Hi, y’all.

Guess where I’ve been. Give up? I’ve been home working on my next novel, or at a coffee shop working on my next novel, or at my friend Ashley’s house, working on my next novel while she paints her next painting.

Or, more likely than that, I’ve been procrastinating and making excuses for not working on my next novel. Other than that — including that, actually — life is pretty great here. Hope yours is, too.

Come see me at the Inprint reading in Houston, at the Alley Theater on May 3, if you want to see me. They let you submit questions, so someone submit a hilarious one. Don’t submit something like, “How did you become a writer?” or “What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?” because someone else already submitted those. Also, don’t submit, “How are you Hispanic if you look white to me and I don’t know you or anything about you and I’ve never read your writing but you look white to me so is that your husband’s last name and why are there Hispanic people around you saying they’re your dad and your cousins, I mean you look white to me so why are people saying that you’re Hispanic?” because someone will undoubtedly stand up and ask that at the reading without submitting it beforehand. It’s pre-ordained.

(My answer is always, “Meet me outside after the reading for a Taco-Off and we’ll find out who’s Hispanic, then, motherfucker.” Then, after the reading, I just leave. But I do usually have a couple of tacos at Taqueria Laredo on Washington Avenue the following morning. They make the best picadillo — reminds me of my Aunt Sylvia’s.)

Pop Culture Obsessions

I was going to ask y’all if you knew of a DJ/electronica/hip-hop person named Dabrye, and if you liked him as much as I’m starting to, but then I refrained because I’m starting to realize that i have sort of unusual taste in music.

I used to think that I had excellent taste in music and that most other people didn’t, but now I’m just accepting the fact that there are different kinds of tastes in music and everyone has whatever works best with the active nerves in their brain. See, I’m reading Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia right now, and all the stuff he’s saying fits in with my newly hatched theory that the brain of any given human who likes music must like it in a certain range of frequencies. A lot of people enjoy a higher frequency range than my brain enjoys. Like Passion Pit, Fleet Foxes, the Raveonettes, the Whatever-Os, and the Whosits… all those people sound too high and tooth-grindy to me. I like stuff that I can only describe as lower, but which my husband might describe as too minimal, too repetitive, too subtle, too depressing, or just too. Just too not-Passion-Pit, he means.

And that’s okay. Our brains are different. Why would you want to be married to the same kind of brain as your own? Wouldn’t that be boring?

We had this raging argument about taste in music the other day — it’s one of the few things we really argue loudly about — and it lasted us all the way home and ended up concluding in front of the kids. But we took little breaks to add footnotes for the kids’ edification, and each of our footnotes had the same gist, which was that we’d rather argue about who has better taste in music than live with someone who doesn’t care about music at all.

Oliver Sacks says that people whose brains keep them from loving music have “amusia.” The very idea makes me feel sad and sick — it’d be like losing my peripheral vision or something.

Not to be an asshole. I’m just saying. Well, and maybe saying that makes me an asshole, anyway. But I can’t help it — I’m just telling y’all that it freaks me out when people say they don’t care about music, and I can’t even imagine.

Um… I subtitled this part “Pop Culture Obsessions” and not “Raging Music and Neuro-Type Snobbery” because I wanted to also ask who else out there is watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and letting it eat their insides apart, like I am. Anybody? Anyone? Crickets in the back? No? Well, whatever.

Oliver Sacks instructs Dallas and me.

I hardly get to see my son Dallas anymore, because as long-time readers know, he lives with his dad while his two brothers live with me. And all three of them are teenagers now, so they have weekend stuff going on all the time, just like little adults, and we’re all at the post-divorce phase, thank-God-fully, where we can be flexible and miss a weekend visitation here or there for the sake of the kids’ scholastic and social obligations.

But, so, the other day…

[I’m about to say something to do with Dallas having Aspergers, and you might wonder why I’m saying it here and not on my ChronMomBlog, and I will tell you that it’s because the Chronicle now has two mom blogs about moms with kids with autism, so I feel like talking about my kid’s autism there would, at this point, look like horning in on other writers’ territory.]

So Dallas was here the other day, and I was reading him little bits from Oliver Sacks, because Dallas has synesthesia and absolute pitch (which I used to refer to, incorrectly, as perfect pitch) and Mr. Sacks talks about each of those.

Synesthesia is when someone mixes the senses a little bit. In Dallas’s case, he sees a different color for each note on the musical scale. Some people might see different colors for each letter of the alphabet, or different shapes for each number, but Dallas has the color/music variety, which we’re interested in because he’s a musician.

So I’m reading aloud to him that, “Composer John Doe sees D minor as a bright yellow.”

And Dallas interjects, “Well, he’s wrong.”

I say, “Hold on, baby,” and read that John Doe, furthermore, sees D major as blue.

“That guy’s totally wrong,” says Dallas.

I read from the next paragraph: “When I told this to composer Joe Blow, he said, ‘That seems all wrong to me.'”

“Yeah. Because it is,” says Dallas. “What colors does that guy see?”

“He says D minor is light green.”

Dallas snorts. “At first I thought that guy might have some sense, but now I see he doesn’t, either.”

It cracks me up, his confidence. His arrogance, you can go ahead and call it. It took me forever to convince Dallas that not everyone can see what he does, and not everyone can tell what note a rubber band makes when it snaps against a wrist. He would not believe me — he couldn’t imagine a mind that didn’t work like his. But eventually I managed to convince him, and he finally said, “That explains a lot, actually.” It explains the infuriating confusion caused by certain band teachers, apparently. He wondered if they were lying or purposely tuning the instruments wrong, maybe because they didn’t like him and wanted an excuse to give him bad conduct grades when he argued or covered his ears in annoyance.

I read in Mr. Sacks book that synesthesia occurs in one of every 2,000 people and absolute pitch (the ability to identify a note on its own) is more like one in 10,000. That surprised Dallas and me.

Mr. Sacks said that having very fine absolute pitch can be a nuisance for some people — that hearing very slightly off-tune notes can irritate them while the rest of us can’t even tell the difference.

“Does it ever bother you when I sing a tiny bit flat?” I asked Dallas. Because I know that he knows that I sometimes do. Not flat enough to lower my score on Rock Band, but flat enough that he’ll very honestly tell me if I ask.

“My pitch isn’t that good,” he says.

And I see that he’s learned, finally, how to tell white lies to spare feelings. And I’m glad that I’m one of the people for whom he’ll commit that sin — number one on the list of Asperger commandments: “Thou shalt not lie,” followed by “Thou shalt not not make sense.”

But I see, also, that I’ll never understand the way he sees the world, or how much it bothers him to put up with the rest of us. No matter how hard I listen. No matter how much I love him and want to understand.

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? That’s what I have to tell myself, to keep from crying when he gets on the bus to go back home.

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Posted in Aspergers, music, parenting, pop culture, writing on 04/05/2010 02:33 am


  1. What you said, here:
    But I see, also, that I'll never understand the way he sees the world, or how much it bothers him to put up with the rest of us. No matter how hard I listen. No matter how much I love him and want to understand.
    This really, really resonates with me. My little boy is not quite five and is, I guess, maybe moderate to severe on ye olde spectrum, and I know that no matter how hard I try, sometimes I just can't do what he wants. He doesn't talk too much (though we're working on it) and it makes it pretty challenging. Sometimes I can see in his face that he is BARELY putting up with me and it cracks me up, and also makes me sad. Your son sounds charming, to me. I love the thought of my son talking to me someday, about music, or whatever. Anything would do at this point! I hope you're right about the killing/stronger thing. :)

  2. Christina Rodriguez

    Ugh, I've gotten the "But you don't LOOK Hispanic" comment my whole life. Couple that with folks who say it must be "convenient" to be Hispanic because I can use my last name to get illustration contracts with multicultural publishers, and I want to tear my hair out. Wish I had a clever remark to use from time to time…

  3. I think you should post that on your HouChron blog – it is so touching and I believe will resonate with many parents (including the dedicated HC bloggers).

  4. Big fan of using music with kids on the spectrum. Thanks for sharing this story of Dallas. Makes me think that I should take into consideration absolute pitch more often. Certain pitches may open the door for learning while others may make my kids want to slam the door in my face!!

  5. Joanne: Your comment made me tear up a little when I first read it, and I'm tearing up a little now just trying to respond. Thanks for posting it, and I hope for you to (believe that you will) have positive, meaningful, funny/smart/awesome communication with your son.

    Christina: Don't you love it, the way we can simultaneously get favors for looking white and being Hispanic, in an industry that's mostly conducted long-distance so that no one sees our faces or cares what ethnicity we are as long as we meet deadlines? :)

    Haters always have excuses for why others get stuff and they don't.

    Anonymous: Thank you. You made me brave enough to do it.

    (Except over there, I changed "mr. sacks" to "dr. sacks." Here, I like to keep my mistakes in place. :) )

    Dot: Ha. I like your door metaphor. :)

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