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Pot or Not?
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medications-257344_1920After I conducted my research on the various medications used to treat (or not treat) autism, I asked our Regional Center case manager for her opinion.

We were sitting at my kitchen table, having our annual meeting to discuss my daughter’s progress. She seemed shocked I was even asking about medication. “No way,” she said.

I pointed to all the patches on my walls. Next to a few holes that Katie had recently made.

She shrugged. “It has to be way worse than that to even consider going there.”

“But….”

“I’m telling you. Way, way worse.”

At that point, I gave up on the idea of medication. Mom continued to press.

Then I received an email from a teacher at Open Mind School. She wondered if I had ever considered cannabis. It had been shown to decrease anxiety, which Katie struggled with, and was theorized to assist with regulation. In other words, the drug targeted the two root causes of Katie’s problematic behaviors. Did I want to try it? A marijuana manufacturer was looking for participants for a study.

One of the reasons I’ve resisted medication, even when the school district pushed it, is because Katie comes from a highly addictive birth family. Any drug could, over time, turn her into an addict, and I didn’t want that. Nor would Robin and Jason, Katie’s birth parents. And frankly, it hadn’t been necessary when an appropriate sensory diet was in place. But puberty had raised the stakes. Katie was bigger now, and although her meltdowns were few, they tended to be intense.

Really intense.

Cannabis has far fewer side effects than mood-altering anti-psychotics. But it does have some, and one of them is addiction. Did I want to  take the risk? Was the pay off worth it?

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Since firing the Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) provider, I’d noticed an improvement in Katie’s behavior. But was that enough?

I asked my boyfriend Christopher, who in turn asked his cousin, the parent of a young adult with autism. Both thought it was worth trying. I asked Mom, who surprisingly thought a study monitored by Open Mind School would be acceptable. Others, however, were not so sure.

Katie’s behavior continued to improve while I debated: pot or not? I couldn’t decide.

At Katie’s Spring parent-teacher conference, I brought up the issue of cannabis with Daniel, the school behaviorist. He told me he had noted a marked improvement in Katie’s anxiety levels, regulation, and behavior since January. “Did something change?”

I thought a moment. “We lost Melissa in February and transitioned to Emma. Oh, and I fired the ABA team.”

“In January?” I nodded. “It made a difference,” he said. “A big one.”

“Apparently she doesn’t like ABA,” I said with a laugh. “Or being treated like a toddler.”

“Probably both,” Daniel said. “I don’t think we need to try cannabis. Let her figure it out for herself.”

“Really?”

“I think she’s doing great without it.”

I studied him, and he said, “I do. Let’s wait. We can always try it later if I’m wrong or something changes.”

My gut said he’s right. It’s too soon. Pot is addictive. Let’s trust the process and see what unfolds.

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TRUST. It was all about trust in 2018.

But so far, my trust had paid off.

I took a deep breath and nodded. We’d see what happened. Cannabis could wait.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Medicate or Not?
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road-sign-63983_1920Somehow in my long journey dealing with autism, I became comfortable with the concept of treating my daughter like a guinea pig of sorts. Comfortable might not be the correct word. I’ve accepted that neither Katie nor I have any other choice. That is the reality of autism. If I had waited for a study proving that the Soma Rapid Prompting Method (Soma-RPM) was effective, Katie never would have benefited from this educational approach which has been, frankly, a life changer. A miracle that has given my daughter agency and a voice.

That said, I’m not crazy about this state of affairs. I do my research. Read whatever reports exist. I talk to other autism parents. Then I make the most informed decision I can make. Mostly if it’s not going to hurt her, I’ll try it.

If autism has taught me anything, it’s that there is a lot the medical profession doesn’t know—particularly with respect to autism spectrum disorder and sensory processing disorder.

So when my mother began insisting that I consider medicating Katie, I began doing what I’ve done for years: researching, asking questions, and talking to parents and experts I trust. Gathering what information I could, and then trusting my gut.

When I pushed back, Mom sent me a study on various anti-depressants and other mood-altering drugs. An online search turned up several more. What I read horrified me. The side effects were severe to debilitating: constant hunger, significant weight gain, lethargy, sedation, personality changes, increased anxiety and aggression, seizures (either increased occurrence or triggering the onset of a seizure disorder), inability to focus/concentrate, liver damage, gastric issues, metabolic and hormonal changes, sleep disturbances, and more. WTF!! Why would anyone do this to their child? Oh wait, most of the children and teens in the first study were in foster care and/or group homes. (Clearly ease of handling was the primary concern, but that’s a whole different blog post. And even for this narrow purpose, the drugs didn’t do the job well, if at all.)

Not only did they experiment with the two FDA-approved medications for autism—Abilify (Aripiprazole) and Risperdal (Risperidone)—but a host of others. This pissed me off. Why do that to a nonverbal child who can’t even tell you if it helps?

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I checked a couple of autism blogs. One mom had a frank discussion regarding meds. She tried both of the FDA-approved medications. The first one, Abilify, made her son a zombie and his personality completely changed. Plus his anxiety and aggression increased rather than decreased. So she weaned him off that drug and then tried the other: Risperdal, a “black box” anti-psychotic. Meaning no one knows exactly how it works. It helped. Sort of. Her son gained 30 pounds and was constantly groggy, but his aggression decreased. Didn’t disappear. Just decreased.

Another mom had success with an ADHD drug. But her son actually had ADHD in addition to autism and cerebral palsy, so who knows if this would work for a kid like Katie?

Other parents used anti-depressants, but it’s possible that the children were, in fact, depressed.

By the time I finished reading everything, I needed an anti-depressant. None of it sounded good. In fact, the more I read, the less good it sounded. This wasn’t the way to help Katie. Or was I in denial?

explorer-gear-377x269-300x214Mom insisted I was in denial, but I wasn’t so sure. Yes, Katie was struggling with the hormonal changes that came with puberty. Yes, I was once again dealing with aggression paired now with often crippling anxiety. Yes, Katie was bigger, and therefore, more difficult to control physically.  Even so, medication just seemed like a terrible idea for all kinds of reasons.

I decided to keep researching. This was not the kind of experimentation that I was comfortable inflicting on my child.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Ode to the Livermore Library
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notebook-2247352_1920April is Autism Awareness Month and also National Poetry Month. Plus it contains National Library Week, which happens to be this week. So tonight I’m hosting Audacious April—A Celebration of Autism, Poetry and Libraries at the Livermore Civic Center Library. I’ve invited Matteo Musso, a barely verbal autistic teen and a terrific poet, to join me. Matteo uses the Rapid Prompting Method (like my daughter Katie) to spell out what he wants to say on a letterboard. He’s written three books this way.

But before we get to all the autism goodness, I will present a poem that I wrote in honor of our awesome library. Paul (aka the library guy) can barely contain his excitement. Which put a tremendous amount of pressure on me. Pressure and creativity do not play well together. At least not in my house.

So this poem was a tough one to write. I hope Paul enjoys it.

 

ODE TO THE LIVERMORE LIBRARY 

How many places can take you backward and forward in time,
can transport you to a coffee plantation in Kenya, after hours
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the slopes of Kilimanjaro,
a segregated courtroom in Alabama, a phantom tollbooth,
a Columbian riverboat with the woman for whom you waited
60 years, the Yorkshire moors, or a sod house on the prairie?

Solve a crime in Sweden, hunt a mighty whale, flounder in
a Chippewa love triangle, transcend time and identity on both
sides of the Pacific, endure as a slave, learn magic at Hogwarts,
fly kites in Kabul, live in a mouse-infested trailer in Arches, survive
a tsunami in Sri Lanka, brave artistic expression as a Hasidic Jew,
serve as a red-robed handmaid in the Republic of Gilead.

Flee the Dust Bowl, steal books in Nazi Germany, ride a sand worm across
the deserts of Dune, marry and lose three husbands, rescue a coworker
from cannibals in the Amazon, explore the Ninemile Valley with wolves,
unravel mysteries with Watson, plant Sun Crest peaches in the Central Valley.
Grow up poor or rich; gay, straight or queer; get sick, get well;
experience disability, infertility, catastrophic stroke, or mental illness.

Where else can you explore the farthest reaches of the universe and still
be home in time for dinner? Borrow tools, rent DVDs, access the internet,
take a workshop, learn to read, see art, meet an author or a friend?
Study quantum physics, statistics, sociology, even poetry?
Geography, astronomy, paleontology—it’s all here, and more.
Anything you can imagine, you can experience at the library.

 

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Can you name all the books I mention in the poem? Quiz yourself and let me know your score. The answers are listed below.

Until next time,
Cynthia

 

BOOKS MENTIONED IN THE POEM

Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen
The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg
The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories, by Ernest Hemingway
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
Love Medicine, by Louise Erdrich
A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki
Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup
Harry Potter series, by J. K. Rowling
Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey
Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala
My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
Dune, by Frank Herbert
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
The Ninemile Wolves, by Rick Bass
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Epitaph For a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm, by David M. Masumoto
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls
Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir, by Wendy Burden
Fire Shut Up in My Bones: A Memoir, by Charles M. Blow
The Liars’ Club, by Mary Karr
Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and More, by Janet Mock
A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science & Cancer, by Mary Elizabeth Williams
Just Breathe Normally, by Peggy Shumaker
Autobiography of a Face, by Lucy Grealy and The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy With Autism, by Naoki Higashida
The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood, by Belle Boggs
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean-Dominique Bauby
An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, by Kay Redfield Jamison
A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking

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Once Again We Visit the Library
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Puzzle HeartApril, as many of you know, is Autism Awareness Month and also National Poetry Month. These are both subjects that I am passionate about. So last fall, Paul, the person in charge of adult programming at the Livermore Library, and I planned an autism awareness poetry event.

As the event approached, he emailed to inform me that the date we had selected, April 12th, fell during National Library Week. The current (aka “new”) library was dedicated in 2004, so it proceeded the City’s Poet Laureate Program by one year. He had enjoyed the poem I’d written for the “old” library when it was torn down. Would I consider writing another poem in honor of the “new” library?

I agreed, and never has a grown man (or anyone for that matter) been so excited about a poem that I had not yet written.

Paul began promoting the event as a celebration of National Poetry Month and National Library Week, completely forgetting about the original purpose, which was autism awareness. Even I did not know how to promote the event. How could I tie these seemingly disparate themes together?

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I came up with the name Audacious April, which I loved, but still I struggled to link the three themes. One night on the phone, as I rambled on about my dilemma, Christopher suggested that I consider writing a poem about autism and libraries. Did I ever take Katie to the library?

Yes, I had when she was younger, many times in fact, but it hadn’t gone as well as I’d hoped. I could feel an idea brewing….

And here it is.

ONCE AGAIN, WE VISIT THE LIBRARY

Despite multiple trips, you cannot fathom a library’s purpose.
How to explain how this differs from a bookstore or that
coffeeshop we love with the crayons and overflowing shelves?
More importantly, how do I convey what this place means—
to me, your mother—with its wealth of knowledge and mythology?
As always, you abandon the cross-legged children, gravitate toward
a video kiosk. I long to tell you about the card catalog, with its
narrow wooden drawers, yellowed files, and Dewey Decimal System.
I’d clutch a stubby pencil and transcribe orderly numbers and letters.
It’s all gone.
No manila pockets with strings of multi-colored dates, a strange
calculus of popularity and history. No encyclopedias with glossy photos.
No thesaurus with its tiny tabs. You will never make small talk beneath
macrame plant hangers as the librarian manually checks out your books
or know a world without bar codes and databases. I’m okay with that.
But what if you never learn the importance of ideas, of books,
of self-expression and shared thoughts? What if you never
understand the joy I feel when writing? Or cannot read?
What then?
A library is a place of language and words;
yet you think in pictures, music, and colors.
Each of us an immigrant in the others’ native land. 

 

I think I have solved my problem. Or at least one problem. I still need to write that library poem….

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Am I the only one that misses the card catalog?

Until next time,
Cynthia 

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The FUN List Revised
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Balloons_in_the_skyBack in 2014, when I was figuring out what I wanted to do for Cynthia’s Yearlong 50th Birthday Bash (read about that here), I managed—sadly—to omit fun entirely. Sure, launching a project or doing something new can be fun, but it’s not the same as fun for the sake of fun. My ex-husband, Michael 1.0, used to be good at reminding me to have more fun, but without his influence I tend to forget. (I know, I know. What can I say? It’s sad but true.) Then a friend told me that for her 50th birthday she made a list of activities she wanted to do and asked friends to join her. I loved this idea, and so, the concept of The FUN List was born.

Here were the ground rules: I made a list of things I’d always wanted to do but never gotten around to doing. Or things I hadn’t done in awhile and wanted to do again. If someone thought I’d forgotten something, they had permission to make a suggestion. After all, I was clearly in need of help when it came to fun.

Since I made the list in 2014, here are some of the activities that I did:

  • Drove to Half Moon Bay for fresh seafood and visited “Dog Beach” with Katie and Delta.
  • Visited the Oakland Zoo again.
  • Visited the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.
  • Took Katie to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and rode the wooden rollercoaster. (Katie bailed on the Big Dipper at the last minute, but Nate and I took turns riding it, which brought back so many great memories. It also reminded me that I’m not in my twenties any more!)
  • Returned to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk many times. This is Katie’s “happy place.”
  • Checked out the Exploratorium in its new waterfront location. Twice! (I still love that museum.)
  • Hung out and had dinner with my girlfriend Jennifer in Santa Cruz.
  • Had drinks and dinner at The Last Word in Livermore.
  • Ate an ice cream sandwich from C.R.E.A.M. (Okay, I’ve eaten several.)
  • Had mac and cheese with bacon at The Rock House.
  • Took a road trip to Santa Barbara over Spring Break to visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Art to see a children’s book art exhibit. Explored the Paso Robles wine region as well.
  • Visited my girlfriend Deborah several times in Capitola/Santa Cruz while she worked on a temporary assignment. Katie had so much fun swimming in the pool and watching HGTV with Homer, Deborah’s dog, she thinks I’m lying when I tell her Deborah doesn’t actually live there.
  • Saw a Shakespeare and Associates summer production in the outdoor theater at Wente Vineyards. Cyrano de Bergerac was incredible!
  • Hiked in various East Bay Regional Parks, including Brushy Peak for the first time!
  • Drove to Pescadero for green chili soup, boysenberry pie, and relaxation on a windswept beach.
  • Tried several new (as in, new to me) restaurants: Posada and Roya in Livermore, Kingfish in San Mateo (now sadly closed), Taqueria La Espuela and Cascal in Mountain View, Refuge and Mama Coco in Menlo Park, and Palo Alto Sol.
  • Drank Philz coffee for the first time.
  • Stayed in Truckee for the weekend with the gals I met in my college dorm 35 years ago. (You can read more about that here and here and here).
  • Went to the Oakland Zoo during the holiday season for ZooLights.
  • Visited the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.
  • Explored Japantown in San Francisco.
  • Had a Missouri-themed date which included St. Louis-style ribs at Sauced and the movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Both were excellent!

Not exactly earth shattering, but I’ve made a conscience effort to seek out more fun. Clearly this is still a work in progress for me.

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Which is why, as my birthday approaches, I decided to create a revised FUN List:

  • Attend a poetry slam.
  • Attend StorySlam.
  • Visit the de Young Museum again.
  • Drive to Muir Woods and hike.
  • Visit the Asian Art Museum.
  • Have mac and cheese at Homeroom in Oakland.
  • Visit my friend Jennifer in Albuquerque, NM and read at DimeStories.
  • A fall weekend in Yosemite.
  • Hike in an East Bay Regional Park (Morgan Territory, Sunol, etc) once per month.
  • Visit Sedona, AZ and Santa Fe, NM again.
  • Wine tasting in Livermore with friends.
  • Attend Friday Night at the de Young. (I missed the tango exhibition, but there are others.)
  • Take Katie camping at Camp Shelley in South Lake Tahoe and make s’mores.
  • Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium with Katie and Chris (his first time!).
  • Visit New York City for more than a day.
  • See the monarch butterflies in Pacific Grove (November through January).
  • Take a road trip to Portland, OR.
  • See the Columbia River Gorge and Multnomah Falls.
  • Visit the Rosie the Riveter Museum in Richmond.
  • Go to a yoga retreat.
  • Take a poetry workshop.
  • Visit Catalina Island.
  • Spend a weekend (or a week) in Palm Springs.
  • Visit the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park.
  • Stay at the Rancho la Puerta Wellness Center in Tecate, Mexico for a week of R&R.
  • Go white water rafting.
  • Visit Berta and Terry in Boise, ID.
  • Ride mules to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
  • Visit Paris again.
  • Spend a month (or the summer) in the South of France.
  • Visit Greece.

I will be adding to the list over time, so consider this one merely a start. If there is something on the list that looks fun to you, let me know and we’ll do it together!

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Now go create your own FUN List and let’s compare notes.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Letting Go of Practicality
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5f18feb5ac87c43171bf2b63bce201c3One of the coolest things about Christopher, my new boyfriend, is that he never tells me to think smaller or be more—dare I say it—practical. He calmly nods and says, “Yes, you can do that.”

So when I told him about my evening with the shaman, he said, “Yeah, I’ve noticed that you’re very attached to practicality.”

“You have?”

Christopher studied Engineering, Computer Science, English, and History in college, then got into Linguistics, Statistics, and Educational Psychology in grad school. (I’m probably leaving out a few subjects.) In educational circles, he’s known as “the Data Guy.” He’s also a researcher with an entrepreneurial streak who takes business classes at Stanford for fun. In other words, he just might be the ideal person to help me tackle what to do next with my career and unplanned life.

Christopher gave me a couple examples. I sighed. It was pervasive.

“Practicality isn’t a bad thing,” Christopher said. “Just not the only thing to consider.”

This is true. Writing and poetry are pretty much the least practical endeavors on the planet, and yet, I still love them. Still wanted them in my life—even if they paid next to nothing.

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I told Christopher about my idea of starting a Super PAC to focus on autism and special education. “That’s definitely not practical because I don’t know anything about lobbying or forming a Super PAC.”

“You can learn that, and I have a contact with a D.C. law firm that does lobbying. I’m sure they’ll talk to you. Besides, you’ve advocated for things your entire life so this really isn’t a huge stretch.”

“True….” How did this guy always manage to make everything, including dating, seem simple?

“If I could house the PAC in the nonprofit, I’d be down to two jobs and two websites. That would be a significant improvement. Then if I could somehow monetize the websites….”

“Oh, that’s easily done,” he said.

“It is?”

“Yep.” He laughed. “This is what they teach me at Stanford.”

“Okay, then I’ll get to work updating the website.” I’d been dragging my feet on this tedious task, but somehow Christopher got me to stop procrastinating.

“Do you get to tell people you’re an attorney when you lobby?”

“If you went to law school and passed the bar, then yes. Otherwise, no.”

“Oh good,” Christopher said with a big grin. “Then I’ll still be dating a poet-attorney.”

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That’s me. A poet/writer/attorney/autism advocate. Also the founder of the nonprofit organization, Autism A to Z, and Livermore’s fourth Poet Laureate. Author. Editor. Speaker. Educator. Fundraiser. Environmentalist and single mom.

I’m not sure what I’ll be adding to that list, but I can feel it coming. Stay tuned.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Truth Equals Peace
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truth-166853_1920Lately it seems every time I go to the shaman ceremony, I figure out another piece of the puzzle that is me. This time was no different.

The shaman labeled her ceremony “Peace—the bridge between what has been and what is yet to come.” The topic intrigued me, and we hadn’t had ceremony in several months. I lined up a sitter and told her I’d be there.

We settled in and the shaman shared a story about finding her truth regarding her work as a healer, which brought her peace. It wasn’t the generic reason she’d been telling herself for years, but one which resonated within her. She asked the group where in our lives we were stuck. Without hesitation I responded, “my career.”

She asked us to meditate on the root, or the basis, of this issue. Surprisingly what popped into my mind was my mother telling me, at age 17, not to major in English, but to “pick something practical.” I don’t regret my degree in environmental science, and as an adult, I understand why she said what she said, but at the time I felt vaguely unaccepted. And the concept of practicality took on a life of its own in my psyche.

law-1991004_1920My decision to launch a special needs law firm was based on practicality. I could work part time and make more than enough to support my daughter and myself. There were many things I liked about this plan, but I just couldn’t seem to start. I worked on all the preliminary tasks, fiddled with the details, but couldn’t launch the business. No amount of self-talk or reframing changed this fact. After four years, it was embarrassing and humiliating. For whatever reason, I was dragging my feet. By 2017, I’d accepted it was never going to happen whether I knew the reason or not.

And then, sitting in the shaman’s living room, it occurred to me that helping special needs families one by one wasn’t solving the underlying problem. It was like putting a bandaid on a gaping wound. I wanted to do something bigger. I wanted to help more people and change the underlying policies. Did I know how to do this? No. But this shift just felt right.

Over the course of the night, it also became clear that I wanted to continue to write memoir and poetry. That I wanted to teach writing workshops. More importantly, that I needed to consolidate.

Why had I ever thought I could write, run a nonprofit, and start a law firm all at once? Maybe when I was younger  I had that kind of energy, but not now. I needed to streamline my life.

I had recently interviewed to become the Executive Director of California Poets in the Schools. If I was willing to raise my own salary in that organization, why not do the same with Autism A to Z?

Truth

By the end of the ceremony, I didn’t have all the answers, but I did finally understand why couldn’t bring myself to launch the law firm. The shaman was correct. The truth brought me a sense of acceptance and peace. It also showed me the path forward. A glimpse of what was yet to come.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Eulogy for the Old Library
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lhg0840_jpgA few weeks ago, back in February when I delivered my Poet Laureate Annual Report to the Livermore City Council, I also read a poem I’d written in honor of the ground breaking ceremony for the new city council chambers and emergency operations center. The poem also marked the demolition of the “old” public library, which was especially poignant for me as this was the library that I grew up with and adored as a child.

The “old” library, which should not be confused with the Carnegie Building that served as Livermore’s first public library and dates back to the late 1800s, opened in 1966, two years before my family moved to Livermore. I swear it still smelled new the first time I walked through its huge sliding doors.

The building stood vacant from 2004, when the “new” library opened, until 2018, when it was demolished. This relic of my childhood is now gone. I wish I had thought to take a photo of it. But I can still picture it—in my mind and in my heart.

 

EULOGY FOR THE OLD LIBRARY
1966-2004 (demolition in 2018) 

As a child I came to this spot every
week to practice the religion of books.
I prayed in paragraphs, worshipped
in words, so many words. They echo
in the halls of memory, spilling off
pages, flooding floors, carving canyons

in the still blooming garden of my mind.
Words polished my heart, changed
its color, left deposits that provided
raw material to construct cathedrals.
The building seemed large in 1968,
packed with possibility, brimming

with books. The rooms smelled fresh
–a river after heavy rain–and I
gulped it down, thirsted for more.
Today we say goodbye to this hall
of stone and glass. In its place will rise
another, a phoenix from the rubble.

Commonwealth of community, temple
of democracy, shrine to the enduring
power of words. May this continue to be
a place that inspires. A place of possibility,
diversity, tolerance, ideas, and of course,
words, so many wicked, wacky, wondrous

words.

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What have you said goodbye to recently?

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Poet Laureate Report 2017-2018
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notebook-2247352_1920For reasons that I cannot explain, the Poet Laureate gives his or her annual report to the Livermore City Council in February. (I was installed at the end of June 2017.) So last week I compiled a massive spreadsheet of my activities and presented it to the City Council. I couldn’t believe how much work I’d done.

Okay, maybe I could.

In case you, like most people, wonder what a Poet Laureate does, I’m including the summary here.

In the eight months since I was installed as Poet Laureate, I have:

  • Hosted 9 open mics plus 3 additional poetry events summarizes below.
  • Held a reading at the Civic Center Library called Meet the Poet Laureate. I read selected poems from my chapbook along with new work, and answered questions about my goals as Poet Laureate.
  • Curated an hour of classic and contemporary cowboy poetry for a community event held by the Livermore Heritage Guild at Hagemann Ranch. It proved extremely popular, so I’ll be doing it again this summer.
  • After six months negotiating with LARPD, I found a compromise so we could continue the Ravenswood Poetry Series. The 1st event, held January 21st, was a Tri-Valley Poetry Showcase featuring seven local poets plus myself. It was well-attended and well-received. Future events at Ravenswood will be held on the following Sundays: April 22, July 22, and October 28th from 5 to 7 pm. I’ll be announcing the featured poets for the April event soon.
  • IMG_5136Held 4 Teen Poet of the Month contests, with 3 more slated for this spring plus a public reading for the winning teens and honorable mentions scheduled for late May.
  • Received a mini grant from the Livermore Commission for the Arts so I could expand Poetry in a Test Tube: Livermore’s 2nd Annual Science Poetry Contest. We now offer cash prizes in 3 divisions: Youth (K-8th), Teen (high school), and Adult. Deadline for submissions is March 10th. The award ceremony will occur on Sunday, March 18th.
  • Wrote the poem, “A Place to Call Home,” for my swearing-in last June as well as the poem, “Eulogy for the Old Library, 1966-2004/2018,” for the recent ground breaking ceremony (and demolition).
  • I’m currently working on a poem for the Livermore Civic Center Library, as well as another dealing with autism. These will be read at Audacious April—an event celebrating National Poetry Month, Autism Awareness Month, and National Library Week.
  • I was selected to serve as Poetry Judge at the Alameda County Fair. On Saturday, June 23rd, I’ll be hosting a reading and teaching a free poetry workshop.
  • Represented the City at literary events in San Jose, Pleasant Hill, Oakland, and San Francisco.

There’s more juicy stuff waiting in the wings, but I’ll save that for later when I have more details.

In short, it’s been a busy eight months, and I expect the rest of my term to be just as full. And that’s a good thing because it means I’m spreading the joy of poetry and prose far and wide. I’m grateful that I took the plunge.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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More Cha…cha…changes, Part 2
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12973396_10154810270134816_8980740602952449345_oAfter an 18-month lapse in services and an autistic child in the throes of puberty, I was eager for a fresh start, behaviorally speaking. But my struggle to re-secure applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy for my daughter, Katie, hadn’t exactly worked out as planned.

The situation came to a head when, over two volatile therapy sessions, Katie kicked in the center panel on three out of four cabinet doors on the buffet in my breakfast nook. The third incident resulted in a bad break, with splintered wood flying in the air. I was so angry I wanted to hit both Katie and the therapist. Instead, I excused myself and went upstairs to cry. Then I called the supervisor, and voice shaking with unshed tears, told her I was done. From now on, therapy must occur in their offices.

For several weeks we had no ABA therapy, then the therapist left on a three-week vacation. By the time she returned, I was convinced ABA was making things worse, not better. Katie’s behavior, against all odds, was improving. Plus the skills I wanted Katie to learn, like using money and telling time, weren’t happening.

We had a meeting and put therapy on hold for a month. By the time the month was up, I’d lost all my sitters and a good chunk of my job. I told them I wasn’t sure how I could drive Katie to their facility in Concord, an hour away, on top of driving Katie to Menlo Park three times per week. We put therapy on hold for another month. Despite the lack of therapy, Katie’s behavior continued to improve.

CrazyBy the time the second month had elapsed, I knew what I had to do. All behavior is communication, and Katie’s behavior was screaming, “No more ABA!” It was tough to let go of therapy I’d fought hard to secure, but it wasn’t working. We needed to move on, find treatments that worked. With therapists who treated my daughter like the teenager that she was.

Before we could leave, the Program Director needed to complete a progress report. It was a standard one that I’ve done countless times before. Some of the sections, such as verbal communication, were a breeze to complete because Katie could do almost none of the tasks. But in other areas, such as life skills, Katie could do much more. The Director kept saying, “Oh really? She can do that?”

After more than a year, the ABA team should have known this, and that was part of the problem.  But the real issue was that ABA has never worked well for Katie. Certainly not anywhere near as well as the Rapid Prompting Method.

So we’re going to stick with what’s working and build on that. Katie needs a social skills group and horseback riding to start. Special Olympics track begins next month (go Rockets!). Maybe we’ll try some yoga. Or more hiking. Another mom started a specialized social group to practice using a letter board with peers. We’re going to try it all and see what Katie enjoys, what improves her skills. I can write goals, and I’ll hire sitters who can help.

Whatever happens, it will be better that watching Katie color on command.

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What tough decisions have you made lately?

Until next time,
Cynthia

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