was overly disgusting to look at but because I was uncomfortably sensitive and looking for outside approval.
However, the past ten years have offered me the perfect storm of opportunities to just go ahead and love my body. And I've (mostly) taken advantage of these offerings to see that beauty!
The seed was planted when my husband consistently ignored my attempts at fishing for compliments, or even bit the bait with unromantic, unflattering responses. "Well, I don't want no skinny woman," is one example. My husband instead completely voiced a love of me. Who I was, not how I appeared.
But a belief in my body's beauty didn't truly blossom until I moved out of our Texas home to California for two years, in order to help my mom begin building her new business. Which, interestingly enough, is called Brain and Body.
My lifestyle in California was vastly different from my Texas one. In Texas our home hides deep in the woods, surrounded by nature and quiet growth. We hike, read, watch the world, think, write, and sit by the fire. But in California our home was in a suburb where I could walk to a nearby club to go dancing, hurry to the park to play tag, speed up beside the running neighbors who'd smile and sweat with constant movement and joy. The California me was active and toned. Initially I lost enough weight to make my oldest son worry that I might have cancer!
I learned that I didn't really love my California body more than my Texas body, just different. And each state gave me plenty of takeaways that made the way I lived in the other even healthier!
Today I live in both states, travelling back and forth depending on where I'm most useful and comfortable in the moment, and always my body shifts with me.
I choose to eat healthy and think healthy regardless of where I live, but I also truly enjoy both lifestyles. My softer, fluffier Texas body and my tighter, thinner California body.

The trick is to first love who you are in all of your states, not how you look. My hubby taught me that. Appreciation for the rest happens almost naturally, as a byproduct of caring for and loving you.
Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Me, in one of my states!