Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The most important person in the world - A MarsCon Report

Here is the report from my first ever MarsCon!!! (The best birthday present EVER!)


Day One


I volunteered for a bit. Worked 3.5 hours at the Consuite and Registration. It was pretty fun. I got to talk to people. It’s a little like stalking without scaring people. For example, I share a birthday with Carrie Dahlby. Didn’t know that. I got to see all of the people I know of from the “dementia scene” – Luke Ski, Carrie Dahlby, Hot Waffles (and Tim’s Banjo), Tak, Alchav and Kristi, Eric Coleman, Beth Kinderman, Jared Ringold, Bill Putt, and I’m sure there were others. If being in the presence of the “cool people” and talking to some of them wasn’t enough - I got a cool shiny button from the Martian Militia. (PS Since I don’t have my own stuff to sell yet, everybody go to these people’s websites and buy something!)


I ran into Alchav downstairs in the hotel and he invited me to the Dementia Dinner. Bill was taking pictures in the lobby and having people dance for his own amusement – there may be a video of me out there somewhere dancing like a fool because Bill Putt said to. Dinner was fun – although completely inexplicable to someone who wasn’t there. I sat with CRoses, ameangirl (not a typo or commentary on her personality – just her badge name), DJ Particle, and DJ Phoenix. Eric Coleman and Davroz rotated through my table. The food was pretty good – I ate fettucini alfredo four nights in a row. And the servers were very tolerant if somewhat slow. Half of the servers looked somewhat scared whenever they had to approach our group. The others seemed to be having fun.


I attended Opening Ceremonies. There was a skit. Skits are okay. It wasn’t Monty Python. But nothing is. I had to do several skits for Boy Scouts. I liked the Opening Ceremonies skit better – it had video game characters. Yay Pac-Man!


Between Opening Ceremonies and the first dementia concerts, I did the only non-comedy music programming I attended all weekend. I had to show up – it was my idea and I was on the panel. “How to Survive the Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse.” Props to Kevin and Brian. They really did all of the hard work with the movie reviews and the power point presentation. I got to play middle ground, ask questions, sit up front, and pantomime zombie attacks. All fun! I had no idea what to expect or how it would go, but I really liked it. I think it went pretty well. I couldn’t have hosted it by myself. Oh and I got a new book for my reading list – The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. Mostly I got to wear my very cool Night of the Living Dead t-shirt. w00t!


The Dementia Track concerts:

The first night of concerts featured Beth Kinderman, Eric Coleman, Worm Quartet, and The Gothcicles.


Beth Kinderman is not all that demented. She has a geeky singer-song writer acoustic vibe (sort of like Jonathan Coulton). She is, however, awesome. Very awesome. My favorite Beth Kinderman song is Valley.


Eric Coleman sounds like what I’ll probably sound like when I grow up. He stops his songs occasionally to talk, make pithy comments, be funny, have side bars. The odd thing is I usually stop my pithy comments to sing…. I actually didn’t recognize him until he started singing The Only Coffee House in Town. I was so glad we didn’t skip his concert. He was great.


As if I didn’t have enough proof that my parents are cool, my mom sat with me through a whole Worm Quartet concert. Worm Quartet is… Worm Quartet is…. Worm Quartet is not for the faint of heart. It would be too easy to describe Worm Quartet as a guy with a mullet screaming over pre-recorded synthesizer tracks. However, proof does exist that beyond being extremely funny and profane (and awesome!) – ShoEboX can actually sing well. My favorite song was What Your Parents Think All Your Music Sounds Like. However, I was not allowed to get the button. Just because mom would tolerate the insanity – doesn’t mean she’ll let me take the insanity home with me.


Then there are The Gothcicles. Again, their show was awesome. Their music was awesome. It was late at night though. I am supposed to be asleep by 10 p.m. I saw about half of the concert but I missed their performance with Sudden Death.


I finally calmed down enough to fall asleep around 1:30 a.m. What a blast of a day!!!


Day Two

Breakfast at the hotel was pretty bad. If it hadn’t been free – I doubt that I would have forced myself to eat any of it. Don’t get me wrong. Unlimited free bacon is hardly ever a bad thing (see Bacon!, below). But, I do like my breakfast bacon with other edibles.


Saturday was pretty slow until the concerts started. We looked around the dealer’s room. There were a lot of things my sister would have liked… a bunch of shiny stuff, a Luke Ski album here and there, and some Star Trek memorabilia. Ok, it was stuff I would have liked. But I was saving my money for CDs.


The Dementia Concerts (part 2)

Rob Balder, Sudden Death, Paul and Storm, Possible Oscar, and Hot Waffles (with Tim’s Banjo) performed on Saturday.


Rob Balder gave an outstanding performance. He opened with my mom’s favorite song Always a Goth Chick to Me. ‘Twas Awesome. ‘Twas very, very awesome. During the song Give It Away he threw CDs into the audience. I didn’t get one – but it was still a great set. I also liked the new prop. Rob Balder looks interesting in pink kitty ears. Who knew? The only thing I didn’t like was that he didn’t play Nethack, but the ears nearly made up for it.


Sudden Death was terrific as usual. He did all of my favorites. It was a little disturbing when nateboi took off his t-shirt, but that wasn’t Devo Spice’s fault really. I was hoping other fans (girls) would follow suit – but they tell me I’m too young for that.


Paul and Storm. They were amazing. I had only heard about half of their songs before the concert, so I really enjoyed listening to them. I bought their album because Jonathan Coulton called in the middle of their set and told me to, but I would have anyway. Really.


Possible Oscar had some difficulties getting set up and started. It seemed to bother them a lot more than it bothered me. But then, I’m a fan. Talk Nerdy to Me will always be one of my favorites.


Hot Waffles were the musical Guests of Honor. Tim’s Banjo did a really good job, but Chris’s bass had some technical difficulties. So much so that all future technical difficulties were referred to as “Chris Waffle moments.” Tim and Chris were really great. I wish that all of the dementia artists had an hour or more to perform – but I felt like Hot Waffles really put together a good show and I really enjoyed it.


I met Tak (from Revenge of the Particle) after the concerts. She made my day by telling me that I made her “sucktacular” Friday better. She is undefeated on Dementia Smackdown (the wrestling promotion and not the MarsCon event) – and always will be in my heart!


I didn’t do too much after the concerts. I was hungry and tired and mom wasn’t sure that the 13th floor was a good place for me to hang out. So, we went to the Prime Rib Buffet in the hotel restaurant and then hung out in our suite. Mostly, I played on the computer and tried to find Dementia Smackdown.


Day Three

Another day, another bad hotel breakfast. At least it was free and had bacon.


The most important thing (for me) was the Dementia Fan Showcase. I was disappointed that DJ Particle didn’t get to do more songs. I originally signed up for the fan showcase specifically because I heard that DJ Particle was going to sing. But, give me an audience and a microphone and I will always sing (as DJ Phoenix learned to her detriment) whether I know the song or not. I got to perform covers of Always a Goth Chick to Me and My Cat is Afraid of the Vacuum Cleaner (which I usually do in harmony with my sister) – with Power Salad in the room listening!!! Yay me. I also got to sing with DJ Phoenix and play fanboy for CRoses. This is the stuff dreams are made of! Everyone was great – Alchav, BreakmanZ, Bill and Davroz, and all the others whose names I don’t know. I only wish I had brought the camcorder so everyone could experience the awesomeness. Next year I will (may?) debut a Gifted Gear original.


Dementia Track Concerts (Part 3):

Art Paul Schlosser, Carrie Dahlby, Power Salad, and the great Luke Ski performed before the Dementia Smackdown (which is not quite the same thing as the wrestling promotion of the same name).


Art Paul Schlosser may be my new favorite dementia artist – if only because he let me go up on stage with him and sing I like my Mother. As I said before, give me an audience and a microphone…..


Carrie Dahlby is one of the main reasons I went to MarsCon. (She's so pretty) She performed with her dad – which I thought was really cool.


Power Salad sang to me. I AM the most important person in the world, you know. He really performs a wild show.


What can I say about the great Luke Ski? He’s another reason I went to MarsCon. He’s a great performer, but I am sorry to report that he is not quite as pretty as Carrie Dahlby. Since he has his own cheering squad, I hope it won’t hurt him for me to say that. My favorite Luke Ski song was Holding Out for Hiro.


A review of the Dementia Smackdown performances wouldn’t be complete without a retelling of all the in-jokes and off-the-cuff remarks. Unfortunately, I can’t possibly replay all of the funny moments here (although I wish I could). Basically, all of the artists did covers, tributes, and lampoons of the other artists’ performances. I will never forget Wyngarde’s performance as the magical Pegasus…


The yolk’s on you,

Stephen


PS I arrived a day early (Thursday) and left a day late (Monday) – but nothing exciting happened.

Here's the thing....

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while now. At least since December when mom said I should write it. It is a review of my experience in undergoing a recent autism evaluation. I’ll admit that it is MUCH more fun to write about MarsCon, the FuMP, Dementia Radio, and all things geeky. And, I’ll get back to those things but this is important too. Especially since it directly reflects my experiences on the Autism Spectrum and my opinions about how I am perceived and treated in the world. And mom said so.


In December, I began a two month process of re-evaluation with a developmental pediatrician who specializes in Autism. I did this for one reason, and one reason only; my parents made me. My first evaluations were done overseas in a Department of Defense elementary school by educators and psychologists. To say that my parents and I found it to be seriously lacking in value is an understatement.


You might think that because we’re from Oregon and I attend a virtual school from home that my parents are more than a little bit alternative – granola, as they say. Nothing could really be further from the truth.


My parents have specific philosophical, political, and cultural values that challenge the existing status quo in parenting and education (see Against School by John Taylor Gatto for one example of what they talk about), but they are really so normal it’s not funny. My sister goes to a public school, Mom was a state-level PTA president, and my dad works for the government. Subversive we are not. Different, maybe. I’ve mentioned before that the series The Big Bang Theory is my life in fast forward.


Anyway….

I began the evaluation with Dr. H in December. It wasn’t really all that exciting – I sat in the room and was asked questions by different people. Dr. H did a physical exam and then on other visits I took IQ tests, and reading tests, and comprehension tests, and performed like a good little monkey. Then, in late January, Dr. H sat with my parents and told them what she had decided about me.


First, I think it’s stupid to evaluate whether someone is on the autistic spectrum if they are not incapacitated by it. Second, I don’t feel that my autism is a disability. I prefer the term disorder to disability (although neither is accurate). Lack of order isn’t necessarily bad for us out of the box thinkers, but lack of ability is unnecessarily limiting. And not true. I feel that I should be evaluated as a person (if at all). Dr. H did not get this. She was specifically not interested in actually having a conversation with me. She definitely didn’t get my jokes.


Dr. H: What are your flaws?

Me: Oh, I’m an egotist. But, of course I have every reason to be because I’m perfect in every way.

Dr. H: Are you kidding?

Me: No, I’m serious. Why would I joke about something like this?


Of course, this was immediately reported to my parents as indicative of my extreme social disability. None of the people who try to understand me and fail get my jokes. Coincidence, I think not. My level of sarcasm and deadpan delivery completely flew over her head – even when my parents said that they were sure I was joking. Note for my future doctors – just because I say I’m serious doesn’t mean that I am.


To paraphrase Will Smith’s character in Hitch – 60% of human communication is body language and 30% is in your tone. Only 10% comes from the words you actually say. Ironically, one of the basic traits that identifies people on the autism spectrum is their inability to correctly interpret social cues. I’ll admit that I have some trouble with this. I’m good with sarcasm, but sometimes I am rude when I don’t mean to be. However, Dr. H missed my social cues completely.


Another trait that Dr. H focused on was my lack of desire to please her or any of the other testers. Well, duh. Why would I? I don’t really care what she thinks of me. I told her this, but she didn’t take me seriously (as opposed to taking me quite seriously when I was, in fact, joking). Apparently there is something in the “normal” human experience that makes people willing to classify others as being superior to or in authority over them – and makes them want to please them. Thanks, I’ll skip that part. Some people are superior to or have authority over me – but they had to earn it!!! It certainly isn’t something I accept from others merely because they are taller or older or have more degrees than me. (There is a whole other topic that I could bring up here regarding people who feel they must bully or otherwise coerce children and the weak into respecting them – but I’ll save that for a rant on why people become teachers…). ((I wouldn’t keep taking cheap shots if other people didn’t make it so darn easy!!!))


Dr. H is very invested in “normal” - like many other medical professionals and educators I know. I always wonder whether they have so much trouble being “normal” themselves that they must become an expert on the subject. If “normal” means being neurotypical, I’m not all that interested. So what if my best ever social experience ever was MarsCon… (MarsCon was awesome, by the way! More later…). So what if my idea of success and interaction defies the “normal” herd mentality. I define success as doing what you love and being able to support yourself with it. That does not require that I go to mainstream school, major in business at an Ivy-league college, or work as a drone in any capacity.


So here is my review (an evaluation evaluation, as it were) of Dr. H and the recent bout of autism-related testing I underwent. Dr. H and her staff seemed nice. She made more of an effort to understand me than most people do. If you have reason to hire a developmental pediatrician in south Texas, she’s good – probably better than most. She may or may not be higher on the autism spectrum than I am. But, don’t expect her to understand or validate any attempt to defy the expectations of “normal.” She is the expert after all.


Bleh,

Stephen