Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas, 2007

We closed Robison Service at noon today. I packed Cubby and Martha (Unit 2) into the Rover and headed east. Here we go:

We went to Annie (Unit 3)'s house in Sherborn.

In this photo, you can see (from left) Annie's sister in law Titti, her kids Alice, Alva, and Arvid, Martha, Cubby, Magnus (Unit 3B) holding sign, and his brother Thomas (married to Titti), and Santa.

As some of you know, Santa has had some trouble with the law lately, but we bailed him out so he could make his appearances today. Santa arrived in a pickup truck. There was a very unfortunate mistake over at the game farm where Santa boarded the reindeer. They have promised to raise Santa a new deer team in time for Christmas 2009.

I wonder how many people will be opening copies of Look Me in the Eye tomorrow? It's hard to believe, but I'm now into my fourth month in Amazon's list of top selling biography and memoir

Check back . . . I'll post more Christmas pictures, and I'm announcing some new events. The first one is coming January 7th in Boston . . . . stay tuned . . . .

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New York in December

Well, here I am, back from the big city. I’d never been to New York at Christmas, and I didn’t really know what to expect. I took too many pictures to fit here, so I put them on Pbase. Check them out here:

Most places, Christmas is distinguished by displays of light. In New York, Christmas is heralded by statuary and sculpture. Huge Christmas balls in front of buildings. Storybook figures, and giant Santa figures. Personally, I’d have preferred more light and less statuary.

And the trees . . . .

Back home, we put Christmas trees inside homes and businesses. In New York, they put cut trees on the canopies in front of their buildings. I don’t understand why they do it that way. It would be much more efficient to simply plant Christmas tree seedlings on top of the canopies and prune them to size. The trees could live there all year, and they’d only have to remove and refit decorations for holidays.

The people at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue seem to have gotten this idea. The folks at Rockefeller Center haven’t. They sacrificed a large tree when a permanent tree could have been planted in the same place.

Here are some reasons New Yorkers should use live trees year round:

Fewer trees would be sacrificed.

The load on New York landfills would be diminished. Trees are biodegradable, but it all takes time and space, and it’s needless.

Cut trees do not renew the city air as live trees would

The practice of removing and refitting trees to building canopies clogs the streets with cranes, and pollutes the air as the engines struggle to hoist the trees.

Dead trees are a fire hazard. Live trees provide shade and reduce fire risk.

Live trees provide permanent homes for squirrels, birds, and certain people.

But I didn’t go for the trees. . . .

I stopped at bookstores all over the city and signed copies of Look Me in the Eye. I’ve been hitting some stores every month, and I was thrilled to see all my signed books from last month were gone. I signed 383 books this trip.

I was particularly proud to see my book on the front tables at so many bookstores. And that’s all thanks to you readers, who continue to recommend Look Me in the Eye.

On Monday afternoon, I went on WNYC radio with Leonard Lopate. We had a good show, which is available online here:

That evening, I met Jennifer Venditti, director of the new film Billy the Kid. I had a great time with her and the crew, doing Q&A after the shows at the Independent Film Center on 6th and 3rd.

Between shows, I went to dinner with Jennifer, Chiemi Karasawa (the producer), Vicky Wight (from Elephant Eye films), Bridget Stokes (also Elephant Eye) and Melissa Auf der Maur, bass player of HOLE and SMASHING PUMPKINS and now recording solo.

In Look Me in the Eye I wrote about the instability of the music business. I talked about being on top of the world one week, and flat broke the next. Melissa, in a brilliant flash of insight, provided the reason that happened: I gave my work away too cheap. The guitars I created were a cornerstone of the show. They were the “million dollar deals” of their day. I should have charged ten times what I did, and KISS would’ve paid it.

Oh well. Older and wiser. At least she figured it out for me. That was really great. I’ll use those thoughts in my next book, when I talk about making a creative life.

And there’s more . . .

I also went to the Random House building, to say hi to all my friends at Crown. Random House is closed next week, and the floor looked deserted, with all the folks on vacation. Still, I caught a few with my camera and you can see them here:

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A trip to New York, winter arrives, and my bear killing wife

I’m headed to New York in the morning. Listen for me Monday on Leonard Lopate on WNYC, and I’d love to see you at Billy The Kid at the Independent Film Center Monday night. I'll also be visiting the Crownites in the Random House building, and taking their pictures so all of you can see what the world of publishing is really like at Christmas.

I’ll be doing a Q&A after both Billy the Kid shows, so I’ll be there all evening along with many other interesting people.

As you may have heard, we had a foot of snow up here in Amherst. Here’s a quintessential New England winter scene.

An old Dresser bulldozer rests under a blanket of freshly fallen snow.

Here is Sal, one of the valiant Robison Service crew, clearing blown and piled snow in our Springfield yard:

After the storm, I took a ride to the Deerfield rail yard, where the wreck train sits waiting. Here's Springfield Terminals Railway's 250 ton salvage crane, taken in the dark. Nikon D3, ISO 19,200. That's right . . . pictures in the dark.

Now for the story you are all waiting for . . . My Bear Killing Wife.

In the dark of the night, Unit 2 called me.

I’m in the Land Rover, she said. I just hit a bear! I think I killed it. She sounded upset.

Don’t get out of the car, I said. It might be wounded. I’ll be right over. Stay in the car. Shut the windows.

OK, she said. I’ll call the police.

I grabbed a pistol in case the bear was mad, not dead, and headed for Granby.

When I arrived there was a police car there. I was relieved to see the Land Rover intact, with Unit 2 securely inside. The cop joined me as I walked to the car. Wanna see him, he asked? He’s over there, dead. He pointed to the edge of the road.

We walked over just as two pickup trucks pulled up. They’d heard the call on their police scanners.

Where’s the bear, they asked? Over here. They got out, armed. We all gazed over the guard rail at the dead bear. He was a small bear, bigger than any dog but small enough to have an angry mom across the street. I was particularly alert because I’d almost hit a MUCH bigger bear in the same spot a few weeks back.

Luckily, we did not see a second bear and a shootout on School Street was averted. You know you’re in the country when five guys with guns can stand gazing into the dark and the law on the scene takes in all in stride.

So, you want him? The cop asked me.

In Granby, as in other rural towns, beasts killed by a wife become property of the husband. No, you can have him, I said.

I don’t want him, the cop said quickly. Hearing that, the crews from the pickup truck shouted in unison: I have a bear tag! They both shouted it out at the same time. I’ll take him, they said.

Most times, when someone hits a deer or bear out here in the country, they don’t call the cops. They toss him in back and head on home with fresh dinner. Remember my childhood friend, Road Kill Phil? And people wonder how strangers just vanish out in the hill towns . . . .

What are they going to do with him, Unit 2 asked nervously from the car.

Skin him and eat him. Coats and steaks.

That’s horrible, she cried. We should take him home and bury him.

We drove off as the cop and the guys in the truck bargained over the bear’s disposition.

Amazingly, the Land Rover was undamaged. It was just a freak thing, I guess. She hit the bear a glancing blow and broke his neck.

Somewhere in Granby, a bear steak is grilling. See you in New York Monday.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

From the mailbox . . . a letter and poem from a dad

I get quite a few letters from Aspergians and moms. Letters from dads are somewhat less common. I was touched by this note I received from Ray, the father of an Aspergian teen in South Carolina.

I have reproduced it here with his permission.

* * *

Thank you for your wonderful book. “Look Me in the Eye” has really opened my eyes to the thought process and the world of Asperger’s. My 14 year-old son was diagnosed with Asperger’s about five years ago. I’m sure you would have no trouble seeing the Aspergian traits in my son, James. I never noticed the way he walked until I read your book, but he does have the “typical” gait of an Aspergian.

By the way, thanks for the term “Aspergian”, it sounds so much better than “Aspie”. Aspie brings to mind a breed of dog or a award of some kind. Aspergian shows respect and dignity to all touched by Asperger’s.

I must be honest with you, Mr. Robison, I have had a hard time accepting my son’s Asperger’s as a blessing or light that shines in him. We have had many frustrating times with James, he has struggled mightily in middle school and now High School with teacher’s and administrators who do not understand fully what a day with James entails and how to keep him on track and keep him from being disruptive in class. We must have had hundreds of notes, e-mails and call from schools since James entered Kindergarten using the word disruptive.

I wrote a free poem (of sorts) about my son, I had thought I would pass it along to you as small thank you for your book.

My Son

2nd child full of brash and fire

Walking early, reading and writing at 4 years of age

Smart as a whip, maybe too smart

Obsessions come and go

Cars, Looney Toons, Nascar and Police chases

There has been no envelope not pushed, no button not pressed

Love conquers all, but frustration, irritation come close

Social graces not understood, politeness and manners are foreign at times

Friends are few and far between, "Quirky" kids are not easy to befriend

Inappropriate behavior commonplace, reason for behavior never explained or maybe not known.

Charming boy, loving boy (but not always)

Obsession becomes depression in an instant, self-esteem flies away.

Hatred of face, hair, braces and life in general changes by the day

Fear of him doing harm to himself is ever present

Any question asked of my son is received with rolling eyes and groans of dismay

A simple yes or no answer is never heard

School is a daily nightmare

Work not done, assignments missed and extra credit opportunities never attempted

Life Skills class they call it, self-contained class (in my time it was Special Ed)

Mainstream classes are scheduled to get a real diploma, so far not a great success

4 years may turn in to 5 or 6

every school day is a struggle

Normal is not in our vocabulary, your normal is not ours

Asperger's Syndrome, a mild variety of Autism

My son lives it everyday, and so does the entire family

We endure because of our love for him

We have no choice

A child full of challenge and potential hopefully realized.

My Son, I love him

* * *

I can certainly see myself in his poem. I imagine a few of you can see yourselves, too. It's nice to see we have dads like Ray out there.

You should know that I read all mail personally, and I do my best to respond. I also read all the comments you write in to the blog, and I value them all. I've received a lot of knowledge, insight, and guidance from those of you who take the time to write in.

Asperger's and autism are everywhere, it seems

It's interesting to see how Look Me in the Eye is spreading now that it's been on sale a few months. I have not mentioned reviews in a while, so I thought I'd highlight a few in this post.

Yesterday, published a nice review:

A few weeks back, the Vail, Colorado newspaper had nice things to say:

And before that, a thoughtful piece appeared in The Standard, a conservative magazine where you would not expect to find a non-political book reviewed.

I continue to be surprised and pleased at the way people connect with my story. In addition to the reviews, I've received so many wonderful letters from readers in the past three months.

That's all great, but we still move inexorably toward the shortest day of the year. I just wish it didn't get dark so early nowadays. Oh well; the days start getting longer soon.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Me in The New York Times, upcoming events, and other interesting stuff

Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times called me a few weeks ago to talk about a story she was doing on Aspergian model Heather Kuzmich. We talked quite a while about the definitions of Asperger’s, what it’s like to be Aspergian, and the ideas in my book.

She quoted me in her story on December 4:

Tara kept thinking about our conversation, and the result was today’s story,

Her title, Seeing Yourself in Autism, was particularly meaningful to me. For the first step in understanding and accepting someone different is seeing yourself in that person. Her article makes that clear.

We may seem different, but deep down we have the same emotions; the same hopes, fears, dreams, and insecurities. Looking or acting in non-standard ways does not rob us of our essential humanity.

I would wager that the vast majority of autistic people (myself included) want more than anything to be accepted, liked, and appreciated for what we are – people. Not Autistics, Aspergians, or some kind of freaks. Just people.

To me, phrases like “he’s autistic but he’s still pretty smart” sound about the same as, “He’s pretty smart, for a black guy.” Yet, the second phrase is universally condemned and the other is (unfortunately) still widely tolerated.

But not for long, I hope. At four o'clock, Tara's story was on the list of the NYT's most emails stories of the day. So people are reading and learning.

In the 1960s high school kids told jokes about black people. By the 1980s those kids had grown up, and they knew they’d lose their jobs repeating the old jokes at work. In the 1980s high school kids told jokes about gay people, and today . . . not only can you lose your job, your company may well get sued.

It’s our turn now. We’re tired of (being on the receiving end of) pointing and snickering. We’re ready to be accepted into the fold of society. Just as we are. Sure, we have our differences. But so do you. Deep down, we’re all the same.

I hope articles like this, my words (in my books and at my public appearances), and the words of others will go far toward gaining all of us who are a little different the respect and acceptance we deserve.


Last week I talked about the new documentary, Billy the Kid. As promised, I’ll be in New York City next Monday, December 17, to lead the Q&A after both evening shows at the Independent Film Center. I hope to see a big crowd; come by and say hi!

Here are the details:

Billy the Kid Special Screenings and Q&As – December 17th after the 6:25pm and 8:25pm Shows! The Q&A will be led by Special Guest Speaker John Elder Robison, author of LOOK ME IN THE EYE (NY Times Best Seller) and, director, Jennifer Venditti!

Tickets on sale now at or at IFC CENTER 323 Sixth Avenue at West 3rd Street.

Discounted group tickets are available for groups of 10 or more at any show Mon-Thurs, and Friday before 5pm.

Tickets are $8/person, and need to be paid for in bulk. Groups should arrange discounted tickets by calling in advance.

The phone number is 212 924 6789. Please speak to Harris or Katy.

Friday, December 7, 2007

News of the week - The Elms, Lincoln Sudbury High, Billy the Kid, and more

Last Sunday, I spoke at The Elms in Chicopee. I’ve been working with Elms to develop and promote a graduate concentration in autism, and this talk was a part of that. Billed as “Inspiration and hope for families with autism,” the program featured presentations from Professor Kathy Dyer, four moms of autistic kids, Aspergian Michael Wilcox, and me.

The weathermen had forecast snow that afternoon, and we were into the Christmas season, so I wasn’t expecting too many people. We scheduled the Alumni Library auditorium, which seats about 100 people. I thought we’d be doing well to fill half the seats.

I arrived early so I could talk with the other presenters. I knew Kim, Michael, and Kathy, but the other moms were new to me. As I stood there, people began streaming in. Soon, the auditorium was full. Several of us walked to the meeting room next door, and we began carrying chairs into the auditorium. Soon, the aisles were full too, and people lined the walls. The college later reported that the foyer was full too, and they estimated we drew 275 people. The place was packed.

“Once we get everyone seated,” I said, “we’re going to have a fire drill.”

Each of us told stories about our life experiences with autism and Asperger’s. I spoke last, and then led a Q&A session. Each mom told of her struggles and ultimate triumph. Michael talked about learning to tie his shoes, and how to operate a left-hand can opener. Hearing about those simple things made me realize once again that things that are obvious to one person may be a complete mystery to another. I thought back to the day I first realized that I could tie my shoes all by myself. I was in a Greyhound bus, crossing the Cascade Mountains. We went into a tunnel, and I leaned forward, and tied my shoes quickly. All by myself, in the dark. I was so proud. The event ran into overtime, and was a big success. The size of the crowd certainly spoke to the interest our society has in autism. Before we began, I asked the crowd who had a personal connection to autism, and every hand went up.

Look here and at for more events in 2008.

A few days later, I did a reading at Amherst Books. Amherst Books is a small store, and we had a more intimate reading with about 30 people. Even that small crowd was touched by autism, with several parents, three teachers and two psychologists.

Yesterday I went to Lincoln Sudbury regional school where I was scheduled to speak to students and staff. L/S is a very upscale school; one of the top rated public high schools in Massachusetts. Just before lunch, I spoke to 750 people in the main auditorium, including several families who’d driven in from surrounding towns. I did my best to be both entertaining and inspirational, but I knew I was talking to high school students, so I had a sack of eggs hidden behind the podium. To my surprise, though, not one egg was needed. The audience listened with rapt attention, and they did not throw a thing. It was not even necessary to sweep up after. I wish they were all that good, I said to myself as I reflected on some of my earlier performances, behind chicken wire screens in rowdy bars. Afterward, the special ed staff received a ton of emails from enthusiastic students.

They were a great audience, but the real highlight came before the talk, when I met Nick. Nick is a ten-year-old Aspergian who came all the way from Stoneham. I met him in the conference room, where New England Mobile Book Fair was selling up the book display. He was a little comedian, dressed in snappy blue jeans, white shirt, and tie. He was so excited he couldn’t sit still. After watching him circle the conference room 19 times, I suggested a walking tour of the school.

I don’t know if you’ve ever toured an upscale school like Lincoln Sudbury. It was a remarkable place. First, it’s all clean and new. It’s got a beautiful library, with new computers everywhere. It’s built on three levels, with atriums, like a mall. But instead of stores, they have classrooms. I saw all manner of specialty classes, including jewelry making. Nick and I went into the jewelry classroom, where we saw jewels piled on one side, and money piled on the other. Out back, we examined the air conditioning plant, and the bottle and paper recycling. I was impressed, and so was Nick.

Before I went there, I’d been told that today’s schools have driver ed training. People said L/S goes driver ed one better, with jet aircraft and helicopter training. I’d hoped for a ride on the Bell Jet Ranger but I could not find the helipad.

What a contrast. At my high school, we opened the windows for air conditioning, and we played with sticks and dirt. There was no dirt in evidence at Lincoln Sudbury.

After my talk, I met with about 20 faculty members, and we ended with a q&a session with IEP students in a conference room. We covered such diverse topics as Asperger’s around the world, jobs, medieval history, dating, and writing novels.

I had a great time, and I think the students did too.

After that, I headed ten miles down the road to the Barnes & Noble at Framingham Shopper’s World. After the huge crowd at the school, I didn’t expect too many people at my 7PM reading, but once again I was surprised. 100+ people arrived, overflowing the seats into the aisles. Once again, my talk ran into overtime with a 1-hour line after the reading.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of you at the end of the line. Those of you at the beginning of the line . . . you should thank the people at the end too, for being patient. We could have had a riot, but everyone was remarkably well behaved. I've been lucky that way. I guess that makes up for the riots like Savannah, when I was in the rock'n'roll business.

The evening crowd was older, with a mix of families and individual Aspergians. Once again, I said, “How many of you have a personal connection to autism?” Every hand went up. After my reading, several Aspergians in the front row made short statements of their own. I met a 76-year-old Aspergian who did not get diagnosed till age 72. There were younger Aspergians, too, and many moms and teachers. I met many several members of the Asperger’s Association ( ) and recommended AANE to a few more. I signed 103 books. Yes indeed – I kept count.

At B&N the last question of the night came from a female in the second row. She said, “How do you deal with the crowds? All the people?”

“I was scared at first,” I answered. “But the audiences are so interested, so warm, and so friendly. It’s the audiences, and their strong need to learn more. That’s what keeps me going.”

Stay tuned . . . I’ll be speaking in a number of schools right through 2008. Many of those events will be open to the public, and they’re popping up all over . . . from Groton (CT) to Houston to Cozumel.

And look for me at the Independent Film Center in Manhattan December 17th I’ll be there for Billy The Kid, a new documentary about an Aspergian teenager (see my previous post.) More details in the NY Times and at

And if your school wants to discuss an event, contact my speaker’s agent:
Lauren Verge
The Lavin Agency
222 Third Street
Suite 1130
Cambridge, MA 02142
800-762-4234 x 307
See all of our fascinating personalities at :

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Billy the Kid - an Aspergian movie you should see

I’d like to tell you about a new movie – Billy the Kid. It’s a documentary about the life of Billy, a teenage misfit in a small town in Maine. They don’t say anything about his condition in the film, but to me it was obvious that Billy is a young Aspergian, one with many similarities to me as a kid.

The first time I watched it, I didn’t enjoy Billy the Kid, but upon reflection, the reasons I didn’t enjoy it are reasons many of you (parents and educators) should watch this film. There’s a lot of real stuff here that people who raise Aspergians should see and ponder.

Before I begin, though, I’ll describe a few key differences between Billy and me, at age fifteen:

1 I was better looking. He has more zits.

2 He wears a bicycle helmet. I never did.

3 He cut his hair with a rat tail. I wore mine long.

4 He wears Truck Stops of America shirts. I liked sports cars, not big trucks.

OK, having spelled out the differences, let’s move on to the similarities. I don’t like films that cause me to relive bad experiences from my own past. And this one did.

First of all, he’s a total dork. Even now, a day later, I still can’t decide who was the bigger dork in high school – me or him? The realization that I can’t decide, and the degree of dorkiness shown – it’s very troubling. I sure wish someone had been there to tell me how I looked. Billy’s mother tried to do that at many points in the film, and I think she helped and guided him a lot. Seeing her, I wish I’d had more of that parenting.

Billy has a good mom. And he might have better kids in his school, but I doubt it. I just suspect they minded their manners because they didn’t want the humiliation of being caught on camera doing something reprehensible.

Do you all remember how teachers told me I’d end up as a serial killer or sociopath?

{If answer = NO, go buy Look Me in the Eye, read, continue}
{If answer = YES, continue}

Well, he must feel the same way, because he checked out Serial Killers in History and the librarian called his mother. Yes. Watchful librarians. I remember them well. Billy is wary and nervous all the time, as he should be. Seeing him, I remembered the degree to which I was always on guard, and the level of relaxation I exhibit today is in comparison truly remarkable.

Like me, he wants to understand people like that, to decide if he’s one, and if he’s not, how to identify and avoid such people. Recognizing, of course, that most of the world is out to get us, too. And that is the reason he’s a karate expert. I too learned self defense at an early age. He and I were the same . . . wanting to be peaceful, but prepared to resist attackers at any moment.

Billy’s got the same love of music I had back then, and the same lack of talent playing a guitar. Why the lack of talent? He’s probably not coordinated enough (like me.) Watching him walk, he’s got the same clumsy gait as me and other Aspergians I’ve observed.

One thing I did not see in the movie was his special talents. What are they? Either Billy hid them, or he has not yet found them. He’d better get going . . . he’s fifteen, the age I was when I was developing my own talents. That made me wonder . . . would any of you, watching a film of me at fifteen, foresee anything I subsequently accomplished? I doubt it. I wonder what Billy will do.

Billy and I shared a few other things . . . we both had drunk and violent fathers which left us with personal aversions to violence and drugs, and a resolve to do better with our own kids. Hopefully, Billy will follow my own example in that regard, as he gets older.

There’s only one point in the movie when Billy looks truly relaxed and happy. That’s when he’s standing in snow covered woods, talking to the camera, and shaking snow off a dead pine tree. That moment of relaxation lasts perhaps ten seconds. Every other moment of this film he’s anxious and on guard. It’s sad, but it’s real. I lived that too.

You can just see it in Billy. Wanting to fit in, and have fun. Wanting to have friends. But always on guard because and attack could come from any quarter, at any moment. For me, having lived it, it’s a very real film. No one could have made this up.

Some of you may squirm too, reading my description. Why should you go see this movie? I’ll tell you. Billy the Kid is a real first person account what it’s like to be an Aspergian teenager. Just as my book is described as a groundbreaking work, this is a groundbreaking movie. Parents and teachers – it will worry you, and make you squirm. But that’s what it’s really like for us. And you parents with more autistic kids . . . you may watch it and say, “I wish my son had it that good.” But let me assure you, having lived it: It does not generally feel good, being an Aspergian teenager.

That is why I go out to deliver my message of tolerance and understanding today.

The director – Jennifer Venditti - and crew deserve praise for making this movie. I was particularly impressed with the way they were able to blend into the background and film ordinary life without people "hamming it up." I saw a few instances of people playing for the film but mostly they (the camera operators) were just there, unobtrusive. That's commendable. Billy and his mom . . . they deserve to get a little older and get better lives. A good husband for the mom, and a good life for Billy. Will it happen? Look in again in 20 years.

I wonder what the broader public will say about this movie. Will they understand Billy?

Look here for more info and locations:

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Predators, autographed caps, and The Elms event tomorrow

It was cold and windy in Amherst today. Traditionally, this is the weekend I pull the mower deck off my little tractor so I can attach the snow blower for winter. Just before dark, I realized the wind had knocked down enough leaves that I should clean the yard one last time.

Walking out back, I cranked up the tractor and sat there until it was warm enough to spin the mower. By then, it had gotten dark. I’ve already talked about the technique for leaf cleanup – counterclockwise circles – so I won’t go into that again.

As I circled the house, I saw tonight’s blog topic, gazing back at me. Tonight, I’d like to talk about food. Specifically, us as food.

As I ran the tractor around the house there was a spot where the headlamps swept the woods, and every pass I saw the same set of eyes, glowing green at me. Those of you who live in the city may ask, “Did you go back inside?” My brother was recently featured in a NY Times story about life in the country, and Things with Eyes That Shine in the Night.

Those of you who read my bear story – a few weeks back - may wonder if I got my shotgun. I did not, because tonight’s visitor was not a bear. I continued leafing, unworried. Why? Because I am secure in the knowledge that around here, I am at the top of the food chain. Not the thing with the green eyes. Me.

Thinking about the Thing, my brother, and the Times article, I realized that city dwellers do not have my assurance, for they are not at the top of the food chain, and they know it. To them, being observed from the woods instills panic and fear. In a city, the residents are #2 on the food chain, above dogs (#3) and pigeons (#4) The top of the food chain is occupied by Predatory Criminals (#1).

We do not have many predatory criminals in the Amherst woods, and many law abiding residents of our wooded lands are dangerous if attacked, so the environment is generally hostile to Predatory Criminals. And that’s why they remain in cities, where the residents are by and large unarmed.

It’s actually a mystery to me. So many animals have been hunted to extinction. Why haven’t city dwellers hunted Predatory Criminals to extinction? Perhaps generations of city dwellers have lost the hunting instinct, or perhaps cities have too much abundance of food and shelter.

* * * *

Now, lets more on to Shameless Commerce. Jan – our Robison Service event support person – has listed a bunch of my Free Range Aspergian caps on eBay. Go on over if you want a signed Aspergian cap for a holiday gift.

I hope this huge link works:


* * * *

And tomorrow . . . Elms College. I’ll be part of a panel discussion on life with autism. Come on by if you’re in the area. Two to Four, in the library.

* * * *

For the motorheads among you, this is the current version of what I clean and mow the yard with:

Monday, November 26, 2007

Welcome to Barbour County, Alabama

I went South to my uncle Bob’s this Thanksgiving. We had sort of a family reunion, with my brother and me, my uncle Big Bob (my father’s little brother) and a bunch of cousins and cousins-in-law. Snake, Willie, Leroy, and Jeb. Traditional southerners, not Yankee transplants. Cigarettes and whiskey, sweet potato pie, black eye peas, and grits. Lots of meat. And dogs under the table to keep the floor clean.

I drove from Atlanta, figuring to arrive about ten in the morning on Thanksgiving Day. I made it all the way through Eufaula, Alabama, down highway 95, and onto county road 97 when it happened.

I had to pee.

I was way out in the country, on an empty two lane road, with nothing at the end but a bunch of rednecks in boats at a place called Baker’s Landing on Lake Eufaula. And even that was a few miles off. So I pulled over and walked around the side of the car, and peed in the ditch.

Most every country road in Alabama has a ditch at the edge. They give people a place to pee, and they trap cars that run off the road. Ditches and trees are two of the reasons those Alabama highways have more white crosses alongside them than a mountain road in Mexico. That, and the white lightning they make in the back country. My own great grandfather had a still behind the Lawrenceville house back before I was born. But I digress.

In the midst of my pee, a sheriff’s car rolled up, and the blue lights came on. I zipped my pants and walked over.

“Watcha doin?” He said. Wasn’t it obvious? I guess not.

“I was peeing.”

“Have you been drinking?” He asked this with barely disguised anticipation.

“No. I just had to pee. I don’t generally drink liquor, and never at nine in the morning.”

“I can’t believe this,” he said. “You didn’t try and hide from me or nuthin!”

“Hide? Why should I hide? I was peeing by the side of the road, and you drove up.”

“Do you want to spend Thanksgiving in jail?” Is this guy nuts, I wondered? But it got worse.

“Did you know I could write you up for indecent exposure, and you’d have to register as a SEX OFFENDER?” He asked this with some glee.

“Are you sure you haven’t been drinking?” He asked again, and stepped closer to sniff me, whereupon I caught a whiff of something on HIS breath.

“That sounds a little extreme for peeing in a ditch on a country road,” I said. “I don’t see how peeing in a ditch makes me a sex offender.”

Now, I was fully sober, respectable looking, and more articulate than most folks. I even grew up in the south. It was immediately obvious to me that this sheriff would have had a fight on his hands, if I’d been two drunk college boys instead of one middle aged author.

He didn’t know I was an author, but he’d figured out by then I wasn’t a drunk and I was too old to be a college boy. With a little more back and forth, he let me go.

It seems to me there’s a fundamental problem when Alabama sheriffs can turn a guy peeing in a ditch in the country into a sex offender with a $25 nuisance ticket. Don’t our cops have more important things to do?

“Welcome to Barbour County, Alabama” my cousin David said, when I arrived at the house.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully.

And in other news . . . .

I have a polite request. After almost getting arrested once, I know better than to be rude.

Some of you in the blogosphere have read my book, and some of you readers liked it. Those of you who liked it the most . . . I need your help. Follow this link:

It goes to my book on Amazon Canada. After all this time, not one person has reviewed my book up there. I don’t know why, but it’s true. Tonight, I hope one of you will be the first to write a review. But only if you have good things to say. And if there are more of you with good things to say, pile on . . . .

And there’s more . . . .

This Sunday, December 2, I will be appearing at The Elms College in Chicopee. This appearance is special, because I’ll be part of a panel talking about autism and Asperger’s. It’s called Hope and Acceptance: Inspiration for families of children with autism spectrum conditions.”

I’ll be there with bloggers Kim Stagliano and Michael Wilcox, the college staff, and some champion moms. It’s free and it will be fun. Come by if you’re around. Two to four PM, in the auditorium. A mom to three girls with autism A successful and interesting Aspergian

And before I go . . .

I broke down and ordered one of those Kindles from Amazon. My nice letter asking for a free one had gone unanswered, I’m afraid. So it’s due Wednesday, loaded with Books to Test Read it. I’ll report back soon . . . I will tell you this in advance, though: The bar for acceptable performance is now a hell of a lot higher, at $399 out of pocket, than it would have been if they’d sent me the thing for nothing.

I’ve also got one of the new Nikon D300 cameras coming tomorrow, thanks to Bill and Melissa at Nikon Professional Services. I had to pay for it too, but luckily I sold my D200 and got back most of the cost. Are there any photographers out there? Should I write about cameras and photography on the blog? Let’s hear from you. . .

I took up picture-taking about ten years ago, when my brother worked in advertising and had the Nikon account. He got me a free camera, and I liked it so much I kept it up, even though I had to buy all the subsequent cameras and lenses.

Like my book writing, my pictures are pretty much PG rated, but some people think they’re interesting anyway. You can see some here:

And while are on the subject of back stories, did I tell you how I came to write Look Me in the Eye? Read about it here:

But we weren’t on back stories at all! See? I knew it all along. But being Aspergian, I still change the topic, just like that, every now and then.

And that’s all for this rainy Monday night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Some thoughts on empathy

I’ve written about empathy in Look Me in the Eye, and I’ve discussed it at my appearances. Tonight, in response to a reader’s letter, I present a question on empathy for all of you:

In my book, I suggest that humans are pack animals, and as such, our empathy is primarily directed at other pack members – our family, close friends, or co-workers. With billions of people in the world, people dying every minute, and horrible news everywhere. . . how could we truly have empathy for a larger circle?

I even suggest that we might feel relief when someone dies, if they are not part of our pack. Why? Because we know that death is inevitable, and it’s a relief it struck outside our pack, and not within.

In comparison, if death or serious injury occurs within our pack, we are overcome with sadness, grief, and a sense of loss.

It’s obvious that (for example) a mother must concentrate most emotional energy on her kids, if she is to be a successful parent. In light of that, my suggestion that we care mostly for our “pack mates” seems sensible.

I’ve even questioned the true feelings of some people who exhibit exaggerated shows of emotion upon hearing of some faraway disaster. While it’s not possible for me to know those people’s feelings with certainty, it’s clear that they would be on a constant emotional roller coaster if they truly experienced news of faraway disaster in the same way they experienced, say, the death of a grandparent of “pack mate.”

Yesterday, I received a letter from a reader. She said, “I’ve always been very sensitive to the suffering of others. Not to sound like a saint, but since becoming a parent I’ve had a hard time discussing news stories that involve children dying in a fire or other fluke accidents. My first realization as a young adult that wars still rage in many countries and that worldly powers-that-be can do nothing to fully protect innocent people from being tortured in horrid ways devastated me. I can’t stand to watch violent anything; I buckled over in pain when the Twin Towers fell; I still cry my eyes out over what to many are typical news stories.”

The above is from an unsolicited letter, written (to the best of my knowledge) honestly and in good faith. What does it mean in light of the ideas I expressed?

I don’t cry my eyes out over news stories. When I reflect upon that, I can’t see how I (or anyone else) could get through the day if I reacted that way, because similar bad news is everywhere. I’ve thought a lot about empathy, and I think my response represents a human evolutionary strategy. . . limiting the grief we experience and concentrating our caring and empathy on those we have the greatest stake in protecting.

Comparing my feelings to hers, I thought back to the day the Twin Towers were attacked. I remember a vague but strong unease, worry about war, worry about my brother in New York (a pack mate.) The word I keep coming back to is “worry.” The news of that disaster made me worry, and it made me scared. Is my brother OK? How would it affect me? How would it affect our country? How would it affect the families?

To me, that seems honest and fundamentally different from what I felt when my father died. On that day, I remember crushing grief, sadness, the realization that he would never again encourage me, or talk to me, or listen to me, or indeed do anything at all. He was gone. I missed him terribly, and I was sad.

I was not worried at all, nor was I scared.

Those are very different responses to death, one outside my pack, the other within. Indifferent as I may seem to news of faraway disaster, I have an immediate and visceral reaction to bad news about my pack; my family or friends.

I suggested in my book that the feelings expressed in the letter I received today come from a different place in our brain than the feelings we’d have for an immediate family member. As such, I called that “learned” or “social” empathy. I think humans evolved that response to encourage socialization over larger areas. I suggested there must be several types of “empathy.”

I think “social empathy” evolved as the human population spread, in order to encourage different groups to connect with one another. I think it’s a different feeling, and it serves a different purpose in society. Social empathy bonds us as fellow humans via a different set of feelings, as I noted.

I also suggested that some people are hypocrites, because I’ve seen people put on great shows of emotion and then, a few moments later, joke or make light of the whole thing. Such a flip flop is consistent with play acting, not genuine feeling. Why do some people do that? To get attention? I don’t know.

I’m sure many of you have observed the same things at various points in life.

So this is tonight’s question: Do you think there is more than one kind of empathy, and if so, what and why?

* * *

On a lighter note, it was Turkey Day at work. I used to get turkeys for everyone at Robison Service, but people started grumbling. They wanted variety. Variation in Thanksgiving fare. I decided to give them what they wanted. Within reason.

When Bobby (our resident Gentleman and half-outlaw biker) came back from the store, this is what he passed out in response to the staff's requests:

1 Turkey, fresh
2 Bottles, Johnnie Walker Black
12 Cases, Sam Adams beer
2 Cases, Corona beer
Some sausages, 1.5 inch diameter

And one bottle of wine.

As you can see, turkey is fast fading from the scene when it comes to Turkey Day fare.

What did you get for Thanksgiving? What did you give?

Monday, November 19, 2007

I'm a Kindle bestseller today.

What's that, you ask?

The Kindle is Amazon's new electronic book reader.

Look Me in the Eye is currently #91 on Amazon's Kindle bestseller list, #8 in memoirs.

I wonder what it will mean for printed books. I suspect I'll continue to prefer the look and feel of a traditional book, but what about the younger generation? Some of todays kids have grown up doing 99% of their reading on a computer screen. There have been several electronic books so far. . . one of them is going to take off. Is this the one? We'll see.

If you decide to buy one, be sure and test it by ordering my book first.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Our future is in the hands of the young Aspergians, and today you'll hear from one . . . in his own words * And a reminder about tomorrow's appearance

Yesterday, I wrote about the young Aspergians who graced my Tattered Cover appearance. One of them, at least, has a family blog, which I encourage all of you to visit.

When I arrived at the TC, there were two moms with Aspergian kids waiting in the front row. Alex is eight, Brice is 10. Alex blogs here:

Both kids have the Aspergian look that I've come to recognize. I'll write more on that in the future; for now I'll just say I could have picked both out of a crowd.

Alex is a smart young fellow, a student of history in general and ancient Egypt in particular. We talked about some of my own childhood interests (which were the same as his), and I suggested Alex learn more about the wonderful temple complex at Abu Simbel, which was dismantled and moved block by block to protect it from flooding when Nasser built the Aswan High Dam. Interestingly enough, the temple was moved back in the 1960s, when I was the age Alex is today.

Here's a link for Abu Simbel:

This is the Aswan High Dam

I hope all of you will welcome young Alex and his family to our community. The Tattered Cover staff took some photos of the event, and I'll put them up as soon as I get them so you can see the whole spectacle.

* * *

Prior to arrival, Alex's mom was discouraged from attending my event because other moms thought there might be inappropriate content. Don't be scared away . . . I am a PG rated writer and speaker.

I get more kids with every speaking engagement. Bring 'em on. I'm good with kids, and if I'm not, I have a small folding Kid Cage in my book bag.

I'll certainly concede that Look Me in the Eye contains some pranks and antics that will make moms cringe, but consider this: In those pranks, I found an essentially harmless outlet for the frustrations of being a young Aspergian - the torment, ridicule, and bullying. That stands in sharp contrast to the violence we see in schools today.

There is some "four letter" language in my book too, but just enough to capture the reality of certain scenes. There is no graphic sex, and no gratuitous violence. The real world is considerably rougher than my writing.

I encourage any of you with children to bring them to my talks. . . it's great for kids to see Aspergians like themselves, grown up and successful. Don't worry, I won't act too bizarre. Just bizarre enough to be interesting.

* * *

And with that said, all of you in driving distance of Hadley, MA; Holyoke, MA; and Enfield CT should come see me tomorrow as I talk and sign books at Barnes and Noble stores as part of Public Television's book fair. Read more at

* * *

Short answers to questions the world ponders: Alex's mom asked why I call myself an Aspergian, and not an Aspie. The answer is simple. The sound of the word Aspie kind of grates on me, and it makes me think of poisionous snakes. Not good.

Aspergian, on the other hand, sounds urbane, and cultured.

I hope the difference is as obvious to you as it is to me, now that I've pointed it out. Feel free to use Aspie in your own life, but it's Free Range Aspergians Forever for me.

* * *

And in closing . . . I've said this before but it bears repeating. Just as I recognized Brice and Alex as young Aspergians they surely see themselves in me, though they may be too young to articulate it. That's why I encourage moms with young Aspergians to get my abridged audio book. I read it, and many kids find my voice familiar. And moms . . . if you don't like certain parts, you can skip them on the CD player.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A night at the Tattered Cover

Those of you who follow my blog know I appeared tonight at the Tattered Cover in Denver. I spent the first 40 years of my life largely bereft of friends, but I’m sure making up for it now!

I had dinner tonight with publicity consultant Bella Stander and her husband, and literary agent Kristin Nelson. We were a bit late getting started and I had to dash off to the event, but they followed along a few minutes later and seized the last couple of seats in the reading room.

This evening’s event was special for several reasons, all of which were unknown to my audience until they occurred.

I had two surprise assistants, young Aspergians, eight and ten years of age, respectively. I introduced my little helpers, one of whom was driven all the way from Colorado Springs. But mere introduction was not enough. They wanted more. So I brought them up to the stage, and ensconced them upon the two thrones immediately behind my podium.

They took the microphone, and we did the introductions. After that, the younger one - Alex - was content to reign over the room, while his older sidekick - Bryce - assisted me.

For the first time, at the Tattered Cover, I introduced a guest reader. Ten-year-old Bryce read the first paragraph of Look Me in the Eye to acclaim from the crowd, after which I finished the story while he stood beside me and acted out all the gestures.

Later in my talk, Bryce quietly arose from his throne and went to the desk, which the Tattered Cover staff had thoughtfully stocked with Velcro, any young Aspergian’s best friend. As I spoke and Alex gazed placidly at the crowd, Bryce velcroed everything in sight, out of sight of the crowd, in plain sight of everyone.

It was truly a magical evening. The unexpected addition of two young free range Aspergians was great. The questions from the audience were the best part of the night.

And the people from the blog world . . . Sex Scenes From Starbucks was there , and she was younger, blonder, and better looking than I’d been led to expect from the name. Woof. Lisa Kenney from Eudeamonia couldn’t make it, but her friend Karen came down with a book for me to sign.

I talked more about what it means to be an Aspergian, and how parents and young people should focus on their Aspergian gifts as opposed to the weaknesses, because it’s our gifts that the world needs. The world needs more geeks.

I talked about the need for compassion and understanding, and the great things we can accomplish together. And my Aspergian assistant spoke briefly of his fascination with ancient Egypt and his ability to name all the presidents, forward and backward, in order.

It was another fun night. I wish I’d made plans to stay a few more days, but I’m back home first thing in the morning.

Before I go, I have to mention one more thing . . . Denver is full of trains. Light Rail. Trolley cars, like I rode as a child in Philadelphia, updated for the 21st century. Buses too. It was such a refreshing alternative to taxis and congestion I've encountered elsewhere.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

And now, the news from Denver

I flew in to Denver yesterday. Boy, was that a long flight! As is often the case on those four and five hour confinements, everything started well but things fell apart over Kansas. People began pacing the aisles, raving, and doing unspeakable things in the rest rooms. One left the plane in shackles, with spots in the aisle to mark his progress.

Drunks, babies, and certain kinds of entertainers. . . all can have trouble on commercial aircraft. And that is why the jet charter industry is booming.

When we landed the media escort was all bright and cheery, and the law had their eyes focused elsewhere as we slipped out of the airport and onto the road to Denver. We drove directly to NBC Channel 9, where I did a lunchtime interview that will air today (Thursday.)

I also gave a long interview to 88.5 Community Radio. After that, I did a really good 1-hour program with Colorado Public Television, Channel 12. I believe that will air on a Wednesday in mid December and we'll have it online as well.

I'm staying in the Brown Palace Hotel, which is famous for hosting livestock in the lobby. To my great disappointment there were no cattle here when I arrived. I did admire the broad and gentle staircases ascedting to the ninth floor atrium roof, but it would have been so much better if there'd been horsemen riding the stairs. I guess I arrived too late.

This morning I've done a program for the Clear Channel radio stations in Colorado, and I'll be on the mid-day news on Channel 7.

I hope all of you in driving distance of Denver will come to my appearance at the Lodo Tattered Cover tonight at 7:30. I'll be heading home Friday morning.

Back in New England, I'll be appearing Sunday at Barnes & Noble stores in Hadley (MA), Holyoke (MA) and Enfield (CT) as part of WGBY's Public Television Book Fair. Read more at

Sunday, November 11, 2007

And now, some words from the Australians

The Australian Broadcasting Company has been kind enough to put this webcast of my recent interview online for your listening pleasure:

And for those of you in Denver (American Denver, that is, not Denver, Australia) . . . watch for me Wednesday on KDBI Colorado Public Television, Studio 12 at 8:00 PM.

Everyone else . . . check the schedule on the right for some new dates and details

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tomorrow . . . a blog contest to win a copy of Look Me in the Eye and a night with John Sebastian and Ernie and the Automatics

I've got a contest going on tonight . . . Stop by Church Lady's blog and check it out:

And in other news . . .

My friend Charley Burke is one of the organizers of the Northampton Independent Film Festival He invited me to the Academy of Music tonight, to hear Ernie and the Automatics and John Sebastian.

The scene backstage is timeless. Whenever I go, I could be 18 again, standing there watching some of my first equipment. I didn't have any equipment out there last night; I just took pictures. But the feelings are the same.

John played alone, and the audience was captivated as he told us stories about his songs. He'd play a riff of some hit he heard and show how he turned it into a hit of his own. I so enjoyed his show because I too rememberd those hits and the songs that inspired them.

In the dark behind the stage, an older couple danced hand in hand while everyone else watched John, entranced. I stood at the corner of the stage and took photos. I felt self conscious because I could hear the click of my Leica shutter, quiet as it is, but I know from experience no one else in the audience heard it. When there's only one performer and a respectful crowd, the quiet parts are really quiet.

Ernie's show was much higher energy, something I'd have seen back at the Shaboo or the Rusty Nail back in the 1970s (Both clubs burned down about 1982) I've done a lot of music like that over the years, too.

Here are some images from the show

Thursday, November 8, 2007

News flash!

Amazon picked Look Me in the Eye as one of the best books of 2007! Click here to check it out.

Thanks, Amazon!


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

My next book, and Making Records from Phil Ramone, and a TV interview

I’ve read that it’s bad luck for a writer to tell people about the book he’s writing at that moment. I’m not sure why that might be; it’s often impossible to figure out the origin of arcane superstitions like that. I’m not a big believer in superstition, though I have made some harmless concessions to the idea. For example, I no longer carry my bull whip, I do not seek out fresh cat, nor will I eat cat if it’s offered to me. And I do exercise greater care when crossing streets, especially on Sundays.

In any case, at this moment, I do not need to be concerned because I am not telling you about my next book. Rather, I am asking YOUR opinion. So if anyone should be superstitious here, it is you.

I’ve talked before how the response to Look Me in the Eye was (and is) far beyond anything I expected. And it’s clear that readers want more. I’ll certainly write more, but what’s important in the next book? This is the chance for you to be heard.

I’ve been asked if I’ll write more funny stories. I suppose I will. I’ll be offering more insights into Asperger’s too. What are some of your specific suggestions and wishes? What do you wish there was “more of” in Look Me in the Eye? Now that you’ve read it, what would you want to read next? What questions remain unanswered?

Do you wonder what happened to the Montagoonians? . . . Where Cubby is now? . . . If Unit 3 really did get abducted by aliens?

Or do you just want to read my secret tricks for holding a conversation or catching trout with bread crumbs and a stick?

It’s going to take a while to write the next book, so the time to speak up is now. And on the topic of “it’s going to take a while” . . . .

It was eleven months ago today that my agent, Christopher Schelling, read the manuscript for Look Me in the Eye. In those eleven months, we showed the book to publishers, gave it to Crown, Rachel Klayman and I completed the edits and rewrites, we got it produced, and it became a bestseller.

It seemed slow when it was happening but it sure seems fast, looking back.

* * * * *

This weekend I read an interesting book – Making Records, by Phil Ramone.

Phil is a very talented producer who’s made countless records over the past 50 years.

The book was interesting to me because I too love music production, and most of all because the writing is very Aspergian. What makes me say that, you ask?

First of all, Making Records is essentially a book about machines and processes. It’s about the mechanical aspects of making records. How to set the studio up, selecting equipment, placing people . . . all the things a producer must do.

I can see that he toned down the technical details, but despite that, much of his book remains very technical, and there is little of no emotion in the story. As I said . . . classic Aspergian writing.

He’s presented making records in much the same way that I presented the stories of my time in the music world in Look Me in the Eye, but he did far more, for far longer.

But the emotion, the feelings . . . 300 pages and there is not one page of wife, son, or any “from the heart” stories. Some people would write about how they and those close to them felt about the work he did, but it’s not in this book. Very Aspergian indeed.

And yet it’s clear that Phil loves the music, and the people he’s made it with. He’s done so much, and for all he’s accomplished, the story is humbly told. He’s truly one of the greats in music production.

One thing that I found particularly fascinating was the way in which he seems to have an instinct for providing what other people need. He talks about “listening to the musicians,” and many other small things he did to find what his clients or bosses needed. Once he know what people wanted, he set about to provide it. Simple as that sounds, few people see and live it. I think that instinct is one of the keys to his success. Dr. Kathy Dyer, who teaches with my book in the Elms College autism program, remarked on seeing the same instinct in me. Both Phil and I portray that in similar ways through our writing, and it’s rare.

I can’t tell if Phil has a touch of Asperger’s, or the fellow who co-wrote the book, or both. But whichever it is, I’m proud to welcome them to the community! I hope a few more of my Aspergian blog readers will pick up Phil’s story and tell me what they (you) think . . . .

Making Records is a very technical story. If you loved my music stories, you’ll love this book. I liked it a lot.

* * * *

And in other news . . .

Here’s an interview I did a while back on a Midwest TV show. I've posted it here because folks in the blogosphere enjoyed it and brought it to my attention so I now offer it to you:

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Paragliders over Mount Tom

I try and hike on Sundays to stay in shape. I have not been able to do much of that lately, with all the publicity and touring for Look Me in the Eye. I decided to walk up Mt. Tom because it's steep and very good exercise, and it's nearby.
When I got to the top, I found a crew of enthusiasts getting ready to launch their paragliders. The top images show West Springfield resident Barry Kriger helping John Gallagher launch from the cliff edge. John drove all the way from Boston for this, and they carried the paraglider rigs up the mountain on their backs.
The images below show Stephan Pfammatter launching a few minutes later.

I watched them for almost two hours. During that time, three of them launched and they seemed to hover effortlessly. I had to leave after two hours - the leaves in the yard were waiting. It looked like a lot of fun. For someone else. As I said to Barry, "I would not want to jump from those cliffs, even with a paraglider."
"We don't say jump," Barry corrected me. "We're a little more positive. We say launch."
I don't want to launch either, but I'll happily watch them. Luckily, I had my camera.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Ace Frehley playing one of my KISS guitars

For you KISS fans, here's a picture of Ace Frehley playing my lit guitar on the 1979 Dynasty tour.

This particular guitar started life as a Gibson Les Paul. My friend Jim Boughton cut the face off with a router, and we installed a circuit board and 700 halogen lamps.

The lamps were run by a circuit board embedded in the back, and powered by a Frezzolini battery pack under the tailpiece.

Read more about the KISS guitars and me starting on page 134 of Look Me in the Eye.

My time in the music business was the best.

Childhood pictures and a reading in Lowell

Before I begin, I’ve added something new - a slideshow of my early childhood:

Any of you who wondered what I looked like as a lost kid . . . . it’s all there. And best of all . . . it’s free.

My brother and I appeared together at Umass Lowell last night. Our joint appearances are always different and unique, and this one was no exception.

Our last joint appearance was New York’s Union Square, on September 25. That was a very elaborate setup, with a backdrop, fancy furniture, sound absorbent padding and even TV cameras. Last night’s show was the opposite – it was a minimalist production. We had a great big totally empty stage, thirty-six feet of polished hardwood to pace back and forth. Absolutely nothing obstructed the audience’s view of us as we walked and talked for an hour.

Luckily, our all-weather clothes held up and we were not compromised. The advantage of a big stage and a large hall is that it’s very hard for the audience to hit you with objects. There’s room to move. When I was starting out in the music business, we sometimes played smaller stages, and when we did shows in those “intimate” settings, we sometimes needed protective screens of chicken wire placed between us and the adoring fans.

My brother had not been to Lowell before, even though we live less than 90 miles away. As I pointed out, Lowell is famed as the Gateway To Billerica, which is itself renowned for three things:

1) Outlaw bikers who rode to my music shows in Boston in the 1970s,
2) The Operation Center for the Springfield Terminal Railway,
3) And most of all – the Copart Salvage Auction, where insurance companies from all over New England bring wrecks to be sold to junkyards, recyclers, and the occasional edgy used car dealer who’ll make one car out of three.

Seeing a talkative crowd, we moved quickly to take questions and comments from the audience. One person asked about descriptive phrases in literature. She cited this example, which I paraphrase roughly:

Hearing a gunshot in the night, he cast off the sheet so he could hear with his whole body.

My brother agreed that was a very descriptive and wonderful phrase. Not me. I thought the writer was imaginative, but ignorant of the hard reality of armed marauders.

I said, That was obviously written by someone who has never come under fire at night. I would throw off the sheet and reach under the bed, for the shotgun.

That just shows that not all writers think alike. Some will listen closely, and others will shoot back. A few will use high powered lasers, and some would dismiss the whole thing as a bad acid trip.

We had a few moms in the audience with Aspergian kids. I was pleased to pass on the name of the Asperger’s Association – I certainly hope we proved inspirational to them.

We had some teachers in the audience too, which we sort of expected, being in a college auditorium. Seeing that, a question flashed into my mind: In a crowd of teachers and students, where both are asking questions . . . . are the questions from the teachers smarter or more insightful? Should they be?

I don’t know. How do you tell them apart? It’s very hard from 100 feet. I’m going to pay close attention to this at future school events.

At the end of each event we (or I) sit at a table to sign books and meet readers. Last night’s line was an hour long, over 100 people. I wish we could go faster. That’s a lot of books to sign. I commend all who endured the line while retaining good humor. There was only one scuffle, which was quelled as soon as it began. My brother and I autographed an eight-year-old, also. Actually, we autographed the eight-year-old’s shirt, while affixed to the eight-year-old.

Here we are signing books. The line behind us is still pretty long. Photo by Rick Colson

Our attendees get younger every day. And if I may just have a word about that . . . any aspiring author would be wise to cultivate the eight-year-old crowd, as we are obviously successfully doing. Why? Because they will be reading (statistically speaking) longer than my brother or me will be writing.

In contrast, my brother and I will probably outlast the seventy-year-old readers. Don’t get me wrong . . . they’re welcome to attend our events, but we encourage them to bring grandchildren.

Professionals call that strategy Reader Development.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Peace and quiet in the woods, lawn care, and books

Quite a few readers agreed with my last post, about the woods and nature being calming. I have always felt that way. The simple sounds of the outdoors – the wind, the crickets, the gurgle of a stream – all are very peaceful and soothing to me. And to other folks too, it seems.

Why do you think nature is soothing? I have part of the answer, I think . . . the sights and sounds we find soothing all rise and fall very gradually. Wind rustling the trees is a smooth, gentle sound. We jump in alarm is a branch snaps with a sharp “crack” but the wind itself is peaceful because it rises and falls slowly.

The same is true of stream sounds, and even the gradual rising of the sun and moon outdoors. All are peaceful because they happen slowly and smoothly.

The sound of crickets is peaceful because it’s a constant drone. We’d be startled if the noise stopped suddenly.

Humans have evolved over tens of thousands of years alongside those sights, sounds, and smells. They are natural and comfortable to us. Sounds of metal, the clangs and bangs of our industrial world - those are not what we evolved with, and they are often unsettling.

That sounds reasonable, no? But why then is music soothing? It 's not something we evolved hearing. There is no natural sound like a guitar or a trumpet. That's an interesting question.

Why else might we find nature peaceful?

Moving away from peace and quiet, let us consider for a moment the dynamics of mechanized lawn care and the removal of dead leaves, a task many of us face every fall. . . .

The story of machine-based leaf removal starts with the small gas engine, the power plant that drives it all. One can say many things about these machines, but today’s salient fact is this: most small engines (and large ones too, for that matter) spin in a clockwise direction when viewed from the front or top.

When mounted on a riding lawn mower, the engine will therefore usually spin the mower blades in a clockwise direction, as seen from above. If the mower exhausts the cuttings on the side, it typically discharges to the right because clockwise spinning blades will exhaust clippings right and back or left and forward, and you don’t normally want your clippings sprayed forward.

So right and back is, like, one of the secret rules of lawnmower design. Count on an Aspergian to have knowledge like this close at hand.

Knowing this essential fact, we can develop a yard cleanup strategy. Read on to see how I made use of this essential fact of riding mowers.

On my property, my house is surrounded by lawn, which is in turn surrounded by woods. The job I face every October is the cleanup of almost two acres of leaf covered grass.

I used to clear my leaves by dragging a big gas powered vacuum around the lawn and collecting them in bags which I dumped in the woods. That kept the lawn looking good, but I ended up with piles in places where I heaped the leaves. The piles were unsightly, and the nutrient value of the leaves was lost to the woods. There had to be a better way, I thought.

This year, I began cutting the lawn by riding my mower in counterclockwise circles around the house. The result: cuttings are continually blown to the right, to be recut and tossed again as the tractor spirals out from the house. Whatever is left on the final pass is blown evenly into the woods.

By spiral cutting the leaves are chopped to invisibility and recycled into the lawn, and the remaining debris is blown off the edge on the last pass. There’s no raking or cleanup, and the nutrient value of the leaves finds its way into the lawn, not the woods. And there’s no longer a need for a vacuum.

Pretty slick, eh?

The same trick applies to cutting grass. A counterclockwise spiral cut will leave the least visible debris and recycle the maximum amount of clippings.

Some readers from the city will find that story completely nonsensical. There are significant differences between city dwellers and folks who live in the country. Consider, for example, this list of items that a middle age male would consider essential:

City dweller:
Cashmere overcoat and Gucci loafers
Mercedes S430
Platinum American Express card
One perfectly groomed Shih Tzu

Country dweller:
Carhart coveralls and good weatherproof boots
Ford F350 pickup
Remington pump shotgun
Four beagles under the porch

It’s pretty clear from those lists which males will find a use for the John Deere riding mower, and who will find my spiral cut advice useful. My apologies for boring the rest of you.

Before I go, I’ll share a list of books I read and enjoyed last week. Some of you may find the list amusing; others with similar books in their possession may see a marketing opportunity:

The Forgotten Five Hundred – a story about the dramatic rescue of downed American bomber crews from WWII Yugoslavia

The Earthmover Encyclopedia – an enthusiast’s guide to heavy equipment of the world

Gonzo – the life of Hunter S Thompson

Soul Catcher – a story about a fugitive slave catcher in the years before the war

And right now, I am reading:

America’s Fighting Admirals, a story of WWII leadership and strategy

And if you're in the Pioneer Valley . . . . come see me this Thursday at 7 at the Suffield Library. If you're in greater Boston, I'll be at Umass Lowell with my brother, Friday at 7:30.

The Lowell event is part of the Concord Festival of Authors, which is going on all week. The full schedule is here:

My brother and I will be at Comley-Lane Theater, Mahoney Hall, UMass Lowell. That's at 870 Broadyway.

If you're somewhere else, you'll just have to wait a bit. Check the schedule, over on the right.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Audience questions, and the Treatment Online Interview

I did an interview with the folks at the Treatment Online website. It's online here:

And in other news . . . .

Last night I spoke at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont. We had a good crowd, 75 people or so, and two questions from the audience stood out. I'd like to repeat them here:

A fellow in the front asked, "Are there places in the world where Aspergians are treated better?"

As it happens, there is such a place: Australia. For some reason, the Australians have a very high level of awareness when it comes to Asperger's and autism issues. It's probably no coincidence that Tony Attwood, one of the leading "Asperger doctors" is from down there.

Here's a summary of one of the radio programs I've done on ABC Australia:

What can we learn from the Australians? Can their teachers and mental health people show us something?

And the second question was, "My Aspergian grandson comes to our farm and he seems a lot better when he's outdoors as opposed to being in the city. What do you think about that?"

I think the same thing is true for me. I find the constant background noise, the lights, the people, the smells of a city distracting and stressful. I do find it relaxing to be in nature where it's simple . . . just trees and grass, simple sounds (water, wind, rain), old familiar smells (dirt, plants) . . . I love being outside and I think it is very theraputic for folks like me.

So I have a question for my Aspergian and autistic readers . . . do you find it peaceful to be in nature? and the reverse . . . do you find cities stressful?

The more people I meet on my book tour, the more I see that things I thought were peculiar to me are actually typical of Aspergians as a group. Neat.

I really want to thank all of you who come to see me at these readings. As much as you come to see me, I go to see you, to hear your stories and listen to your insights. Thank you all for coming.

. . . . And there's more . . . .

While we're handing out links like online candy, here's an interview I did for Public Radio here in New England:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Appearance tonight, the Dutch edition of Look Me in the Eye, public radio and more

Come see me tonight at Northshire Books in Manchester, Vermont! 7PM reading and signing, and the spectacle will be the finest to be found, in all of Vermont.

I answer quite a few questions on the blog, but some things are better said verbally. That's why I'll be on Public Radio at 9AM Eastern Time on Tuesday, October 30. I'll be on Wisconsin Public Radio with Joy Cardin. You can find her online here:

Listen live on the web here: and call 1-800-642-1234 with your questions.

And in foreign news . . .

I’m pleased to announce that we’ll have a Dutch edition of Look Me in the Eye for summer 2008. It’s coming from Arena,

Here’s a quote from my Dutch editor . . . .

"It's no secret that I fell in love with this book several months ago! This book is very special in so many ways: John's voice is unique, as well as his descriptions of his youth, his brother (the Varmint), his career with Kiss, Unit Two of course, and how he copes with Asperger's. LOOK ME IN THE EYE was an eye opener for me, and it still is. We are . . . delighted to add John Elder Robison to our list, where we will publish his book as one of our main titles for Summer 2008.

There have been quite a few novels about Asperger's recently, but what makes this book special is the fact that it is NOT fiction, but an inspiring book which makes you laugh and cry at the same time. As I wrote in my original letter: a very impressive book!"

Shortly after getting the news about the Dutch edition, I learned that we've also got a Brazilian publisher, for a spring 2009 release. More on that later, from Larousse Do Brasil.

Radio and relativity

Last night I did a live radio show in Tasmania, about as far as it’s possible to get (on Earth) from Massachusetts. My book has been Random House Australia’s top selling non fiction title for a month now, since it went on sale Down Under.

I’ve done most of my interviews on ABC radio, the Australian Broadcasting Company. They have stations scattered over the huge expanse of Australia, and they reach over the water too. After doing Australian shows I’ve gotten email from listeners in India, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, and the Pacific Islands.

Last night’s show took calls from listeners, which was kind of neat. I talked to people in Hobart, Tasmania (the bottom of Tasmania, which is under the Australian continent) as if they were right across town.

The only thing that gave the distance away to me – and I doubt if the radio audience noticed – was the 2/10 second lag between each of us speaking. You see, light (and radio waves) travels about 186,000 miles per second. The Australian caller’s words went across Tasmania on land lines, then up a radio link to a satellite, which passed the signal to another satellite and another until an earth station here in New England picked the signal out of space and put it back into a land line to me. That signal traveled 15,000 miles to get here, and my answer traveled the same distance to get back.

It makes for small but perceptible pauses in conversation. Otherwise, talking to an Australian is about the same as talking to the Guys from The Floyd, or a Ludlovian or a Montagoonian, back home. Read the book if you don’t know what those are.

It’s kind of neat, realizing that your conversation is taking place over such a vast distance that you can actually HEAR the speed of light/speed of radio waves.

Meanwhile, back in the USA, Look Me in the Eye continues to be a bestseller, and we keep adding media appearances and speaking engagements. I’ll be at Northshire Books in Manchester, Vermont tomorrow evening, and I’ll be staying at the Equinox.

When my son was little, I used to take him to the Equinox. I showed him the door where Gorko, a Flying Lizard, entered and exited our world from the Great Service Road. Outside behind the Equinox there is a pipe that goes deep underground. Cubby and I would listen at the pipe, alert for sounds of Dragons far below.

We also ate Sunday brunch there. They have a good brunch.

Next Thursday, I’ll be at the Suffield Library, in Suffield, CT. Cubby and I never went there when he was small. We never made it past the Conrail train yard, ten miles north. He’s seventeen now, but he still remembers driving a freight train when he was five.

The bear was nowhere to be seen this morning. I presume he’s found a better home, across the street in Amherst Woods. One of the bloggers who wrote me last night actually LIVES in Amherst Woods, to my surprise. We’ll have to see if she reports any bear sightings today.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


A few weeks ago I wrote about a bear that visited the yard. He wandered off, and we didn’t get to speak.

Yesterday when I drove into the street to go to work, I was stopped by a large black bear sitting in the middle of the road, posed like a piece of Native American sculpture. I stopped about six feet from him and he slowly got to his feet and wandered up to check out the Land Rover. I moved forward to meet him nose to nose, and he backed up and bounded into the woods across the street.

Today, I got up at dawn and fired up the little John Deere yard tractor to remove the leaves that are falling. As I rounded the corner of the house, I encountered ANOTHER large bear. The day before, I had the advantage as the Land Rover was considerably larger than the bear. Today, the bear and the tractor appeared evenly matched.

I decided to speak with the bear and I went inside to get the shotgun. I believe in being non-violent, but there is no substitute for slugs when sweet nothings whispered in the bear’s ear don’t work. Especially if the bear is hungry or hung over or just plain mean.

Emerging from the house, I found the bear standing just where I’d left him. He looked at me with a steady gaze as I approached.

Bear, I said, this is not the place for you.

My birds are tame, and my dog is not breakfast.

Just over that hill, I said – pointing toward the west – there is a development called Amherst Woods, full of houses with tasty things to eat. Go do your raiding there. They are not armed or dangerous.

The bear considered my advice for a moment, and headed west. I finished removing the leaves and went to work.

When I was younger, I worked our farm tractor in the Georgia swamps with a shotgun in a scabbard on the hood. We had mostly snakes and angry gators down there, when you'd clear swampland. I hadn’t thought a shotgun was a necessary tractor accoutrement in New England, but with Global Warming, who knows?

When I returned home after work, there was no sign of the bear. I removed the leaves again, and reminded my subjects to be sure the doors to the house remained shut.

Out east, near Boston, there’s a restaurant called Legal Seafoods. It’s one of my favorite places. They have a dessert made from ice cream balls with a crunchy chocolate shell. I like them a lot.

Coincidentally, I hear the big Polar Bears up north say the opposite thing about igloos . . . a cold crunchy outside, with a warm chewy center.