Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The issue of dragons...

Leigh issued me with a handmade voucher for four dragon eggs this morning. We were just having an ordinary everyday breakfast, but I could see this was an event which carried a bigger significance than the usual breakfast table events or random handing-over of things and that some measure of solemnity accompanied by discernable signs of appreciation was required from me.

“Thank you so much, sweetheart, this is just what I always wanted: dragon eggs. When can I collect them?”

“What are you going to do with them?” The eyes were narrow slits, the expectation tangible. This was a test question.

“Oh, I’ll keep them on my dressing table to make it look pretty and to make me think of you.” I knew I had failed the test after “keep”, I could see it in her shocked eyes, but kept going like a brave trooper on a suicide mission.

“Noooooo! They’re not for keeping!”

“What does one do with dragon eggs, Leigh?” asked big sister no. 2, deciding to bail me out this time. (The big sisters and I have a system whereby we bail each other out in the event of tight Leigh spots and in the process the bailer outer earns bail out credit for when it is her turn to stand in the dock for not knowing obvious stuff.)

“You warm them.”

“And then?”

“They crack, of course.”

“Oh. So?”

“And then dragon babies will come out.”

“Why do I want dragon babies? I have you.” I ask.

“They will grow up.”

“Why do I want grown up dragons?”

She looks at me for a long long time. “Because one has to have dragons.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Of winners and winning...

One of the traits most Asperger kids have in common is the rigidity with which they cling to the perspectives they form based on their unique way of looking at life. This often results in intensely frustrating stand-offs between an uncompromising little person and an exasperated parent. Not much of what Dr. Phil teaches about handling parent-child conflict helps either, because in this case it is not merely a difficult or headstrong child one is dealing with, or an ill mannered one. It is a child with a pathology that cannot be “fixed” with conventional discipline or even bribery. And trust me, I have tried the latter in sticky (read: public) situations on many occasions.

Aspergers are immune to bribery and compromise. They are so straight, in fact, that government should gather all the grown-up Aspergers they can lay their hands on, train them in public administration and let them run the machinations of state. I guarantee you: corruption, ineffectiveness, delays and lethargy will be eradicated from the officiosphere in its entirety, forever and with immediate effect. The administration of State will run smoothly, strictly by the book and on designated schedules as if our very lives depended on it. Service will be prompt and highly (sometimes even painfully) effective. Service delivery will not be restricted to the 40 hour working week, including lunch and extra long tea breaks, current officials insist on. No sir, we will enjoy the benefit of an officialdom consisting of individuals who obsess about completing any task they start without interruption or delay.

But, oh, beware those times when a little oversight on our own side may require a tad of flexibility from our friendly state administrators. A little wink, or a little nudge at most. Certainly not bribery or corruption on the scale of our current President’s friends and acquaintances or even that which we anticipate from those associated with our anticipated new commander in chief. You know, just those little times when one is a little late with some licence renewal, or when some “triviality” occurs and the official we deal with has the authority to act on his own discretion. Little things, really, you know...

Beware! When the Aspergers take over, we may enjoy smooth administration for the first time ever in the world wide history of the organised state, but forget allowance for our humanness, our little “situations”. There will be no compromises. A winning smile, a bottle of good scotch, or even the best cleavage on both sides of the equator will get you absolutely nowhere.

But here I am getting carried away by the state of the State again, while I really meant to write about the medal Leigh won at the inter schools athletics meet.

Because of her substantial electronic game playing abilities, Leigh has become accustomed to always winning irrespective of whether it is a race or some other skills game. Electronically, once she’s had an opportunity to look over a game, she is virtually unbeatable amongst the crowd in her immediate world. This led her to believe that it is a primary rule of any competitive game that Leigh wins it. She literally does not have any concept of the best participant winning a competition, no matter how we try to illustrate or explain the concept of merit to her – it is like trying to convince a rocket scientist that the workings of his devices is really the result of interference by ghosts from other dimensions.

While this is all fair and well in cyber space and in the gaming world where the competition is between electronic images of fairies, dragons and little men running on a flat screen, Leigh transported this perception into real space. We were unaware of this problem until the first time she did not win. During athletics practise in her school she always won, so it never came up. This is probably what prompted her to blur the lines between cyber reality and actual reality in the first place, but imagine the havoc when she qualified to participate in the inter schools athletics meet, an event athletes from five different spes ed schools participate in, and did not win.

The pavilion was full of parents from all over the peninsula. Leigh came in third and freaked. The game is not working right, it is broken. Teacher Nansia and I and both explained: no, this just means two of the other girls can run a little faster than you, dear, it is nothing, really. Look, you are the third fastest out of more than twenty participants which means you are still pretty fast. But she would have absolutely none of it: either this game is not working right, or they cheated. No amount of coaxing was going to cut it. This, right in front of the stands, right in front of hundreds of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings waiting for the post race medal giving to proceed: the shrieking, shrill devastated little voice of an irremediable and heartbreaking lack of understanding and a mother-teacher partnership trying to contain the damage. The scene was classic.

It was a scene that every parent in that stadium was in one or other form painfully familiar with and understood. And that is probably the single most comforting benefit parents of special needs kids find in the spes ed environment: the comprehension and the reciprocal forbearance amongst parents in situations that in the mainstream would have caused severe embarrassment or even an unpleasant situation of some kind.

In the end, to not hold up proceedings any more than we already had, Nansia and I abandoned all efforts to explain the phenomenon of merit, as well as our lesson on the significance of the difference between the real world and the one contained between the four sides of a flat screen, agreeing that those two issues would have to be included in our longer term socialization strategy, and fortunately managed to sell the idea that it simply was somebody else’s turn to win this time. I know it was a short cut and that these often defeat the objectives of socialization, but we were really in the hot water at that moment and we were not going to convince that little girl on the spot there in front of a waiting crowd that her perspective was skew. That is one of the things I love about Nansia: she does not dogmatically cling to prescription when practicality begs a temporary departure.

So, fortunately, even though Leigh remained extremely sceptical about the idea of giving someone else a “turn” at something that has nothing to do with turn taking because one is by the very nature of things always the sole claimant to it, her generous nature took over and she graciously agreed to go with the flow. She was still wearing her bronze when she went to bed that night. I sat next to her for almost two hours after she fell asleep before taking it off and hanging it over the pillar of the bed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The other side of Africa

The one who overfears, is the one who meets with hardship.
- African proverb
Just look at the clouds and the water and the ten tiny men!
This picture of a fishing crew pulling their dhow ashore was taken at Linga Linga, Inhambane, Mozambique by my friend Strandloper - (his Afrikaans pseudonymn refers to a bird who lives mainly on the beach)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Notes on the death of an idol...

I find the thought that someone like Norman Mailer must die like any normal person disconcerting and immensely weird.

Suddenly, in spite of all the controversy, subversion, famous infamy, abrasion and undeniable brilliance, he becomes just another man. And that does not feel right. There is a handful of people about whom I feel this way, most of them wayward subversives and social “denigrateurs” such as Norman Mailer, Hunter Thompson, Martin Amis (yes, I cannot help but like this writer in spite of his often conservative sentiments), etc.

None of them are nice men in the true sense of the word. All of them became larger than life as a result of their tendency to indulge in deviant utterances. We idolise people like them because they stomp like a herd of buffalo where others fear to tread. Because they are truly free from any need to be liked by others, they become exempted from the ties that bind ordinary folk; they have no need for decency or protocol. They built their celebrity mostly on their highly entertaining abrasiveness, and we love them for it. We aim to become just like them. And then they fail us by dying like ordinary men.

In death – except for the price tag of the funeral – all are equal. Once the formalities and rites are concluded, “they” are just like “us”. What an indescribably depressing thought; what a demystification! It makes me wonder why we even bother. One death you owe this world, irrespective of who you are. Does that not offer us who are mere wordsmiths good reason to be as idle as possible? We who will not invent or discover anything that will contribute to the comfort or even survival of our descendants, why must we bother.

Or do we secretly pursue immortality precisely through what we leave behind when we depart this world? Is that ultimately why we almost compulsively post our thoughts on paper and even in cyberspace in spite of the inherent vulnerability that goes with it? Mister Norman Mailer, in one of his more sober utterances, said this about our compulsion to write:

Part of the ability to keep writing over the years comes down to living with the expectation of disappointment. It's the exact opposite of capitalism. In capitalism you want your business to succeed, and to the degree it does your energy increases, and you go out and buy an even bigger business. In writing it's almost the exact opposite. You just want to keep the store going. You're not going to do as well this year as last year probably, but nonetheless let's keep the store going. What ruins most writers of talent is that they don't get enough experience, so their novels tend to develop a certain paranoid perfection.

Norman Mailer exhibited a kind of deliberate egotism and a self conscious arrogance that only the most brilliant can get away with. And he got away with it. Yes, sir, he did. His abrasiveness at times matched that of Hunter Thompson. But other times his metaphors were so sharp and so clear that reading his narrative was more like watching a movie than like reading words on a page. Look at this excerpt published by The New York Times:

“Their uniforms were twice blackened, by the water and the dark slime of the trail. And for the instant the light shone on them their faces stood out, white and contorted. Even the guns had a slender articulated beauty like an insect reared back on its wire haunches. Then darkness swirled about them again, and they ground the guns forward blindly, a line of ants dragging their burden back to their hole.” - The Naked and the Dead (1948)

Only to be followed by this assessment by the author himself of his stature in American literature:

“I find arrogance in much of my mood. It cannot be helped. The sour truth is that I am imprisoned with a perception that will settle for nothing less than making a revolution in the consciousness of our time. Whether rightly or wrongly, it is then obvious that I would go so far as to think it is my present and future work which will have the deepest influence of any work being done by an American novelist in these years. I could be wrong, and if I am, then I’m the fool who will pay the bill, but I think we can all agree it would cheat this collection of its true interest to present myself as more modest than I am.” - Advertisements for Myself (1959)

What can anybody say? The man won the Pulitzer twice.

One just has to love a character like that.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Louis Ribeiro: immortal through his music

South African musician and anti-apartheid activist Louis Ribeiro passed away in London on October 23 after a long illness. He was 55-years-old. He left South Africa in the late 1980s and released two albums in the UK, Under African Skies, which he produced with the African Centre, and The Harvest.
Go and listen to samples of some of his songs at (on the left side of the page.) My favourite is Shoshaloza. I love the way he fused African sounds with other genres.
Ndiyakumamele, Louis!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Do thieves have mothers?

On the way to school in the car this morning Leigh asked: "Do thieves have mothers?"

I considered the question carefully. Sometimes her quizzes are typical childish quests for knowledge, but often they are tests designed to determine the level of my social comprehension which in her view is sometimes sadly lacking.

"Yes, they do," I eventually said, confident this one is not a trick question. I mean, it's a straight forward birds and bees matter and she knows that everything that breathes has to have a mother of some kind, right?

But alas "No, they don't," she says.

"Every living thing has a mother, Leigh."

"Thieves don't, you dummy!" she replies with friendly indulgence.

"How come?" I ask.

"Because they don't get born!"

Monday, November 5, 2007

A genie, a race, a show, a castle and a couple of smiling damsels

"I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture..."
John Adams - US diplomat & politician (1735 - 1826)
My daughter drew this picture on her PC. In spite of her autism she uses several different software packages without ever having been shown how any of it works. I am convinced that she allready knows much more about computers than I ever will - probably because unlike me she has no fear of them.
Do yourself a favour and click on the image to see the blown up detail: there is a genie, a race and a show complete with audience consisting of winged unicorn ponies, plus a castle with damsels in the towers.
Maybe those children who speak less see more.