Social Amnesia

Imagine the greatest disappointment of your life, the worst rejection, the most negative of No’s. Now imagine that feeling recur, endlessly, as you try to make apologies for it.

This is what it is like to experience disappointment and rejection on the autistic spectrum. It’s what I have come to call social amnesia.

There’s a common saying, that you never get a second chance at a first impression. This is universally understood. It is also universally loathed, particularly by people on the high end of the spectrum. Most people upon encountering a person they like or admire will be nervous. The neuro-typical members of society, aka the developmentally normal ones, will handle this nervousness by being cautious with their choice of words.

The opposite is true of people on the spectrum, aka the neuro-atypical, the ones with developmental delays (note: not a mental illness). Encountering someone we greatly admire or like is a very difficult social scenario. It often ends in us not making a good first impression. Either we wind up coming across as overzealous, muted or just odd. And we all know the saying about getting a second impression…

Folks like me on the spectrum are generally always well intentioned. I was greatly upset at myself for expressing my disappointment with my former mentor; namely how he dropped off the face of the earth. I even apologized for being too overzealous prior to that, assuming I even was. Yet, all this time I could still see he was reading my work… More specifically my apologies.

Without making this a personal story, I will quickly say that over the course of a few years I probably wrote the same blog post at least ten times, hoping he’d read it. Usually he would. For whatever reason, he’d continue to look. Only up until recently, he stopped altogether.

Social amnesia.

I repeated the same apology hoping for acceptance, pleading my admiration and hoping he’d understand I am a good and well intentioned person. I wanted another chance, I didn’t want him to walk away. I just wanted to work for him, or at least be friends. So every time I forgot the last post of this nature, I’d write another. And another. And another. And… Another.

I just wanted another chance.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work this way. After a while, that social amnesia wears thin. You sound like a broken record. To the person on the spectrum, all we can assess is how we feel and the legitimacy of wanting to write or say how we feel in case it wasn’t clear we were sorry for our oddities the first time around… even if it’s the twentieth time we’ve done so. For us, it’s always the first.

Life on the spectrum with social amnesia is kind of like a video game with check points. It may take us five times to get through to the next part of the level. When it comes to my mentor and most others, I usually get it on the third pass. Sometimes the second, more frequently these days on the first. The level featuring my mentor just happened to be on the hardest difficulty.

It requires tremendous patience to give another chance, something most people don’t have. I never got a third chance with James, and as he looks to finally work again, I doubt I’ll get a call… Likely leading me to write an eleventh apology (or something like that) when it gets a green light. I.e:

((I’m sorry James/Paris, I’m sorry for whatever I’ve done to push you away. In fact I’m really not sure what I’m even apologizing for any more.))

Of those people in my life who have been patient with me, it’s been nothing short of loyal and rewarding friendships, hard working professional relationships and dedicated romantic partnerships. I would stop at nothing to give back to those who I care about, and I am a harmless person to those who haven’t given me the chances I needed to prove myself. Never once did I say, stalk, my former mentor. Ever. It’s a line I know not to and never will cross. That’s because I am autistic, not mentally ill. We get boundaries, even if we have social amnesia.

However, for those I’ve apologized to 30+ times, they’re no more likely to be patient with me than they were upon the first apology. It’s just not something which is easy for me to be self aware about given my social amnesia.

Slowly I’ve learned to become more self aware. Now in my late twenties, I’ve had a broad enough exposure to various social situations to know how to not need a second chance. In fact, most people don’t even realize I’m autistic from interacting with me (until they discuss a topic which I’m deeply passionate about!)

I have learned a great many personal lessons from my experience with James alone. Now that I have, I just want to apply those lessons learned. However, no matter how much I try to revert history and change course, I cannot with him. Social amnesia will not alter the effects of time, no matter how much we try to will it. Thankfully, I have less and less need to employ such errors in social interaction. But in case you were wondering why I or others on the spectrum tend to repeat themselves, I hope this satisfies as an explanation.

Desperation and the Diplomatic Pass

man-yelling-into-phone2

Ever dealt with rejection? If you’re pursuing screenwriting, this is a rhetorical question. Of course you’ve experienced rejection. But you don’t care about rejection, you want to hear about how to get a Yes. However, whether you ever get a Yes will first be determined by how you handle No.

So I present the lesson of, desperation and the diplomatic pass.

When I started this blog, I was a ripe 24 years young, stary-eyed with wonder at the business, and more specifically the opportunity to have mentorship by a major producer. In my naive mind, I thought I had hit the jackpot. Nothing could be further from the truth. While this man gave me plenty valuable advice and feedback on my writing, the biggest lesson learned was when he ultimately walked away…

THE DIPLOMATIC PASS

You may have heard this term colloquially tossed around in the film industry. It is a very simple concept. In a word, it means NO. So let me repeat that for you, NO. Got it? One more time, it means NO. More specifically, no thank you.

However, No has a very negative connotation. Nobody likes to be told No, but it is an inevitability that it must be said on occasion. Depending on where you are in the business, No will be said in many different ways, but likely without actually saying No.

So much of this business is nuanced. It is the assistant telling you his/her boss is in a meeting when in fact they’re just screening your calls. It is the no-reply, months to a year after you sent that person your script with the mutual understanding that they’ve agreed to read. They read it, but they’re just not going to bother telling you that it’s a Pass. If you’re more established or friendlier with the person, the person may give you some notes and feedback without committing to help shepard the project. They may also say they’d like to help you out, but can’t because of XYZ project or a higher priority.

What all of these things have in common is that they mean No. However, they all avoid saying it directly because they would like to still keep the door open for the future and possibly maintain a working relationship down the road. It is the diplomatic pass, a try again next time.

The quickest way to assure you never get a next time? Not grasping that you got a diplomatic pass and taking this personally.

DESPERATION

Back to that producer mentor of mine. After reading the first script I sent to him, he gave me some feedback a month or so after I submitted it and encouraged me to try my hand at another. He would even check in on occasion with me, asking how I was doing. Several months to a year went by, and I had another for him. Several more months would go by again without hearing any feedback at all.

While I didn’t realize it at the time, after a rare second chance, he eventually passed on my second effort as well. He still followed me on Twitter (when he had one), he even subtweeted me a few times as well. That’s how we eventually got into a confrontation. I was angry that he didn’t reply to me. What followed was an hour long DM conversation that amounted to a few simple facts — A) it takes anywhere from 10-15 years to make headway in this business B) nobody owes anybody shit C) he was very kind to have mentored me and given me such a chance given my inexperienced and un-repped status.

I was desperate. I was emotional, and would continue to write passive remarks to him as I saw him continuing to keep tabs on my blogs and posts online. I was annoyed that he would take the time to read my writing, all while failing to ask me how I’m doing, or even send a simple text. I admired this man since I was 14. I wanted nothing more than to if not work for him, to at least be his friend considering all we had in common.

Desperation is ultimately a sign of weakness. Nobody wants to be in a relationship, whether romantic, platonic or professional with a desperate person. While it is easy to see desperation in others, when caught up in our own emotions, it is easy to dismiss the same behavior in ourselves.

You see yourself coming from an extremely valid place. But from an objective standpoint, you’re not. Nobody cares that you admire the person. Nobody cares that you mean well. Nobody cares that you feel that way. Why? Because a professional would accept the diplomatic pass and move on. A professional would accept the Pass, and continue to work hard toward a future Yes. Anything less than that reaction is desperate and even seemingly insane.

I can guarantee you I will never hear a Yes from Jim because of the way I acted at 24-25 years old. I am happy I learned that lesson young enough to correct my mistakes, even if it is unlikely we will ever have a professional relationship.

YOUR FAILURE TO GRASP THE DIPLOMATIC PASS COULD SPELL DOOM FOR YOUR CAREER

You not accepting No says a lot about how you might behave if given a Yes. Your inability to accept No for an answer shows that you are not self-aware. It suggests that you cannot accept criticism or critical feedback.

In the role of a screenwriter, your ability to accept feedback is critical to success because screenwriting is a highly collaborative process. You need to be able to take constructive feedback and put it to good use. If you act emotional, cannot understand No, how are you then supposed to be able to parse through an executive’s notes and make valid changes to the work? How are you going to react when you get re-written? Are you going to be a prima donna about it, or are you going to take it in stride and not allow disappointment to create a mental block?

There is no quicker way to no get work in this business, in any role, than by gaining the reputation of being someone who is difficult to work with. Someone who acts desperate, and emotional is almost guarenteed to be labeled difficult. A professional, no matter how much it hurts, is not going to allow disappointment and rejection to get to them. A professional is not going to obsess over a negative outcome or dwell in the past. No matter how poorly you are treated in the process, you cannot dwell on it because you cannot control others, but you can control yourself. So keep writing, keep positive and don’t act desperate. Understand that everyone gets the diplomatic pass. However, the only folks who get the Yes are those who take it in stride.

Happy writing! Over and out — MK

 

 

Are Poverty Wages a Problem for Diversity in Film/TV?

As we approach another Oscars ceremony of nearly all White nominees, debate has heated up over Hollywood’s lack of diversity. The issue at hand isn’t so much about actors of color being snubbed, but about the lack of opportunity to begin with. If only a handful of films each year have non-white leads, the chance of any of them being quality enough to garner nominations for its participants is scant. Many have begun to ask who is responsible for the lack of diverse roles and behind screen talent. The answer commonly squares the blame with a combination of studios, agencies and investment bias.

Once blamed, studios are quick to say that they would love it if agencies sent more names of non-white talent, or women. Agencies in response to the studios counter with the fact that they just don’t have a lot of non-white talent or women to recommend, but they wish they did. So agencies and studios constantly put out this PR line to say they wish they had more non-white or female talent to offer, but somehow they never find any. I won’t even begin to discuss investor bias, because they don’t even acknowledge the problem, nor do they acknowledge how refusing to invest in a more accurate representation of an increasingly diverse America would be beneficial to them.

Putting aside the numerous amount of qualified non-white actors and behind scenes talent studios could hire, what is leading to a still overwhelmingly White application pool? Money. Specifically, the lack of it.

Whether they are willing to accept the blame or not, the agencies are really the first in a line of gatekeepers. Gatekeepers – it’s the people who have the power to recommend your talent, all the way up to the people who hire the talent and finally to the people who green light the project featuring the talent. The reason gatekeepers is plural as opposed to gatekeeper is because in Hollywood clearly there are many levels of gatekeepers, and many gatekeepers within those individual levels.

The problem of diversity really begins then with the agencies and specifically who works at these agencies. While specific figures are not available for their racial makeup, multiple lawsuits have been filed against major talent agencies including both WME and CAA for alleged racial discrimination in hiring and promotion practices. Agencies remain overwhelmingly White, and still skew male. While agencies have certainly done more in recent years to promote qualified women, few people of color seem to get noticed. This racial makeup is apparent not through personal dealings with agencies, bur rather following promotions in trades and simply reviewing the list of agents on their websites.

Instead of assuming that these organizational structures are inherently prejudiced, I decided to look at an alternate cause for this lack of diversity: compensation. In order to get hired at an agency, you need to generally already have 1-2 years agency experience. In most cases, that experience is through internships while the prospective applicant is still in school. Most of the best internships are all unpaid, in high cost areas and some are even full time without compensation. Yet they all require the intern to be currently pursuing a degree while working these internships.

Very few people not from upper middle class or affluent backgrounds can afford to not work for anything. The mean income for Black households alone hovers around $49k annually according to the most recent census figures available. It does not get much better for Hispanics, whose mean household income is around $54k annually. Compare that with Whites, whose annual mean household income is closer to $80k and you begin to see just how jarring the racial wealth divide is in this country.

Assuming those students of color can find scholarship and other avenues of financial aid, maybe they can still struggle enough to get by in an unpaid internship or two without relying on wealthier parents for help. However, compensation does not get much better when these folks graduate. The entry level salary at the three-letter agencies like WME, UTA or CAA (and the less prestigious ones too) are for a mean salary of $10-$12 an hour… as of 2015! Pretty soon, Los Angeles will have a minimum wage higher than a current mail room clerk at CAA. What makes this wage so difficult to swallow is that most kids without financial help will not be able to cover the cost of living in a New York or LA. So even if a Black man interned with CAA while a student at say, UCLA, he may not be able to afford to even consider this job opportunity. He can’t afford to live in LA for $12 an hour if his family is impoverished and unable to help him financially, because they are living in an impoverished county like San Bernardino or part of the OC.

The barriers to entry are extremely cost prohibitive. It can take anywhere from 5-10 years moving from unpaid intern, to agent trainee or mail room clerk to assistant to junior agent and up to agent. Most of those years people will be paid under $30,000, and under $24,000 after tax for a good portion of those years. Yet while doing work for such a low wage, you are expected to attend drink mixers, dress and look the part and afford rent and cost of living in a New York or LA. The only people that can afford that are those with financial help from parents. When you consider the racial wealth divide in this country, especially at the higher thresholds of the salary bracket, that means White.

A few years ago, notable film critic, mystery Hollywood studio employee and internet sensation Film Critic Hulk talked about how low wages are actually worse than nepotism for kids trying to break into the film industry today, here is what he had to say over on website Birth Movies Death in 2013:

WHILE HULK HATES TO GO HERE, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO HAVE THIS CONVERSATION ABOUT MONEY WITHOUT COMMENTING ON… WELL, THOSE INDIVIDUALS WHO DO HAVE OR COME FROM MONEY.

SO… THERE ARE A LOT OF COMPLAINTS ABOUT NEPOTISM IN HOLLYWOOD, BUT HULK ASSURES YOU THAT CLASS ITSELF IS THE FAR, FAR BIGGER OBSTACLE. THAT’S BECAUSE THOSE WHO HAVE HELP FROM THEIR PARENTS AFTER COLLEGE ARE AT SUCH AN EXTREME ADVANTAGE OVER THOSE WHO DO NOT. AND THE PROBLEM HAS BECOME SO INGRAINED INTO THE SYSTEM AT LARGE, THAT IT HAS BECOME RATHER HARD TO QUANTIFY. PART OF THE PROBLEM IS THAT THIS INDUSTRY IS SO FULL OF PEOPLE WHO DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT COMING FROM POOR OR WORKING CLASS ENVIRONMENTS IS ACTUALLY LIKE AND HOW IT CAN SEVERELY AFFECT YOUR ABILITY TO MAKE IT. AND SINCE THEY ARE ALL CONGREGATED INTO THE SAME SPHERE OF INFLUENCE WITH EACH OTHER, THEY JUST CAN’T SEE HOW MANY PEOPLE CRASH UP AGAINST THE WALLS AROUND THEM. THEY SIMPLY CAN’T EVEN SEE THE PROBLEM. HULK’S BROUGHT UP THE PROBLEM TIME AND TIME AGAIN, BUT IT’S ALWAYS A NON-STARTER. IT’S JUST SO NATURAL FOR PEOPLE TO SEE THEMSELVES AS MIDDLE CLASS, EVEN IF THEY’RE NOT. IT’S SO NATURAL FOR PEOPLE TO MISS ALL THE HELP THEY’VE GOTTEN AND ADVANTAGES THEY HAD. AND SO THEY THINK HULK IS MAKING UP THIS PROBLEM. BUT IT IS SO VERY, VERY REAL… SO IF YOU ARE ON THE SIDE OF DISADVANTAGE, KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GOING UP AGAINST A SYSTEM THAT IS GOING TO PUNISH YOU FOR IT.

This is the reality for many people of color, because many come from disadvantaged economic backgrounds and cannot afford to work for poverty wages. As a result you wind up with a lack of diversity at the very first level of gatekeeping. With a lack of diversity, comes a lack of diversity in employee referrals, a lack of diverse writers and talent recommended and stories that shape a non-diverse world view. While there are many great White agents and managers seeking diverse talent, there just never seems to be enough of them to make a true impact overall. To truly diversify content, we need to diversify the gatekeepers, and that starts with the agencies. These agencies not only recommend talent to studios, but they also wind up promoting people into gatekeeper roles at production companies and at these studios as well. It is a small industry, built around these non-diverse “spheres of influence” as Hulk put it above.

So from this, talent agencies and production companies need to re-assess their hiring practices. They need to make sure that the wages reflect the cost of living in the cities that they are located in. No one is asking to be paid $60k for an entry level role, but $15 an hour (or $30k per year) is not an unreasonable starting wage for someone in an LA or NY in 2016 — in fact that’s still a struggle wage, but it’s a bit better than what it is now. These companies are very well off, and can more than  afford to pay people a living entry level wage. In addition to reassessing how much they pay people, they need to encourage their HR departments to do more to recruit at public colleges and places where qualified middle and working class applicants may come from. Sticking to employee referrals, pools of unpaid interns at expensive elite colleges is not going to result in diverse applicants, and thus will not result in diverse gatekeepers.

So if we really want to see more people of color nominated for awards, or to have more time on screen, we need to be making changes at the entry level. If non-whites or women from middle and working class backgrounds want to make a difference, but can’t because they cannot afford to starve long enough to succeed in this business, no difference can or will be made. This issue is one that needs to be made front and center in the debate about diversity. For the issue isn’t so much about White and White-Male, it’s about have and have-nots. When White people have held the systemic advantage in socioeconomic standing dating back to the slavery era, then efforts must be made today to allow for equal opportunity at success so that more people can climb out of poverty and make a difference. It’s about investing in the American Dream, and not the dream that only some can afford. That starts with paying people a wage that they can live on independently at the start of their careers, and not five to ten years down the road.

Breeding Hate: The Roots of Terror

The Tan Shirts are coming around the corner again… balls drop across Belfast as the boys take their place along the stoop. Jack is ten years old. Yesterday, Jack’s father was beaten. They said he belonged to the rebels, that his business was holding meetings to attack British troops. After they trashed the business, Jack found his father on the floor — the business never recovered, and the family fell into poverty as his father struggled to get back up. Jack is ten years old, but he will never forget. Today he sits on the stoop. Ten years from now he will plant a car bomb that will take an MPs life…

Hussein lives in the Gaza Strip. He is Twelve, and today he is helping his handicap sister (9) with homework in their sixth floor apartment. Tap, tap, tap — the Israeli IDF warning shells spray across the roof. Another bombing raid is coming in, it’s been a daily routine since rebels have taken hold in their neighborhood after shelling the Israeli border. They don’t want them there, but to turn away these men means death. Hussein tries to gather his sister, when he hears the Rafael Jets thrusters kick into gear. He wakes up in rubble, his sister, his mother and his father are dead. Hussein is twelve, but he will not forget. After spending his years in a refugee camp in squalor with no opportunity, Hussein gets training in Yemen. He returns on a mission to Israel, and blows himself up on a crowded Jerusalem tour bus…

Mohammed is third generation French. His great grandparents came from Algeria, but Mohammed never felt French in his life, despite his passport. He has spent most of his young adult life in and out of low end jobs living in a poor suburb of Paris. He is 22, and despite holding a technical certificate in welding, no one wants to hire him. He feels rejected, unwanted and has begun to feel that his life is meaningless and has turned to an opiate addiction to numb the pain. The other day, he was insulted by a group of French teens on the Metro for his appearance. Poor, tired of being excluded, Mohammed travels to Syria where for the first time in his life, he feels he has found a community. He returns to his country of birth at 24 and assaults the city. He dies by police bullets, but in his mind he dies a martyr, suddenly he feels in his moment of death that his life had meaning.

Tommy is a former Marine. He was destined for greatness, a former All-State football player and popular kid in High School. On his second tour of Iraq, Tommy watched his friend get blown up by an IED in a remote village. Distraught and upset that Command prohibits retaliation without further investigation, Tommy takes matters into his own hands. He returns to the small village at night and kills everyone in the village, including women and children. Or so he thought, in Tommy’s reign of terror, he missed one young boy in the closet; a boy who several years from now will get his revenge on several future Marines with an IED of his own.

Aaron is a skinny and unremarkable young man. At age 22, he is still working the same convenience store job he had since 15. He’s still a virgin, and incredibly awkward with girls. Sexually unremarkable, and totally inexperienced, he develops an intense hatred of women. He finds a site full of similar young men and vows to take matters into his own hands with their encouragement. He acquires an assault style rifle and begins training at a local shooting range. He tells the online community he’s going to make them pay. Nobody takes his threats seriously until several hours later, on CNN, the mans avatar is linked to their site in connection with a mass shooting in a women’s clothing store where 15 women, one man and two children died at the tip of his AR-15.

Mike is a Libertarian who deeply mistrusts government. After applying for the civil service exam, he fails a psychological screening and is rejected from the local police force. Angry about his rejection, he turns to the internet to voice his displeasure about police. Online he meets several conspiracy theorists who share his distrust of government, in particular Dan and Fred. Eventually they decide to meet in person and hatch a plot of revenge. These men fell off the face of the earth and started training in the woods, nobody in the small community knew their names. Two years later, they return to the County Courthouse and blow it up with a truck full of IEDs. They claim they did it to spark a new American revolution. Hours later they are caught and brought down in a hail of gunfire. Nobody would ever forget their names again.

****

It is easy to suggest that the way to fight terror is to prohibit travel by certain groups of people, to wage perpetual war, to exclude these people from society as likely outlaws, terrorists and criminals. But before anybody becomes a killer, a terrorist, a criminal, they are an innocent child, a blank slate. Throughout that life time, that slate gets filled with certain events and ideologies. Not everyone is given the same chance to succeed. When life feels directionless, without meaning thoughts of suicide or depression  create a hole. Often the person seeks to fill the void with some kind of meaning.

Terrorism is a way for many of these men (and women) to find meaning in life. Already suicidal and without any economic or social opportunity, they find opportunity in groups like IS or Al Qaeda when they are no longer afraid to die. They seek out communities of hatred online, or conspiracy theorists that find revolution against a society that rejected them is the only answer. For the would-be terrorist, it is suicide with a meaning. Man isn’t born to hate. When man feels hated, his only reaction is the natural act of revenge, to get revenge on a society which has rejected him.

It is too simplistic to sum up acts of terror, whether abroad, at home or though the act of a lone gunman, as being the product of some deranged person without reason. While certainly mentally ill, the precursor to that illness is some kind of trigger point. Happy people don’t wake up and decide to kill a bunch of people or join IS. The signs are there; lack of economic opportunity, social exclusion, depression that turns to sentiments of death and destruction, a person filling the void of his/her displeasure with extremely conservative religion/conspiracy chatter/radical online communities.

The signs are there. We must act not to exclude people but to include them. We must fight terror preemptively, by working to encourage inclusion through social and economic opportunity. Hatred is borne out of hatred. The quickest way to create future terrorists is to make more people feel unwanted, dejected and rejected for the opportunity to feel happy existing in society. As the widow of one of the Paris attack victims said “you will not have my hatred.” Hatred ends with all of us by working together to stop the cycle of never ending hate and exclusion.

 

The Smartest Person In A Room All By Yourself

I am the smartest person in a room all by myself. Perhaps you too have felt this feeling, the idea that you’re too smart to be where you are right now in life. Maybe you felt that you were destined for greatness, something fitting for your intellectual ability. Yet you find yourself stagnant, directionless and spinning your wheels. You are both goal-oriented and yet unable to focus on a single ambition. As time goes on, you start to compare your situation to others and find that excuses such as a bad economy or high cost of graduate school are not sufficient excuses. You’re as smart as they come, but you have nothing to show for it. This is what it feels like to be the smartest person in a room all by yourself.

At Twelve, I was diagnosed with high-functioning Autism, specifically Aspergers. According to my school psychologist, and my scores on IQ exams, I am a certified genius with an IQ over 145. Yet much like other MENSA members, I am the smartest person in a room all by myself.

You’re probably rolling your eyes right now at that revelation, because who cares about someones IQ in a vacuum. You’d be correct to think that way, because it means absolutely nothing without accomplishment.

Like many others with Autism, I have found it hard to put myself out there for feedback and professional opportunity. More troubling, I have found it even harder to ask for help when directionless.

I have considered many careers, most notably my passion for the arts and desire to work in feature film/TV development. Before that, I studied political science and law with the hopes of becoming an entertainment lawyer. At other points I have found myself interested in studying conflict resolution and international relations in Europe. I applied to Sciences Po in Paris for the MSc program in International Relations, and was accepted to that institution (a school the last three French presidents have also attended). Undergraduate, I was accepted to NYU, and Columbia. I scored in the 97th percentile on my LSAT. Yet, I remain directionless, spinning my wheels toward the concrete wall of the big 3-0. While a lot of those declines on my part were financial, others said Yes to those opportunities and took the financial risk; a risk I was unable to take myself.

I strongly believe in the limiting factor of the ‘genius complex’; the idea that we have grand visions for ourselves. When you’re told that you are MENSA certified at 12, you come to expect great things of yourself. You begin to set unrealistic expectations, and then judge yourself for failing to live up to your own definition of success. It’s very narcissistic to believe that because you are brilliant you will succeed on that intellect alone. Yet this is one of the reasons many intelligent people are most unable to admit they need help and guidance. It’s hard to focus on the amount of years it takes to become successful when learning and new information came to us with such ease, so quickly.

While I’ve been told that I have a gift of language by the producer of my favorite films, an idol of mine, I am no closer to making films of my own three years later. Despite my solid academic performance, I am no closer to another degree or career. My resume seems weak in comparison to those even five years younger than myself. I have sat in a room all by myself whether I realized it or not. It is my fault that I am where I am today, and I accept that.

Sometimes when you have such lofty goals, it is almost impossible to put them into action. We remain our own worst critic. I crave intellectual experiences but have been unable to seek them out. My resume speaks nothing to my intellectual ability. Where most of my Twitter seems to be moving forward with projects of their own, I feel this constant state of imposter syndrome despite once having mentorship from a highly respected member of the filmmaking community. That fact alone keeps me lingering for a past that I wish could still be playing out in the present. Worst of all, my autistic interactions with him ruined any chance of future work for him.

I am the smartest person in a  room all by myself. I am an autistic introvert with extroverted tendencies. I may socialize better than many of my autistic counterparts, but much like others on the spectrum I remain in a rut unable to propel myself forward. I am a genius but I am also a bum. I feel like I have wasted valuable years of my life, but I know my life is nowhere near over. I have failed by my own expectations. I want to get out of this room all by myself, I want to ask for help, but don’t know where to turn… except to the page, to this post.

15 Ways The United States is Closer to Russia Than European Democracies

  1. Military Force. We routinely use military powers to invade other nations outside of the rules of international law. We spend comparably on the military at the expense of infrastructure and other issues. Western Europe spends a far smaller percentage of their budget on the military.
  2. Incarceration. The United States has among the highest incarceration rates in the developed world, and houses 22% of the worlds prison population. It has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with Russia (and China) not far behind. Countries in Western Europe, like the Netherlands, are closing prisons under criminal law reforms.
  3. Police Corruption. As more and more video is shared across social media of US cops quick to pull the trigger, police abuses have become front and center in US political debate. The Grand Jury system, which depends on prosecutors who often share close relationships with police in the US, has failed to bring cops to trial to face justice for abuses. Russia is long notorious for not holding cops accountable for abuses, dating back to the policies of the USSR. Can you recall a police abuse video from Western Europe?
  4. Money in Politics. Putins party has close ties to the oil industry and several real estate tycoons, earning Russia the label of oligarchy. Post-Citizens United, the US has allowed record money to enter the political landscape with little oversight. Absent campaign finance regulations and two parties easily manipulated by corporate cash, the same label could easily be applied to us. Elections in Western Europe are publicly funded.
  5. Wealth Inequality. While Russia recently ranked the worst overall in the world for wealth inequality, the U.S. also ranks in the top five under the developed nations category according to the OECD. Countries like France do a far better job of equal distribution of wealth as it relates to investment in resources that provide for greater economic opportunity. This can be studied further by researching a countries Gini Coefficient.
  6. Democracy. Only two political parties exist in the United States, making it very easy to buy one of two parties to do your bidding as a corporation. In Russia, there are also only two major parties, with a very corrupt election process. In W. Europe they have proportional representation and several political parties. This forces coalition building and compromise, and it is far harder to buy out single parties. It also disallows 30% of the population from choosing the majority (like in 2014 US elections), because unlike the US or Russia, it is not a winner-take-all system but a system whose Parliamentary seats are determined by a percentage of the population, not an electoral college (i.e. if socialists get 30% of vote, they get 30% of the seats). Therefore W. Europe is more Democratic.
  7. Dynastic Politics. Putin is president again after past terms, and after his muppet briefly took over. We have a Bush and Clinton running in addition to an assortment of other members of the economic 1%. Many countries in Western Europe have shorter terms and a multitude of parties make it difficult for a person to be elected more than once, let alone winning re-election.
  8. Healthcare. The US healthcare law does nothing to address costs, only the uninsured population. Costs remain exorbitantly high because we gave private industry a mandate to purchase their product. We spend $7500 per capita on Healthcare (2x the OECD average) v. bellow $3500 in many W. European nations, which despite having nationalized insurance provisions (not government hospitals with exception of UK) is a more cost effective system.  In Russia,  they spend considerably less than the OECD average, but have higher death rates per capita. The US too for the first time in history will see this generation live shorter lives than their parents.
  9. Gender Inequality. Whereas Western European nations all rank considerably high up (meaning low inequality) in the Human Development Reports’ Gender Inequality Index, both Russia and US miss out on the top ten. The index calculates equality on the basis of labor market participation, reproductive health and empowerment. Glass ceilings remain in place in both Russia and the US, abortion remains a hot topic in both countries and political seats held by women in Russia and the US are far behind that of Western European nations.
  10. Work Life Balance. The myth between more hours worked and productivity is popularly subscribed to in nations like the US, Russia and China. In Europe, more time is devoted to family, personal time and pursuits with the average work week about 35 hours. These European countries are all advanced economies and their people are considerably less stressed than Russian or US workers. Europeans also enjoy significantly more vacation time for workers to recharge, with one month v the US standard of 1.5-2 weeks. Heck even in Russia the average vacation time is 28 days despite 40+ hour work weeks!
  11. Wages. The US has seen wages stagnate since the 1980s, despite a rise in worker productivity. Instead of raising wages, we’ve expanded access to cheap credit (personal debt). In Russia wages are similarly low with little worker protections. Both countries demonize Union workforce and corporations hold the upper hand in judicial battles. In W. Europe, wages are considerably higher and meet a livable wage. Personal debt is much lower since people complete purchases in cash not credit. While Nordic countries like Denmark have a high personal debt level, this is offset by above average savings (in the US people have high personal debt and little savings).
  12. College Education. Both the US and Russia have very high college costs as a percent of annual salaries. Both nations have tuition costs that far exceed the annual take home pay of average families, causing a reliance on loans (with the US actually far worse than Russia in this category). In W. Europe college education is free in countries like Germany, or significantly subsidized in other countries. In France attending public university is around 2,500 Euro per year for tuition! Western Europe also places greater emphasis on vocational schools.
  13.  Socio-Economic Mobility. Are you better off than your parents? Were you, like Trump, lucky enough to have money to make money? Or is your country more equal in terms of economic mobility? With the exception of the UK with its knighthoods and noble class, the US ranks behind all Western European nations, with less opportunity for class advancement if you’re not born rich. The same can be said for Russia, even more so.
  14. Intelligence Community. Neither of our intelligence organizations seem to operate under the rules of law, and routinely go un-policed by government oversight. Sadly Western Europe is not much better in this regard despite greater public outcry (perhaps that silly SPECTRE plot wasn’t so farfetched).
  15. Social Views on Gays. Putin has long condemned gays, even going as far as imprisoning them. Here we have a vocal chorus of those in political power who would similarly like to decline civil rights to Gay people and many use language like “barbarism” “inhuman” and “sick” to describe Gay people. While our Supreme Court recently upheld rights for Gays to marry, Houston just struck down a proposal granting protections to Gay people in the event that they are fired for their homosexuality under the guise of “no bathroom sharing for transgenders”. Europe offers considerably more protections to LGBT citizens, and has recognized Gay marriage in many cases for over a decade.

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This one will be brief… I wanted to expand upon some thoughts I initially was going to post on Twitter, but felt would be better suited for long form.

Recently I had been giving some thought to this idea of admiration — not necessarily confined to famous people — but admiration of another person, infatuation even. We choose to interact with people on the basis of common interests, similar beliefs and values, and presumably because we also like the person. However that level of interaction can also exceed its limits, and that is what this post is about.

Recently I had been put into a few situations where I found myself interacting out of habit, not necessarily because I wanted to. I am a laid back person, and consider myself very nice. I don’t like to ignore people, or seem indifferent, I aim to please. However it took me a bit before realizing that I felt uncomfortable in my interactions with some folks, and that was because I felt like they had become too frequent, too much.

Interaction is really a two-way street. Especially in instances where you don’t know the person on a one-to-one, in person basis. Sometimes in our enthusiasm for another person, we don’t realize that we are not giving that person enough space. We don’t pause to consider how they might feel by us trying to talk to them all the time, especially if they’re not the person initiating conversation.

Even if the person likes  talking to you, or likes you as a person, it’s not personal. There are limits to whether any individual is going to want to engage. It feels kind of creepy when conversation and engagement is too much. Even if you don’t suspect the person doing this is crazy or insane, it’s just too much and so the interaction feels a bit… unhinged. It’s lopsided, it lacks a natural give and take — and at the end of the day we’re all just people. We put our pants on the same way, we all shit and eat (albeit some eat better than others).

I made this very mistake with a former mentor and perhaps in my own dealings with this, I finally have come to see his point of view. I’m not crazy, I would never  do anything to hurt anyone, I don’t have any mental illness. However, in my enthusiasm, I would try and extend DM conversations or fav his tweets once too much. And at the end of the day, no one wants to be overly flattered. No one, because it just feels like a violation of natural space (even if that space is digital).

If people start to feel uncomfortable, if conversation lacks that natural give and take, no mater how much someone might like you, appreciate you, or even want to mentor you — they’re going to move back or possible away entirely.

So as a parting thought, always be sure you consider the other persons point of view, despite your enthusiasm. That no reply isn’t personal, it may just be because they don’t like the nature of the interaction. No one is entitled to attention, everyone is entitled to respect. Part of that respect is to also respect another persons space and time.

Is Your Internship Exploitative Or Not?

Recently I have been trying to make a career change within the entertainment industry. I came up in production, worked in festivals and even associate produced a short web series with a proper budget and distribution deal. However, my passion has always been on the development side of the industry; writing, providing coverage, assisting with research and feedback on submitted materials. In order to get work in this field, I needed to add some experience on this side of the business to my resume. So at 27, I found myself looking for an internship for a couple days a week to add to my resume before relocating to LA in January (the mecca of development work, and the industry in general).

What I found was that per usual, despite many lawsuits and moral debates about paying interns, most positions were still unpaid or for a small stipend. This post is not a debate about paid or unpaid internships. My first few gigs in production were also unpaid, and this industry is not going to change from that model as most people paid their dues by not being paid anything. Is that wrong? Sure, but it’s not the hill you want to die on if you plan on making a lasting career in this business.

This post is about the substance of internships, and whether you are being exploited or actually gaining something from your experience. A lot of postings are deliberately vague. In other instances, you are promised several possibilities that don’t actually exist. More often than not, you will feel unsure as to whether or not you’re even being exploited — that you’re just a typical intern doing typical intern duties. I want to make a few distinctions about all of these things in order to help people avoid exploitative situations. While it goes without saying that not all internships are created equal, this point is often overlooked in assessing the quality of individual programs.

So here’s a breakdown of how to assess whether or not your internship or the internship you are considering is exploitative or a benefit to you both.

1. What Do You Want To Do?

This isn’t always clear to the prospective intern. However it is essential to know going into an internship because it helps you to focus on the things that you want to learn and improve upon.

For me,  I want to get more coverage samples and have more opportunity to work in a production company or management company that deals with submitted materials. Perhaps for you, it could be editing, casting, set production or even legal work.

If you know what you want going in, then you know whether or not the internship you are in will give you this experience or merely promise it to you without ever planning to deliver.

Many internship programs are unstructured, they don’t have a specific set-up. They exist to offload work onto unpaid kids looking to get a start, and so they are unstructured because they function on an as-needed basis.

While this alone isn’t necessarily exploitative, it is if it is the sort of work given without any chance to allow the intern to explore their strengths or interests. Everyone has to do grunt work to start, to gain trust and prove work ethic. The question any intern must ask themselves is whether this company specifically will allow for the opportunity to focus on what they want to gain experience in.

2. What Does The Company Want To Do?

Once you ask yourself what it is you want to do, then comes researching the sorts of companies that do what you want to do.

Many companies that offer unstructured internships don’t have a focus. They may have a variety of free-floating needs that may not correspond to what it is that you want to do. The way they get you to sign up for this kind of grunt work is by promising you that you will do the sort of work you want, but by doing all the grunt work first… only you wind up doing only grunt work because the work you want to do isn’t possible with them.

Where this becomes exploitative is when there isn’t really a chance to focus on the work promised to you. This is where understanding their needs becomes very important, because they will definitely try and promise you the sky without being able to deliver. If your needs are different, chances are you’re just being used for free labor to do all the tasks that paid employees don’t care to perform — that’s not a benefit to you, and that’s not a proper learning experience that you will professionally grow from. It must be a give and take process.

For example, if you find yourself in a company that is doing mostly commercial work, but they say they’re interested in expanding into Film/TV properties, this is usually a good sign of an exploitative situation, a red flag — not always, but often. These companies may even have experience doing creative projects in the past. However, it is up to you to determine whether their current slate and projects will provide you with the kind of work you want to do.

For instance, if a company has no upcoming projects, and seems to be focusing on commercial work, chances are if you’re interested in development you’re not going to see any chances to review submitted material like screenplays. Alternately, if everything they have going is in post-production, then chances are you’re not going to see set-work if that is what you wanted. Vice-versa, if everything is in production, chances are you may not get a chance to hone your editing skills. It behooves you to know whether your needs are being met by theirs. Otherwise you’re just being used.

3. Talk To Other Interns And Observe Their Progress

In my own situation, I wound up talking to another intern to realize the situation I was in was exploitative. In fact she realized the same thing and quit the same week as me.

As alluded to in the previous example, many companies (especially ones with unstructured programs) will try and promise you things they cannot deliver. They will find out what you’re interested in professionally and tell you that you will get those opportunities if you work hard and prove yourself capable of being given those tasks.

In my case they told me I would be given the opportunity to provide screenplay coverage and be part of development meetings. About three weeks into my program I realized that they didn’t have such meetings because all of their priority projects are commercials and are currently in Post on deadlines. Additionally, the remaining projects are documentaries currently being submitted and pitched to festivals. Instead of doing grunt work AND coverage, I wound up just doing all of the overflow work like editing, logging, footage research and audio selects. While I am not adverse to doing all of that, I also want to be given more opportunity after I have proved I am hard working and a fast learner.

In the case of the other girl I spoke to, she was promised set work. An aspiring director they told her she would work on set and gain experience in camera since she wanted to apply to the DGA training program. None of their projects will be filming during the duration of the Fall Internship. So they basically dangled a carrot in front of her too. When I told her about what they told me, we quickly realized we were being sold a pipe dream.

Also keep in mind what other interns are doing, specifically ones who have been working at the company for a longer duration. Presumably if they have also been promised the kind of work that they wanted to do after proving themselves with grunt work, they would be doing more. In my case, the intern who had been there for two months was doing the same redundant grunt work tasks that me and the other girl there for only two weeks were doing. This young man was a hard worker, also interested in development. Presumably he would be doing some screenplay coverage at this point. Clearly since no coverage opportunities exist, he was still stuck doing the work that clients need from the company, except that company reaps the full reward because they’re not even paying you for that work. It’s of ZERO benefit to the interns. This a golden example of exploitation, plain and simple and it is VERY common.

4. What Makes a Good Internship Program?

Now that I’ve gone over what makes an exploitative program, I wanted to conclude by highlighting the kind of internship that is not exploitative. Again, this is true of both paid and unpaid internships.

A good program will do what they promise; they will actually be up front with you about the kind of opportunities you will get and tell you specifically about what they need. The less vague a company is, the more honesty you can expect. If you know what their exact needs are, you can assess whether your interests and skills are a benefit to them and as to whether or not you will learn from them. A program that exists to want to help you while also getting work done themselves will want to know whether an intern is a good fit. Because they are specific about their needs they will also have an idea of structure and what an intern will specifically be doing.

I believe in being up front. The more you know about someone or something, the more you can do your research. While you won’t escape grunt work with any internship, a good internship will allow an intern that has proved him or herself the ability to take initiative and make a real impact. A good company wants to benefit from their intern as much as they want to see the intern benefit themselves.

An internship is ultimately a networking opportunity as well. There has to be respect there and a mutual understanding of goals and needs. An exploitative company isn’t worth the reference because they’ve just used you, and you likely won’t have gained anything from the experience to add to your resume anyways. A good internship program is happy to offer advice to interns and where possible hire from the pool of interns. These companies promote from within, or at the very least step up to be a mentor or guidance program.  The relationship should be symbiotic, the good programs are.

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I hope that this post has been helpful. Sometimes we are quick to accept whatever opportunity we are given in the entertainment industry. The business is competitive, and it is always nice to feel wanted. Unfortunately, like any career, some things aren’t worth your time and aren’t worth adding to a resume.

Much like an actor considering roles, you as an intern or entry-level employee need to be thinking about how the position will allow you to take the next step. Positions should only be accepted with the understanding that it is of mutual benefit. You wouldn’t just star in any old film as an actor, because your brand matters. So too does your brand as a worker behind the scenes. What goes on your resume and what experience you gain is of vital importance as to whether or not you will move up or merely move laterally in your career. If you want to move up, then taking an exploitative position is not a good move. Learn to stick up for yourself and to identify exploitative situations. People will always try and take advantage of you in this business as in life. Learn to know your worth, what you want and be diplomatic but decisive and negotiate hard for yourself.  You do that, and you’ll be just fine.

September 11th, As Told From The Daughter of a Fireman and First Responder

September 11th has come to mean a lot of things over the years. For many, it is a chapter in a history book, a moment in history whose geopolitical consequences are talked about far more often than the moment which caused them. “9/11” has become highly politicized, used as a recruitment tool for military and Jihad alike. It has lead to unprecedented national security overhauls and vigorous debate about privacy and the role of government. September 11th is not discussed in the context of 2001, but rather in the present. It has become a hyperbolic symbol of both the best and the worst of our nation. While September 11th is often referred to in the context of our “post-9/11” world, for some of us, we’re still very much stuck in 2001.

For those of us, like myself, who witnessed that day firsthand, September 11th is still very much cased within the context of what happened in 2001. While I can divide my life perfectly between the ignorant bliss I lived in before 9/11 to what has come after, on this anniversary, I am not able to live in the present. For that day will always be a very personal one, one which would come to define my young life as much as it would define the world at large around me. I am the daughter of a NYC firefighter and 9/11 first responder and this is my story…

Actual radio recording…

911 OPERATOR
Go ahead Battalion 1.

BATTALION 1
We just had a –  a plane crashed into an upper floor of the World Trade Center. Transmit a second alarm and start relocating companies into that area.

911 OPERATOR
Ten-Four Battalion 1. All companies stand by at this time.

WESTERN NASSAU COUNTY, NY (14 miles from the World Trade Center)

A phone rang, just as I was already late to school. My father, a fireman with Engine Company 58 in Harlem (Manhattan) would be my ride. Lateness for me was becoming a habit. I had recently transitioned back to district, following many years in private school, and I had an argument with a childhood friend about lunch table seating. We shared a first period class, and I was determined to miss it. It was my father, on vacation at the time due to bereavement following the loss of my grandmother, who convinced me otherwise — just ready to leave, I picked up the phone.

It was my father’s firehouse, the fireman on the other end sounded very serious and asked to speak with my father. “A commercial plane?” My father seemed shocked to hear what was told to him — “turn on CNN right now,” he urged me. “The department has recalled the entire force, I have to go into Manhattan,” he told me as CNN sprung to life on TV, a gaping hole in the North Tower of the World Trade Center from a helicopter view.

We barely had time to digest what we were seeing; undoubtedly the worst plane crash to befall the US in years — when the second plane came in on live TV, crashing into the South Tower in a massive fireball and screams…

I think part of being the daughter of a fireman, you sometimes discredit how dangerous their job is. You know they can die, the danger is real, it is omnipresent, but every time your father returns home — they’ve escaped that danger, and you begin to take for granted that they will continue to come home. As the footage repeated on loop, the anchors struggling to compose themselves, the danger became clear all at once. The old moniker of the FDNY “When everybody runs out, we run in” felt less like a tee-shirt slogan, and more like the grave threat it stood to actually represent. My father was not headed to fight a fire, not to respond to a plane crash — he was headed to war, and on the front lines.

As I exited his car to make for my High School, I turned to hug him and told him I loved him. To most, this seems like standard protocol, but my father was always a very stoic man, not one for hugs or much in the way of physical expression of his care. He always quietly expressed his love. He would do what he could to interest me in baseball, bring me to games, coach my teams — hugging just wasn’t one of the ways he showed he cared. On September 11th, 2001, I hugged him, and he hugged me back. The fear in his eyes was palpable and real, in the back of both of our minds this was not just a hug, but the potential for good bye. It was understood from the very beginning, that men would likely die this day and he pulled away from the curb knowing that, as I entered my school knowing it too.

Long before the days of social media, I was one of the first to bring news about the attacks to my High School. As the periods went by, and the scope of the tragedy became clear, we understood there would be no learning today. Parents came to collect their kids from school. The usual noisy airspace en route to JFK overhead fell eerily silent following the grounding of America’s planes; quiet but for the occasional F-15 that would become common place over the skies of New York in the weeks to come. It was evident even before the Towers fell that we were living in a War Zone. Much like my parents reacting to the news of the JFK assassination, kids like me knew America would never be the same again. As it was in 1963, the optimism around the election of Kennedy, would fade into a decade of complex geopolitical tragedy and perpetual war along with the activism and cynicism that it would instill in my parents generation. 9/11 would become the same for my generation, with the latter half of my life living under jingoist fervor, and perpetual war with a grave existential enemy.

As the Towers fell, it was evident thousands had died. I kept replaying the scenarios in my head, assuring myself my father wouldn’t have had time to get down there. In my heart, I knew it wasn’t true; I knew that there was a good chance that he was dead. I began to think about all of the moments I could recall with him at once; a projector image of happy memories to distract myself from the horrors of the present. I watched the news replay the implosion — and I hope that no one need ever feel what it is like to watch as your loved one dies in front of your eyes — It is a horrible, horrible feeling, and it is what I felt watching it at that moment. It is also why, largely due to PTSD, I am unable to watch much footage from that day.

As I made my way into the guidance counselors office, the scope of the tragedy became clear. The counselors were overwhelmed, as so many in my town had parents who worked in the fire department, police department or in the towers themselves. One girl was on my soccer team, she was one of the girls who had been mean to me of late. Today she was besides herself in tears, her parents both worked in Cantor Fitzgerald and her aunt was on the way to pick her up. Both her parents were assumed dead, as the firm took a direct hit from the hijacked airliner.

All of the lunch table drama was forgotten then, as we talked, tried to come to terms with loss. I recalled the times playing Mario Kart on N64 in her basement. Her mother once picked several of us up from soccer practice and ordered pizza, while we played games and blasted the Spice Girls. If there is one thing I remember on 9/11, it’s how much I missed the 90s. I so very much wanted to return to the days of soccer practice, pop music and N64. I longed for the days of Manhunt and Pokemon cards. In 2001, I was forced to become an adult a lot sooner than I wanted to be. I had to learn to understand things that I wasn’t meant to come to terms with until much later in life. The reality of pre- and post-9/11 became so incredibly, painfully clear to me at that moment.

The hours dripped by slowly from there. The school was practically empty as parents had picked their kids up. The school remained open, because for kids like me, a fireman father and nurse mother, my parents needed to help others. I felt like an orphan, sitting as the only kid apart from two others in my 8th Period class. Though I kept trying to bury the thoughts, tired of crying, it was also possible that one of my parents was likely dead. I sat there in English Class with all this on my mind. My teacher, she sat behind the desk, very still. She told us, we didn’t have to do anything, today would be a moment for reflection, and free-writing if we wanted. Nobody moved.

When I finally returned home, thanks to the help of a neighbor, I was told the news. My father was in the hospital, several of his company were critically injured in the collapse. He was there to provide comfort, before returning to the wreckage to try and find their Lieutenant, buried under the Command Center of the Marriott Hotel. Lieutenant Nagel survived the first collapse, taking refuge in an elevator bank. Unable to escape, the rest of Engine Co. 58 had teamed up with a local ladder to try and use heavy equipment to free him and others trapped beneath. His last known words were not of selfishness, a Vietnam veteran, and natural leader — his last words were “how’s my men?”

As the second tower fell, the company made for a parking garage. Yet debris still took its toll on the survivors. One of the men was rushed to surgery, in serious condition.

The most physical connection I had of that day was the smell. You could see the smoke, but the smell was the worst part. It had a metallic burnt smell, like an electrical fire mixed with heavy chemicals. The worst smell of all was that of burning flesh and the trauma as a 13 year old, knowing that was what I was in fact smelling.

14 years later, September 11th is still very much within the context of 2001 because for those who dealt with its consequences firsthand, it is not a documentary, it is not a chapter in a history book — it is reality.

As Lt. Nagel asked “hows my men,” the answer is, many are sick and/or dying due to the exposure to toxic air while digging at the disaster site. While the EPA fraudulently claimed the air was safe, those like my father who dug down there knew they were risking their health to try and find survivors, or any part of a body to give a family closure (Lt. Nagel was never recovered). My father, the picture of good health, a fitness enthusiast and marathon runner, has been diagnosed with cancer twice. Thankfully both were curable. Others have been less lucky, and even my father has a nodule on his lung that will one day likely become cancerous and need operation. Our local representatives have worked tirelessly to reauthorize the James Zadroga Act in Congress to help permanently fund the World Trade Center Health Program to provide health care to the thousands that desperately need it.

On an even more personal front, my parents divorced in 2003. The trauma of 9/11 on my father was too much to psychologically bear. He was inattentive and unable to communicate the horrors he saw, only once ever telling me about the time he dug out a human arm from the debris. He served as family liaison to the Lieutenants family, guilty about not being there, that he was on vacation. Survivors guilt is real, and it is a pressure that was too much to come to terms with. He spent more time with his fellow firemen, and his lieutenants family than he did with his own. The Concert for New York City, and Bowie’s Heroes playing through my dads cell phone as he called me from the event was a high point, and about the only one. The rest of that era is mired by divorce, family drama, war and what has largely become an intentional blur for me.

Since that day, I’ve done a lot with various Firefighters organizations. I helped give private testimony on the importance of the Zadroga Bill.  In 2003, working with my father and several other 9/11 survivors, and the School of Visual Arts program of Art Therapy, we created a tile mural that is now on permanent display in Bellevue Hospital in Lower Manhattan (where most of the days injured wound up). In 2016, I hope to run the NYC Marathon to raise awareness of 9/11 illness and the various complex cancers that make up a large share of those cases (I have been training for it constantly, as it is also the one race my father never was able to run).

I have grown a lot from that day, and grew up a lot on that day as well. Each and every time this anniversary comes around, the day and its immediate aftermath plays on endless loop. Despite many years in therapy, the day is still fresh in my memory, to the point where the adage “never forget” seems almost tacky. How could anyone ever forget 9/11? As many turn to documentaries and special tributes to mourn the tragedy, those of us who witnessed the event firsthand will forever play our own documentary in our heads. While this anniversary is September 11th, 2015, for those of us who lived through it in NY that day, today is again September 11th, 2001 and will be for the rest of our lives.

The Battle Against Human Nature

Just over two years ago I started this blog. I started it because it was a convenient way for me to express myself in long form in addition to discovering myself as a writer. My first post was deeply inspired by a very difficult conversation I had with a prior mentor, someone who I’ve mentioned a lot on this blog and someone I consider to be a professional influence since my teens and a major force in my decision to pursue writing seriously after his encouragement. It was a conversation which started on a very bad note, but wound up becoming very valuable advice: that we cannot get anywhere overnight, that it takes years.

This post is not about that conversation, nor is it about my first post — this last post of my blog as is, it is about wanting what we cannot have. Paris, the colloquial nickname I gave to my former mentor is exemplary of that for me personally. While I tried tweeting this to find closure on the subject, I kept coming out wrong — seemingly crazy even, so I felt it best to turn to long-form to best explain my thought process on this because it really comes from a very analytical, logical and non-emotional place.

Rewinding a bit… I have not attempted to shy away from being diagnosed at 12 with high functioning autism. In fact I noted that in my first post as well, namely my social difficulties and that sometimes I tend to over-share to compensate for not understanding how best to filter my thoughts (especially since my brain works at a very high rate of thinking, it’s often overwhelming). Part of over-sharing is coming across the wrong way or being misunderstood. I am not crazy, I suffer from no mental illness and would never do anything to others or myself, but normal non-Autistic people pick up on my abnormal social cues and quite possibly may read me the wrong way. I’ve had to learn about social processes like someone studies math, and I don’t think I need to add that this wasn’t easy.

So why do I bring this up? Well, it was not only my social over-sharing that got me into the aforementioned conversation in April of 2013, it is what got me into all of these posts and stupid rants on the subject of someone, who really, I just liked and respected.

So how did I fuck up so badly?

I think this has more to do with human nature have than it does my social ineptitude. Really, apart from Paris, I don’t have that much trouble socializing. I find myself able to coherently phrase myself and not over-share because I was diagnosed young enough to learn social behaviors before life-long patterns of stunted autistic development set in. I have a sense of humor and can appreciate body language and levels of social nuance many diagnosed in adulthood fail to grasp. So why have I continuously messed up with regard to him?

Nervousness.

The nervousness I experience because I respect him so much since my teens reverts me back into this autistic haze I’ve worked so hard since 12 to escape from. It is often only after I speak out that I realize looking at my social interaction from an objective and analytical standpoint that I messed up and came out wrong (like the day of our conversation in April, 2013). Eager to get a do-over and try and correct myself, I delete my thoughts and rephrase — and repeat this process 100 times.

Unlike a math problem, we cannot just erase our equation and do it over, because with each attempt on a social level we only add to the collective impression. After a certain number of erasures that page in your workbook starts to blacken and eventually rip and once you reach that point where you cannot continue to write along that same page, that’s it. That’s where I am at now. I’ve found myself to the point of pasting it together with tape, hoping against all hopes that I still could explain to them that I am a good person with a lot to offer, that I am not nuts, but rather incapable of coming out right.

This is all just a shitty excuse, and me not taking ownership for my own behavior. Coming across my work book the other day, of my drawings made in 2012, I remembered a time where I could talk to him and not feel this haze over my head. I interacted normally, and even eventually gave him one of my sketches when he came to New York. I told myself then and there I had to let it go, to remember fondly that time and stop trying to undo what cannot be undone.

The truth is I also had a crush on him as well. Any normal person with a crush is going to act a bit off too. Add into that my autistic haze, and you have a recipe for social disaster.

Despite all this, I still know that if ever given the chance to work for him, I know it would be like 2012 again — I would be able to function completely normal. The problem is the nature of how things left off — he just dropped off the face of the earth with no word, while occasionally showing me he was keeping tabs on me. Between my crush and also just really respecting him, I found myself tweeting and making blog posts to try and get him to say something. He never did. This kept up until I came across that sketch book, and I finally said no more this morning. Except prior to realizing that, I ripped up more pages with do-overs in the process.

I titled this post The Battle Against Human Nature because that’s exactly what I have had to do. Being on the spectrum, it is a battle against collapsing into my autistic haze because of nervousness or discomfort. It is the fear of having to justify that in spite of my brilliance, I am socially stunted but NOT crazy. I would trade my 147 IQ any day for a normal IQ and the ability to feel normal and not have to say “I didn’t mean it that way, sorry, can I have a do-over.” I’d trade my overactive mind for the ability to not have to feel the need to explain myself, write these posts, tweet those tweets and stay up thinking until 2AM… I battle against my own human nature every day, and part of my human nature is being autistic. I learn more about myself every day as a result of this battle, and if anything it has given me great introspection and the ability to write/think freely. The other part of that battle is loosing friends, or those who you desperately wanted to be friends with because in this battle sometimes, it doesn’t go your way.

This is the last of my post on this blog under this site-name. I will be re-constructing it to meet more of a professional standard as I prepare my move to LA. The fact that this journey started personally and ended personally is but a testament to my personal growth. The battle against human nature continues, but with each battle we learn from our past mistakes. While I wish Paris wasn’t one of those mistakes, I certainly plan to think things out more to avoid needing do-overs in the future.