Today, we arrive at the penultimate 2016 First Annual Natrona Heights Drunkin Punkin Fest podcast. (Search engine optimization be damned!)
We drink a Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale (7.5% abv), which is my favorite pumpkin beer this year. It’s not quite as complex as Pumking, but it emulates an actual pumpkin pie better than anything I’ve ever had. It’s big, at 7.5%, but not at all boozy. It’s spicy and satisfying without any added sweetness. It’s just a good beer.
In this episode, we move through The Beatles “I, Me, Mine” (George Harrison, thank you very much) and “Yer Blues” (John Lennon, thank YOU very much), as well as a little Adam Sandler, “Lunchlady Land.” Hoagies and grinders and such. You know the drill.
Next week, we conclude with a big finish. But for today, I present to you a music-filled, polished and edited, “Drunkin Punkin 2016 (pt 3).”
Each of us, at some point or another (…and likely a couple more…) meet life at the intersection of “Shit” and “Gets Real,” where we’re stripped of our ego, our façade of dignity and control, our false faiths, even our semblance of sanity and grasp on whatever we previously defined as “reality,” and we’re left cowering, undeniably aware of and terrified by the fragility and precariousness of our fleshy, vulnerable, unprotected bodies and the imperfect gelatinous mass of mostly water encasing mere millimeters of quite penetrable bone.
It’s unavoidable, and one should not attempt to avoid it.
(This is easy to say when one is not currently in the spiral of that seemingly inescapable vortex.)
But still, it’s unavoidable…and the faster you run, the higher you climb, the deeper you dig…the harder and further and more exposed you’ll fall.
“Why is this happening to me?”
Because you’re here.
“What did I do to deserve this?”
You entered this world as a human, and you lived long enough to be here now.
“When will it end?”
When it ends, or when you end.
“How can I make it through?”
A-ha! There’s the important question. I guarantee you’ll get absolutely nowhere if you focus on those first three questions, nowhere but a place of debilitating anxiety, imbalance, and despair. The human endeavor is one towards safety/survival, homeostasis, happiness, and…God, gods, soul, and/or universe willing…Truth. The only path toward those righteous ends is honestly, humbly, and humorously focusing on the HOW. Neither you nor I are in control of anything other than the next steps.
What resonates with you? What feels right? What lowers your heart rate and allows you to sit or lie calmly and contemplate? What makes you feel good?
Is it a certain structure or atmosphere? Go there. A particular scent? Find it. A sensation or certain sounds? Bathe in them. Do you know a person or people who, when you are in their presence, bring you great calm? Go to them. Do you take refuge in a particular God, or in gods, or in any ritualistic spiritual practice that clears the muddy waters of your ego and provides you access to Truth, or at least peace? By all means, prostrate yourself to the embrace you find there.
Only you know how you can move forward. Only you.
But your ego must get out of your way.
You did nothing to deserve this. Whatever is happening to you now has happened, is happening, and will happen to perhaps billions of others and is only happening because the universe has no choice but to happen. You cannot know when a thing will end, why it is happening, or even how it will proceed. What you can do is find a way forward, each step at a time, keeping those things that bring you calm, insight, homeostasis, and happiness near you…and allowing those things that do not to pass by.
Then, when shit gets real, you will be prepared for whatever it brings.
It’s almost 1 p.m. on a Saturday, I’m alone, all in the world is exceptionally well, and I’m drunk.
Here you will continue with our First Annual Natrona Heights Drunkin Punkin Festival.
Here we drink Southern Tier Pumking (8.6% abv, amber, depth and complexity like whoa) and Dogfishead Punkin Ale (7.0% abv, brown, depth and complexity like okay-fine).
Here Greg will teach you about music. (Please note: If you are a musician and listening to this, your head might implode or explode given the confidence with which Greg “teaches” Jen about various aspects of music theory and performance. Gregory Del Duca is to music what Donald Trump is to…just about anything…but certainly geo-politics.)
Here Tilly (…the Basset Hound with righteous ass-balls and a cavernous neck-gina…) will interrupt in the most amusing and endearing manner.
Here we ask, “How do you say the word YOLK?” (With or without a distinct “L” involved?” And for that matter, how about FOLK?)
Each year, the Arts for Autism Foundation of Pittsburgh (AFAPgh) hosts the Joey Travolta Film Camp. You might justifiably ask, “What is that? And furthermore, what is that?!” The following is taken from the AFAPgh website (https://afapgh.org), “The AFAFPgh encourages the creative expression of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities through inclusive arts programming.” And further, regarding the camp, “Joey Travolta, a former special education teacher,” and yes, John’s brother, “creates, coordinates, and actually facilitates this short film camp alongside of our staff. This is an inclusive film camp specifically designed to address social, communication, executive function, transition and vocational goals as defined by each student’s IEP (Individualized Education Program) or OVR (Occupational & Vocational Rehabilitation). For two straight weeks, campers will be actively engaged in teamwork with the objective of producing a short film. Concept development, story boarding, acting, costume design, set design, production and editing are just a few aspects of the real work experience gained through participation in this two week program.”
Sounds amazing, right? It is.
This year, I had the opportunity, and the spirit-affirming pleasure, to support a young man, Dalton, participating in the camp.
Across the two-week, ten-day experience, Dalton, having “graduated” to the oldest, most sophisticated group of campers, participated in all aspects of bringing a seven-minute film to fruition. Several other groups, with younger campers, created their own short films as well.
At the beginning of the day, the entire camp came together in a well-equipped theater space that served as social/gathering area, green room, craft services and lunch area, screening room, and, before anyone’s day began on the set, full-on no-holds-barred dance party.
At the end of the first week, the camp brought in Jon Amiel, a charming and well-accomplished (…check out his IMDb page…) British director who was working on the television series, “The Outsiders.” All of the campers and staff gathered in the multipurpose space of awesomeness (…thus deemed by me, the MuSpOA, which sounds like a lovely Yiddish word meaning, well, precisely what it is…) to chat with Mr. Amiel about film and directing and then to see a construction vehicle battle from an unaired episode of the show. (It was pretty freaking awesome. Loud, explosive, fiery, suspenseful, and action-packed.)
Most of the students at the camp had an Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD. You’ll remember from last week’s post, “It’s All About Relationship,” (…or you won’t, and I’ll briefly reiterate here…) that individuals with ASD generally communicate and process the social world differently than those of us who are, as many who consider themselves culturally “Autistic,” neurotypical. I’m neurotypical, though that’s arguable. Individuals with Autism often communicate quite directly, some might say bluntly. There is generally no beating around the bush, no veiled language, nor sarcasm, political correctness, or “spin,” to borrow from politics and media.
Back to Mr. Amiel. He finished his introduction, spoke for a few minutes, and opened the floor up to questions. The first few related to his experiences and directorial output, but quickly individual audience members became most interested in his thoughts regarding their cinematic obsessions. A hand shoots up.
“Why did M. Night Shyamalan’s Last Airbender suck?”
(This question caused immediate and boisterous applause from a majority of the campers. Clearly this kid had touched a nerve. Amiel needed just a beat to deliver what he believed would be a brilliant joke.)
“Well, you know M. Night is my cousin.”
(The staff and administration of the camp laughed heartily from the perimeter. From the campers, though? Crickets. And not just crickets, but faces waiting for an answer to the question. In the immortal words of Sweet Brown, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”)
Here, Amiel began by acknowledging and validating the young man’s question. He also admitted that, no, he wasn’t related to Mr. Shyamalan. (Again, we, and only we, around the perimeter laughed.) He danced nimbly around his response, remaining professional and positive when speaking about his colleague, but still quite skillfully answering the question. He felt that Shyamalan perhaps focused too exclusively on sets, choreography, and special effects.
“You know,” and here he set up, probably unwittingly, his most effective applause line, “The Last Airbender is probably one of the greatest animated shows ever made.”
(Really, they applauded for about 15 seconds. He could have dropped the mic and exited. Stage left, even. And everyone NOT around the perimeter would have been quite satisfied.)
He continued for another few minutes, clearly (…to me…) agreeing with the student but offering nuanced, brilliant criticism and explanation from the perspective of another professional director. I was impressed.
The kid who asked the question wasn’t. His hand shot back up.
“I just answered a question of yours, and I promise I’ll get back to you. Let’s give some others a chance.” (Amiel assumed the young man had a different question.)
The kid just kept his hand up, for like 10 minutes, and eventually Amiel did come back to him.
“Yes, you again young man.”
“Um…You didn’t answer my question. Why did M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender suck?”
I had to turn around and drop my head so that I didn’t laugh obviously.
This time Amiel began by explaining that he generally didn’t use terms like, “suck,” because he respects and admires his colleagues, particularly Shyamalan. Also, he explained, one must always attempt to find more specific and ultimately helpful criticisms rather than generalized name calling. He then briefly touched again on the reasons he also didn’t prefer the movie, but that moment of blunt, direct clarity was important. He missed it the first time. He tap danced when this young man needed him to stand firmly and respond directly.
Amiel did a few other things that impressed me, particularly because he’s not an educator, not an inclusion specialist, not a counselor, perhaps not a man used to interacting with a room full of individuals with neurological differences. First, he communicated with patience, kindness, and respect. Second, he set firm rules of engagement and stuck to them. He was clear about what was okay and what was not okay. And finally, he brought a Hollywood-quality scene in which a man driving a front loader fought a man driving an excavator, and at the end of the scene, a fully-packed fuel shed blew up.
That’s how you end a lecture.
And take note, M. Night Shyamalan…that’s how you don’t suck.
I had notes prepared, but I’m foregoing them to share an insight I *just* had.
What is Driven2Drink? In particular, what does Driven2Drink, the podcast, communicate, particularly when it’s Jen and me? Who is our target audience?
What we represent is a 40-something-year-old, service-oriented, gloriously flawed, (upper case “T”) Truth-seeking, (lower case “l”) liberal couple (of only children, mind you) dealing with all manner of life and trying to figure it out. We’re real people, and we love each other. Also, I think we’re individually smart, fun, funny, kind, inclusive, ethical, anxious (…so fucking anxious…), flawed people. But together, we’re compelling. We are. To someone. You’re here, so that proves it.
But ultimately I love my wife and she loves me, and we both have extensive histories and experiences which brought us together and provided us with curses and blessings. (My favorite Indigo Girls lyric, “A curse and a blessing are one and the same.” Indeed.)
Anyway, this is the first of three parts. Our “First Annual Natrona Heights Drunkin Punkin Festival.” Here you have two sober people. Next week, you’ll have us buzzed. And in two weeks…I have no idea but I can’t wait to hear it along with you. (I listen to these just a day before I release them, so I’m kind of on the ride with you. In the front seat, of course, but still with you.)
The music? Vince Guaraldi’s, “Great Pumpkin Waltz” and James Taylor’s, “You’ve Got a Friend.” You do. Really.
This is what I wanted to title this post: Embracing Inclusion, Culture, and Relationship: Relinquishing the Medical Model While Serving Neuro-Atypical and Sensory-Diverse Populations.
That’s just like me. Too much. Too complex. Too punctuated. (And notice, I still had to fit that title in.) On a related note:
American Sign Language (ASL) contains a sign pair describing the general communication styles of Deaf people versus hearing people[i]. These two signs are identical but for one movement. The first sign, used to describe a “Deaf” communication style, requires that I put my left hand up in front of me and extend my index finger…as if I’m indicating that I’m number one, or am pointing at something on the ceiling. Then, with my right hand, I form a flat-palmed karate-chopping position. Finally, that right hand begins at the chest, mid-line, and travels directly at and touches the left finger[ii]
The implication is that the left finger represents “the point” and the right hand represents getting immediately and directly to it. In my past, having studied American Sign Language among Deaf people, dated several Deaf women, and served as a Deaf education Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya, my general experience meeting novel Deaf people went something like this:
Gregory: [Hi, I’m Gregory.]
New Deaf Person: [Oh, you know ASL?!]
Gregory: [I do!]
NDP: [Why are you interested in Deaf people?]
Right…to the point. Why is that? I don’t pretend to be an expert, historian, linguist, or, as I mentioned above, Deaf person. However, I have learned quite a bit through my research, endeavors, and experiences and know, as is the case with ANY cultural group, that there are both internal and external factors contributing to a stereotypical communicative style. For the sake of this post, I’m going to stick to one external piece of the equation. Specifically, many in the Deaf community harbor valid suspicion, if not outright (…and also justifiable…) distrust, of the hearing world[iii].
So, Deaf communication…is to the point, particularly when hearing people are involved.
On the other hand (…pun intended…), the sign that describes the hearing world’s communication style starts the exact same way as its cognate, described above. Non-dominant hand in front with index finger pointing up. Dominant hand at chest in flat-palmed “karate chop” position. Now, instead of the shark’s fin, so to speak, travelling directly to the point, it waves right and left, back and forth, as it makes its way to the point.
Circumlocution. NOT…directly to the point. In the hearing world, our morays, politics, and social-rules are different and generally inform a circuitous route to the point.
We have that luxury.
More to the point, and to take full responsibility for my opinion, *I* have that luxury. I’m a white, hearing, heterosexual, professional male who speaks standard American English and can code switch to other dialects and even languages to assimilate or “fit in” to many contexts and communities outside of that massively mainstream and dominant cultural laundry list of demographics.
I’ll add another demographic term here that describes me: neurotypical. This is a relatively new term. Like 1990’s new. Google offers a lovely definition: not displaying or characterized by autistic or other neurologically atypical patterns of thought or behavior.
I work and hang out with many children and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other related mental-health diagnoses. I don’t have Autism, but, much like my previous experiences within Deaf cultures, I often identify with and integrate into these communities. Also analogous to the Deaf/hearing comparison, there are significant and generalizable differences in the communication styles of neurotypical and neuroatypical populations. In fact, those American Sign Language cognates from above would broadly fit these differences quite well. We neurotypicals tend to talk around subjects, use indirect and abstract language, hints and metaphors, sarcasm and subtle non-verbal contributions that negate the actual message coming out of our mouths. We’re often politically correct (i.e. not quite saying what we mean for the sake of public-image preservation), and we spin information for a multitude of ends. Folks with ASD and related contributions tend to communicate directly, to the point, more literally than figuratively, less politically correct, minimizing spin for the sake of clarity.
So, what’s my point here?
(Remember, I’m hearing. Please forgive my meandering.)
There is a general difference between the ways that we in mainstream, majority, and “standard” cultural groups communicate and ways that those from fringe, minority, and non-standard cultural groups communicate. Sometimes that difference, as is the case with the Deaf/hearing comparison, is large to the point of completely different languages. And sometimes that difference, as is the case with the ASD/neurotyical comparison, is subtler and largely related to the social-pragmatic aspects of language.
The key word in that paragraph…is difference. Never, as a speech/language pathologist (SLP), did I indicate “disorder.” (i.e. that something is wrong or pathological about said difference.)
We human-behavior and health-related professionals almost always come from the majority/standard cultural perspective, and while serving individuals from minority/non-standards groups we generally use a medical approach. What does that mean? The medical model looks for anything that is different than what has been agreed upon by the dominant culture as “normal” and pathologizes it. We affix a diagnosis. Then, we say, in essence, “You’re broken, and I can fix you.” What happens, however, when a person doesn’t feel broken, doesn’t strive to be like everyone else, feels whole and fine and okay and then finds a community and then capitalizes that which we pathologize? When deaf becomes Deaf, when gay becomes Gay, when individual-with-Autism becomes Autistic, what do we do then?
As far as I can see, we tend to fight, cajole, legislate, dominate, and do everything but stop. And listen. And consider an alternative interaction style. A partnership of inclusion and compromise.
I’m nearly at my wit’s, mind’s, and heart’s end with the medical model, with our insistence on deeming everyone not like us “broken” and then “fixing” everyone not like us to be just like us…and I’m an SLP. I’ve been trained to think and act in precisely those ways that pain and grieve me.
So let me, the verbose, hearing, neurotypical (…some of you might validly argue that…) pathologist offer an alternative.
I would like to share with you how I’ve modified my approach, and how that modification has changed nearly all of my relationships, including how I relate to myself, for the better.
Before I enter a service-oriented relationship with any person, I ask myself the very question that so many Deaf people asked me as I made my way through Peace Corps and beyond, “Why am I interested in this person?” “What is my goal?” “What do I want?” Then, I ask the person across from me the same questions. “What are you interested in me doing/saying?” “What are your goals?” “What do you want?”
And we move forward.
Not separating, pathologizing, dominating, and differentiating.
But rather…partnering, relating, serving, and understanding.
I’m grateful for all of the people along the way who showed me how to be kind, connected, compassionate, and considerate. Likely you are among them. Thank you.
I hope this essay illuminates something powerful for you, perhaps something that you’ve illuminated for me in the past but have now forgotten. It’s so easy to forget.
But then…it’s also easy to remember.
[i] For those who may be wondering, I capitalized “Deaf” because I’m highlighting a distinct cultural group whose individual members self-identify as such and have shared language (…for most Deaf people in the United States, ASL…), related history, cultural mores, recognized heroes/heroines, and societal experiences. Furthermore, I left “hearing” uncapitalized because it is a general description of the vast majority of people, like me, who do not identify culturally as, “Hearing.” I am an English speaker, an American, a Pittsburgher, a Speech-Language Therapist, and many other capitalizable things, but hearing is not one of them. A hearing person, like me, can identify with the “Deaf” community and a deaf/Deaf person can integrate into the hearing world, particularly with the technological advances of cochlear implants. But a hearing person, whose experience exists in a hearing dominant and hearing normative world, cannot be Deaf, just as a white person cannot be Black.
[ii] I am right hand dominant and this sign is described from that perspective. If a person were left-handed, the dominant (left) hand would make the movement toward the non-dominant (right) hand. This is generally true in two-handed asymmetrical signs in ASL. That is, asymmetrical because the two hands are doing different things. In such signs, one hand (non-dominant) remains still and the other (dominant) moves.
[iii] Many Deaf people have experienced discrimination and daily challenges of living in a hearing world, but also most Deaf people have been educated by people and systems that are not fluent in sign language, and ultimately treat deaf individuals as broken hearing people. (If you are a hearing, native English speaker, imagine growing up in a community where almost everyone communicates using only complex, linguistic hand gestures but attempts to teach you everything you need to know to live a successful, fulfilling life in said community with spoken English, which everyone knows only at approximately a Kindergarten level, but with preschool vocabulary.) Really, that’s not hyperbole. There are still aural schools in the world, and they’re doing quite well. These are schools which discourage the use of sign language and which press deaf people to speak. Even in most schools for the Deaf, not all educators and certainly not all administrators and school staff are fluent with ASL. Hell, most aren’t much more than proficient.
Welp. We’re back. Just Jen and Greg, and…to bring this endeavor full circle to some of the very first recordings from almost precisely two years ago…Kate, the Springer Spaniel with reflection obsession disorder, and Tilly, the Basset Hound with ass balls and a neck-gina.
We begin with cholesterol. Currently I sit at my office computer as a quartet of thirteen-year-old girls eat McDonalds….hearts and arteries laughing in the presence of trans-fats, sugars, processed flour, and all manner of disease-causing carbs. But I’m 42, and there’s a family history of high cholesterol…so I need to say bye-bye to butter, bacon, cheese, salami, sausage, and all of the very delicious things in this world.
Speaking of sausage, we move on to “sausage legs” and other urban dictionary worthy terms. “Dog in the Bathtub” anyone? No? No.
And we finish with the PPAP song. You don’t know it? Oh boy, get ready for the most insistent and annoying ear worm since…I dunno…Gangham Style? We Built This City? And we start things off with my boy, dropping Sikh beats, Daler Mehndi with, “Tanuk Tanuk Tun.”
We present to you, “Sausage Legs and Apple Pens. (SLAP).”
The golden calf is a symbol that represents a bigger Truth.
But it is not *the* Truth.
It is nothing but a symbol, forged in gold and meant to blind the masses to real spiritual pursuit. In Christianity, worshiping false gods is sacrilege. I’m not a Christian anymore, but I believe there is much Truth in the bible, and in the holy books of all remaining religions. Myths, allegories and fantastic stories veiling ancient wisdom, understanding, and science. Yes, science. But again, things are just things. All things are just golden calves. All things. You dig? The Truth is very, very difficult to approach, and thus these culturally Kindergarten-ish tales were created and perpetuated to lead us forward, to remind future humans (i.e. us) of the knowledge of past civilizations. But here’s the problem, if we begin interpreting myths literally, which we’ve done and continue to do, then the very documents intended to illuminate ancient wisdom will in fact occlude it.
An old Buddhist koan states: If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha.
What’s a koan? According to a quick Google search, it’s a paradoxical anecdote or riddle used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.
Provoke enlightenment. I love the use of that verb in conjunction with that particular noun. Provoke. Enlightenment.
We need to be provoking enlightenment. That seems inarguable.
Forcibly and mindlessly applying ancient yet sacrosanct documents or symbols, both religious and secular, to contemporary communities almost always prevents enlightenment.
Folks are being harassed, abused, slandered, hurt, and fired for protesting what they believe to their cores to be the antithesis of the founding principles of the United States of America. They are not worshiping the golden calves we call the “Stars and Stripes” and the “Star Spangled Banner.” They are choosing to take a knee. To sit. To remain silent when others tell them, “You must sing this song. Worship that flag. That is the only way to prove your bona fides. Put your hand over your heart, too. And say, ‘God.’ Do it, or we’ll know that you’re not one of us. And if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” No, they are not doing any of those things. But…here’s the tragic, perhaps ironic to many, truth: they are honoring the very sacrosanct symbols that majority culture claims are being denigrated. Namely, the constitution, the Statue of Liberty, and every person who ever sacrificed anything for the pursuit of a more perfect union, the establishment of justice, the ensuring of domestic tranquility, the provision for the common defense, the promotion of the general welfare, the securing of the blessings of liberty, the ordaining and establishment of the constitution of the United States of America.
Colin Kaepernick, and everyone who came after, seems to know exactly why he’s kneeling. Do those who berate him know why they’re standing?
How do we say our prayers at night, kneeling under that crucifix, perhaps, (…which is just another golden calf…) knowing everything we’ve learned and seen? How do we not understand that Jesus himself would have taken up a #BlackLivesMatter banner and walked in protest, kneeled in protest? How do we not realize that James Madison would look at the state of the contemporary presidency and congress, the party-driven and politicized Supreme Court, the whole impossibly corrupt lobby-and-corporate-beholden system, and stop this entire damn experiment? How do we continue to worship these golden calves, don our “Make America Great Again” hats (…and no, one doesn’t need to have the actual hat on to don it. Consider that contemporary koan…), ignore another unarmed & compliant Black male being murdered by the very people charged with service and protection, and sleep?
How do we continue to do it?
We must kill the Buddha. Tear down the crucifixes. Burn the religious books that we’ve utterly forgotten how to read and process. Set the constitution aside for a moment. Fall to our knees. Quiet our minds before we pull another trigger, another lever in the voting booth, another golden calf into our bosoms.
For the sake of each and every one of us, we must.
Today we have Jim, Jen, Greg, and a group of teenagers.
Teenagers who fairly recently made the biological step into adulthood. All 12 – 14. How shall we refer to a group of such teenagers.
A puberty of teens.
A slewberty of teens?!
Nonetheless, being a (step) Father of a beautiful, social, popular thirteen-year-old girl is a bit of a challenge. And by “bit of a challenge,” I mean a really fucking significant challenge. Yes, it’s the boys. Yes, it’s the constant struggle toward independence and being right. Yes, it’s the boys. Yes, it’s the fact that she is super smart, has world-class wit and thus can be a world class smart ass, knows me entirely too well and is enough like me to put me in my place much more often than I prefer. And she’s beautiful. So mostly…Yes, it’s the fucking boys.
Anyway, this podcast will give a little window into my life, and our life with Maddy, and our life with Maddy on a night when our friend Jim comes over to hang.
Also, I’m giving you an extended intro and several songs from Abbey Road. Namely, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” and “Oh! Darling.”
We present to you, “Sounds Like Teen Spirit.”
Memoirs and musings of an anxious, sometimes inebriated, truth-seeker.