Monday, June 25, 2012

Me on Jack

*Jack is not an actual person. Jack is a representation and combination of several people I have known throughout my life. Any similarities to real people are coincidental.*

Jack is a regular 16 year old boy in a public high school. Jack also has Down Syndrome. Herein lies a conundrum for Jack. He, like every teenage boy, has wants and dreams. Some are simple, like learning to drive, some are long term goals, like going to college. However, Jack has daily cognitive and social challenges that make the simplest want very difficult to achieve. Whereas most teenagers can get their driver’s license at 16, Jack is barred from driving because he has trouble taking tests, his memory is poor, and he is “untrustworthy” with the responsibility. No one will take Jack driving so that he can practice, and his parents don’t even consider putting him in driver’s education. He wants to be able to drive to and from home on the weekends when he is living at college. Jack’s parents and teachers don’t consider college an option for Jack, who gets easily distracted and needs lots of prompting to complete classwork. Jack wants to be like everyone else. But no one will let him be.

I met Jack while substitute teaching. He struck me as painfully unaware of the limitations placed upon him. He kept saying, “When I’m older I’ll get to do...” As for the daily activities Jack isn’t allowed to participate in, he blames his “heart condition” (Jack was born with an abnormal heartbeat, a common physical symptom in babies with Down Syndrome. It was corrected with surgery when Jack was three, and he has no symptoms) because that’s why his Mom tells him he can’t go out alone or learn to drive. His mother focuses on Jack’s social skills primarily. She is very matter-of-fact about his limitations in that area: “Jack starts every interaction the same way. When people ignore him, he doesn’t know what to do. I tell him that if they smile at him, he should continue, but even some people who smile at him then walk away. I try to tell Jack that not everyone wants to be his friend, but Jack takes this to mean that only adults who interact with him like his teacher or his therapists are his friends. What else am I supposed to tell him? That these people are only nice to him because they have to be? That people are ignorant and intolerant and they don’t want to “deal with” being his friend?” If Jack had a couple understanding friends, he could at least go out in groups and learn what normal social interactions look like. But, as his mother says, people don’t understand Jack and they don’t want to try.

Jack Continued

I know, I know, I owe you all two weeks worth of posts. I moved from Tennessee to Maryland last week though and it was stressful, so I didn’t have a chance to post. Double today though, I promise!

I didn’t get a lot of comments on Jack vs. Brittany a couple weeks ago, so I’ve decided to continue with Jack. He seems more dynamic to me. The rest I’ll figure out as I go along. Post 1 for today is going to be about the general structure of my novel, so kind of boring, but a little creative later on.

NaNoWriMo challenges you to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. That’s about 2000 words per day. Since I am writing 100 things, each story will be approximately 500 words, plus an introduction and conclusion. I’ll write about four stories per day. Some stories will be longer, some shorter, it depends on the depth of the thing Jack wants to do. I’ve developed a short list of stories I know I want to include, but it is far from complete and far from 100 stories.

So here is my outline thus far:

I. Introduction to Jack by Jack
    A. Introduction of Jack
    B. Intro of his ghost writer
    C. The concept of a bucket list/100 things
II. The stories (ordered by importance?)
    Potential Stories:
1. Go to the movies with friends
2. Have a best friend
3. Go to college
4. Cross the street
5. Be part of a group
6. Live alone
7. Hold a job
8. Have a sleepover
9. Have a drink
10. Text message
11. Vote
12. Buy my own clothes
13. Have a kid
14. Drive
15. Get married
16. Tell how someone is feeling
17. Tell when someone is teasing
18. Have the doctor talk to me
19. Look people in the eye
20. Tell a joke to make people laugh
21. Have a girlfriend
22. Make a whole room laugh
23. Have an ipad
24. Go on a bike trip
25. Be in a regular class
26. Stay up all night
27. Feel accomplished
28. Go to space
29. Ride a horse
30. Go to an amusement park
31. Learn to swim
32. Learn a language
33. Travel to another country
34. Fly in an airplane
35. Fly an airplane
36. Have muscles
37. Swim in the ocean
38. Win an argument


II. Conclusion
    A. Challenges faced
    B. Barriers
    C. Author’s note - Jack has the same hopes and dreams as other kids his age, but there are more barriers for him to do even normal things

Okay, so everyone who is interested: What did you want to do when you were in high school? What was on your bucket list? what things did you surely want to do before a certain time? no matter how quirky, I’ll take them!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Need some advice...

Okay, so for those of you who have been reading my last couple of posts, let me explain what the end product is going to look like. Once you guys get the context, I would really appreciate some advice on picking a character. I'm not done exploring different characters, but I need to come to a decision regarding the overall concept for the character.

November is National Novel Writing Month, and they do a whole thing with a website devoted to tracking people's progress in writing their novels. It is basically a good way to just get some words on paper, which can often be difficult for people who constantly worry about grammar and composition (like me). I've attempted this before without a concept planned out and failed miserably when I ran out of ideas. This year, I'm going to attempt the challenge again, but with the concept completely planned out. So in short (tldr), 'm going to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November.

As most of you have noticed from my blog, I'm more of a short prosaic writer than anything else. Therefore, I came up with a concept to write a series of short stories called "100 things," based off of the concept of a bucket list. Since I was in high school I've been writing lists like this (places I want to visit, adventures I want to have, etc). Each story will be about 500 words, highlighting one of the 100 things. You get the point.

Simultaneously, I decided I wanted to write a book that highlighted someone with a disability. Since I've been working with the population, I've been struck by the normalcy that is denied to those with all types of disabilities (people go to court over whether their children with disabilities should be able to marry, have kids, get a drivers license, vote, etc). Even more unfortunate is that the kids I've worked with really want those things even if they have to work twenty times harder to get them. So I concluded a few things: (1) I wanted the narrator to have a disability, (2) I wanted to focus on the high school/college age range, and (3) I wanted them to have basic wants of every kid in their age range, but theirs be denied. This last part ranges from "having a group of friends" to "going to the movies by myself."

There are so many things left to decide, and I'd appreciate some input from those of you with good critiquing skills (and those of you with strong opinions too). Which character from the last two weeks, Jack or Brittany, did you like more? What made you decide either way? Was it their genders? Disability type? Dynamism? Voice?

I figure I write female perspective better than male, but I'm not sure.
I need to decide if I want my character to have a cognitive disability or a physical disability or both.
Either way, I want the narrator to be the kid, but should I have a ghost (most likely parent) writer, and how much bias should I show in their direction? (Should they simply correct sentence structure and grammar, or should they be an invested character in the story?)

I would really appreciate any insight you all can provide, as this is a pretty big undertaking for me.
Thanks so much!

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Hello. My name is Brittany. I have cerebral palsy, or CP for short. Because of my CP, I have trouble using my arms and legs. I can’t write with a pencil, so my mother is helping me out with this. I can type, but it takes me a long time.

The hardest part about my life is that people underestimate my intelligence. I don’t have a comorbid cognitive delay with my CP, it only affects my physical mobility. But I am behind in school.

I go to the doctor at least once a week: physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc. All of these things interfere with my school day. I miss a lot of school. Over the years, I’ve missed about 25% of school days. Because of that, I’m in a separate classroom.

I love to read but because of my writing and speaking difficulties I have trouble “showing what I know.” Other students think that because I have to circle the answers or type out a worksheet page that I’m not smart. They avoid talking to me. The students in my separate class have cognitive delays and social deficits. I try to help them with their school work, but it’s hard to be their friends.

I have a tutor. His name is Martin. He has curly hair and lots of wrinkles. he helps me learn the stuff I would learn if I could keep up in a regular classroom. He tells me that I could keep up fine if I didn’t have to miss so much school. That just makes me angry.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Hi! I'm Jack.

Hi! I’m Jack. Do you know why my Mom and Dad named me Jack? They said Robin Williams played a character one time called Jack, and that he was funny. I don’t believe them though because how do they know a baby is going to be funny? Babies don’t talk.

My Dad thinks I’m funny though. He says hilarious. Because my Dad taught me to whistle and I’m real good at it. My Dad points at people and has me whistle, and then he cracks up laughing. Sometimes he doesn’t stop for ten minutes. That’s how I know I’m funny.

Girls are who my Dad had me whistle at. They get all frowny at first and stick out their hips, but then they see me and they smile. I don’t know why they don’t laugh, but Mom says smiling is good so I know they like me.

Sometimes I whistle at the nurses at my doctor’s office that I like. They scrunch up their faces. They look like they try not to laugh. That’s why I like them.

That’s at my favorite doctor’s office. It’s the one with the doctor who only tells me my height and weight and has me do the eye exam. I learned the eye exam real good when I was five and I learned the letters. So now I always do good on the eye exam.

I do good on the height and weight too because I always grow. Mom says I grow because that’s what little boys do, so I guess I pass the test. Mom makes sure I grow by feeding me dinner. Even if I don’t eat it all I still grow, so I don’t eat it all.

I like chips better anyway. I can eat chips while I watch movies at home. In the movies the funny guys don’t whistle, though. They tell jokes. I tell jokes at school but I get in trouble. One time somebody hit me after I told a joke and told me to go away. They got in trouble but so did I. So I don’t tell jokes at school.

One joke I told that I heard was, “Why did the Mom cross the road?” The answer is supposed to be, “It doesn’t matter, she should make me a sandwich.” I changed it though to say, “To get me some chips.” I thought it was funnier and it made more sense. My Mom doesn’t make me sandwiches, but she does get me chips.

My Dad really likes that joke. He tells it to my Mom and she laughs sometimes. I don’t laugh because I don’t understand the sandwich part. Mom doesn’t make Dad sandwiches either. But after that I go to bed early and I hear Mom and Dad laughing a lot in their room. I wish I could make my Mom laugh. Maybe when I’m big like my Dad.

Mom says when I’m big I still won’t understand everything. I don’t think that’s important, but she says it is. She says be careful of the kids at school like when I got hit. I just don’t tell jokes and no one hits me anymore so I don’t see what the big deal is. Just because you don’t know everything doesn’t mean you can’t not get hit.

I feel like my teacher wants me to know everything. She always says things like to look at people’s faces to see their retraction or something. It means how they feel about you. I know because Mom said that if people smile then they like you. Why else is it important?

It’s hard to look in faces anyway because people don’t look at you. Like if I tell a joke people turn around so I can’t see their face or walk away. I decided that if people are your friend they look at you. All the people in school look at their friends and sometimes the teachers. That means I have three friends. My teacher always looks at me when I talk. So does my talking doctor so she’s my friend. And my Dad.

When my friends aren’t there I talk to myself. I tell myself jokes because I know I’m not going to hit myself, and I always laugh really hard like my Dad so people will want to hear my jokes. Sometimes people look at me when I do that. I think they’re my friends, but I’m not sure because they don’t talk to me.

When I get people to look at me, I always say, “Hi! I’m Jack.” I talk about why my parents named me Jack and my whistling. Sometimes people smile at me, but then they walk away. I don’t know why. But Mom says not everyone will be my friend.