Lifeguard at a ppol

My husband and I were discussing the summer schedule and our son’s swim team practice. “The team is on break, because the coaches are doing the lifeguard training program,” I said.

“I would like him to do that. I think lifeguarding would be good for Grant,” Darrin said.

“He can’t.” I said, thinking of how our son can’t sit still and his pacing around and talking to himself as he plays out a story in his head. The current state of driving lessons, he has all the technical skills of driving and much of the muscle memory, but he needs someone in the car to periodically remind him to pay attention. Just this morning the brake lights came on in the car in front of us. My son made no move to slow down. I said “Brake.” Still no slowing. I sharply said, “Brake!” I swear I could almost hear the audible sound of his attention snapping back to the present, real world, “Oh, right. Sorry.” And only then did he slow down.

“He can do anything he sets his mind to,” my husband replied.

I get what he means. Our kid has accomplished many things that were in question when he got his Autism diagnosis at age 4. He speaks perfectly fine (though to the ear of someone who knows folks on the spectrum there are aspects to his speech that give away his not-so-secret identity). He can ride a bike, drive (sort of), play viola and clarinet, and has taught himself to play the piano. He is an honors student, taking honors classes, with a minimal amount of accommodation. He went on the seventh grade Washington D.C. trip with the other kids, never went missing, never missed a bus, and never lost his camera or cell phone. He’s often more capable than I expect.

While our son is neurodivergent, he is in the shallow, easier end of a large, scary wave pool. It’s a pool we are presently in no risk of drowning in. Our footing is firmly on the bottom. We are only periodically disbalanced by unexpected waves. But we spent his early years so deep in that pool that we could only gasp for air as we bobbed up and down. The cost of medications, speech therapists, occupational therapists, pediatric neurologists, daycare, early intervention preschool (which was only a few hours a week), social skills play groups, play therapy, music therapy, and every activity we put him in to help (from Boy Scouts to Therapeutic Horseback riding), put us at risk of drowning. We survived that by managing expectations and picking our battles.

My husband saying “he can do anything” made me angry, which is strange. If a teacher had told me he “can’t do” something, I would push back. So why was my husband’s insistence that being a lifeguard was a possibility for our son making me annoyed? Was it just that I was caught out being ableist, assuming he was unable to do a task only because he is different from other people?

I’m dyslexic. It’s a funny thing for a writer to be, I know. Before the advent of spell checking software and word processors, I’m fairly certain I would have never been able to be a writer. When I was young, audio books were abridged monstrosities, but when I was in high school unabridged books on tape started to become more widely available. I first met the clever Miss Jane Austen in audio format and a wide range of authors and genres were thrown open to me as audio books became more available over the decades. Many of the barriers to being a writer were lowered for me. However, I can’t spell. Spell check software gets me about fifty percent of the way. Text-to-speech software helps me find that I’ve selected the wrong correct spelling for a word and changed the meaning of a sentence. (I once wrote “Thank you for your constipation, a reprehensive will be in contact shortly.”) What I cannot do, no matter how hard I study, no matter how hard I try, is win a spelling bee. I would most likely fail on the first word. A neurotypical eight grader is going to beat my ass every time. I’m fairly certain a sixth grader would beat me. Ok, maybe a fourth grader. Seriously, words that I can rarely spell correctly include calendar, neurological, and exercise. Exercise is an example of one that I spell so atypically that the computer spell checker throws up its hands and stomps off muttering under its breath.  

Being neurodivergent is a pain in two temperatures: too cold, people not believing you can do things, and too hot, people demanding that your disability can be overcome if you just try harder. I’ve had teachers who punished the entire class for my failure to get through a reading assignment fast enough. I carry a lot of scars from both and I’m ever questioning if I’m expecting too little or too much of my son.

I took the discussion of lifeguarding, and if the word “can’t” is ok or not, to the person in the best position to judge. I asked my son. My husband’s “rule” of parenting is to never ask his son to get off the computer before asking him what he’s working on or playing. My rule is to have no discussions about my son, without my son. I’m lucky in that sense. He doesn’t take these discussions emotionally. He’s a happy kid and happy to talk frankly (sometimes painfully frankly). I outlined the discussion his father and I had had and asked, “Should you be a lifeguard?”

His answer was a clear no.

We circled back around to what was really bothering me, “Was I wrong to use the word can’t?”

He thought for a moment and then said, “I would rather you say, ‘Can’t yet.’” One little word: yet. It’s a lovely word, full of hope while still being honest about current realities. Right now my son is too much in his own head to be responsible for the lives of others. A year from now might be different. The solution for later might be working for it. It might be just maturing more. It might be some magic new treatment that gives my son a doorway into a more typical experience, if he wants it. Perhaps a technology will come along that changes the requirement for focus or helps him keep his focus on the people frolicking in the water. There is so much power in the word “yet.”

 When I was young I couldn’t be a writer yet. That changed. I’m dyslexic and I can’t win a spelling bee… yet.

Galactic Hellcats Playlist

One of my husband’s many talents is creating playlists. He will dig up the strangest covers or songs, like the mix CD he once made for his father of James Taylor songs including “Jelly Man Kelly,” a song Taylor wrote and proformed on Seasem Street.

We are excited our friend Marie Vibbert has a new book out and especially excited because Marie allowed us to be beta readers. In celebration of the realse of Galatctic Hellcats, Darrin put together a playlist to go with major events of the novel.

Possible spoilers ahead: if you treat any forwarning of plot points as a spoiler, don’t read Darrin’s notes. You have been warned.

Galactic Hellcats “Mix Tape” (Unofficial Soundtrack)

Compiled by Darrin Bright

1. Driver’s Seat (Sniff ‘n’ The Tears)

Chapter: “1. Ki Gets Her Ride”

Notes: Great driving song just about cruisin’, but also about taking control of your life. May not quite fit Ki, but this is where my head went and this is where I’m starting.

2. Magic Carpet Ride (KSM)

Chapter: “2. Margot Gets Her Ride”

Notes: First question I got about this list was “Why don’t you have more Steppenwolf?”, and any mix tape about a biker gang could easily just be a bunch of Steppenwolf songs. I chose this one for two reasons: first, the Star Trek reference, and second, Margot really needs to be coaxed into buying her solo-flyer, and I think this covers it pretty well. Yeah, ok, this is the Disney cover by KSM, but I was looking for heavy metal covers by female artists, and just listen to those guitars under the vocals: still very metal!

3. Interplanet Janet (Lynn Ahrens)

Chapter: “3. How Ki Met Margo”

Notes: Ok, chapter is set mostly on Luna, but I think this covers leaving the solar system. I wanted this song up towards the front, and this was a good place to put it. 

4. Hallo Spaceboy (David Bowie, Pet Shop Boys Remix)

Chapter: “3. Getting Out”

Notes: Prince Thane gets introduced. I definitely wanted some Bowie on this list, but many of the best tracks appear on other mix lists (I’m looking at you, Peter Gunn). I stumbled onto this one looking for space songs, and I think it fits Thane really well.

5. Material Girl (Steve Ricardo and Connie Chaos)

Chapter: “5. How Ki Met Zuleikah

Notes: Here we first meet Zuleikah, although we get a better picture of her life in chapters 7-8. Madonna was the first thing to pop into my head when I went looking for songs about “bored rich girl”, and I couldn’t get it out of my head, even though it was a little too “pop” for a biker gang. Fortunately, it’s a great song with a lot of covers out there, and this metal cover by Steve Ricardo and Connie Chaos is fantastic!

6. Girls to the Front (Sizzy Rocket)

Chapter: “6. Jailbreak”

Notes: My lovely wife Nyla suggested this song, and I don’t think I could have found anything more perfect for this novel. Yes, there are several songs out there about jailbreaks, breaking free, and defying authority, but this one nails the whole “girls biker gang” attitude to the wall.  

7. Roam (B-52’s)

Chapter: “7. The Founding of the Galactic Hellcats”

Notes: Every great “Road Trip” mix tape has to have “Love Shack” (I think that’s a law somewhere in Georgia), but I felt this song works better for capturing the wonder, excitement, and spirit of adventure.

8. Highway to Hell (Sershen & Zaritskaya

Chapter: “8. A Terrible Plan”

Notes: This Russian duo (Daria Zaritskaya on vocals, Sergey Sershen on guitars) have done a bunch of great metal covers. It’s difficult to plan on misbehavin’ without AC/DC, but it’s much harder to cover AC/DC and still get that same raw edge to the sound. These two really pull it off.

9. Breakthru (Queen)

Chapter: “9. How to Rescue a Prince”

Notes: Oh, so so many great Queen songs, so perfect for rescuing Thane, but not enough room! (“I Want to Break Free”, “Save Me”, “Tie Your Mother Down”, etc.). If there’s a sequel (maybe WHEN there’s a sequel?), will definitely try to include more Queen on that one.

10. Go Away (The Cars)

Chapter: “10. The Get Away”

Notes: Lots of really great “Get Away” songs out there, lots of really great “driving” songs from the Cars, and I definitely wanted to include something from them This song was a particular favorite of my son’s, and this felt like a good place to put it.

11. Skidmarks on My Heart

Chapter: “11. Dinner Date”

Notes: Oh, poor Zu. Yes, he is every drop of delicious, but he is totally going to break your heart.

12. Woodstock (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)

Chapter: “12. Making a Break for It” and “13. The Ship Folk”

Notes: I had to put this one in here somewhere, because I know Marie will belt this one out at the top of her lungs. The original title for this story was “The Stardust Gang”, and I think the spirit of Woodstock was part of the inspiration for the Ship Folk.

13. We Are Family (Sister Sledge)

Chapter: “14. One Big Happy Family”, “15. Pulling Together”

Notes: I went looking for a metal version of “We Are Family”, but apparently Suicidal Tendencies had done something along those lines. So I stuck with the original. 

14. Across the Universe (Fiona Apple)

Chapter: “16. Persephone”, “17. Near Jefferson”, “18. The J-O-B”

Notes: I wanted to include this song, this is a great cover by Fiona Apple… and it probably doesn’t fit here, other than the general spirit of the song, but hey, the gang is going to a different planet, so might as well put it here.

15. Electric Barbarella (Duran Duran)

Chapter: “19. Dating Robots”

Notes: Yeah, I know, doesn’t really fit the “Biker Gang” aesthetic, but this is where my head goes when I look for songs about sex robots. And I love Duran Duran so I’m putting it on here, and you’re stuck with it. And Marie, my formal request for the sequel still stands: more sex robots.

16. Go Your Own Way (Fleetwood Mac)

Chapter: “20. Breaking the Rules”

Notes: Great road song, can definitely yell this one at the top of your lungs, and it fits pretty well here. Are there any rules this band didn’t break?

17. We Built This City (Emil Bulls)

Chapter: “21. The City”

Notes: Problem – I need a song about a city. Solution – Lots of great 80’s tunes about cities! Journey! Guns’n’Roses! Starship! OMG, Starship! I must include “We Built This City!” Problem – Way to poppy, way too bubblegum for girls biker gang. Solution – Emil Bulls, I got this covered, dude. Literally.

18. Trampled Under Foot (Led Zeppelin)

Chapter: “22. To Plan a Heist”, “23. The Very Best Regrets”

Notes: Yeah, doesn’t really fit these chapters, as we don’t get to the showroom floor until chapter 24, but I already had a song picked for that one, so I’m putting this one here.

19. Take the Money and Run (Steve Miller Band)

Chapter: “24. How Thane Got His Ride”

Notes: Does not explicitly involve stealing spaceships or traveling to other planets, but Steve Miller definitely counts as a Space Cowboy, so I’m including it. Also a great road song and catchy as hell.

20. Come Sail Away (Styx)

Chapter: “25. The Chase”

Notes: Had to end on this one. It has everything: childhood friends, dreams, regrets, pots of gold, spirit of adventure, angels with a starship. And, of course, you absolutely must belt it out at the top of your lungs.