Growing a novel

If you care about what you do and work hard at it, there isn’t anything you can’t do if you want to. Jim Henson

There are many versions of this phrase, and it’s almost accepted as an axiom. I constantly meet people that tell me I can get a job, and not just any job, but the job I really want, if I really want it. I can just quit my old job and get the right one if I choose. You know, sky is the limit and all that crap. This fascinates and irritates me at the same time.

It irritates me because it isn’t true. I’m a 50 year old man with NLD, which has given me many opportunities to test that assumption. It was true to a certain extent in school. Working hard on your studies is always a sound investment, but I found that no matter how hard I worked, I fell behind. Working hard just reduced the gap. I have always been a hardworking employee, but your status appears to be determined more by human interaction, or workplace politics, than the actual job you do. So knowing your worth is a very complicated issue.

Reading blogs and books leaves me a little puzzled, and with a huge question. How do I create a winner? When I look at some of the products that have become successful I wonder why. You can’t look at previous successes and follow the same recipe. Christina Baker Kline had published four novels that received good reviews without becoming bestsellers, so many didn’t expect Orphan Train to do much better. They were wrong because it sold 3,5 million printed copies, was translated to 40 languages, and spent more than 2 years on New York Times and USA Today bestseller list. The Norwegian author Lars Mytting may have published the ultimate unlikely success, Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way. Are you fascinated? The non-fiction book became a bestseller in Norway and Sweden, and was actually translated into English.

When you look at successes there is often a history of failure in their past. J.K. Rowling viewed herself as a failure before she published Harry Potter, which is understandable. She was divorced, out of a job, penniless, and had a child that needed her. Success couldn’t have come at a better time. Stephen King’s Carrie was supposedly rejected loads of times before it finally was published.

I haven’t read many blogs lately. I haven’t read much at all. The idea was to challenge myself to read 50 books this year, but after almost two months of the year I have only read two books. I prefer listening at the moment, so I have been listening to podcasts. It’s not that easy finding them because there is a lot of crap available on iTunes and Spotify, but I have found some good ones.

I am surprised at some of the quite successful ones. I ask myself what it was about them that made people want to listen, and just like with books there doesn’t seem to be a recipe for how to do it. I don’t buy the assumption that hard work and talent will get you anywhere, and if you don’t get to where to want to go, it’s not necessarily because you were not willing to do the work. The truth is that you can’t do it on your own.

I have a passion for writing. I am compelled to write, which makes it very personal. There are stories I want to write, but for different reasons I can’t release them at the moment. There are things I need to unravel first, to get out of the way before I can proceed. I have heard about writers that find it hard to call themselves writers. That’s a sentiment I can relate to because being a writer is very personal. I guess it’s a dilemma. I feel the need to write, and I can only write truth, but that leaves me exposed, like an easy target. I suspect that I am not the only one with fear, uncertainty and self-doubt, and I am not even published yet.

I hope to be, though. I am working on that, and like with myself that is a work in progress. I have several projects I really believe in, but that may not be enough. It may not be enough to meet people either; I have to meet the right people. Timing has to be right, and it may not the right time in my life now. Maybe something needs to happen in reality before I can write the stories that will intrigue readers. It may be too hard for me to focus now because there are a number of uncertainties.

I am a hard worker and I certainly care about what I do. I hope Jim Henson was correct, but I have a feeling that Neil deGrasse Tyson was closer to the truth: “Curious that we spend more time congratulating people who have succeeded than encouraging people who have not.” That’s the way I feel about neurodiversity. No one is going to leave the ladder down for me, but with the help from the people in my life I hope to grow into a novel.

This blog hasn’t grown into something people want to read yet, but it is my goal that it will. The same goes for my book projects. Failure or rejection is a part of the process, and when something doesn’t work, the author needs to find a cleverer way to solve it. That’s just a part of the work and hopefully it’ll lead somewhere. I don’t know where in my case. The main point is that I love what I do, and at the moment I’m not upset about being where I am. I’d like to think I could follow the same path the science fiction writer Ren Warom did. Many of us were glad that she shared her thoughts as they were helpful to others, but I am also glad that she is able to focus on creative writing now. Visit her blog.

Incidentally, making money would of course be nice, but being published is success.

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The forgotten diagnose

The view from a hill I enjoy walking to showing a part of my town. White matter is the network of roads between the houses/grey matter.
The view from a hill I enjoy walking to showing a part of my town. White matter is the network of roads between the houses/grey matter.

Getting a diagnose is not enough. It should be evident enough that getting the right one is important. There are studies, for example from State Michigan University and Krieger Institute, concluding that misdiagnosing happens, which could explain why some diagnoses seem to be epidemic. Marcia Rubinstein, founder of the Nonverbal Learning Disability Association, was very clear about this when Additudemag talked to her: “Virtually every child I’ve seen with NLD was first diagnosed with ADHD.” That doesn’t mean they don’t have ADHD, because it’s possible to have both, but what many see as an ADHD epidemic may not be as dramatic as they think.

A child that finds it hard to sit still, focus, or constantly bump into people doesn’t necessarily have to be hyperactive, and if the causes are allergies, problems with coordination, balance,visuospatial relationships, Ritalin or similar drugs are not going to make any difference. Some have both ADHD and NLD or Asberger, and again Ritalin may not be a miracle cure that makes other intervention unnecessary. It is already possible to look for physical evidence, and I hope researchers will agree on the criteria soon. The present situation where a diagnose is reached based on interviews and personal hypothesis could give inaccurate conclusions. Imagine asking a child what it’s doing on it’s spare time. You may not get a complete answer, and in some situations how you ask is just as important as what you ask. I try to avoid it now that I know about it, but I have noticed that I have a tendency to only answer what the doctor, or other health care professionals, asked. Sometimes I give them the information I think is relevant, so there is plenty of room for misunderstandings.

It’s the diagnostic criteria, or lack of criteria, that has created this confusion, and it’s not unlikely that some kids will have had all three diagnoses by the time the long period of testing is over (in Norway it’s done by the Child and adolescent psychiatry, which is a part of the public hospital). They may be re-evaluated several times during childhood and end up with a permanent diagnose, not necessarily the correct one. It’s not clear what is behind the NLD symptoms, but there is no doubt that the difficulties are brain-based. There are several hypothesis, but the most prevalent the last couple of decades is a white matter deficiency in the brain. I read a popularized explanation of the brain once that compared grey matter to houses and white matter to the roads or transport system. What white matter transports in the brain is information. There is more, or supposed to be more white matter in the right hemisphere, so that’s where you’d have the biggest reduction in function.

Young NLDers are usually good at compensating, and hiding their weaknesses. That is harder as they grow older, not the least because school work becomes more abstract, which is a challenge. With puberty there could also be additional difficulties like anxiety and mood swings. It could be hard to function socially because a lot of the communication is non-verbal. All of this affects our relation to other people, and our ability to get and keep a job.

Going through your childhood without a diagnose, or the wrong one, could have serious consequences. Jodene Fine at State Michigan University said more than four years ago that her team had found the first anatomical evidence that the brain of a child with NLD develops differently compared to other children. I thought that was going to be the start of something, but it got quiet. Very quiet. I hope researchers will soon take another step forward, because it sometimes feel like Pia Savage was right. She used to write about NLD for Psychology Today, and one of her posts from 2011 was entitled “The disorder that gets no respect.”

Why NLD is so often mistaken for ADHD

The unrestricted section

Photo of my TV while I listen to Grammar Girl's podcast. My smart phone and TV is a source of a lot of free/low cost entertainment and education.
My smart phone and TV is a source of a lot of free/low cost entertainment and education.

I recently discovered podcasts, or rather rediscovered what is essentially talk radio. I listened to podcasts from about 2005, but they were a little harder to find then. Like blogging MSM left it to amateurs and activists for a long time, but when they lost readers, listeners, and viewers to blogs, You tube, and podcasts, they decided to join the revolution. I think it’s safe to say that we still need alternative media, though. Without it there wouldn’t be enough diversity.

My country has made a lot of dim-witted decisions, and closing down the FM-system was definitely not a smart one. Some local, independent radio stations will get a little more time to adapt, but FM is for the most part gone from Norway. That means that everyone needs to buy a DAB radio, but the big, national stations have suffered. Their ratings are down because DAB has not turned out to be reliable at all. There are dead zones and bad reception, which is exactly the opposite of what people were promised. I guess the authorities didn’t realize that we have alternatives, such as podcasts shared on for example iTunes, Spotify or Soundcloud. It means I can choose what to listen to and when to listen, instead of waiting for my show to come on.

I am not a millennial, as I pointed out in The long way around, but there are some things we have in common. I like technology for one thing. I haven’t had a traditional TV subscription for years for example. I watch Netflix and You tube, and listen to iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud, and other sites that publish podcasts. I also buy music and films to download from iTunes, and although the networks are trying to get their customers back by offering the same streaming service Netflix has, it will take some effort to get me back.

I love the independence. Blogging used to be totally independent, but MSM use it as a strategy to win their customers back now. That makes it harder to succeed as an independent, but it is possible as there are lots of issues and concepts MSM wouldn’t touch. That’s what Megan Tan did. She succeeded with her podcast Millennial, which is basically talk radio, and I believe it allowed her to get other jobs as a producer.

I didn’t stop listening to podcasts completely. I have been listening to a few podcasts on and off, such as the Seti podcast, and they don’t actually talk that much about aliens. Their latest episode is about how antibiotic resistant bugs that are bred on farms end up on our dinner plates. MSM is a minefield. There is fake news all over the place, but you cannot turn your common sense off when you listen to alternative media. You really need to be critical, but internet has provided us with the possibility of independence. Information is available for free. We also have the possibility of creating our own jobs, like Megan Tan did. That’s hard of course, but “there’s something there that wasn’t there before.” That’s the point. We have opportunities.

Very slowly going solo

A cup of coffee. I love coffee, but it's also a very corporation sort of drink. It's very grown up. I like my private cup more and more.
I love coffee, but it’s also a very corporation sort of drink. It’s very grown up. I like my private cup more and more.

Who is going to pick up your garbage, work in retail stores, keep malls, rest rooms and restaurants clean, build and maintain the roads? Many don’t want to do these kinds of jobs, but some obviously need to, and the rest of us should still respect them. I feel in some ways connected to the generation that followed me, the millennials, but not completely.

I wrote about Megan Tan in The long way around. I am listening through her podcast Millennial at the moment, and completed episode 16 this morning. She talked about finally getting a job, which had been her goal for a long time, and quitting after less than a year. I like the idea of being self employed after not succeeding on the job market. I did what I thought I was supposed to. I tried my best in high school and college, and when I failed to get a job in something I was qualified for, I tried to get job experience within other fields. Work life never became what I expected it to be, what I wanted it to be, and it’s not because I didn’t do my part. Creating my own job has always been a dream, but life is complicated.

I live in a small country, but there are still thousands of people going bankrupt every year because they didn’t succeed as their own employer. It’s not that easy to do. Opening an independent store is almost impossible if your product isn’t unique. Grocery stores, pizzerias, any kind of take out is hard because there is a lot of competition, and then there are places like Wall Mart where you can get everything from books to garden tools. Being unique has never been harder. Why would a new place be better or more attractive than the well established businesses? I live in a town with 40 000 people and they all go on about what a shame it is that the shops downtown are disappearing. The chains move to the big malls on the outskirt, while independent owners eventually have no choice but to give up. That’s because most people are not sorry. They want the big chains and they want everything in the same building.

I would love to turn writing into a livelihood, but that is very hard. Blogging has become so popular that there’s nothing independent about it anymore. Newspsapers, TV-networks, fashion magazines, or any other corporation use it as a PR-strategy. The most popular “independent” bloggers in Norway are called pink bloggers. They write about/wear fashion and make up, and several of them have landed book deals, but a lot of it is what we call hidden advertisement. They are supposed to label paid content, but frequently don’t, and even if they do I wonder whether people get the message. They are walking ads without a life separated from their product. These bloggers probably haven’t done anything I wouldn’t have done myself if it would give me a life as my own boss. I still can’t deny the fact that I wish someone would open doors for me too, or that I had something that would get everybody’s attention.

I haven’t given up hope. I am working on developing my skills and trying to get a manuscript accepted, but getting the space, time and silence I need isn’t easy. I have responsibilities as a father, and on top of that there is a lot of shit from the outside world to deal with. A major one for us has been that people we disagree with have an inclination to make false accusation against us. Having NLD and raising a biracial child in an authoritarian country is anything but easy.

This is my situation today: I don’t have any kind of professional network where I can get help/advice. I have a wonderful wife, but apart from her there’s no one that actually cares whether I succeed or not, and some hope I won’t. Financially there isn’t room for even small investments, so I am sharing an old computer with my daughter. Don’t ask me how she managed it, but she actually separated the screen from the rest of the laptop without ripping off the cords that power the screen. So now it’s a very stationary computer, and I am thankful every time it’ll boot up. Sharing a computer is risky business. The previous one had a most unfortunate encounter with a water balloon. I dream of a future where my computer is my computer. I covet.

I wish I could ignore everything and go for launch, but that’s not an option. So I’m trying to follow the original plan, which is to open my own doors. I hope to build something I feel good about, and I am pretty comfortable about my blog already. English is not my native language, and I’m not sure I can see myself as a success in a foreign language before my own. I don’t insist on being right of course, but as I have sent scripts to Norwegian publishers that’s where I expect the news to come from.

The long way around

Life has been a journey on a neverending road. I was never sure where I wanted it to take me. Photo: Joseph West via flickr
Life has been a journey on a neverending road. I was never sure where I wanted it to take me. Photo: Joseph West via flickr

I have written about millennials lately, most recently in The old millennial, because in some ways I identity with them. I was born 12 years too soon to be an old millennial, so I’d be a fossil at best.

Writing about it led me to discover Megan Tan and her podcast Millennial, which has been interesting listening to. She talks about how life has been for a millennial in her 20’s, and you’d think I wouldn’t be able to relate at all. I turned 20 in 1988 and that seems like a totally different world now. Just a little reminder. The Olympic Winter Games were held in Calgary, Canada that year, and some of the films released were Big, Beetlejuice and A Fish Called Wanda. The Iran-Iraq war also ended, and Oliver North was indicted by a Grand Jury. OMG! What happened?

That’s the feeling I have had in recent years. I was struggling to get my adult life established and while life gave me a lot of shit I found it hard to enjoy it. I have had major fear of missing out-moments because I haven’t really done much since then. I spent the first year of my 20’s doing mandatory military service. I then struggled to get into college, partly because I didn’t have the grades for it, but also because the population between 19 and 24 years of age peaked for a number of years. So the competition was very stiff. I spent some years not knowing what to do. I tried getting jobs and I went to a trade school for two years, but it was pretty clear that I wasn’t suited for that kind of work.

My parents didn’t have any education, so I was thrilled when I finally entered college at the age of 26. I started believing that I could have some ambitions after all, that I could hope for a better life. I didn’t have a plan or direction before or after college, but when I became a certified teacher I thought I had achieved what my parents didn’t. It turned out it wasn’t quite that simple.

I was a regular teacher, but it turned out that the schools needed special ed teachers. My country had so-called special schools, but they were closed down in 1992. These were schools where puzzling and disruptive pupils were sent. They needed something they couldn’t get in an ordinary classroom. So from 1992 it didn’t matter how severe handicap or social, emotional and behavioral problems the kids had. They had to go to the same school and stay in the same classrooms as everybody else. There were no special education teachers and no support what so ever. I was told I had to deal with it myself, and I really tried my best for 14 years. I wasn’t offered any kind of advice or support, which I didn’t think was fair. I worked at 8 schools in 5 municipalities during those years and it eventually ruined my health.

Like Megan Tan I sometimes look at what people share in social media. I see people traveling to places and doing a lot of fun things. That’s how it looks at least, but I also ask myself how they really feel. I spent my 20’s trying to get an education, my 30’s and most of my 40’s trying and not succeeding in keeping a job. My wife and I have also spent the last 13 years discovering the joys and tribulation of raising a daughter. People have all sorts of strange notions about my abilities as a father because I have NLD. It’s been stressful to put it mildly. It wasn’t the life I had imagined, but it will be worth it if we succeed with our daughter. A big part of the struggle has a lot to do with ethnicity and the fact that we have told people when they are wrong.

All in all I haven’t done badly in life. I have been married to an African-American woman for 17 years in a country where that is hard. That was something I didn’t know about Norway before I experienced it myself. I was shocked to discover how vulnerable minorities and multi-cultural families were in general in the society I had idolized. Megan Tan’s podcast was about something you are not taught, how to maneuver in your 20’s. I know the feeling. I have taken decisions alone, without any input from others, since I was 16, and I have never felt certain. What I have felt the entire time is being in between.

My effort has not been terminated, though. Giving up on life has never been an option. I have needed more time on every stage in life. I entered college later than usual, got married relatively late, became a father quite late, never managed to get a stable career, and I am still trying to buy my first home. I am still hopeful that my loyalty to life will pay off. I believe I will eventually get to do something that will show my potential. I do believe I have one. It’s pretty clear that many others don’t share my optimism, which makes me more motivated to prove them wrong. That’s why my blog is about being more than NLD. I just needed to take a long and slow detour.

Megan Tan published her last episode 5-6 months ago, but I highly recommend listening to the podcast. The whole shabang is available on millennialpodcast.org, Soundcloud, as well as on Spotify and iTunes.

The old millennial

Most people tend to think of something as either positive or negative. It has to be one of them, and it can’t the latter. Being positive is always the desired place to be. It’s a reflex, an automatic response that kicks in before we have time to think. We have to expel all negativity, but maybe that’s exactly what we shouldn’t do?

I recently read about the Swedish psychologist and philosopher Ida Hallgren. Media wrote about her after she held a course about negative thinking in Gothenburg (I didn’t think we Northerners needed to learn that). It’s not that she wants people to be negative, but in a world that tries to ignore taboos, positive thinking isn’t always helpful. Death is still a taboo to many people for example, which could be a problem if you are dying and need to talk about it. Imagine a group of people or a society that faces a threat. Everybody runs in the same direction, either because they have been told to do so or because everybody else is. It might help to stop and reflect on the real versus the perceived risk. Negativity is about relating to the world around you, considering warning signs, and making a better decision.

One of the readers of my Norwegian blog recently asked me for some reading suggestions on adults with NLD, and especially how these challenges develop as we grow older. That’s the problem, I don’t know about any books or any online resources that would benefit middle aged people trying to function in a world that doesn’t understand or respect them. I hope I can make a little contribution at least. There’s a lot of books about children, many of them paint a rather gloomy picture of their future, while the rest of us have to try and make sense of the world and ourselves alone.

I tried to explain the feeling of not being anywhere in An in-betweener. I was born into generation x, but although the first millennials were born 12 years later, I feel that I have more in common with them. I know the feeling of not understanding what I want with my life, or how to get where I want to be. I struggled hard to find a direction, to come up with a plan, but I never succeeded and a few months before I turn 50, I sort of ask myself what happened, what I was supposed to do differently. I used to follow a blogger that wrote about FOBO and FOMO once, fear of being ordinary and fear of missing out. Those are important, but maybe it means more to be recognized as a person with skills?

That’s human and not limited to gen y, but I think everyone wants people around them (family, friends, colleagues) to see them at their best. That’s where negative thinking comes in. As an NLD’er I make many mistakes, which can partly be explained by the large gap I have between verbal and performance IQ. I have no practical skills at all, I am clumsy, socially awkward, and although I have some skills, they don’t seem to be skills an employer would be willing to pay for. In other words, it’s been hard to show my worth. People tend to focus on what you do, and if you don’t do something others find interesting you could be left feeling inferior. I have different strategies for functioning and I believe it helps to analyze my thoughts and feelings. Sometimes feeling sad or frightened is the appropriate response.

I have experienced quite a bit of injustice, and to ignore the negative emotions would be to accept responsibility for everything, including other people’s obvious wrongdoing. Positive thinking has some benefits, though. It helps me to take some leaps. I do things occasionally that makes me sad or anxious. That’s because it’s the unknown, and I like a situation when I know the outcome. Sometimes I have to ignore the darkness within, and the bonus is a new experience. It doesn’t always feel good, but it helps.

Incidentally, there are already a group called old millennials. These are the earliest, born in the first half of the 80’s. I guess I am a dinosaur missing out on my own generation and the one I feel closest too.

An in-betweener

blue butterfly. The butterfly effect explains chaos. A butterfly flapping its wings in the USA can under the right circumstances create a hurricane on the other side of the planet. Photo: Pixabay
The butterfly effect explains chaos. A butterfly flapping its wings in the USA can under the right circumstances create a hurricane on the other side of the planet. Photo: Pixabay

English-speakers may be more used to the idiom “between a rock and a hard place”, while I haved grown up hearing “between the bark and the wood”. If I use it on my own situation I could just as well call myself an in-betweener. I was born in 1968, which made me a part of generation X, but I feel more generation Y.

Yes, it’s shocking. I actually feel like a millennial, although I was born 12 years too early. I don’t really belong anywhere. I applied for universities when I completed my military service in 1989, but I wasn’t admitted and it felt like I was in a queue moving farther and farther back. That’s because there was a larger proportion going to college/university, at the same time as there was a higher number of 19-24 year olds than ever before. So the competition in both schools and the job market was higher. That makes it especially important to never stop moving, because if you miss one junction you are likely to be left behind. I have never felt that things were handed to me. I have worked hard in all jobs I’ve had, and when I eventually entered college I had to work harder than anyone else. It didn’t get me anywhere, though.

Much like a millennial I didn’t know what I wanted with my life. I studied for 5,5 years and ended up as a teacher, but I never had a plan I followed. I loved studying. That was a structured life that made sense to me. I had deadlines, responsibility to myself and to other students during projects. I knew that if I turned in assignments on time and showed up for exams, there wouldn’t be any nasty surprises. I didn’t just have undiagnosed NLD. I probably have learning difficulties as well because no matter how much I enjoy studying, it has always been hard. I have seen students ever since high school that came to an exam with a hangover, and without having spent much time studying that semester. They were still A-students. I was the completely opposite. I studied for hours every day, never took a day off, but I was an average student at best.

There is a word in my language meaning intermediate generation. I guess it’s the same as middle aged because it refers to people in their 40’s and 50’s. It’s people that are neither young or old. It feels like I have been there since I was discharged from the military in 1989. I went to a trade school when I didn’t get into college and I was the oldest pupil there. I went to three colleges between 1994 and 2000 and I was older than most of the students at all of them. I was also older than the competition when I applied for jobs, and I had problems convincing employers to choose me. I became a father at the age of 37, which also made me older than the other parents we have contact with, and if I ever get to buy a house I will be an old first time buyer.

It feels like NLD is millennial. We have a wide gap between verbal IQ and performance IQ, which can give us a feeling of being smart and stupid at the same time. Jennifer Byrne called it having two separate intelligence levels. I’ve never felt brilliant, but I never feel better than when I write. I have tried many different types of jobs, but everything was wrong. I hate it when I feel stupid, which happens a lot because there seems to be so many things I don’t do well. It would have been nice to sometimes be considered as someone with skills. Writing makes me feel that I have accomplished something.

I have done alright all things considered, but I haven’t exactly been the person I want others to see. When I went to elementary school, junior high, senior high school, college, or when I was in the military and later when I started working, people mostly saw what I didn’t do well. My last hope is chaos, which is a scientific term for the non-linear, the unpredictable. I hope I can surprise people in a positive way. I don’t have a need to create big waves. I just want to show that I am more than most people have seen.