Dancing on the Bus, a short story I wrote about finding love in unexpected places, was accepted to be included in a recently published book called, Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon, the third in a series of short stories and poems.
My story is about being accepted and loved as a child, by total strangers. Later, as a mother, I saw that same love and acceptance for my own children. (Side note here; the picture is of my son from the story, showing love and acceptance to another child he met that day for the frist time. Paying love forward never fails).
Raising Benjamin Frog – A Mother’s Journey with her Autistic SonAn autistic child’s non-neurotypical perspective on a daily walk to school with his mother. First published as a short story by the child’s counselling centre. The mother’s neurotypical perspective of the same event follows. We hope we’ve given you a glance into the way an autistic mind differs from a neurotypical mind. Written by myself and my son, Benjamin Collier.
THE CROSSING-Part 1
The Child’s Perspective
Along they walked, side by side. He’d been told enough times now to remember the rule. They always walked side by side when they walked to school. He didn’t have to hold her hand; she said that was ok as long as they stayed together. So he walked by her side and talked in his head to his imaginary friends. He was oblivious to his surroundings most of the way and the other mothers and children who walked the same path. But he noticed that some of the other children held hands with their mothers, swinging their arms back and forth. Their mothers had obviously told them that they had to hold hands. He wondered why they had different rules from his mother. He’d come to accept, but still constantly question, why rules applied to some people and not to others. The rules were different for the bigger people, the parents and other adults, and sometimes his big sisters too.
His mother greeted the crossing guard and the other mothers as they came to the crosswalk. Then suddenly, her young son darted from beside her and started off across the road. Approaching cars skidded to a screeching halt. Faces were red with panic and anger. The drivers scowled and the crossing guard blew her whistle with ferocity. The boy’s mother lunged forward and ran to grab her son from in front of the cars. As she did she could hear the other mothers shouting heatedly at her son. “Unruly child!” “That was a stupid thing to do!” “You know you never cross without the crossing guard!” And she heard some mutter under their breath, “Terrible mother” and “Ashamed of herself.” She carried on across the road, holding tightly to his hand now, trying to ignore the comments and keep calm. After all, they didn’t understand. Her son looked like any other child. Why wouldn’t they expect him to follow all the rules?
The boy heard the words they shouted at him, but he took none of it to heart. They were just repeating the rules, feeding him the information he already had. The rules were just stupid. That’s all there was to it. And there were too many of them. He preferred his world. There he could do whatever he wanted without rules and he could play all day and no one got annoyed with him. His world was safer and happier. He wondered why other people didn’t live in their own worlds too. Why did they insist on living in a world that didn’t make any sense? Why did he have to live there?
When they reached the other side of the road his mother kept a tight hold of his hand and told him to look at her eyes. He knew that was the signal she wanted to talk to him. He knew he had done something wrong again. His puzzled little face lifted and he gazed into her eyes, trying his best to concentrate on her words.
“Why did you try crossing the road without the crossing guard?” she asked in a soft voice.
A question? He wasn’t expecting that. Didn’t she already know?
“It was safe to cross,” he answered, “The cars were all far away. I knew they would stop in time and they did. I was right. Why am I not allowed to make the cars stop instead of the crossing guard? Why do I have to wait for her to say it’s safe? Why do the cars listen to her and not me?”
His mother frowned a little, at first, then something lit up in her eye and her lips curled. He believed that was what people called a smile. “Because she has the STOP sign”, his mother said, “And you don’t.”
He thought for a moment, a frown on his tiny forehead. Then he looked up at her and gave her his own smile; he knew she liked that and it’d make her happy. “Okay”, he said in his matter-of-fact voice. Maybe some day when he was old enough he could buy his own STOP sign. Satisfied with that dream of the future, he ran to the playing field. Free for a little while till the bell rang and the confusing rules would start again.
She knew their walk to school was always an adventure to him. They would set off from home and stroll along the sidewalk to the road. It was just the two of them and his four friends; Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello. He never went anywhere without them. They kept him company in a world where she couldn’t go; not yet anyway. They were his companions when no one else wanted to play with him.
At first, he would take them in to Kindergarten with him, but his teacher had become annoyed on several occasions at his lack of attention in class. So now they stopped at the playground on the way to school where he had to say “Goodbye” to his imaginary friends. Sometimes he would look so sad. He asked his mother if they would be alright until he got them after school. They were as real to him as if they were his classmates; maybe more so. They didn’t call him names.
He ran free for a while. She had come to realize that he needed a lot of freedom from the world he didn’t understand. He needed extra time to just ‘be’. She watched him as he mumbled words she couldn’t comprehend; his arms flailing and his voice getting louder with shouts and screams for no apparent reason. He was so happy, just to run and not be confined to rooms and paths and the never-ending rules she had to constantly teach him. Her baby was happy. She loved to watch him play in his world.
He had learned, finally, to stop at the end of the path and wait for her. They had made an agreement that if he stopped all by himself he wouldn’t have to hold her hand anymore. He rarely wanted any physical contact. She missed the sweet baby boy she could hold tight and hug all day. He didn’t seem to want hugs at all, but he would let her kiss him goodnight, and he held her hand if there were cars close by; only if there were cars.
They were nearing the crossing guard when he suddenly darted across the road! She screamed his name as approaching cars barely managed to stop in time. One car came to a screeching halt and she saw the look of horror on the driver’s face. Everyone, the drivers, the crossing guard, the other parents, even the other children, all scowled and shouted at her son. They told him he was a bad boy and he needed to behave better. She ran to the middle of the road and grabbed his hand.
As they finished walking across the road, the crossing guard blew her whistle and held up her sign. The other parents started to cross too. Their whispers were intentionally loud enough for her to hear. “Terrible mother!”, “Should be ashamed of herself!”, “Not enough discipline obviously!” were all ringing in her ears as she held tight to his tiny hand and got him safely across the road and away from the other parents and children.
She felt like shouting at them all, “He has autism! That’s why he sometimes behaves like he does! What’s your excuse?!” But she had tried her best not to let her son see her get angry with other people. She didn’t want him to think that’s the way people should deal with disagreements. So she asked him quietly why he had run across the road instead of waiting for the crossing guard to tell them it was safe.
He explained, in his simple, broken words, that he had looked to make sure the cars were far away and he knew they could stop before they got to the crossing. He asked her why the cars wouldn’t stop for him if he wanted to cross the road. Why couldn’t he make the cars stop if he was right? Why did they only stop for the crossing guard?
His mother frowned a little at first, then her eyes lit up and she smiled at him.
“Because she has the STOP sign”, she said, “and you don’t”.
He looked at her, puzzled. She was used to that look all too well. Then a feint grin came across his little face; a rarity for him. She loved to see him smile. Off he ran into the playing field, alone, or maybe not. Maybe he had some other imaginary friends who he left at school until the next day. Either way, he was free again, happy in his own world for a few minutes, until he had to join the other children in this world again and deal with another rule that made no sense to him at all.
How do you respond when you meet someone for the first time?
Generally we shake their hand like a soggy fish, force a tired smile and say something like, “Nice to meet you” or “Good to meet you”.
Sometimes we really aren’t sure how we feel or we’re disinterested and simply say “Hi”.
How does it make you feel when you meet someone for the first time and they seem genuinely happy to meet you?
Great – right?
They smile, shake your hand firmly and say “It’s a pleasure to meet you!”
What if you could make everyone who follows you feel this way?
You can – at least you can do your best.
Not everyone who reads your work will be pleased to meet you, but those who are deserve to meet the real you.
Some will decide you’re not the kind of person they’re interested in following, some will follow you for a time until they lose interest, but others will stick it out for the duration because they’ve found you to be interesting and likable.
These are the ones you want to give something of yourself to so that they will say, “It’s a pleasure to meet you!”
So how do you get them to know you well enough to put a smile on their face from a distance?
Lets go back to the old school of communication – you tell them something about what you both have in common. If you’re new to writing you need a way to connect with your followers in that common thread.
Start out by showing them what you’ve already written.
Do you have a blog of your own?
Do you use Pinterest to showcase your work?
Do you send out a newsletter?
If you haven’t published any books yet, a blog is a good place to start. This will get you noticed online and you’ll start to get followers. The more followers, the more sharing online and the further up you go on the searches. This takes time, so do a few things and do them often.
It took me about six months before I got the hang of it. I’m constantly learning from other writers I follow.
Share something about you first.
-What’s your passion in life?
-Do you feel comfortable sharing a few notes about your personal life? No details here – just where you grew up and a few places you’ve lived, not necessarily your current town if it’s small.
-Are you married, do you have children or pets? You get the idea. Remember what goes on the internet can be read by EVERYONE!
Let your followers get to know who you are before you expect them to follow your work. Treat them as pen-pals. (Under 40? – ask your grandparents). I had several pen-pals growing up. We exchanged names and addresses through school. Honest!
Then start to show them what you do.
Write an introductory blog about your writing goals. Again, don’t share specifics of a work in progress, rather an idea of work.
What inspired you to work on this particular project?
Share some excerpts that don’t give away any spoilers. You want them to buy your finished work.
Open a Pinterest account to showcase your work and any pins related to it. I have a personal Pinterest account where followers can get to know me, and also a business Pinterest account where I showcase my own work and the work of fellow writers.
If you plan on going to events to sell your books/art, or you intend to be a speaker, a newsletter may be of benefit. I use Constant Contact because they make the guide quite easy and they keep track of your open rate.
Tweet. I don’t because I think I may become too ‘addicted’, but if you have good self-control, go for it.
Use your blog and Pinterest analytics to find out what your followers like, then write, post and pin like crazy. Set yourself a social media schedule so you don’t get carried away and forget to write! I generally collect ideas and file them into categories for each social media venue. Then it takes me less time to actually share it.
Here’s a great example: In 2013, Commander Chris Hadfield, commander of the International Space Station, wanted to connect with people on Earth and show them what real life was like on a space station, so –
“During his next five-month mission, while performing all his regular astronautical duties, he tweeted, answered questions from his followers, posted pictures he’d taken of Earth, recorded music, and filmed YouTube videos of himself…” – Austin Kleon in Show Your Work
The best part of all this social media sharing is, you get to meet some really interesting people and they get to meet you. Remember to always give credit to those whose work you share on any social media; a link to their own blog, accredit to their Pinterest boards, link to their website to buy their books.
If all this seems daunting, take heart. I learned it veeeeery slowly and I’m still learning, as you’ll come to realize 😉 You can take classes at your local college, at a local business advisory centre, or hire someone to do it for you Webrite Design and Social Media.
Next time we’ll look at different topics to share.
Finding your writer’s voice –
So you’ve decided to become a writer.
How do you decide what to write about?
Start with what compelled you to write in the first place. Chances are, you have a passion for something and want the whole world to know about it. You want to share your passion. That’s what you write about. Even if you decide to write an autobiography, it can be full of passion. After all, aren’t we passionate about ourselves? I hope so! So write about your experiences, good or bad, that link to your passion.
Herein lies your writer’s voice.
It’s not an audible voice, but a recognizable pattern of words which will speak to your audience and connect you to your readers. They’ll come to hear you in the way you write; the influence of dialect, the grammar (or lack thereof) and style, as if they were listening to spoken words. So be yourself. Let your audience get to know you. You don’t need to be famous, but you do need to be authentic.
I started out as a writer after three people told me I should write a book about raising my son who’s on the Autism Spectrum. Many people knew my journey through short stories I’d spoken, but encouraged me to write them down to share with others who didn’t know me. Until then, I hadn’t thought of being a writer. But looking back, I remembered I used to love to write fictional stories and poetry. I had simply forgotten. It’s funny how life can get you so far off track.
Maybe you have a similar story to tell. Have others encouraged you to write? Have you always been a writer, even if only in notebooks no one else reads? We all come to this point from different paths. It doesn’t matter how you start out. It just matters that you start.
So discover what inspires you and type, type, type like crazy. If you want to write a fictional story, check the ‘Inspiring Imagery’ on White Rose Writers’ Pinterest for some ideas. It’s the board where I pin pics of fantasy and sci-fi and scenes in nature around the world, to encourage writers to get those creative juices flowing. I love the creative mind.
Find books on topics you’re passionate about and read, read, read. Search online for blogs to follow from people who have the same passion. Can you ‘hear’ them in their writing? Do you recognize their ‘voice’?
Write a few blogs, a magazine article, a review of someone else’s work for practice. Save them in docs and don’t worry about editing them. Organize them and file them away for now. We’ll look at what to do with them next time. Just immerse yourself in the process and let it carry you away. Find your writer’s voice.