Out with the old, in with the new

For three years I’ve been working on my first science fiction novel but I always had doubts about it. There were just a few things about it that bothered me. For starters, the plot sounded more like an episode of Doctor Who than what you would find in a science fiction saga, which is what I was going for. Maybe The New Doctor Who Adventure series of novels which I have read quite a number of. Secondly, the story didn’t seem to flow. I want to tell a story where the action just propels it forward and doesn’t stagnate or pause and then have to be started up again. That probably made no sense. It only would if you read the first few chapters of my novel. I also thought it wasn’t sci-fi enough. I was way too literal and it all seemed so realistic it was kind of dull.

The point is I just wasn’t happy with it. I had exhausted myself with research. I looked into game theory, complicated physics I barely understood which I wracked my brain over to get a vague idea of what it meant, and studied science fiction while watching or reading it. I researched everything. I taught myself to think like a verbal thinker instead of falling into the trap most visual thinkers do like assume people see what I see in my mind so there’s no need to describe it. I even studied people when we sat down and talked together in a group. Often people stopped and just looked at me gawping at them. Oh, ignore her – she’s just learning social skills.

Lastly, I really wanted to jump start into writing a futuristic sci-fi story and had I stuck with the original story that wouldn’t have happened until book 3. I tell you what though I am going to miss Lochner and Mason, two characters I came up with that had a lot of personality.

I didn’t want to give up at first but because of my poor ability to concentrate or write with a completely cleared thoughts (it’s an ADHD thing) I felt writing a novel would be too overwhelming and I just wouldn’t stick with it. So, I decided to write the story as a screenplay. It was all working out fine until my worries about CG1 came in. If I was serious about this then I had to sell it to someone who was going to put high end graphics in it. Something told me that wasn’t going to happen. I don’t exactly live in the land of opportunity. I live in Australia whose film industry is kind of young compared to America, and they don’t exactly have the budget to make a movie like Super 8. By the way, my story was nothing like Super 8, more every sci-fi show I’ve ever watched mixed together.

My next great idea was to go back to writing books, but not a full length novel, maybe something for the YA crowd, or even younger, and maybe go the Orson Scott Card way when he first penned Ender’s Game – do it as a novella first.

By this time I had completely shelved the original story as another synopsis came to my mind from God knows where. Actually, I loved the sci-fi world I had created and still wanted to write about it and use similar themes because something in my brain was telling me people had to hear what I have to say. With all this talking about putting a label on normal – the timing was perfect!

As I type I have boxes of notes for the extinguished Working Memory novel. It all won’t go to waste. I’ll recycle it. Haha, kidding. I will recycle some of it but I’m sure I can borrow some ideas from it and put it into my new story.

I’m excited for this new project. For those that don’t know I have a highly visual thinking style and can basically dream up movies in my head – in just half of a day I watched a synopsis for this story unfold and by the end of the day I saw how it ended, when I was distracted by my thoughts while sitting on my couch while trying to watch TV – and if I can’t write down what I see I go a bit crazy. I’ve been imagining these rich environments with well developed characters and complete plots since I was about five years old. OK, it took a few years to develop my imagination in this way. I used to dream up scenes and then by age eight I was watching movies from beginning to end in my head.

You can understand why I’m so desperate to be a writer and share my ideas with the world?

I think my best way to write this novella is quickly and not worry too much about details yet. It goes well with my fast thinking brain and very short attention span, as well as the huge amount of focus I put into my writing when I’m capable of doing it that it leaves me completely drained. And writing it as a novella for a adolescent audience just takes a bit of stress off me because the language doesn’t have to be so pedantic and the descriptions not as in depth because that’s not what I’m going for. Also, I want to write for a young audience. I want my protagonist to be young not just because it was children’s movies that inspired me to be a storyteller but because I want to give my young nephews a story about a young hero they can relate to. Children who don’t quite fit the mold of what society thinks they should be will relate to the character, and so will some adults who grew up thinking that and who still have to put up with being seen as an oddball.

I just want to write something to completion to know that I can. I tried to get a basic 9-5 job but no one ever wanted to hire me so now I have to earn a living some other way. There’s the odd couple hundred bucks from a live band photography shoot but those are scarce to come by and I’m still not sure if I want to take it to a professional level. I feel like I was born to be a writer despite my learning disorder that I suffered with all throughout school.

Did I mention I’m excited? Well, I am. I really can’t wait to get started and update you all on my progress. But first I have to write a post for Autism Acceptance Month, which is almost completed anyway.

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Talkin’ Home School

I’m writing this post mainly for my follower Kathryn who home schools her son. Children who are home schooled might get the idea that because they are home schooled they are different from other children and therefore find it embarrassing to admit it. But given my usual obliviousness in childhood about what people thought about me and all those strange things I did and a natural ability to become a pint sized egomaniac about my differences rather than feeling ashamed, when the topic of ‘what school do you go to?’ with other kids came up I would unabashedly say I was home schooled. Other children might have laughed but I didn’t notice them, instead I kept going on about how cool it was. I could get out of bed when I liked and do my schoolwork in my pajamas.

The first time the suggestion to try home school was announced I was very confused and did think something may have been wrong with me. My other siblings were not home schooled and I really thought I had nailed year 5. My last day of school was even a joyous one and maybe weeks later the question of home school came up. My mum made it seem like I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the demands of high school.

The truth was I had been making poor grades ever since I started school. I was withdrawn and quiet, virtually mute until I reached primary school when I started to say a few words to other children. I struggled to focus in a classroom and hardly understood what any lesson was about at all, unless I actually had an interest in it. It still puzzles me to this day how I could sometimes overcome attention and processing issues to do work that excited me and actually stirred me emotionally enough to want to do.

I think it was my sister who put the idea in my head that children who are home schooled are freakishly weird and freakishly bright. I focused on the latter. I started to think all kids who were home schooled were geniuses without trying to come up with a reason why. There was one such day where I had to do speed math and my sister was watching and I felt too nervous to do it in front of her, but I had to do my test so I wrote down the answers as quickly as someone could write down the alphabet. She was impressed. The notion that all home schooled kids were geniuses stayed with me.

When my home schooling started I was disappointed to be doing year 5 work again. The whole idea of the curriculum we were working from was to go at your own pace. At first I was getting through the work slowly and making a ton of mistakes and taking each one personally, but overtime I advanced to higher levels and got 100% in almost every subject, including math which I’ve always had a weakness in.

My favourite subjects were English, Science told from a religious perspective, and History. If there was art I flew through it. If I really enjoyed the subject I would overcommit to the work. I began to realise I had an exceptional ability of memorising facts so I would try to memorise all the scientific and historic facts I could, and then later on recite them line by line to whoever would listen.

We had ‘social days’ too where we’d meet up with other home school kids who I’d ignore and move further away from on my skateboard. I don’t have a lot of good memories of those kids. I think they made a few comments which I ignored. I never could say anything to them or felt like I wanted to. I think my mum had fun though chatting to the other parents.

During these years I was seriously under diagnosed, under medicated and having my ADHD symptoms go unrecognised. I had focus and memory problems and even though I was in less chaotic environment where I could work at my own pace it wasn’t enough for my wandering and easily bored mind. ADHD children beat themselves up a lot too. If a teacher or parent shows they are frustrated at their behaviour they begin to have that frustration themselves. I can’t exactly recall the subject I was struggling to understand but my mum must have begun to have that frustration with me when I kept failing to understand the work better through her explanations. She made it sound like it was an obvious thing to get and I felt stupid and I burst into tears.

I started to feel like I couldn’t do the work anymore. I was bored, distracted and wanting to have longer breaks.

My siblings would have their friends around after school and I felt like I was missing out so I told my mum I wanted to go back to school. She decided to send me to a smaller Christian high school. The first few weeks there I realised it wasn’t home school that held me back from making friends but I was never good at it. I didn’t even try because I didn’t know how to try. Teachers these days would see that as a red flag of autism but back then they just worried and showed that they were concerned about me by calling me a ‘loner’ which confused me because I didn’t think I was. I was hanging out with the trouble makers, the ones who were in remedial class with me, the class clowns and the ones who seemed to hate school as much as me. I always equated ‘hates school’ with ‘makes poor grades’ but that wasn’t always the case with them. So I saw them as fakes – they had no reason to hate school as much as me. They were just like those goody goody nerdy kids.

Yeah. I didn’t think I was a nerd back then. I didn’t feel smart enough. All it took was a couple of diagnosis’, some self-awareness and a stimulant prescription.

My behaviour started to get defiant, not violent or challenging but avoiding situations and not respecting the teachers. It wasn’t just at school but at home as well. I went to a Christian school and a Christian church and I didn’t care for either. I did try to become a Christian the year before but I started to slip. It seemed my mum and sister were closer because of church and my sister was friends with the entire youth group, meanwhile I was hanging out with trouble-maker 10 year olds on Sundays and trouble-maker 12 year olds on weekdays. I really wanted to be in years 8 and 9 because I knew those students from church and got along with them better and I felt like I should have been in year 8.

The teachers soon began doing what they usually do with problem kids – blaming them for something they didn’t do. I liked drawing the band Korn’s logo on my pencil case and some kid did this on the back of a classroom chair and I got the blame. Teachers would give me a hard time about how I wore my uniform. There was a strict dress code. We couldn’t even untuck it after school when we were at the shopping center.

I did get in some very fierce verbal disputes with other students too. I had a couple kids who pegged me for bullying but because I was the oldest person in my year I treated them like they were nothing. The bullying never impacted me.

Towards the end of the school year teachers really started to put pressure on me to change and insinuated that they would be harder on me, and me being the master of getting my own way, ignored them, shrugged it off when the other students said so an so teacher ‘is going to kill you’ – which is what we said in place of ‘will get mad with you’ when someone knows what the end result would be if a teacher found out, whatever you had done. It might have been as innocuous as not doing classwork or handing an assignment in late. Those babies worried too much.

‘Yeah?,’ I said, smirking. ‘Well, I don’t have to stay at this stupid school if I don’t want to.’ I was like that. I didn’t have to give in to anybody. I could just find an easy way out.

So, the next year I started being home schooled again. It didn’t last long. It wasn’t just attention issues but around this time I felt like every adult who had attempted to teach me had given up on me. My youth pastor had even implied he was struggling to get a group of from changing our ways. It was all exaggerated by my depression, my failed year at school and homeschool, my inability to make friends and my inability to get along with my mum and my sister the way they got along with each other. At 14 years old, I had given up on my future.

I began to wander the streets, sometimes skateboarding for a full day or just walking around town. I usually walked through the bush land of the south coast until I kept finding people in there and not wanting to talk to them I hid and made a quick exit. My days turned into watching hours and hours of TV and exploring my neighbourhood.

Then, my mum came up with an idea to send me to TAFE to finish my high school certificate. I felt like I wasn’t in charge of my own destiny anymore and felt the similar feelings of defiance boil up inside of me, but to be honest if I had made my own choice it would be to do nothing. It still didn’t hit me that after you complete school you find work and start to live independently.

I still appreciate those few years I was home schooled. I felt like for the first time I could learn something. I just needed more focus and motivation and to be told that the work I was doing then would matter someday. There were are lot of issues in my childhood holding me back from succeeding that wasn’t anyone’s fault, but was down to a lack of awareness. We have that awareness today and it’s unlikely a child like me will fall through the cracks again. It’s now up to the parents to decide if they want to listen when they are told ‘your child may be autistic or have ADHD.’ They can choose to ignore it and struggle to raise another unteachable stubborn child who decides to give up before they even turn 15, or they can get help as soon as possible so they can give that child every chance to succeed.

 

On Being A Selfish Person

I’m a selfish person. I must be – people tell me I am all the time. “You’re so self-centered,” “you need to think about people more.” My own mother said that. I mean the person who raised me thinks I’m a selfish person. She thinks I have a choice in the matter.

Fact is sometimes I’m not even aware about how much I should think about a person. I try my hardest, often after I realise I’ve upset them or insulted them beyond all forgiveness. I’m an honest person and don’t agree that people should hold things in or lie just so we can all better get along. I try my best to not be rude and if I’m actually aware about what I’m thinking about saying could be misinterpreted I’d rather say nothing at all. I’d rather just ignore the whole damn situation.

Most people respond more emotionally to me. I react with heightened and unregulated moods, but I’m for the most part able to analyze my own emotions, re-direct my thinking and choose my words carefully so I don’t hurt people too much. Or I just ignore the situation.

If people still get hurt by my somewhat Vulcanesque response then it’s their problem. I went to a whole lot of effort to not just vent my frustrations at them and I can do no more. I’d like them to completely detach their emotions using kolinahr and come up with the most logical solution to this little dispute that’s only happening because people are letting their emotions get the better of them.

Another thing is that I can get so absorbed in what we in autistic community call a special interest that we can completely be blind to what is happening in the world outside of it. It becomes our whole world and completely takes over our personality. Not in the same way a personality disorder does. It just changes a few characteristics around, like for example I might be playing my Batman video game for hours a day for a week and my hometown might just start looking like Arkham City. Or all I’m capable talking about are Marvel comic books and will relate almost every subject no matter how disconnected it is to it. I’m not even making this up. My whole voice, dress and mannerisms can mimic that of one of my favourite sci-fi characters without any conscious effort on my part.

Those interests become the center of our world and everything else is in the background or puts up a barrier between us getting to spend time on them. They become less important.

If you think this makes me a selfish person then fine, think that. I’ve worked very hard to build my empathic skills and there are still a few gaps. I do eventually get a basic idea of what someone must have been feeling and I learn from that and I try my best to adjust my responses based on that understanding. That’s also called emotional intelligence.

Theory of mind is when a person has a basic idea of what people will be collectively thinking about. All humans follow a pattern of behaviour and I think learning this pattern made it easier for me to gain a better theory of mind. People without autism or social development issues will have this inherit ability from a young age and be able to pick up on the feelings of others more and more as they grow. I wonder if this is where the whole ‘you know what I mean’ statement comes from. Because I have never understood what a person meant when they said it. However, I could tell they got impatient with me if I said I didn’t so I just said yes. Then when my mother said it to me it was more like, ‘come on, YOU know WHAT I MEANNNN!!’

I apologise to my mother for keep using her in examples but I must tell the truth. The truth was I was a very confused child who never quite understood why people got angry with me, and I was mostly scared into changing my behaviour. I may have been responding to what she said with exaggerated emotions when any other child might have not even blinked at her disapproving tone of voice. Bringing this up may help other parents with autistic children properly respond to them. We can’t just be brought up the same way as non-autistic children and there was hardly any education for this twenty years ago. It’s now known that certain words always make us feel threatened; saying ‘no’ is like a slap in the face. You might have well said ‘no, you little retarded monkey. My God, are you so dense. As if I would have said yes. Now go chain yourself back in the attic, you’re an embarrassment to be called my spawn.”

That might have been a slight exaggeration but I just mean we can feel threatened by fairly innocuous responses. When I say ‘no’ myself I utter it under my breath as though it’s a forbidden cursed word to use. I anticipate a challenge and when someone just accepts it I return my sword to its sheath. I still look on like a guard dog lowly growling to give a warning to not come any closer.

Socialising is an agonising business for me. I can’t usually say much after the greeting and if I do it’s an impulsive jumble of the latest subjects that has excited me. I find it difficult to make eye contact and talk at the same time or even at all. It really depends on my mood. If I’m a lot more hyper than usual I’ll probably make too much eye contact and bounce up and down on my heels, and won’t be capable of zipping my lip. My thoughts are even more randomised and it becomes excruciatingly painful to allow pauses in between talking.

I’m usually fine to just chat to people about my interests, or the news, if I’m actually going out and doing something, or my cats, but when someone says something unexpected which my oppositional brain just pegs as a good opportunity to show that I’m an individual with my own opinions, I might end up in the middle of an argument and the other person either gets exasperated and gives up or launches an offensive of their own in which in this passionate moment I will refuse to back down. Sometimes I will be impossibly to convince, even if my opinion is completely ludicrous. And yes, it has been. Basically, when someone is manic they feel like they are in a higher state of enlightenment and everyone else is just too stupid to get it. They’re just being unreasonable and deliberately disagreeing with you, refusing to open their minds up to greater ideas that challenge our conventional ways of thinking, and the laws of physics sometimes. There’s a whole lot more to it but I won’t go into it, and yes, I do become manic. I possibly have been while writing this post.

I can live with the arguments, even though they throw me off what I was going to talk about because I must be prepared for everything. I don’t do well with change. Yes, even such a small change as someone bringing up a topic or responding in such a way I didn’t expect. How dare they!

The social drama is where I really get stuck. It’s when people are angry enough to stop talking to me or having lasting negative feelings toward me. I might have personally insulted them, at least in their mind or I may have just…pissed them off. The only way I know how to get out of it is to explain the situation rationally. “Oh you thought I…no, that’s not what I meant at all,” or “I was acting that way because…” It doesn’t have the desired effect which befuddles me because I’m putting out factual information, without any feelings involved. I think the correct way to do it is say something like ‘man, you’ve been so good at putting up with me. Wow, you are strong to just ignore me and then be a complete passive aggressive bastard. Yes I was wrong and you were right. I suppose if I want things to work out I should just grovel on hand and knee for your forgiveness and essentially lie and say that none of it was your fault and it was all down to me – you know, the one with a goddamned social communication delay. How could I just miss those cues. I mean, it’s not like I’m autistic, or anything.” Woops.

Some sarcasm may have been used in the above paragraph. Oh my God, I can actually do sarcasm! Does this mean I no longer have the autisms?

Sorry. I’m venting.

I’m basically saying that I don’t agree with many social conventions, especially the one where I have to continually stroke a person’s ego just so they like me. I’d rather just go through friendships in a trial and error way. As a child I had no interest to be social, I was pressured into wanting it because people thought it would make me happy. It’s made me see that people are bullies, not willing to listen to reason, you must always agree with them even if you are smarter and think they can control you. That’s not all from one person. I’ve had good times with friends too. Early in my social development my skills were so poor I didn’t want to be more than a drinking buddy with people. But now I operate from a strict ‘Kiss and Make Up’ policy i.e I want to be able to maturely discuss our disagreements and not just go back to pretending everything is normal between us. I grew up having none of that until I moved out and lived with my sister. We apologised to each other and explained why we got so mad in the first place. Now I won’t take anything less. And if people aren’t willing to talk through our problems then I’ll completely close myself to them by not discussing any personal matters. I’ve been hurt so many times before and I’m just not going to risk getting hurt again.

For now, I’m happy to be the lone wolf. My interests keep me occupied and my strong will helps me be a rational person even when deep down my emotions are screaming out to be heard. The whole ‘willpower’ thing I actually borrowed from The Green Lantern film and is not based on any peer reviewed science studies. It basically helps me deal with my emotional responses.

I like having friends. I like having a good time with them but I think for now I’ll just have what I call a superficial relationship with them. The drinking buddy is back. I don’t really want to know someone enough to discover how much they irritate me because almost everyone does.

I know I’m not being willfully selfish. I have autism which means I have a bit of a wonky theory of mind ability and don’t always empathise when I should, but I’m not incapable of it. I feel guilty when I realise when I should have been thinking about another person more and I keep trying to do better. But in order for friendships to work both people have to do their part to let the other know that they care about them at all. You’d think finding someone with the equal amount of mental health problems would make this an almost symbiotic relationship but as it turns out it’s like arguing with yourself. It’s like that evil voice in your head that tells you you’re no good that you try your best to ignore, but when it’s from another person you just feel like giving into it. You’re right, I am selfish. I’m horrible. I care only for myself. So, why do you even like me?

Is there any point for me to keep trying to make friends when I keep being reminded time and time again that I don’t always care about them? Seems pretty unfair to keep putting myself out there when I can’t reciprocate enough emotional understanding they require to actually feel loved.

My On/Off Career as a Band Photographer

Lately, my confidence in myself as a band photographer has been diminishing more and more with each passing day. Four months is a long time for me to be out of the game and the last gig I was at was kind of depressing. It was heart breaking to be watching AFI when just a few years ago I was had taken photos of them. I even thought to myself if things don’t pick up I’ll give it up for good. I think it has a lot to do with my friends being very successful photographers who often get to photograph the kinds of bands I can only dream about photographing and posting those photos to my Facebook news feed. On one hand I’m happy that they get that opportunity, on the other, I’m a bit jealous.

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Ho, Davey! From AFI. Taken at The Big Top, Luna Park, Sydney 2010

In my ten years as a band photographer I’ve probably never stuck with it completely for a whole year minus the years 2006 and 2007 when I was really active. I’m sort of active for a few weeks or months and then go and do something else. I think at one point I was more interested in astrophysics than band photography and when I got interviewed by the South Coast Register (my local paper at the time) I just wanted to talk about autism. This time however, I’ve gone a full four months from no choice of my own without photographing a single band. Many times I have thought maybe I’ll just give it up because I’m not going anywhere with it but I at least had the opportunity to take photos of bands.

Things have started to pick up for me though. I’ve got four gigs lined up where I may be able to take photos of the bands. I’ve been invited to go to shows with the hope I will take photos of the bands but the thing is I’m really not interested in taking photos of bands I’ve never heard of and may not like. I can be very elite about the few bands I like and anything outside of it may be instantly rejected by me based on the fact that it’s unknown to me. Taking photos of those bands might be alright but I just feel like I will never get to shoot the bands that I actually listen to the most and I not long ago often got to shoot. Bands like Anberlin, Funeral For a Friend, Brand New, Thursday, AFI, Anti-Flag etc. It just feels like it will never happen again.

So, to put it basically, I can take photos of bands people recommend but I’ll be depressed and longing to take photos of the bands I would actually call myself a hardcore fan of and have missed out time and time again to photograph. I would not be happy.

I can go from shooting alongside Tony Mott in Enmore Theatre or photographing City and Colour in the huge State Theatre, then I can go back to having to struggle to take photos of AFI at The Factory Theatre, which is a much smaller venue. It depends on how quickly I apply to a gig when my editor asks for it, if they choose me to cover that gig for them or if they hear back from the promoter at all.

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Dallas Green doing what he does best with his band City and Colour at Sydney’s State Theatre, 2013.

I’m still excited about the next four gigs coming up. First up is Waits who are made up of the former members of After the Fall. They’re opening up a mostly punk rock bill on The Factory Floor, tomorrow night actually. I’m hoping I can get a photo pass to that gig. I know guitarist Mark from when I took photos of After the Fall in All Phones Arena, which at the time was called Sydney Superdome/ Acer Arena. That was a long time ago. I was still crawling all over the stage when taking photos. Now, I’m more aware of my restrictions and it feels pretty awkward for me to be on the stage. But deep down I really do miss it.

Then it’s Tim Rogers in Bulli. I’ve seen a lot of Tim and You Am I so it’s not as exciting for me. I’m always happy to see Tim but last time I got kind of drunk (among other things) at an after party and I think I may have made him feel uncomfortable. I spent most of the time talking to Simon Carter (The Cops/ Saint Tropez All Day) which restored my faith in being a massive nerd. Still, I’m looking forward to the gig. I might get a chance to test out my new and expensive 16-35mm lens which I haven’t got much confidence in because of not yet having a chance to test it out on a live band. It’s not always a good thing to blow $1600 on something you end up finding pretty useless.

Next it’s Tex Perkin’s band The Ape and I’m probably most excited to see them. I have not seen them since last October and have been really anticipating the day where one Sydney show gets announced. The good news is they are playing at Oxford Art factory, a venue where I’m pretty sure you can take a camera in so I don’t need to harass the band for a photo pass. Their choice of stage lighting is any band photographer’s nightmare so it’s a real challenge just to get some decent shots without one side of a band member hidden in shadow and the other side striped with white light. Flash will fix that problem though. I don’t really get a chance to experiment too much. Plus, I kind of want to get a rock move photo of the bassist Pat because I haven’t taken a great shot like that of him since 2007, and he seemed to like it at least.

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This is the photo. Dallas Crane at Annandale Hotel, Dec 29, 2007

Problem is my friends who are hardcore You Am I fans aren’t as into Tex Perkins related projects as I am and I end up going to the shows alone, which I can do but it still gets lonely. I just wouldn’t mind having the same company I have at You Am I gigs. I don’t even know the bad that well – and given my rapid decline of social skills since going off stimulant medication I don’t think I ever will – which can be a plus when I go to these gigs solo.

At least I sort of know Darren Middleton who I’ll see next. The issue here is that it’s at The Rock Lily in Star City and I’ve never been there before, but I think my love for his music will make me push through the anxiety I usually get when I go to these venues. The last gig of his I went to was at The Vanguard and I thought it was located where The Sandringham Hotel used to be, and I ended up walking around lost for half an hour anxious and growing in depression with constant thoughts of walking into the middle of King St. When I eventually decided to take a taxi home I found the venue. I was shaking and tearful and had a ‘let’s just get this over and done with’ attitude but I ended up really enjoying myself. And now one of the photos I took at that gig of Darren is occupying the homepage of his website.

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Here’s the photo. Darren Middleton at The Vanguard, Sydney 2013

I still get a lot of generalised anxiety when preparing to go to gigs and social anxiety when at gigs, which I often counter with a few beers. But I really want to cut my drinking down. It changes my mood cycles around too much not to mention increases the risk of seizures. I also don’t like the drinking culture in this country. I will have a few on a special occasion (which to me is basically when I get a chance to be social) but I won’t do it every weekend.

There are a lot of barriers that get in the way of me doing my live band photography and mental illness and autistic issues (I have a profound fear of change) aside it all ends up depending on rules and restrictions and if I’m given photos access at all. So, when you look at it that way hopefully you can all understand where the lack of confidence comes from.

After the Middleton gig I don’t know what’s next. I’m hoping for some Dallas Crane before July, or after, because I won’t be very happy if they play in Sydney when I’m overseas. I want to see Davey Lane again and try one last time to see The Drones and The Gin Club. Every time they come to town I’m either busy photographing other gigs, or can’t get to the venue because of my anxiety over change. There’s going to eventually be another Anberlin and Brand New tour and I’ll be tearing my hair out trying to get photo access to those gigs, especially seeing how this is Anberlin’s last Australian tour ever and Brand New is just, well, I’ve been listening to them for two days straight. Does that give you a better picture of how much I like them?

If someone was to ask me ‘why do you take photos of bands?’ I really don’t give it much thought. I know I can take photos of band just as good as any professional band photographer so it’s good to exercise that skill. I do it for the opportunity to capture a really memorable moment; a guitarist rock move, jump or an emotional singer. I do it for the opportunity that I discover a new band to listen to and the chance that I can make a new friend. I do it so I get to spend time with my friends, both the fans and the ones in bands whom I have a very narrow window of opportunity to get a chance to talk to. And I do it because I’m a part of the live music culture in Australia and it’s my contribution to that culture. I love the music and the band members look great on stage and I love to look over my photos and relive the memory of the night.

So I guess Lost Through the Lens ain’t dead yet. I could be many things but they take a lot of motivation, focus and discipline. Band photography might take up one day of preparation, one night of taking the photos and half of the next day editing and uploading photos. For someone with moderate ADHD symptoms who is currently not taking any medication it’s a short term goal I can see through til the end, and then it keeps repeating but not so often it begins to get boring. It’s always throwing new challenges at me especially about getting to unknown venues and working with difficult stage lighting.

I suppose it’s something I’m always going to do. I know some people who won’t allow me to give it up and will be at a loss to understand why I would, even after reading this blog post.

You want one last photo? Here’s Geoff Ricky, my God in the early adult years and singer of the now disbanded Thursday, at Soundwave festival in 2008. A print of this photo resides in my kitchen, as a reminder that with persistence I will eventually get my breakthrough. And also because my sister Khara thinks it’s awesome.  

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Imagining the Future of Gaming

As a fan of the book Ender’s Game and advances in technology, especially for our own entertainment, I was interested to see the film maker’s interpretation of the Simulator. According to the book it is like the most perfect video game ever and the user can change the angles to see the battle from any angle. The Simulator was mainly a space war strategy game where the user controlled the squadrons of fighter craft. Being an air force nut myself I completely loved this part of the book.

The film interpretation was incredible. The Simulator appeared as a window doming this large room where Ender and his fellow cadets would orchestrate the battle from. It basically looked like the battle was happening right outside of their room in deep underground caves on the asteroid Eros. I don’t think I could have ever imagined the Simulator in that way. And the way the angles or point of view of the game was changed was with one motion of Ender’s arm. It was fluid, it was flawless. I was amazed.

You might need to see a picture to get a better idea

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Now that is one awesome video game!

I just wish the film could have been more successful in the Box Office. It was visually stunning and stayed more or less true to the story. I don’t really need to bring up the controversy that surrounded it before it even hit the cinemas, and I think that really impacted on the film’s success. If it had been a major hit then I’m sure we would have seen some type of video game come out, even if it was just on iOS and Android devices.

I often spend a lot of time thinking what the game would look like, even if it was just a simple game in the Battle Room. The tilt controls on the iPad would have come in use and it could utilize the 360 degree controls too. I enjoyed playing Star Wars: Falcon Gunner with that type of control set up. A console version would have been ideal but I think like most game adaptations to films it would have failed to live up to the standards that hardcore gamers expect.

For many years I’ve been trying to come up with a revolutionary way of playing video games, for a story I’m working on. I did a lot of research on current games and kept my eye out for games that introduced novel forms of gameplay, like emergent gameplay where the outcome of the game is determined by the choices the player makes. I liked that game creators were making characters and stories more emotional and that players were looking for this too and not just wanting a game with high end graphics where the aim of the game was just to shoot as many enemies as they could. I read up on articles about the psychology of gamers; what makes them want to play games and keep coming back for more, what was happening in their brains when they played and whether socioeconomic issues introduced to games had any impact on them and if they could go onto changing their outward view of the world.

When it came to me deciding to buy a new console I had these things in mind and wanted to go for a brand that was going in that direction. Xbox seemed to be what I was looking for. I liked how in Project Spark they let users create their own worlds that they could play games in and when going online against another user the system that matched up gamers who were on the same level in terms of experience, was like an idea I devised for my own console.

I ended up buying a Wii U. The added gamepad function seemed innovative enough for me and it might give me more ideas. I didn’t just want to continue my research but play a variety of games. I grew up with Sonic the Hedgehog, Mario and Donkey Kong and I wanted to play their latest game installments, but I also wanted to get into some FPS and as a Marvel fan I couldn’t get away from close-combat games. It was also more affordable and had the convenience of backward compatibility that no other console offers. And I think the one thing that keeps me going back to Nintendo is the feeling of nostalgia I still get when playing the games starring my old favourite Sega and Nintendo characters. As superior as I think Xbox and PS games are to Nintendo’s I still think their game characters don’t stand out as much as Sonic or Mario or any character like that. They’re almost like character actors like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. They can appear in games other than their own ones and sometimes appear in the same game but they stay in character. And I think it’s good that kids today have a chance to grow up with that like my generation did.

The game I’m most looking forward to playing is Mass Effect 3. It’s futuristic science fiction with a huge background story I’ve been reading up on and I’ve been told it has an emergent gameplay style. I don’t play a lot of RPG shooters, though I’ve played all the originals like Escape from Castle Wolfenstien and Quake, and it looks like a good introduction game to me and has a pretty interesting story, which as a sci-fi writer could help me generate some ideas again. The problem with young gamers today is they think anything that has a few similarities to another game or film or anything really, is a rip off, when it’s really more of an inspiration and like it or not but this is how people create. You take one idea and change it in such a way that it becomes your own new creation. Of course people can fail to do this and just create a clone of something and neglect to make enough changes so it is glaringly obvious they stole the idea. In this case, yes, it was a rip off.

Another issue in the gaming community I’m trying my best to steer clear of is the brand wars. I’ve taken part in many brand wars in my youth and none was more extreme and obsessive as Canon vs Nikon. When it comes to brand wars over phones and tablets and gaming platform I’m becoming kind of fatigued. I’ve even admitted to myself that both Canon and Nikon are just as good as each other and there was a time where Nikon was in the lead. That takes a lot of strength for me to admit that. The whole brand wars thing is just immature in my mind. There are a lot of things about the gaming community that seem immature but I find that with any fan group I associate with, especially now that everyone is glued to social networks and online fan communities.

I do wonder though that what is it that makes people with an Xbox 360, PS 3 or 4 or PC that makes them feel superior than the others? This does happen among Nintendo gamers but it’s less so. I really can’t see how someone’s worth can be measured by the types of games they play. I know not everyone is like that which I’m grateful for. I admit my reputation for keeping my mind open to other brands has not gone completely unblemished; I have shown favour to Marvel over DC comics but I’m now more willing to give DC a chance.

I just think this taking sides of a single brand against another brand that makes more or less the same type of product is something young people (even those in their 30s – see: emotional intelligence) do and once they mature emotionally they no longer need to act such a way or hold such a view. Therefore the whole war is meaningless to me and a waste of my precious time. Those people can have at each other’s throats and I’ll look for other cross-platform gamers who are willing to put our console differences aside so we can get into an interesting discussion that is about the games and less about the consoles.

I’m still waiting for my Wii U to arrive. It’s coming with about five games including Super Mario Bros U and Batman: Arkham Origins. Then I plan to buy Donkey Kong Country Returns: Tropical Freeze, Sonic: Lost World, Sonic Boom and The Amazing Spiderman when they come out, Call of Duty: Ghosts and possibly Watchdogs. Oh yes, and who can forget all the Avenger’s games? So, maybe it’s not the console I wanted but it has a lot of games I can play and I get to have some fun while researching at the same time.

Speaking of which…My problem about coming up with a new way to play games is I can only really think a few years in the future and Xbox are pretty much coming up with the same ideas, so it’s becoming less original. So, I’ve settled on the idea that it should be virtual reality but using the knowledge I’ve picked up about how neuroscience thinks VR should work. I probably don’t need to build much more on my idea, and unfortunately I can’t reveal anything because I want it to stay original. I have told my friends when I was drunk and they probably didn’t even pay that much attention to what I was saying. Never again will I let my tongue slip about it.

If I give up on the novel/screenplay for good then maybe I will reveal my idea to people, but for now I’m going to keep working on it and the story to see if I can get anywhere on it. And I get an excuse to buy and play more games.

So, as my unemployment and uncertainty about being a band photographer continues, I still have a lot of free time to learn about video games in a lot of depth, from discovering the psychology behind gaming to finding out what happens on a neuronal level to people as they play, to innovative ideas for gaming that will eventually lead to more and more revolutionary ideas and perhaps even the introduction of virtual reality technologies. And I get to play games and immerse myself in the gaming community at the same time.

On Autism and Empathy

For many generations there has been a terrible notion that people with autism lack empathy. I think this comes from the old way of thinking that people with autism couldn’t feel emotions. Fortunately, that is no longer the most common held belief but still people and even some scientists hold onto the belief that people with autism can’t empathise.

When it comes to a human brain things are just never so straightforward. When we are infants we all do lack the knowledge that children, adolescents and adults all share at the appropriate times. For those of us with a developmental disorder like autism we may lack some but not all of the information. Throughout the years we may have picked up a tidbit here and there and gained further understanding of other people. This is often not picked up intuitively but had to be told to us by another.

So it’s true that people with autism lack empathy in a way but not completely. They are not incapable of it or learning it but may need to be told gently when they seem to disregard a person’s issue why it’s important to feel sorry or some reciprocal emotion towards this person.

Think of it like them having an ability to empathize that is like an incomplete cross word puzzle, even with half of the answers written in. You need to be there to fill in the gaps for them, and usually when you help people answer questions they don’t know it’s not screamed at them or delivered coldly.

The mainstream perception of empathy is a very superficial one too. It’s mainly about caring for others, understanding when and why they are hurting and expressing this verbally and through such loving acts as hugging. Anyone who is seen to do less than this is immediately thought to be a very self-absorbed person and by choice is not thinking about others at all.

There are really three types of empathy: cognitive empathy, affective empathy and expressed empathy. Cognitive empathy is the ability to read non-verbal body language to get an idea about what is going on in the mind of another person. This is an area people with autism are most deficient in. Research has shown that when a non-autistic person makes eye contact with another person the ‘social area’ of their brain lights up but this does not happen in autistic people, meaning that something different is happening in the brains of autistic people compared to the general population.

People with autism have difficulty reading facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice as well as more subtle hints of a person’s emotional state expressed verbally. Not everyone with autism will have the same level of impairment but there will be some impairment to warrant a diagnosis. They’re also not incapable of eventually learning to read body language and intuitively gouge what a person may be feeling through being told by more socially aware friends or through trial and error.

The second type of empathy is affective empathy which has to do with understanding when someone else is in pain and feeling their pain emotionally. This is probably the type that autistic people have the least trouble in but like I said before each autistic person is at a different level of how much they can empathise.

I can recall being a child and hardly feeling any affective empathy towards anyone, even with my few friends and family members. I barely made any change until my early 20s when I started to work on my own social skills and through the use of ADHD medication. At times I did pick up that I wasn’t thinking about people when others were. I’m a very practical person who has a sometimes irritating way of making connections out of two very unconnected subjects and making it seem like an incredible epiphany every time. Often when overcome with the joy of these ideas I can neglect to think about how my words will affect other people and they will surprise me by either calling me selfish or giving me the impression that what I said was very insulting. If you’re a fan of The Big Bang Theory TV show then think back to when Sheldon Cooper revealed to Penny what ‘just fine’ meant; basically he revealed to Penny that her boyfriend Leonard told his friends about their sexual encounter last night, which both parties reacted to rather negatively and Sheldon was left there with the sudden realization that he may have overstepped a line. Sheldon is course an exaggerated character with Asperger’s syndrome.

This brings me to another good point. People with autism are often accused of being horrendously offensive yet will be confused as of why, and the person on the other end, still fuming, will hardly explain this to them. It leaves them confused and angry at the other person for being swept away by their emotions for days while trying to work out how what they said could have led to this type of oversensitive reaction. They are often more systematic practical thinkers rather than reacting with emotions. But it’s not hard for them to feel the emotions of other people – quite the opposite.

The Intense World Theory suggests that instead of feeling little emotion autistic people feel too much and this overloads their brain leading to a very emotionless exterior, while inside they are screaming. Although eventually all this extra stress will result in a brain going into a type of safe mode which stops all the negative feelings from being experienced. It’s like when in depression you end up feeling numb.

To better understand this I need to talk about my own personal reactions to other people’s emotions. Usually when my emotions don’t match a person’s own even if it’s a positive emotion like joy, I will be under distress. I might be annoyed or irritated just by the overload of the person’s loudness and their energy. When they are angry I feel either threatened or frightened even if they are not angry at me. If a voice is raised it is like I am being constantly targeted even if it’s not about me. It’s just the emotion coming out of the person and the way I experience it.

The whole experience makes me fairly poor in face to face confrontation unless I can be louder and more threatening than that person, otherwise I’d just avoid the situation as long as possible. Most of the time I can’t express any personal information about myself verbally, and I have difficulty getting any words out in the right order and not tripping over them.

The third type is expressive empathy which I’ve already sort of gone into. People think that people who will tell you they are concerned for you are the only people that care, but this is not always true especially when it comes to autism. We just have a difficult time knowing what to say even if we’re told what to say. Some of us might be able to do that more than others; it all really has to do with how much emotion we are experiencing from the other person.

For me, I get more of an emotional reaction from the type of word used that people usually use when they are under a lot of stress already. And it’s not simply the meaning of the word but how I personally relate to that word, like if someone called me selfish. That word stretches across my whole spectrum of disorders but not as much as autism. I’ve been told during moments of great stress that I wasn’t thinking of others. I remember calmly explaining to someone that it would take me awhile to deal with this sudden change in plans because it takes me a longer time to adjust to change – and I was of course told I was selfish and need to think of other people more. You would think if I was capable of it on an intuitive level that I would. Another point that is going a bit off topic is that I can control reacting emotionally to people after being hurt by what they said and when communicating online I can take my time to respond calmly and rationally, yet the response I get it often a passive aggressive attitude ot just untethered hostility. I suppose if people think if there’s nothing wrong with their social skills and emotional regulation they wouldn’t have to just as much effort to choose their wording as delicately as I do.

And just because I can’t always express in words how much I care for people when I truly do it doesn’t mean I don’t try to show it in other ways. I will often be first to put my hand up to help people out, even when not asked for it. I give them gifts such as drawings and maybe if I see something in the shop I think they would like I may buy it for them.

I didn’t explain much about my affective empathy. Usually when I’m with one to two or more people (what I call ‘in the moment’) I will not be able to empathise as easily when the situation calls for it, even when everyone else in the group would. I would consciously know I should be but I’m not feeling anything. Eventually, when I‘m left alone and given many hours to days or weeks to think about it suddenly it hits me. Or I might be too preoccupied with my thoughts and interests or under a lot of stress because of symptoms of mental illness and I’ll just overlook people’s feelings and they will make me aware of the fact in a very harsh way, and still lost in self-reflection that I continue to fail to think about them I will erupt with as much anger, and only when I have time alone to rationally think over the situation will I realise my error.

I don’t always need to upset people to become empathetic though. Sometimes it just takes a shift in emotions from low constant thoughts of self-doubt to high states of over confidence and within this I find ways to better empathise, even over empathise with people and take it upon myself to make other people aware of their apparent lack of insight into another person’s situation. But this has nothing to do with autism and is more just a personal thing. Well, it could have something to do with it. It’s very hard to know sometimes.

If I’m in an environment that’s less chaotic and fast paced as most social situations are then I can take my time to see from another’s perception. I get most of my education from TV and film especially the over emotive ones because it’s shown in such an obvious way, sometimes it’s like they are explaining the emotional states of the characters to kindergarteners, or maybe I’m just better at picking up on it now compared to how I was before. But I seem to go for hysterically over emotive storylines in science fiction shows such as Caprica and the Stargate franchise, or TV drama such as Parenthood and even Wonderland, though to be honest some of the NT social issues in that show seem to grate me. I remember when I started to watch Parenthood and I just thought why do these people lie so much – you can plainly see that they want to tell the other person the truth and it’ll be better if they did – so why lie? It relieves me when Max’s parts come up in the show, but then of course his family seems to overreact to the socially inappropriate things he says. What I see is a teenage boy that is willing to share with people and excited to be given the chance to do so, yet he gets shut down because of the content of his subjects and the abrasive way he delivers it.

I do care and empathise with the people that I know really well although I don’t often show it through expressive empathy. I’ve gone out and hung out with people when the environment was particularly uncomfortable to me and the event in question wasn’t very interesting to me. I just wanted to be there for the people I loved. When I’m under too much stress or preoccupied in other ways then I’ll probably not be as willing to go out, but I’ve always done things to please people even when risking my own mental health.

To be honest I get the impression that I still have major impairments in my ability to empathise compared to other people with autism that I talk to online. I often do put my interests and wellbeing in front of people. I often see what I can get out of a social situation without giving the other person much thought, so I suppose I have a lot more training to go through before I can confidently say that I do have about as much affective empathy as most autistic people that are just as high functioning as me.

I think I have good cognitive empathy when it comes to reading facial expression and tone of voice. My ability to look for connections or patterns helps me out a lot when it comes to understanding human social behaviour. There are patterns everywhere and if you follow it you almost have a psychic ability to know what people will do next. I struggle to notice gestures and subtle hints in words though, and sometimes I think they are being used when they haven’t been. When it comes to understanding the mind of others I am pretty hit and miss, I think that means sometimes I guess correctly and other times I guess incorrectly or completely fail to notice that people are having a different opinion or reaction to me at all.

Expressive empathy is where I fail the most. When near people who are under great stress I have flat effect and a blank mind. I use avoidant behaviour to overcome the awkward and distressing feelings. But I do show people I care through doing something practical to help them or at least draw them a picture.

So, there you have it. People with autism do in some ways lack empathy but through life experience and self-training they can build upon their skills. And even when they think they have an average to high skill in it there might be times when they completely fail to empathise at all, and may never quite get the expressive part down. But at least you know now that they still do care.

More thoughts about ‘Kids On Speed?’

Firstly, I want to thank everyone for the feedback I have received for my critique on ‘Kids On Speed?’ at Gina Pera’s (author of ‘Is it You, Me or Adult ADD?’) website ADHD Rollercoaster. You can check the post out but I must warn you this was my reaction after just watching one episode. After watching all three episodes I got a firmer grasp on the documentary.

Now I don’t know if it’s because of the poor sleep I got last night which has made my head such a mess today that I keep thinking how young Seth is doing, but I wonder how the poor boy is doing. All the children really. I can at least get updates about Corey from his mother’s blog but I still wonder about how the other children, especially Seth and Samuel, are doing.

Samuel reminds me of a young boy I knew that was diagnosed with ADHD as young as 2. He had oppositional behaviour too but my mother actually bonded with him quite well and got to know his softer side. She was a teacher of a Sunday School class he was in. I wonder how he is doing as well. He might be 14 now.

I suppose I’ve never really felt so involved in an Australian documentary before but the film makers were successful in making me feel like I got to witness the children’s everyday lives and I really felt like I was standing around with the film crew and not sitting on my couch in front of flat wide-screen TV eating a bowl of chips so I could actually sit down and pay attention.

The show had such an impact on me that I still do think about it from time to time when I’m in the middle of working on something, or reading, or watching TV and get distracted by my thoughts. It probably has a lot to do with it being Australian so it’s like this is how it is here and not in another country. I’m especially now aware of the lack of services for ADHD in schools and for the children and family in general and not just the lack of help for adults.

I really want to help increase that awareness in October, though I’m set on writing about the ‘space cadets’ of ADHD. I want to get people away from thinking ADHD is mostly about hyperactivity and challenging behaviour, though it exists and these children (and adults) need help controlling those symptoms so they can really live a fulfilled life, but so do their less energetic and foggy-minded cousins.

It surprises me that I was once dealing with the issues of that group. I’m now very active and occasionally my hyperactivity and impulsivity can get out of hand. But unlike the way ADHD symptoms usually manifest, my more hyper symptoms seem to cycle and usually end in depression.

One last thing I’d like to mention about the whole ‘Kids On Speed?’ series is that the discussion on the ABC’s Facebook page, beside few ignorant comments about children needing a good hiding and well meaning people pushing elimination diets onto parents with children with ADHD, were comments from the parents who dealt with the same issues everyday and the parents from the show themselves who filled in gaps about some treatments done that were not explained in the show, and most of my questions were answered. For one, I realised how pointless it was to give advice to the parents about teaching new skills to the children when the program was shot sometime last year. And also, I’m not a parent.

It was good to get some positive feedback about my own comments which was just factual information about how ADHD is neurological disorder and not a problem with the gut that leads to the behaviours – though now I will consider the same symptoms can happen when someone has food sensitivities – and about my own experience as an adult with ADHD, and I got some encouraging words back from the parents on the show, which really impacted the way I felt about the show. It was just really an inspiring community to be in.

So yes, another short post – don’t get too used to it – after a day of being completely unfocused, impulsive, hyper and unorgainsed. It’s rewarding enough for me to even be able to write this much.