Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Some thoughs about pets for a Tuesday night

I’ve written about my functional names for pets in my book, and on my blog. When I was younger, I had a beagle named Bugle. Now, you may wonder, why would a function-oriented kid like me name a beagle Bugle? Well, the simple answer is, I already had two other dogs. One was named Pug, and the other was Beagle. So this other beagle came along, and I had to name him something, and I picked Bugle.

My repertoire of words was limited at that time, more so than today, and Bugle was just the next similar-sounding word after Beagle in my internal dictionary, so Bugle he became. Now, today, with thousands of words at my command, who knows what that dog would have ended up as if I had to name him again?

Down in Georgia, on the farm, we always had a lot of dogs. Most farms, the dogs lived under the porch, but our porch was concrete, solid, so they just lived all around. We had peacocks, too, to kill the snakes. Those peacocks didn't come when you called them, but I named them anyway. One and Two. I didn't name the snakes.

By and by, my little brother (who I first named Snort, then renamed Varmint) was born, grew up and got himself a dog that you’ll meet again in my book. I say again because you're going to meet him right here, now. So when you read the book, it'll be "again," unless you're one of those that's already read the book. Getting back to the dog story, he named the animal Kitty Kitty. And you know what happened? My brother came all the way up here from New York to visit us hicks, and Kitty Kitty fell in a pool of road tar. And he went home with a new paint finish. And why did that happen? Because of the name.

I told you about the farm in Georgia, and then I said "come up, " when my brother was in New York. A few of you may wonder at the apparent incongruity of that seeming error. Well, the answer is simple. It's not an error. At some point prior to Kitty Kitty's visit, I relocated from the farm in Georgia to a house in rural Massachusetts. Still hicks, just northern ones instead of southern ones.

So he did indeed come up.

And shortly after, he gave that dog away, to some freaks. For all I know, they ate him. I never saw Kitty Kitty again. But I think of him, when I go to New York, and I pass those street vendors selling steaming meat snacks from beat-up silver carts at one in the morning, down by Times Square.

But up or down, my brother didn’t learn. He came up here again, and saw some of my old cars. He couldn’t see getting a car, but he liked the name, so he got an innocent animal and named him Bentley. And then he saw the dairy farms in Hadley, and he got another dog, and named him Cow. And that’s why he’s the way he is, right now. And the dogs are totally out of control, slobbering and running and jumping.

Those dogs remind me of something I’d tell Cubby, when he was little, and he got too disruptive. “Cubby,” I’d say, “when times get tough, it’s the noisiest kids that go in the stew pot first.” He wasn’t sure about that, but he’d generally quiet down, because you never know . . .

What about the alkies and the cokeheads? The ones that name dogs Panama Red or Michelob? I knew a guy with a dog named Michelob, and he’s in jail now. What a way to spend your fiftieth birthday, in the can for selling a bag of heroin to an undercover cop half your age.

When I was a kid, my neighbor had a brown dog they called Rusty. So I got some spray paint from our high school theatre department, the stuff you could paint kids with safely, and I painted the dog a nice shade of rust. And I put a racing stripe down the middle, to make him go faster.

My favorite dog was the old retriever, the one named Dog. But I'm sad to say Dog died a long time ago, and all we've got left is a crazy, blind, old poodle named Poodle.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Do you know an Aspergian when you see him?


Do we have a distinctive look? A distinctive sound? A smell?

You’re probably expecting me to say, “No, we look and sound and smell just like everyone else!” But I’m not saying that, because it’s not true. We are distinctive.

Most middle-aged Aspergians grew up in isolation, not knowing any others of our kind. That’s what it was like for me. Now that I’m out of the closet, it seems like I meet Aspergians and autistics everywhere I go. And you know – we seem to recognize each other.

It’s the strangest thing. I’ve written before about talking with Temple Grandin. When we spoke, I was immediately struck with the realization that she sounded just like me. Her pauses between words, her manner of delivery . . . very similar to my own, enough so that I noticed. Since then, I have made the same observation with other intelligent Aspergians.

At another level, autistic people seem to see something in me. And I often recognize them as kindred spirits. I’m thinking of little Antonio, a six-year-old Aspergian I met last year, and the autistic teenagers I meet at events like the Lifespire reading I attended back in May.

I am not exactly sure what’s being recognized there. Temple suggested it’s a very basic, animal kind of thing. I really don’t know. But it’s there, because I’ve seen it and I’d wager that the moms who observed me at those events saw it too. I wish I knew more.

So what does all this mean?

It means that we do indeed have distinct behavior patterns, but we are only just now learning what they are. We also have this low-level manner of recognizing each other, but I can’t say how it works. Maybe new research will give us answers.

Can members of the neurotypical public recognize us? I don’t know. The fact that I went to a dozen or more therapists and mental health professionals for thirty-plus years and none of them suggested I had Asperger’s makes me a bit skeptical. Life experience says that most people’s classification skill is limited to a few terms: retard, freak, misfit, or normal. Some people have a wider range of descriptive words and phrases, others a narrower range, but few include Aspergian in their repertoire.

So if you’re an Aspergian, and you feel handicapped in society, be careful, because you’re not gonna get the same consideration as a guy in a wheelchair. Unless you get a wheelchair, too. But if you don’t feel handicapped, rejoice, because you can make your way in the world and no one will ever know.

Time will tell if announcing my Aspergianism to the world was a good move for me. I hope it was. I’m sure of this – there are a lot more Aspergians in the closet than out, even today.

I guess this is sort of a rambling post, but there it is. When you’re forty, all that matters are results. So if you have dreams, and you have legs, run for them. And if you have a net gun, use it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Victory from Defeat

After I wrote my earlier post, Defeated by Shakespeare, quite a few readers told me the story made them sad, because I said I could not enjoy something that many ordinary people like a lot. In subsequent conversations, I tried to understand that feeling, which I did not share.

I do not feel any sadness when I say, “I don’t enjoy sitting in the audience for a play.” There is no sense of loss associated with that statement. It’s just how I am. I do not feel deprived. I also do not feel sad when others don’t enjoy something I like. It’s just how they are, I guess, and I do what I want and they do what they want. I’ve learned that I focus on details more intensely than regular people, and there are many things I enjoy immensely that are not noticed at all by others. My friends may not share my joy at spending hours photographing flowers at the Smith College botanical garden, but that won’t stop me from doing it, and I won’t like them less for not wanting to be there, too.

So why do some people say they feel sad for me? I think it’s because they are projecting their own feelings and ideas onto me, and in this case, their expressed sadness is misplaced. They say, “theatre is a rich, rewarding experience, and you are missing it.” But my response, “well, you are missing the joy of watching the mechanical perfection inside this engine,” is equally true. There are countless things any of us can observe and learn from, and we can’t all appreciate all the possible things.

It's worth considering that other people may not appreciate the same things we do, and the things those people appreciate or enjoy are every bit as valid and worthwhile to them as ours are to us.

And we often end up in trouble when we try see the actions of others in the context of our own likes, dislikes, and values. Other people are other people. When I say I don't want to sit through a play, don't be sad. Recognize we're different. And I won't be sad if you don't accompany me to the botanical garden. In fact, the thought would not even occur to me, because it's not logical.

There is one thing I am sad about, which I expressed in the original story and I'll elaborate upon here. I am saddened when I observe events like "Defeated by Shakespeare" because they highlight the gulf that exists between my Aspergian thinking and the thought processes of much of the neurotypical world. And one thing I want more than almost anything is to be normal; to be ordinary. And at one level, I know I never will be, and I know the way I am is good for me. But I can't escape feeling a twinge of sadness when it's shoved in my face as it was that evening.

Otherwise, you can enjoy your things and I'll enjoy mine, and there will always be some things we'll both enjoy, and some things we'll both hate, and the rest - one or the other will like them, more or less. Because people are different, and I'm more different than most. At least, according to that DSM manual.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Look Me in the Eye around the world

I've marvelled before about the way Look Me in the Eye is being published all over the English-speaking world. It's just amazing to me, the way the publishing community has embraced my book.

At this moment, my book is being published for North America, the British Isles, New Zealand, and Australia. And it's listed for sale in many other places.

It's become kind of a game for me, finding sites that have the book for sale - in France, China, Japan, and elsewhere.

Anyway, today I received a sample of the cover that readers in Australia and New Zealand will see, when my book goes on sale down under, on October first. It's very similar to the American cover, with a different treatment at the bottom and some type changes.

The story itself is the same. My book has not been modified for foreign markets. At least, not yet. I guess a misfit here is a misfit there. Different words are not needed, according to the editors. Time will tell - I hope they are right. I don't want to get hate mail for confusing the petrol and the gas, and the loo, and the boot, and there is no Vegemite in the book at all.

Stay tuned for overseas publicity, and exciting announcements here in the USA.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Land Rovers at work and play

I thought I'd change direction for a moment and show you one of the machines our company ( J E Robison Service )builds. We're known for customizing Land Rovers for folks who want to take them to serious rough country, and expeditions, and adventures.

We get work like this shipped to us from all over the eastern United States.

This is a Land Rover Defender 90 that we just built for a fellow in Virginia.

In this photo Jeff ( one of our Rover techs ) has just driven up a knee-high rock ledge and he's climbing the slope at a steep angle.

Here are Jeff and Dominick from our Land Rover shop crossing a small stream on the trail.

All the equipment on the front - the high lift jack, the winch, skid plates, and such were fabricated or fitted in our shop.

This truck started life as a 1995 Defender, and it's gotten a 300TDI motor, a new frame, custom skid plates and guards, custom bumpers front and rear, Safarigard stage III suspension, ARB lockers front and rear, crawler transfer box, bigger tires, a 2-inch lift, air conditioning, CB radio, onboard refrigerator, and much more.

In this photo you can see the incredible range of suspension motion in a modified Land Rover. Look at the front axle, which is twisted in a direction opposite the rear.

This truck's been prepared to run out west, in the rock and sand of the desert. Those two cans on the back will carry drinking water. We've moved the spare tire to the floor inside.

The custom bumper is clearly visible. It can take the weight of the truck should the vehicle drop onto a large rock.

The box below the bumper is the armor for the fuel tank.

Here's another front view. The snorkel for the diesel air intake is visible. This Defender has the 300TDI motor.

The cables from roof to front bar are to deflect limbs that might otherwise smack the windshield.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Defeated by Shakespeare

This evening, Martha and I were invited to a picnic and a night of Shakespeare, courtesy of WFCR, our local public radio station. I presume they did this because we are supporters of public radio, but I’m not sure. Martha had a printed invitation.

We arrived on time, a few minutes after six, at the Hartsbrook School in Hadley, on whose grounds the event was being held.

We walked to the door, where we were greeted by Mike, from Fund Raising. He was flanked by Steve, representing Major Donors, and Jim, from Development. They gave us name tags on which they’d written “John,” and “Martha,” and motioned us to the food line. “Where’s Gerry?” I asked, wondering if anyone I knew would be there. “He’s not here,” Steve said.


I don’t do very well standing in lines. Never have. Most autistic kids I meet don't do lines either. We fidget, bounce, and become noisy. Even at my age. I just know enough to step out of the line so it's not evident.

After a few minutes, having abandoned the line and examining the surrounding vegetation and paving stones, I walked forward to see where it led. Well, it led to a pile of sliced chicken. I don’t eat chicken. I quietly abandoned the line. Martha remained to the end in order to obtain fruit and pasta salads. She doesn’t eat chicken either.

While she stood in the line, I walked around the room. Passing at least a hundred people, and seeing no one familiar, I went outside, where signs directed me to an outdoor stage, in front of which several hundred folding chairs had been set up. The show was not scheduled to start for almost another hour. What were we supposed to do? On the chairs I observed another fifty or sixty people, all of whom were also unfamiliar.

I walked out front, where Steve from Major Donors said brightly, “Looking for some fresh air?” “Yes,” I said, thinking he might offer me some from his private stock, hidden beneath the tablecloth. But he didn’t. Nothing happened. After a minute, I turned and went back in, continuing to consume the same air as everyone else.

I became more and more uncomfortable. I went in and stood with Martha, and my discomfort did not moderate. She said, “You can talk to me.” And that’s true, I could. But I was not comfortable doing so, with all those unfamiliar people around. So I didn’t. After a few more minutes, I said, “OK, let’s go.” And with a few more words, we left.

What went wrong?

Well, I don’t ever go into places where I don’t know anybody, and there is no context for my being there. I do not have the social skills to make my way among a crowd where I know no one, and no one knows me. Consequently, I avoid situations like that.

I realized I do OK in other social settings because I only place myself in situations where I am surrounded by context. People see me as John Robison, a Land Rover expert, or a business owner, or writer, or something. The “something” gives people a way to begin talking to me. Since I can’t walk up to them, cold, that’s essential for social success. I place myself in places where people can talk to me.

If the people do not talk to me, at least some, I become even more uncomfortable. I see them talking to one another, and it’s clear that some kind of social interchange is taking place, and it does not involve me. Since I am not on the inside, I must be an outsider, and consequently, I may find myself singled out as the others band together and turn on me as some kind of intruder. They could even attack.

What should I do? Experience from my youth says: leave before anything goes wrong.

Additionally, I don’t go places where I might incur some perceived obligation to someone I don’t know, because I don’t understand the subtleties of social obligations like that. The people I knew from public radio, were not there. The people who were there, I did not know. Who knows what they might have wanted from me? Best not to find out.

Realizing that I did not know a single person there, I suddenly did not want to place myself in unquantifiable debt to strangers, eating their food or attending their event. What might they expect in return?

I was glad I had not picked up a plate, a possible symbol of social obligation. I had a Shakespeare program that someone had given me, but I discreetly set it down on a table and backed away. No one noticed.

I don’t really know how to sit in the audience at plays, concerts, and performances. I can photograph them, or do sound, or run lights, or even work in production. The role of being in the audience, though, is unfamiliar and scary. The audience is where the crowds are. And crowds, as I saw in Savannah in 1979, can swarm and even riot. When I was in the music business, I was almost killed on several occasions by crazed, rioting crowds. Thirty years later, I guess I haven’t forgotten. I always keep the exit in sight.

I am not at all comfortable sitting in the midst of a crowd, at any time, for any reason.

Thinking about tonight, I feel a little sad. I’ve come a long way, learning to be a social and friendly-looking Aspergian. But at times, I am still reminded how big a gulf exists between me and those cheerleaders and football captains – the folks who could make friends with everyone – back in high school.

I might look like I have social skills, and for a misfit, I do. But I’m still a long way from normal. Still, I’m the best I know how to be, and I guess that’ll have to do.

And now, it’s dusk. Shakespeare is there. And I am here.

I’ll send public radio a donation.

Educators and Aspergians

As some of you have seen, we are constantly updating the www.johnrobison.com website in our quest for . . . . well, I'm not sure what the quest is for. But anyway, we're on the fourth iteration of the website.

And in this one, I have introduced something new and important . . . a letter to educators about my book, and a downloadable teaching guide.

You can find them here: http://www.johnrobison.com/educators.asp

I've written before about Look Me in the Eye being adopted by colleges, and how it's unusual that it's been taken up so fast. But it has, and all over, too. At real universities - not the kind that advertise on matchbooks. Well, OK, we have some of them too, but mostly they are legit.

Anyway, at Elms College Dr. Kathy Dyer is teaching from my book in the autism program


and she's also doing a program the University of Massachusetts


And she and I have worked together, slaving away, day and night, under extreme adverse conditions, to prepare this guide. Just for you. And anyone else who downloads it.

The guide is meant for college faculty who want to use the book to teach graduate students about autism and Asperger's. Kathy's course, for example, is ideal for special ed teachers, counselors, and mental health workers. My book presents a number of key concepts in a friendly, understandable, and entertaining manner. At least, that's what she tells me.

If that's true, those of you with autistic kids may find value in having your local school people read the book. Here's a link to the pre-order page on Amazon

I cannot personally assure you that your kids will benefit if their teachers read the book, but I'm reasonably certain that it won't have any nasty side effects or cause them harm later in life. Reading my book is sure to be much less risky than many other alternatives. Especially the alternatives that involve power tools, explosives, or space flight.

And they may find it entertaining, and they will certainly see Aspergian kids in a whole new light.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I'm on the online cover of Publisher's Weekly!

I just discovered that I'm on the Publisher's Weekly home page today, as the featured review, July 16, 2007. Look at www.publishersweekly.com about halfway down on the right side. Look Me in the Eye is right there, looking back at you!

I'll have to print it for posterity.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Where will you be September 25th, at 7PM?

I know where I’ll be. I’ll be at the Barnes and Noble store at Union Square, in New York City. And if you’re anywhere nearby, I’d love to have you stop by. The store is located at 17th and Broadway.

For Look Me in the Eye’s opening night, my brother Augusten and I will be appearing together. We’ll read a little, tell some stories, talk some, and answer questions from the audience. We will be signing books, articles of clothing, and small to mid-size children, provided they do not bite. Note: we will not be signing pets September 25th. Come to our November 2nd appearance at the Concord Writer’s Festival if you’d like your pet signed.

And on the 26th . . . .

I’ll be appearing at R J Julia Booksellers in Madison, CT. I’ll be by myself for that event, so it’s even more important that you be there to cheer me on!

Kim – you should round up all your friends and bring them to this.

And then . . .

Boston, the Midwest, and the rest of the world, one city at a time. So begins a life of touring. This is when all those frequent flier miles I’ve accumulated on my company Amex card finally get used.

I’ll be listing more events daily. Check the appearances page on http://www.johnrobison.com/ for the latest news. And if you want me to come to your city, have your local bookseller contact Christine Aronson, my publicist at Crown. I can’t come to every city, but I’ll sure do my best to cover the places with the most requests. Details are on my website.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The making of an audio book, part two

Here I am, going over the script with Charles Potter, my director. The director's job is to go over the script and work out any rough spots with me. He's kind of the boss of the on-scene work.

Before we started recording, we talked and he got a sense of my normal voice and what to expect. The job of the director is to get the most accurate and correct recording, with the most emotional range, while still being ME.

Then, once I started reading, he listened really carefully, and caught any instance where I emphasized a wrong word, or said a wrong word, or popped my p's, or did any number of other forbidden things.

Here's another shot of Charles in the control room. The studio consists of a recording booth (where I sit and read) and a control room, where Charles and Peter sit.

Sometimes, I'd read several pages without hearing a peep from him. Other times, it's be, "can we do that over, from the last paragraph? There was some rumbling . . " every few lines

This is Peter Acker, the engineer. He's sitting in front of the recording console. When I worked in the music business, we recorded sessions like this onto magnetic tape. Now, we use computers and we record direct-to-disc.

Look Me in the Eye took up just under 5 gig of disk space. We have a total of 8 hours of recording, which the editors at John Marshall Sound in New York will edit into the final six hour audio book.

The engineer's main focus is on operating his equipment. He's got to maintain his levels properly, so that my voice doesn't fade in and out. He needs to keep the level high enough to keep background noise at bay, but he can't let the system go into overload when I shout out, "Son of a bitch! It's on fire!!" Peter is the master of all the technology behind him.

Peter actually built the studio we're shown in, and it's in the lower level of his house. And wonder of wonders, it's half a mile from my home. That one of the benefits of living in a community that's full of creative people.

Charles drove to the sessions from his home, near Saugerties, New York, another creative place. Back when I was in the music business, I used to travel to Saugerties to work with the Fabulous Rhinestones and other bands.

In fact, in my first book, you're going to read how I escaped incarceration in a Carribean prison. What's not in the book is this: When I was in the airport going home, I met this girl, Julie, who was from Saugerties. She was at that time flying to Fiji to join a sailing yacht. One of those memorable four-hour acquaintances, you might say. And then, to my surprise, a year later I found myself in a restaurant in Saugerties with Harvey Brooks (of Blood Sweat and Tears and the Fabulous Rhinestones, among others) and who did I see? Julie. So I had sort of a connection to Saugerties, even before Charles drove up. And that ensured we would have a good session.

Anyway, to get back to Peter and the engineer's story . . . Peter also acts as the backup ears for Charles, listening for pops and squeaks and other unwanted noises. Both Charles and Peter have scripts and they follow me word for word, listening for errors.

In some cases, I'd deviate from the script. Usually, I'd add a "the" or an "and" to make the script read more naturally. Those changes would pass unremarked, but Charles noted every one on his script copy. Other times, I'd change something more major, and he'd ask, "did you mean to say that? The script said . . . " And in some cases, I had simply read it wrong. Other times, I disagreed with the script.

Disagree with the script, you say? How can that be?

The simple answer is, when you translate from the printed page to the spoken word, the words must change to feel natural. And there's a second answer. My script was prepared by an abridging editor as a standalone project. And sometimes the editor made subtle changes that I did not notice when I read it over silently, but when I said it, it felt or was, wrong.

And in one case *shame on me* I actually MADE A MISTAKE. In my book, I said, "I always liked Land Rover Defenders . . ." Well, the year was 1989, and the Defender didn't go on the market till 1990. The 1989 truck was still just a Land Rover. Hearing that, I dropped the word Defender from the audio book. It's still in the print book.

But I think the Land Rover community will let it slide. Just now, I typed "Land Rover Service" into the Google search bar, and I was still the first name on the list. So we'll just leave that little difference between the print and audio editions.

How many changes did I make? Well, if you look at instances where I changed more that one word, I'd say I made five changes in the audio book script, which is in total 58,000 words long. So they had it pretty right, going in, as they cut the 90,000 word unabridged book.

Here I am, sitting in the booth

To read an audio book, you use a voice that's a bit more powerful than you'd use to, say, read your kid a story. You read at a level you'd use to make a presentation to a small roomful of people.

That's necessary to get the range of emotion and emphasis. At least, that's how it appeared. The times I read softer, Charles would say, "Can you read that again, with a little more energy?"

And you've really got to concentrate. You can't let your mind wander, or you'll make mistakes. And if you make mistakes you'll be there forever, and the finished product will be crummier.

Digital editing is a lot better and faster than the tape editing we did, back in the day, but there's still no substitute for top quality raw material. That's what happens next, at John Marshall Sound in New York. And in just a few weeks, Orli Moscowitz, my executive producer back at Random House Audio, will have audio masters.

I invite you to step back a few weeks into my blog and meet Orli here: http://jerobison.blogspot.com/2007/06/visit-to-random-house-audio.html

You can read about Charles Potter here: http://www.natf.org/potterdirector.html

You can read more about Peter Acker and his company, Armadillo Audio, here: http://www.armadilloaudiogroup.com/

And you can read about John Marshall Sound here: http://www.johnmarshallsound.com/

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Creating the audio book

Well, I started reading the abridged version of Look Me in the Eye today, at Armadillo Audio Group.

Charles Potter is directing me, and Peter Acker is the engineer.

The first shot shows me, reading.

The second shot is my brother and me together after he finished reading the foreward.

Come back tomorrow for photos of the studio and more details. I'm tired now. I have so far completed 57% of the required reading and hope to finish tomorrow or Friday.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Today, it's Publisher's Weekly.

Yesterday Look Me in the Eye appeared in Kirkus Reviews. Today it's in my copy of Publisher's Weekly. Both magazines should be available from well-stocked magazine stands and they're also available by subscription online. Here's what PW said:

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s John Elder Robison, foreword by Augusten Burroughs. Crown, $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-307-39598-6

Robison’s thoughtful and thoroughly memorable account of living with Asperger’s syndrome is assured of media attention (and sales) due in part to his brother Augusten Burroughs’s brief but fascinating description of Robison in Running with Scissors. But Robison’s story is much more fully detailed in this moving memoir, beginning with his painful childhood, his abusive alcoholic father and his mentally disturbed mother. Robison describes how from nursery school on he could not communicate effectively with others, something his brain “is not wired to do,” since kids with Asperger’s don’t recognize “common social cues” and “body language or facial expressions.” Failing in junior high, Robison was encouraged by some audiovisual teachers to fix their broken equipment, and he discovered a more comfortable world of machines and circuits, “of muted colors, soft light, and mechanical perfection.” This led to jobs (and many hilarious events) in worlds where strange behavior is seen as normal: developing intricate rocket-shooting guitars for the rock band Kiss and computerized toys for the Milton Bradley company. Finally, at age 40, while Robison was running a successful business repairing high-end cars, a therapist correctly diagnosed him as having Asperger’s. In the end, Robison succeeds in his goal of “helping those who are struggling to grow up or live with Asperger’s” to see how it “is not a disease” but “a way of being” that needs no cure except understanding and encouragement from others. (Sept.)

The above review is (c) 2007 Publishers Weekly

They even gave me a star for writing an exceptional book. It's quite remarkable, the favorable attention this book is garnering.

Tomorrow I am off to the recording studio to read the abridged version of Look Me in the Eye, which will be sitting on bookstore shelves alongside the print book in just a few short months.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Look Me in the Eye on eBay

Well, my book has finally appeared on eBay. I don't know who the seller it, but he's got a good number of ARCs from the BEA show.


Whomever wins the book can send it to me for a personal inscription.

Look Me in the Eye gets its first big review

In Kirkus Reviews, July 15. Here's a link to Kirkus, but you may need to subscribe to see it.


Luckily, they said I could quote it, so here's what they said . . .

Affecting, on occasion surprisingly comic memoir about growing up with Asperger's syndrome.

Those who have this autism spectrum disorder are often seen as weird, because of their odd mannerisms and expressions and their difficulties in talking to other people. But Asperger's may also confer rare talents, such as the ability to focus intently and to think rapidly and creatively, notes the author, who wrote this text at the urging of younger brother Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors, 2002, etc.). A social misfit helped not at all by a battery of therapists, Robison admits that his behavior was decidedly disturbing, sometimes foolish and often dangerous. Asperger's can lead to a life of isolation, but the author credits interested adults with drawing him out as a child and keeping him engaged with human beings. He dropped out of high school at age 15 and left home at 16, impelled by a troubled family situation (alcoholic father, mentally disturbed mother) into the working world. While people were a mystery to him, machines were not. He became a self-taught sound engineer for rock bands and later a designer of electronic toys. The discovery at age 40 that his strangeness had a name altered Robison's view of himself, giving him a new confidence and enabling him to find more acceptable ways of coping with other people. He has learned to look them in the eye and even make small talk. His essays on choosing a wife and on naming people (he calls his spouse Unit Two, because she's a middle sister) suggest that the prankster in him still lives, but they also demonstrate the oddness of the Asperger's mind. Chapters on his son and on his late discovery of friendship are truly moving.

The view from inside this little-understood disorder offers both cold comfort and real hope, which makes it an exceptionally useful contribution to the literature.

The above is (c) 2007 Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus is notoriously hard on authors. For example, they summarize another review on the page after mine as "Drivel about a driveler." I was so glad there was nothing bad in mine!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Look Me in the Eye

Where do Aspergians look when they don’t look you in the eye?

There’s a whole chapter about this in my book, in which I say – among other things - “I look at the ground, so I don’t get distracted.”

Since I wrote those words, several people have offered more insight into where we gaze while we are thinking about something, and why. Here is a hypothesis for your consideration:

Visual thinkers – those of us who think in pictures – gaze up, into the sky.

Musical thinkers, those who think in terms of sounds – gaze sideways

And people who think in logical sequences – reasoning thinkers – gaze down.

Many Aspergians are like me – very logical. Do we all gaze down as a result? Is there anything to the above hypothesis? It’s something to ponder. Can you learn how a person thinks from where their gaze wanders when they’re thinking?

Can you infer it from their words when they respond to you? “I see,” or “I hear you,” or “I think that means . . .”

I think there may indeed be something to this idea.


It was hot this weekend.

Here I am, taking a break from riding a 1988 Springer Softail that a Robison Service client traded to me last week.

I've got a 1999 Electra Glide, also. It rides a lot better, and it's a much better bike for going places. But this bike is a lot cooler.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The growth of intelligence

On this rainy July day, I’d like to offer some thoughts on intelligence and the mind.

What’s the difference in apparent intelligence between a 1 year old baby, and a 1 year old dog or cat or monkey?

Having observed examples of each, and recognizing that I am not a neurologist or credentialed intelligence expert, I have to say there is not much difference to me. All can respond to my voice, smile when they see me, and do some basic tasks.

I know, all you mothers will disagree. “My baby’s a lot smarter than a monkey,” you say. But can you show concrete evidence that’s true, or do you just believe in your baby’s potential? Even Einstein was just another baby, and look how he grew up! And we all know that the cat, dog, and monkey can take care of themselves much more than the human baby. There is no question that they would fare better, set loose in the world, at any time.

So at that moment, which one is most intelligent, and why?

I understand that some babies will grow up to be brilliant scientists, poets, and politicians. There’s no doubt that some of today’s babies will manifest great intelligence within a decade of hatching. Where does it come from?

Does it grow, or was it always there but concealed?

If it grows, can we induce it to grow later in life?

Looking at my own mind, my intelligence has become much broader and less focused as I’ve grown older. I suspect that I’d score lower on most IQ tests at 50 as compared to when I was 20. But I am far more functional today. And that’s something the IQ tests don’t measure.

So what constitutes the “development of intelligence” and when does it stop? Or does it ever stop?

When you observe the adult human population, there are some people who never develop much intelligence. You can talk to them, and they are friendly and cooperative, but they just aren’t very smart.

Then, at the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got extremely intelligent people whose insight and problem solving ability is extraordinary.

The vast majority of the world’s population is somewhere in the middle.

And then, off to the side, you’ve got the non-verbal autistic people. How do you decide what they are? Are they intelligent, but choosing to hold back from interacting or manifesting signs? Or are they not intelligent and silent because nothing’s going on?

Judging from my own childhood experience, I suspect we have both kinds of people in the autistic group, along with a large population that’s in the middle, like the rest of the population.

Here’s an interesting thought . . . when I was little, I was mostly nonverbal. And at those times I developed the mathematical visualization skills that served me well later in life. I sat there, thinking, undistracted by talk or interaction with others. Was I actually smarter than? One key component of intelligence tests is reasoning ability. Might my reasoning power have been at its absolute peak back then? How would you know?

The brain grows during childhood, and stops growing after that. Is intelligence grown at the same time? Can we stimulate its growth?

I wish it were possible to examine myself at ages 5, 15, and 25 and compare those minds to the one I have today. How much did it really change? Did the rewiring I’ve done to learn to interact with society make me smarter, or less smart? It certainly made me more functional, but did that come at a price (say, in problem solving or reasoning?)

Minds can certainly rewire themselves to a substantial degree. I suspect it in myself but I didn’t see it because the changes were gradual and I was too close. I see it more readily in others. For example, I remember hearing autistic author Temple Grandin 20 years ago, and to me, she sounded significantly impaired. Today, though, she sounds just like I do. Did I sound impaired back then, too? I don’t know.

Whatever the degree of improvement, she and I both stand as examples that brain development does go on throughout our lives.

At this remove, there’s just no way to answer any of the questions I’ve asked. Perhaps long term studies of people like me will answer them for a future generation.

What is the trigger that causes our minds to pull ahead of dogs and monkeys?

Monday, July 2, 2007

Write about the things you know, or, make sure you know about enough things to be entertaining, before you start to write

In my previous post, I talked about what it’s like to actually hop a train. Many times, I read passages in books that were written by people with no personal experience with the things they write about. How do I know they lack experience? Simple. They make mistakes.

Like what, you say? Like M16 rifles don't shoot .30 caliber bullets. Revolvers don't have safeties. Rolls Royces don't have sealed engine compartments. The steel hull on a 900-foot oil tanker is 3/4 of an inch thick, not 3 or 4 feet thick. Little things like that bother me, because I read them and think, "Is this story really plausible? He must not have ever seen a xxxxxx, because if he had, he'd never have said, xxxxxxx"

As a lover of machines, I write about the things I know. When you open Look Me in the Eye and read what it’s like to run the lighting console at a concert in a sold-out sports arena, be assured that I am writing from personal experience. I am not making it up or guessing. It’s an unforgettable experience, pushing those sliders and hearing the crowd roar and come alive.

And as you will learn from my description, it’s a wonderful life in many ways. It has its ups and downs, but I’d still encourage any young reader to follow in my footsteps in music, theatre, or performance.

Creative people are the future of our country. Creative thought is one area where the United States still leads the world.

What about more down to earth things? Well, when I write about riding freight trains, I speak from experience there, too. Thirty years ago, I rode the rails over much of New England. I wouldn’t recommend you try that, nor would do that again, for a number of reasons. First, the rail infrastructure in New England is in much better shape today. That means the trains run faster. When I hopped freights, I got on at a walking pace, and the trains seldom hit 40 miles an hour. Today’s freights can run twice that speed. Second, there are not so many places to ride. Much of today’s cargo is locked up, and you can’t get in. And if you do get in, rail yards have camera, scanners, and rail police to find you and arrest you. And they’re a lot more efficient than in years past.

So don’t go hop a freight train. Or if you do, don’t say I put you up to it. Because I didn’t. I just showed you what it’s like.

If you want freedom today, try a motorcycle. It’s more direct, safer, and has the potential for staying totally legal. Of course, I didn’t stay totally legal, and you may not either, but I was legal enough that I’m still on the loose to write about it.

I had an old Honda 750 that I rode to almost every state in the continental United States, and all the provinces in Canada. I rode the Trans-Canada highway when it was a straight dirt track, four lanes wide, all the way to the horizon. It was a rough ride at 20 miles an hour as the wheels went up and down for every washboard and rut. But it smoothed out wonderfully at 70, when the wheels weren’t on the ground to hammer you. The rooster tail of dust stretched for miles behind me.

Some of the places in the far north, they’d never seen a motorcycle before. We’d refuel the bike from drums of aviation fuel brought in for the seaplanes. People told me to carry a heavy rifle, for the bears and other animals, but the only predators that ever gave me trouble on those trips were two-legged. Luckily, I made it through those years with nothing more than a few warning shots fired. My friend Holly Kennedy, author of the Penny Tree, lives in Bear Country now, and sends down photos. As far as I know, she does not shoot her bears, either.

I boated for many years, too. I grew up around boats. My grandfather had them, down south, big old cruisers. My Uncle Bob and his girl would lay on the foredeck, and I’d speed around looking for buoys and other fun things to run over. Sort of like bumper cars on the water. My friend Pat Wood – author of Lottery – she’s a sailor, too. She’s had a lot of experiences of her own, sailing the Pacific. But there is one boating experience I have had, that I am 110% certain has never happened to her. I almost lost my boat, when a train – a real one – fell from the sky and the wave swamped me. Find me another person who’s had that happen, and I’ll send you one of my Free Range Aspergian hats.

I will leave it to your imagination to figure out how it occurred. One clue: Demons and demonology were NOT involved. And no railroaders lost their lives to create this story. For those diligent researchers among you, I will offer this final tidbit: That particular experience of mine made the papers, but long before Internet and search indexes existed.

Even today, thirty years later, things like that provide material from which I create the stories you read.

I hope that even the least mechanically inclined of you will agree, stories that include machines can be fun. And I only write about the machines I know.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Riding the rails

Many stories have been written, glorifying riding the rails. They make it sound easy, hopping a freight. I thought I'd show those of you who don't live next to a railroad what it's really like.

This is what you see, trackside, right before you jump for that freight car.

This train isn't moving very fast. Maybe 20 miles an hour. It's struggling as it climbs the Berkshire hills in Western Massachusetts. There are two tracks on this segment. Westbound trains - the ones climbing the mountain - move slowly.

Eastbound trains - the ones coming downhill - move fast. We stand clear of them. They come down the mountain so fast here, that the wheels scream when they hit the corners, even though there's a machine putting grease on the rails.

At that speed, if they didn't grease the rails, the trains would end up five hundred feet down the embankment, in the woods. You can still see the sparks fly at dusk, and you can smell the brakes. But you're not here to catch an eastbound train. You're looking to jump a slow westbound, and that's plenty fast enough.

Notice how the back of the car is in sharp focus. That's because it's fifty feet away. The whole train is in sharp focus, when you're 200 feet from the tracks. It's moving slow, when you watch from back there.

Then you run for the train, and when you're two feet away, it looks like the right side of the photo. Blurred, and moving really fast. All of a sudden, you realize twenty miles per hour is a lot faster than you thought. That footrail is coming at you at twenty-nine feet per second. And you can see the shiny edge of wheel right below the footrail. That's where you end up if you slip. Or maybe part of you ends up there, and the other half crawls back from the tracks.

And it's not just the speed. It's loud, too. And it's rocking from side to side, and every now and then, there's a scrap of steel hanging off a car, waiting to snag you if you're slow or you're not watching. When you were a few hundred feet back, the train looked like a toy, one of the HO sets on your floor. Up close, it's huge. And loud. And fast.

The engines are a quarter-mile up the tracks by now. There's no one around. No one will know if you hop aboard, and the next stop's Selkirk Yard, outside Albany.

But no one will know if you miss, either, unless some hiker finds you.

It looked easy on television.

I don't ride freight cars anymore.