How to choose the perfect seat in class

The first of a series of posts about my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, written during National Novel Writing Month. Bullet points are taken from Samantha Craft’s website and post on Females with Asperger’s Syndrome, which can be found here. 

Escape and Friendship

  • Survives overwhelming emotions and senses by escaping in thought or action

When I was younger, if I was overwhelmed, I would often retreat into myself or flee to my room. My room was my sanctuary. I still retreat now, and I have found that after a long day at work, sometimes I need a bit of downtime. This was more the case when I was teaching in a physical school. Now that I teach at home a majority of the time, I have less of a need for downtime. However, before this, I would come home exhausted and not want to talk to anyone. Andrew and I worked out that if I went into my library or the spare bedroom and shut the door, it meant that I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone yet. I didn’t always use it, but it felt good to have that option.

Back to when I was younger. I remember at least one time where I moved my toy chest to block the door to prevent anyone from coming in and bothering me. Of course this didn’t work because the bedroom had no doors that I can recall, and there were two ways to get into the room: off the kitchen, and off the hallway. We live in a small two family home above my great-grandmother, so the floor plan was almost entirely open. Sure, there were walls, but the only doors I remember were to the pantry, the downstairs, the porch, the bathroom, and the front door. There was no real way to get away unless I crawled into a closet. That didn’t occur to me at first.

I did have a safe space outside, too. In the backyard there were bushes that had the perfect space for me to crawl into. I would play in there often. What made it even better was the natural seat I had. The bushes had grown around an old stone wall or something, and I had a space to sit. I could see out into the yard and people could see me if they looked, but I felt protected in there. It was a great place to read, and we all know how much I love reading.

In Maine, where we went to our grandparents’ cottage every summer for three weeks, I loved to play in the closet. I would bring my toys in there—mostly Barbie and My Little Pony—and set up little villages for them. I would spread out a blanket and play for hours, either with my sister or without.

At our new home, once my parents bought a house and we moved out of my great-grandmother’s place, I made a space for myself in my closet. It was tough because the floor was sloped and had maybe four inches for my feet, but I enjoyed going in there sometimes and closing the door. I would bring a flashlight in and either read or just relax. I didn’t realize what I was doing then, but it was refreshing to me. With the door shut, it was so quiet I couldn’t hear much, and I could recharge.

Once I was diagnosed with anxiety as a freshman in high school, I started escaping mentally. When class got difficult or my anxiety popped up, my body went into fight or flight mode. I would often flee, but sometimes the idea of fleeing and drawing attention to myself made the anxiety even worse, so I would mentally retreat. I began plotting escape routes from every single room I am in. I made plans for how long it would take me to cross the floor and get out. I would think of strategic places to sit that would afford me the best possible scenario. The seat closest from the door was not, actually ideal. In fact, let me share with you some of my strategies.

The first seat is not ideal because it is so close, everyone is looking there. Whenever someone passes by in the hallway, everyone turns to look. The back seat in that row is also not ideal for the same reason. Any front row seat is absolutely OUT of the question. People sit behind you, and therefore when they look at the board, they will be looking at you, and I can feel them watching. So nope. No way. Middle row seats are also unacceptable because it’s too claustrophobic. One person ahead of you, one behind you, and likely surrounded on all sides. Nope, no chance. Back row is ideal, however, which row? Depending on how the classroom is set up, if the room is split so that some seats are facing the door rather than the board, then the seat furthest from the door is actually ideal. It sounds crazy, but there is logic to this. First, by sitting in the back row, no one is behind you. By sitting in the corner away from the door, you are also away from the clock. So people who stare will likely look to the clock. Also, the teacher rarely walks over there. If you need to get out quick, you can stand and make a beeline for the door very quickly. Any other rows on the back part of the room require you to walk up the row, turn, and then exit. This draws more attention.

 

If the room does not have a side section, then the ideal row is actually the third row from the door. Less people will be looking at you, and it’s a shorter distance to the door from the last row. This can be tolerated.

That might sound crazy to most people, but those are thoughts I had every single class. If we were allowed to choose our seats, BLISS! If not, well, God help me. Because my last name was M or L (depending on the year, freshman year it was M), I was likely in the middle row in the middle seat. Absolute hell. And of course I was usually too afraid to ask for a seat change, as that would draw even more attention to myself, so I just suffered in silence. Usually by daydreaming, doodling in my notebook, writing stories in the back of notebooks, reading the textbook or any book, and staring out the window. The only classes I didn’t have anxiety was English, Art, and Mythology. In Mythology I came out of my shell and volunteered to answer every single question. Why? Because I read the entire textbook the first week class started and had it memorized. I loved it. My team loved me when we played Jeopardy because they knew I had the answers and let me answer everything.  And we always won.

  • Escapes routinely through imagination, fantasy, and daydreaming
  • Had imaginary friends in youth

Oh how my imagination ran. I’m sure it’s common for many children, but I’m pretty sure mine was on overdrive. At one point I had an imaginary friend that I shared with a girl at school. It was Yoshi. Yes, that Yoshi. From Mario. I’m not sure why we decided on him, but we did. Anyway, he would travel between our houses at night to keep us both safe. We shared a bus to and from school, so he often rode the bus with us. We would talk about him, but not to him there. I had vivid dreams about Yoshi many nights, and he did protect me from my nightmares. I hated ghosts and whenever I had a ghost dream, Yoshi would pop into my dream and rescue me and vanquish the ghosts. I was always excited to tell my friend that.

I’m not sure when it happened, but one day she stopped believing in Yoshi. Said she never really had and it was just a game. To me it wasn’t, though. I was upset, but I held onto Yoshi for myself for a while after that. I don’t know when I lost him, I don’t remember it ever happening, but I must have stopped one day. I do remember him, though.

I also remember intense role-playing. Oh man. I loved the game Tales of the Crystals from Milton Bradley. I don’t know where my copy went, but if I ever find it again, in a store, you can bet I’ll buy it! I loved that you had different things to role play and create. One time we had to turn my bedroom in a forest or something, so we hung sheets up on the bottom bunk to create a cave. I always wanted to play it, and would have for hours. Tiffany got bored quickly, so I would often play it by myself. While it might not sound as fun to people, and the game calls for 2-4 players, I was perfectly content playing all of the roles myself if I had to.

My role-playing days were not limited to childhood. When we got a computer with slow dial-up, I discovered the Yahoo forums, back when they were popular. I would role-play as characters I created based on Digimon or Sailor Moon. I also had some original characters in an original role playing game that I loved. I was about twelve then. I made some great friends online and felt like I had truly made friends that would last. As the Yahoo forums changed, the groups ended, and I lost contact with those people. However, I then discovered Prince of Tennis in 2003 and well…of course I started role playing. Never original characters, though. I would always play as Kaidou Kaoru. I discovered the website Livejournal and we did all of our playing there and on AIM. We would buddy up and play, and then create logs from the chats and post them. I loved it. I don’t really talk to anyone from that fandom anymore except for my best friend, Alley. Even when the games ended online and fandom cooled off, we continued to chat and play on our own, and became friends well beyond the fandom. We still talk about it, of course, because I never let anything go.

I think it’s important to note that this point in my life, my teenage years and even well into college, my only friends were online. I knew people at work, and I talked to some people at school, but a majority of the people I knew and liked were online. I felt a deeper connection to them than anyone else. It’s probably because they couldn’t judge me, or if they did, I didn’t know about it. Also because we definitely had the same interests, and they wouldn’t judge me over liking an anime about kids that play tennis, or watching musicals about kids who play tennis with grown men playing the kids. No one I knew in real life liked that stuff, but online, all bets were off.

Prologue: NaNoWriMo is here, and I’m going to write!

Before I start with anything, I wanted to give you, readers, a little bit of background on what I am doing, to hopefully shed a little more light on this project.

As many of you are probably aware—if you are writers, at least—November is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. While I have not always been able to participate for various reasons, my first time doing NaNo was eleven years ago. Over the course of the years, I failed some and won some. Two of my novels written during NaNo are now published with Bold Strokes books! (Andy Squared and Meeting Chance) Due to grad school the last few years, on top of my already full teaching schedule, I was unable to really participate in the festivities. I tried, but I failed, and failed hard. I am proud to say that many of my students participated, and some of them continue to do so!

This year, however, I am getting back into it. I have the opportunity. With two different jobs that afford me plenty of time, even though I also have grad school, I feel that I can successfully complete NaNoWriMo and emerge on the other side relatively unscathed.

Most of you know that for the last several years, since The First Twenty was published, I have had a case of crippling writer’s block. It’s been dreadful. Not only do I not know what to write (despite having thousands of ideas), I just can’t sit down and focus long enough to do so. Peyton and Nixie are at a standstill with just over five thousand words in their next story. Colby and Enash are chomping at the bit, ready to go. But I just can’t do it.

This is year is going to be a game changer. Instead of doing fiction, I’ve decided to try my hand at nonfiction. A memoir of sorts, if you will. There are several reasons I decided to do this, which I’ve highlighted below:

  1. Maybe something different that isn’t related to school or novels will cancel my block and open the floodgates.
  2. Nonfiction will allow me to play with words without really worrying about structure of plot. I can say what I want and ramble if I need to, in a stream of consciousness style.
  3. I can change methods every day if need be.
  4. My recent diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome has been an eye-opening experience, one which has led me to fill a Moleskine journal with my thoughts and recollections. As a writer, I want to share what I’ve written, even if some of it is personal. I figure if I share it, maybe people will understand me more.

 

Over the course of this month I will be sharing my posts on a—hopefully—daily basis. Of course I might slack a bit, but my goal is to get out of this rut and share with everyone. To help me focus, I have decided to adapt the list written by Samantha Craft, which can be found on her website here: https://everydayaspie.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/females-with-aspergers-syndrome-checklist-by-samantha-craft/

I like having lists and checking things off. This list is particularly exciting because it pretty much describes my entire experience. Reading over it triggers so many “aha!” moments that I spent hours writing in my journal. Since then, I’ve had even more, which I intend to share over the course of November.

Please join me my journey of self-discovery. These posts will be as true as I know them to be. If at any point you have questions, please feel free to leave a comment on here or wherever this is cross-posted. You can also email me at writerjenlavoie at gmail dot com. I would be happy to answer your questions.

A Journey of Self-Discovery

I posted this on my Facebook page the other day, and I’ve decided that I’m going to continue to document my journey on my blog. It’s not my usual writing, to be sure, but I feel that it is important–at least to me–and if it helps at least one person, then great!

Over the course of several days, maybe weeks, maybe even months if I like how it’s going, I will be discussing my journey through anxiety and depression as well as my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. I am doing this to help end the stigma against mental illness as well as ASD. I want more people to be aware of what Asperger’s is like for a woman who is diagnosed later in life.

There are many wonderful resources already available about there, including the books Aspergirls by Rudy Simone and Everday Aspergers by Samantha Craft. If you are interested in women and Asperger’s I highly recommend you check out those books.


 

The other day I made a cryptic post on Facebook about myself and people sticking with me no matter what. I had wanted to say something about myself that I have learned in the last few months, however, I was unable to figure out how to say it. After speaking to my therapist and Andy, I decided I’m going to say it and share my experience so people can understand me better.

Yes, I have been seeing a therapist again for my anxiety and depression. Many of you are already probably aware of that, which is fine. That’s not the revelation. While going to my awesome new therapist, we started working through some things and I have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which—if you don’t know—is part of the Autism spectrum.

Before you write or say anything, please let me say a few things.

There is no need to say you’re sorry. Don’t be! There is nothing wrong with having Asperger’s or being on the spectrum. It’s something that surprised me a bit at first, but now that I’ve had time to think about it, it makes complete sense to me and now I understand myself better than before. It’s been a wonderful revelation that has allowed me to understand how my brain works and why I do things differently from other people. I know can process why my teen years were so difficult, and why I felt like I never fit in with anyone.

Please do not also say “There’s no way! You must be mistaken!” or “But that doesn’t sound like you!” I assure you, this is not something that happened over night. I started this process many months ago, so it’s not something I decided in twenty-four hours.

For anyone who doesn’t know what it is, Asperger’s has a wide range of characteristics that may or may not all be present in a single person, and the degrees all very. Some of the characteristics include:

  • limited or inappropriate social skills,
  • tendency to discuss self rather than others,
  • lack of eye contact,
  • awkward movements,
  • and obsession with specific topics.

There are of course many more indicators, and these indicators are different for men and women. After reading the book Aspergirls by Rudy Simone, Everyday Aspergers by Samantha Craft along with other books, I discovered that my experiences are nearly identical to theirs.

Some examples of my experiences:

  • I have always had a hard time looking people in the eyes. It is actually physically painful for me to maintain eye contact, and during a conversation, my inner dialogue sounds something like this: “Look them in the eye. Hold it. Hold it. Okay, don’t stare! That’s creepy. Look around. Look back at them. At the eyes, not the nose, oh they have nice eyebrows why aren’t mine that nice, look away. Look back! Smile. Don’t smile too big, it seems fake.” I actually credit my cooperating teacher when I was student teaching in instructing me on how to maintain proper eye contact. She saw I struggled with it and gave me some tips. She called it acting class.
  • I struggle with conversations in social situations. I often say weird things, or interject at strange times. This has caused seriously uncomfortable situations where everyone will pause and stair at me, or they laugh awkwardly and ignore me for the remainder of the time. It hurts. A lot, actually. I’m trying to fit in and have friends, but it’s so difficult.
  • I also have to remind myself not to talk only about me, but to turn around and ask other people how they are. I might be an introvert, but when I get on a subject I’m passionate about, forget about it. I will steamroll over anyone. I have to consciously reign myself in and remind myself other people are present.

A great list of other attributes can be found on the Everyday Aspergers maintained by Samantha Craft here: https://everydayaspie.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/females-with-aspergers-syndrome-checklist-by-samantha-craft/

If you’re looking for books to understand, I highly recommend Everyday Aspergers by Samantha Craft and Aspergirls by Rudy Simone. They were wonderful books that helped me process my diagnosis.

If you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them in the comments below or in a private message. And again, I’m not ashamed of my diagnosis, nor am I embarrassed by it. Rather, it’s been liberating for me. I now understand that my brain processes things differently from most people, and that’s why I do what I do. It has helped me cope with things that bother me and come up with strategies that actually work! I am no different from the Jennifer I was before, we just now have a name for why I’m a quirky, socially awkward person!

Poetry – A New Venture

Last week I submitted a poem to HIV Here and Now, a wonderful project run by poet Michael Broder, the creator of Indolent Books. When I first started following the project, I thought I would love to contribute something for consideration, but didn’t know how. However, this semester, my graduate course on Illness Narratives really opened my eyes to the importance of writing about illness in all forms of literature, and the first four books of the semester dealt directly with AIDS.

Dr. Pozorski at Central Connecticut State University has always been a source of inspiration to me, and reading these books have opened my eyes. When we had Ira Fischer come to speak on campus, I had the opportunity to see him speak. Listening him opened me to the beauty of poetry, and I jotted down several verses while he spoke.

Upon coming home, I was struck with an idea, and so I wrote. Over the course of the next three days I drafted a poem, edited, rewrote, made several changes. When I was finished, I felt satisfied with what I had to offer. I’m not a professional, but I wanted to share my thoughts.

I am extremely honored to be poem 297 for March 25, 2016 on HIV Here and Now. “Between Generations” is my first published poem. I would love for you to check it out, and while you’re on the site, read the other amazing poetry that has been selected to help countdown 35 years of AIDS, on June 5, 2016.

Your burning questions answered!

Do you ever wonder how an author gets their ideas? What inspired certain stories or scenes? What their favorite spot to write looks like? I know I have wondered that many times for my favorite authors! It’s interesting to find out about the people we read and what inspires them.

So I’m asking you, dear readers, to submit your questions! What do you want to know about me? What burning questions do you have that you just need answered? Feel free to post a question on my blog, the Facebook page, or send me an email!

The first question comes from Shelley, who asks:

What got you started writing? Why young adult specifically? Why GLBT themed?

 

All great questions! And it’s a long answer. Sort of. So sit back, folks, and listen up!

I’ve always considered myself a writer because I enjoy crafting stories. I was imaginative as a child, and would play with dolls and toys like a normal child did and create stories for them. I have a very specific memory of my first grade class. The teacher would post the lessons we had to get through for the day on the board, and some of them were at our own pace. At the very end of the list was free-writing. I loved to rush through my work to get to that because free-writing involved a box of pictures cut out of magazines pasted to card-stock. We had to pull a picture out of the box at random and write a story around it. It wasn’t often that I got to the end of my lessons, but by the end of the year I had a thick folder of stories I had written.

After that, I continued writing. I would keep composition notebooks full of stories. First I started with writing fanfiction. In sixth grade I started reading the Animorphs series, which had just come out, and I was obsessed. I wrote stories with those characters in new situations. Then I discovered Sailor Moon. I wrote crossover stories featuring the Animorphs kids and the Sailor Scouts. (I think I might still have one of those notebooks somewhere…)

Once my family got on the internet, things took over. I discovered fandoms and connected with people who wrote fanfiction. I read fanfic, I wrote fanfic, I posted it on different websites and started getting feedback. Then one day I had this brilliant idea to do a crossover with Final Fantasy characters…and original characters. I had written OCs before, but usually they were Mary Sues… ahem. This new crossover had dozens of original characters, and eventually I started writing it on my own, taking the Final Fantasy characters out and creating my own mythology. I started that when I was 18, and 12 years later I’m still tweaking that world. Eventually I will finish it.

About that same time I fell into other fandoms and discovered the magical world of online RP (role-play) writing. I was hooked yet again. I made some great friends, some of whom I still talk to today. I wrote with them, interacted with other writers, created complex stories and worlds that started with characters from a series, but evolved to becomes its own world.

By now I’m in college. I know I’m going to be an English teacher. There are certain courses that you must take. The one that truly started all of this was Literature for Young Adults with Dr. Cappella. In that course we had to read between 2-3 YA books a week and write about them. But we also had to write our own book. He said, “The only way to really know how to teach and understand young adult literature is to write it.”

Back up a semester. I was hanging out with a group of friends in the student center, eating a chicken ceasar wrap, and we were talking about TV shows. I had recently discovered Queer as Folk and I was extolling its virtues, when one of my male friends told me how much he loved the show. I didn’t think anything of it. We started talking about Justin and Brian, and it never clicked to me exactly why this conversation was significant until my friend pulled me aside after and came out to me. Talk about a “duh” moment. He had been giving me signals the entire conversation, and I was just completely oblivious! After, we became close and often wandered away from our group of friends. I introduced him to my favorite place on campus: Stack 2.

The library on campus at the time had LGBT books in a separate stack. I thought it was great because I could just wander down there, grab a book, and read. I visited almost every day and I only saw another person there once. It was warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and had a couch. Basically, heaven. I had discovered I enjoyed reading about LGBT protagonists much earlier when I was about fifteen and had read Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams and had been reading it since.

So, going back to the YA class, when Cappy told us we had to write a novel, I talked to my friend about the assignment. I had no idea what to write. And he said, “Why don’t you write a book about a gay teen? I wish there had been books like that when I was younger.” And I thought…. huh. Why not?

Andy Squared was born. The first draft was incredibly rough and it took my seven years from start to finish to get it where I wanted it, but I kept going because my professor encourage me to keep going because he saw something important in the pages, and my friend read it and loved it.

I could have stopped there, but I had always wanted to be published. So I wrote, and rewrote, and rewrote some more. I eventually found a home for Andy and Ryder with Bold Strokes Books.

By the time Andy was accepted for publication I was teaching. I had students I worked with come out to me, and it meant so much to me that they would trust me with that information about them. When that first student honored me with that trust, it reminded me of my friend from college and I thought, “This. This is why I teach, and this is why I write. I need to keep writing these stories. These kids need voices. They need to see more characters like them so they know they’re not alone.”

It’s getting better out there. From the time I started writing in college until now, hundreds of LGBT books have been published for teens by small publishers and the big houses. But we can still do more. Stories need to be about more than just coming out. I keep writing because I want my students to see queer teens in the same positions as their straight counterparts. I want them to be the heroes and heroines of dystopias, fantasies, and scifi novels. So I’ll keep writing until the ideas run out. And that doesn’t seem to be anytime soon.

The First Twenty – are you ready for it?

The First Twenty coverIt’s just about a month for the release of The First Twenty and I’m getting excited! The author copies came in and they are BEAUTIFUL! I mean really, look at that cover! Stunning.

This book is my longest at 233 pages, and it looks great! I can’t wait to see what readers think!

If you read it, be sure to let me know what you think! I love getting feedback from my readers, and I would love to link to your review on my page.

Happy Holidays!

It’s certainly been awhile – too long in fact – but today was my last grad class of the semester and now I’m on break until my next class starts! At least for my own education. Still three days left until winter break for my teaching job!

This semester has been full of hard work but it was so rewarding. This class was on gender and modernism and we read so many great novels. I got my final exam back tonight and I’m so proud! I got an A! I turned in my research paper on The Sound and the Fury, so we’ll see how that does!

Next semester I’m taking a course on Victorian literature and I’m chomping at the bits to get started on the reading for it. Of course we don’t have the full list yet, but I spoke with the professor and heard Great Expectations and Jane Eyre are likely candidates.

Finally, I have some wonderful news! Most of you already know this if you follow me on Facebook, but my fourth book, The First Twenty, was picked up my Bold Strokes Books! It will be published in May 2015 and features my first female protagonists Peyton and Nixie. I’m editing the book as we speak!

And with that great news comes the cover! I CANNOT TELL YOU HOW MUCH I LOVE IT. It is STUNNING work! Check it out and let me know what you think!

The First Twenty cover

Two Months To Go!!!

Today officially makes just TWO MONTHS until my first YA novel, Andy Squared is released from Bold Strokes Books!  I’m so excited! You can preorder the book on Amazon OR from the publisher. And know what’s cool? If you order it from the publisher, the book ships earlier! Who wouldn’t want that?

Today was also important for me because I had an interview at the CT Humane Society in Newington. I was interviewing two important people from the Society on policy and procedure for shelters. What I hope will be my second book, Second Chances, takes place in an animal shelter, and I needed more information.

These two amazing ladies – Alicia Wright and Melissa Zaluski – were very kind to take time out of their busy schedules and answer my many questions. I was also given a tour of the facility!

If you’re in the Connecticut area and are looking to adopt, contact the CT Humane Society in Newington. They’re a great place that truly cares about the animals. Or you can get involved! Just check out their website.

Not looking to adopt or volunteer? You can still help out! They have an extensive wish list with materials they are always looking for. Even just a single toy will make some animals day more exciting!

For REAL this time…

I sent my final read through to my editor. No, really. I swear. It’s the truth! D: I read through one last time to make sure there were no missing words and whatnot, and I’m glad I did. So it is now back in her capable hands, and I can rest easy for the next part.

The weather was fairly nice all weekend until today. It’s been pouring all day and I worked at my second (or is it third…?) job. It wasn’t bad, though. Even though it was rainy outside it was warm and cozy inside, with the lighting just right to make it charmingly cheerful. And the customers are pretty awesome, too. They always make things interesting.

Like! I learned something new today from a customer who collects these things. I know about tea cups. I enjoy them, to be honest. They’re pretty and it’s fun to sip tea out of them. They’re also very different, and I’ve always wanted a nice collection. Well the woman today explained to me what the larger plated tea sets are called. They’re “snack sets.” They have a space on the plate for the cup, like a traditional saucer, but they also are larger one once side so you can put cookies or small foods and such. How cool!

I would love to have a tea party one day with snack sets.

Maybe I’ll buy one next time I work…and take a picture for you all!

Time for an update!

I haven’t logged in for quite some time, so I figure I should do an update!

On the book!: Andy Squared has been back in my hands for some time for another round of editing. It is due back to my editor soon, so I am happy that I get my April vacation to really crack down on tying up the last few strings.

You can now find Andy Squared on the Amazon website! It is available for preorder there. I was so excited to type in the name of the book and watch it pop up! It already has four likes and this time. Can we add more? 🙂 Check it out!

I also now have an author profile on Goodreads. They switched it over today because… Andy Squared is also on Goodreads now! You can check out my profile or take a look at the book and add it to your to-read pile!

On life!: I am a coach for Odyssey of the Mind and I am proud to say that my team took second place in the state finals for their problem and division, and we will be going to Iowa in May for the World Finals! I’m so excited and VERY proud of them! They worked so hard for it, and they’re working even harder now preparing for the big trip! GO TEAM!