Welcome

My first name is Erika. Not Erica. Not Ericka. My last name is Hammerschmidt, which has thirteen letters, including five consonants in a row. People still find it easier to spell than my first name.

In college I majored in German and Spanish. I also accidentally minored in art, just by taking so many art classes for the fun of it. I grow my own vegetables. I cut my own hair, but even when a professional barber cuts it, it still sticks out on one side and in on the other. I’m an author, artist and speaker living in Minnesota. I work at Target as well as giving speeches on autism and writing books. I am married to a space alien named John Ricker, who, like me, is on the autism spectrum.

Below you will find my latest news. Add me to your bookmarks! I’m always up to something.

Also, check our calendar for upcoming events!

New Book Needs Readers

As some of you may know, my first published book was Born on the Wrong Planet, a memoir about my weird childhood, printed by Autism Asperger Publishing Company.

Since its publication, I’ve jumped from one genre to another, self-publishing several books including a science fiction novel, a short story collection, a children’s book, and various comic collections.

But now I am back to the memoir genre. This time, it’s titled “Erika to Earth.” Instead of focusing on my own weirdness, it’s about the weirdness of the rest of the world. In addition to telling my own story, it explores many aspects of human society in general, from my somewhat alien perspective.

It’s the “next book” I was talking about in this post. That essay dissecting the dubious concept of “lie-detecting” and “signs of lying” will be part of it.

There are also chapters about things like:

-cooking
-indoor gardening
-how counting sheep can turn into a surrealist fantasy
-the dangerous concept of expecting fictional characters to behave consistently when real people don’t
-pet starlings
-married life
-my obsessive fear of societal collapse and the extinction of humanity
-subconscious meanings in paintings
-haircuts
-the fine line between standing up for yourself and being a jerk
-the fine line between being healthily satisfied with what you have and settling for an unacceptable situation
-the fact that words are symbols
-the parallels between Christmas traditions and autistic routines
-whether my indifference to music makes me a bad person
-exercise
-willpower
-the definition of emotion
-how common one-in-a-million coincidences actually are

Interspersed with those chapters are some more recent stories from my life since the publication of BOTWP, and the various homes, careers, pets and friendships that have come and gone.

Basically, I’m looking for people to proofread the draft for me. You don’t have to be an expert on grammar, spelling, or any of the topics I address in the book (although if you have enough knowledge to catch any errors I made, I’ll appreciate it). What I’m mainly seeking is a wide range of readers who can give me their input on whether the stuff I write is unclear, ambiguous, confusing, or otherwise hard to read.

I can send digital copies in PDF, RTF and TXT form.

You don’t even have to read the whole book. I’d be happy even just to receive comments on one chapter at a time, whichever one you have something to say about.

What’s in it for you? Well, unfortunately, I can’t offer material goods, but you’ll get to read the book, both free of charge and before it officially comes out. And if you give me any useful constructive advice, I’ll put your name on the dedication page (unless you’d rather I leave you out, or credit you by a pseudonym).

This book may not be for everyone. Please note these things before asking me to send you a copy:

This book contains some mentions of violence, both by and toward autistic people, including some discussion of an abusive relationship. It also has some mentions of suicide and sexual assault (in the abstract, not referring to a specific case).

It contains some mentions of animal death, some mentions of human death, lots of discussion of severe anxiety, some ableist language, and various emotionally traumatizing conflicts.

It has a lot of discussion of social justice and civil rights in their various forms, mostly in support of them, but reasoned in what I hope is a critical and rational manner. I’m not asking people to evaluate my opinions, but I’d welcome constructive criticism of the way in which I present my thoughts.

If you still think this is a book you’d like to read and critique, please send me a message at humanalien at gmail dot com with an email address where I can send you a digital copy.

If you can’t read it yourself, I’d still very much appreciate you passing on the link to this post to others who may be interested, through email, blog posts or whatever.

Thank you all,

Erika Hammerschmidt

COMICON!

Guess what! The Minnehaha Free Space Craft Fair is not the only event where I’ll have a table this spring!

I will be at COMICON, too!

No, not Emerald City Comicon, or San Diego Comicon, nor yet even the Wizard World Minneapolis Comic Con. The Comicon to which I refer is this one on the State Fairgrounds:

MSP Comicon 2015

Times:

May 16 & 17, 2015
Saturday & Sunday
Doors open at 10am
Show ends at 5pm, both days.

Prices:

Admission is only $12
Admission is pay at the door only.
note: Save $1 on your admission by bringing a nonperishable food item to donate to the food shelf.
Children 9 and under admissions are FREE.

Place:

Location of MSP Comicon:
MN State Fairgrounds GRANDSTAND
1265 Snelling Ave N.
Saint Paul, MN 55108

Getting there from downtown Minneapolis involves the Blue Line train and the 84 bus, like so:

If you want to get there from somewhere else, or using a different transportation method, feel free to type your own stuff into Google Maps.

I will have comics, books, and a few merchandise items for sale– come and see me there!

Another Craft Fair and Bake Sale coming up!

So, there’s another craft fair at the Minnehaha Free Space!

Initially their calendar said April 18th, but it has apparently been changed to the 25th.



Minnehaha Free Space Craft Fair & Bake Sale

(Facebook page)

Sat Apr 25, 2015

1:00 pm – 6:00 pm

I’ll have a table, selling my handmade jewelry and other crafts.

My jewelry is fancy Renaissance-fair-type stuff that you can see on my website.

There will be lots of other cool artists too! Watch for details at Minnehaha Free Space’s Facebook page.

Since it’s a bake sale, there will also be baked goods! Probably including some vegan and gluten-free options, because Minnehaha Free Space is into that.

The craft fair will be at:

Minnehaha Free Space

3747 Minnehaha Ave

Minneapolis, MN 55406

email: radspacetc@riseup.net

call: 612-729-3733

If you can get to downtown Minneapolis, it’s easy to get to Minnehaha Free Space from there by train. Here are directions from the downtown library. (I’ll give very detailed step-by-step directions, because there was a time when I was so scared of going new places that I would skip out on fun events just because I would have to get to them on my own… in those days, knowing the route in this much detail would have been a big help for me.)

Without further ado:

*******

First, head from the library along Hennepin toward 5th Street:


At 5th Street, turn and wait at the Warehouse Station and Platform.

Get on a Blue Line train toward Mall of America:

Get off at the 38th Street Station:



Turn left and go down 38th Street:




Turn on Minnehaha and you’ll be there!

A Fun Project: Do-it-yourself Tiny Books!

If you’re like me, you’d LOVE to have a dollhouse-sized bookshelf full of classic literature that you can only read through a magnifying glass.

I recognize that not everyone is like me. But if you ARE…

Well, now you can!


All you need:

- One of these tiny-font PDFs I made:

Alice in Wonderland

Dorian Gray

Frankenstein

The Invisible Man

The Time Machine

Tom Sawyer

-A computer

-A printer that has high enough resolution for the words to be clear. Many home printers work for this. (If you’re unsure, test the printer by making a document with text in font size 2 and printing it, then seeing if you can read it with a magnifying glass.)

-Scissors

-Large (about 2″) binder clips

-Liquid glue (such as Elmer’s glue)

-A jar lid about 2 inches across and more than 1/4 inch deep

1. Print the PDF on the printer.

2. Cut a thin strip off each side of each page, so that the lines separating the pages go to the edge of the sheet.

3. Cut the pages apart on the lines, starting by cutting them into columns vertically, then cutting each column apart horizontally.

4. Make each column into a stack of pages, in order, with the top page of the column on top of the stack. (Don’t leave out the blank page at the beginning!)

5. When all pages are cut and stacked, pile all the pages together in order, into one big stack. Line them up and make sure they are very even. Clip the stack together with a binder clip on the RIGHT side of the pages (opposite from where the book will be bound together).

6. Pour a thin layer of glue into the jar lid. Dip the LEFT edges of the pages into the glue, and let them soak for several seconds. Be sure to soak the edges of all the pages in the stack, but not soak too close to the printed words.

7. Once the binding edge is soaked in glue, remove it from the jar lid and put another binder clip on that side, clenching the sticky page edges together. Let them dry.

Or (and I’ve found this works better) instead of adding a second binder clip, just flip the handles of the first binder clip up, to hold the sticky edges together, and stand the book up on the other end to dry.

8. When dry, remove the binder clips. The left edges of all the pages should be fused together now, forming a book binding.

9. Cut out the cover image on the last page. Wrap it around the book and use glue to adhere it to the front cover, spine and back cover. If it is too large, cut it to size.

10. Let the glue dry and enjoy! If desired, cover the binding with duct tape in whatever color you prefer.

These books make fun gifts, and are nice for dollhouses or other miniature displays.

Currently I have these PDFs available:

Alice in Wonderland

Dorian Gray

Frankenstein

The Invisible Man

The Time Machine

Tom Sawyer

I can make others, if they’re available in the public domain in .txt form (Project Gutenberg is a good place to look). Send me your requests! Just make they’re not TOO long (if the text file is more than 500 KB, the book tends to turn out thicker than it is tall, which will look silly).

Sirius the Artist

Lately I’ve been trying to teach Sirius to draw.

It’s harder with a starling than a parrot. Parrots are made to hold things in their feet, and once you’ve gotten a parrot to grasp a pen, it’s easy convincing him to move it against a sheet of paper for a while. But starling feet can’t really hold anything except the branch the bird is perched on.

First I had to make flat holders for little crayon pieces, big enough for his beak to grasp, but light enough for him to lift and move easily. Then came the task of presenting him with a crayon-holder and rewarding him whenever his beak touched it in any way at all. Gradually I’ve worked my way up to giving him a special treat when he holds the thing on his own for a few seconds. Some day in the future, I may be able to get him to hold it and then mash it down on a piece of paper, in the same way he attacks a bug or a blueberry, creating a few artistic strokes of color in the process of shaking it to death.

It certainly won’t be great art. It’ll be barely a scribble, and somewhat less satisfying for the fact that the bird didn’t come up with the idea on his own. People looking at Siri’s drawings may experience some of the disappointment they felt when they saw that online video of an elephant making a detailed painting of an elephant, only to find out later that elephants NEVER paint a realistic picture unless they are rigorously trained to paint that specific thing.

Now, I am not equating Siri’s artistic career to that of the elephant in the video. From what I’ve heard, those elephants are treated terribly, beaten and gouged every time they draw a line the wrong way. I don’t do punishment. I train exclusively with positive reinforcement. Siri gets plenty of healthy food every day (the recommended mix of dog food and poultry mash, with applesauce on the side), but if he does a trick I’ve taught him, he immediately gets dried flies and other special treats he wouldn’t otherwise have. If he disobeys me, nothing happens; I just don’t give him a treat.

There are many reasons why I don’t use punishment or negative reinforcement. I don’t like making any living creature unhappy. And I don’t think it would work well, either. Some animals just don’t understand it. Truth be told, I didn’t understand it in my own childhood. Punishment didn’t work on me. I always saw it as an attack that deserved retaliation, instead of a consequence to be avoided by changing my behavior. Whenever it happened, it poisoned the relationship between me and the people teaching me, instead of making it the enjoyable social interaction it should have been.

Positive reinforcement works. It’s the process behind Siri’s progress on the piano, from showing zero interest in that silly toy, all the way to elaborate recitals like this:

And yes, it may be disappointing, in a way, that he didn’t come up with it on his own. But, at this point in time, it’s worth remembering that he enjoys it enough to do it on his own. When he’s craving attention and treats, he will spontaneously fly to his piano and start playing, without my having to initiate anything.

Yes, he’s doing it in order to get something… but that whole process of playing piano, getting a treat, then playing some more, is fun enough for him that he deliberately chooses to begin it.

I think training can be a great part of life with a pet, enjoyable for both human and animal. I’ve known this ever since I was a child teaching tricks to the family dogs, and whatever other creatures found their way into our home. We took in a lot of unusual stray animals over the years; our house seemed to attract them somehow. Once we even found a guinea pig under some bushes in the backyard. After we brought it inside and fed it, my first reaction was to teach it to shake hands.

It was a very young and cute black-furred guinea pig, very friendly and eager to please, if pleasing me meant that I would give it carrot sticks. This creature would do anything for carrot sticks. So I held a piece of carrot in its face, letting it sniff and nose at the morsel, but holding on tightly, not letting it have a bite until it actually started to paw at my hand. I rewarded each touch of the paw with a carrot bite, until the guinea pig had begun to associate the treats with the action, and soon it was putting its paw in my hand every time I reached out to it.

My parents didn’t let me keep the guinea pig; we had enough pets already at the time, so they gave it to a family they knew. It wasn’t a family of close friends, just casual acquaintances, so I never saw it again… but I’m told that it lived for ten more years, which is ridiculously old for a guinea pig.

I’m certainly not claiming that this long lifespan was due to learning how to shake hands. But I do believe that learning tricks is healthy for pets, and fills a void they may have inside them, left over from their wild ancestors.

If there’s one thing most pets are in great need of, it’s mental stimulation. They live in an environment where predators are unheard of, and food and shelter are given to them with no effort on their part. Certainly it’s less stressful than life in the wild, and most pets don’t want to leave this safe haven. But one can’t deny that it gets a little boring after a while.

Animal minds, including ours, are made for a world where they’re facing constant challenges in order to stay alive. Of course most of us, human and animal, will choose a safer alternative if we can get it. But in order to stay happy in that safety, we need hobbies and games to challenge our minds.

I believe that learning tricks is one of the greatest games that pets can get to play. It’s a combination of engaging mental challenges, snacks, and social time with the humans they love. In fact, it’s so fun that it could even be translated into an enjoyable game for our own intellectually advanced species.

Imagine playing with a friend: you are the trainer, and he is the trainee. You have a task that you want him to do (arrange all the pencils in order of color, or walk in a square three times, or wave a feather-duster at the television; be creative and make up something weird) but you can’t use language to communicate it.

Your only way to tell him what you want is to give a specific reaction when he gets part of it right. He moves randomly around, doing random things to get your attention, and if he happens to touch the pile of colored pencils, you say “Good!”

He pays more attention to the pencils, moving them around. You say “Good” again when he gets two of them parallel to each other, then again when he happens to get a couple of them in order of color, and so on. See how complex a task you can teach without any words except that one little expression of praise. It’s like a cross between “Charades” and “Warmer, Colder.” It’s fun!

I think Sirius enjoys his piano lessons and drawing classes, and not just because he gets dried bugs to eat. The strongest proof I have is a certain thing he does from time to time. In fact, he did it just now, while I was typing an earlier paragraph.

He flew to his piano, and played several notes. I poured him a little pile of flies next to my computer, and he came and ate a few. But before finishing, he flew back to the piano, leaving flies uneaten. He played some more notes… and then, without me doing anything, he returned to the pile of flies and rewarded himself.

If he were only doing it for the treats, wouldn’t he just have stayed and finished the flies at his leisure? I believe that the give-and-take of playing, eating and playing again— the pattern of the game— fascinates him on some deep level, and he enjoys it for itself, as a whole.

Maybe some day we’ll be able to say the same about drawing.

Sirius talks, sings, and plays piano

A couple cute little videos of Sirius the Starling.

Here he is playing his toy piano with great enthusiasm, while John designs D&D characters with a friend in the background.

And here he is chattering along while John and I watched a Chinese opera. At about 48 seconds in, he really gets going. Most of his vocalizations are still mumbly baby-talk, but the occasional “Pretty” or “Birdy” is quite clear.

Valentine’s Day Craft Fair!

So, there’s another craft fair at the Minnehaha Free Space!

1454715_794136490664728_4683700899296099159_n

unnamed


Minnehaha Free Space Craft Fair & Bake Sale

(Facebook page)

Sat Feb 14, 2015

1:00 pm – 6:00 pm

This is the one at which I’ll have a table, selling my handmade jewelry and other crafts.

My jewelry is crazy intricate Renaissance-fair-type stuff that you can see on my website.


There will be lots of other cool artists too!

Since it’s a bake sale, there will also be baked goods! Probably including some vegan and gluten-free options, because Minnehaha Free Space is into that.

The craft fair will be at:

Minnehaha Free Space

3747 Minnehaha Ave

Minneapolis, MN 55406

email: radspacetc@riseup.net

call: 612-729-3733

If you can get to downtown Minneapolis, it’s easy to get to Minnehaha Free Space from there by train. Here are directions from the downtown library. (I’ll give very detailed step-by-step directions, because there was a time when I was so scared of going new places that I would skip out on fun events just because I would have to get to them on my own… in those days, knowing the route in this much detail would have been a big help for me.)

Without further ado:

*******

First, head from the library along Hennepin toward 5th Street:


At 5th Street, turn and wait at the Warehouse Station and Platform.

Get on a Blue Line train toward Mall of America:

Get off at the 38th Street Station:



Turn left and go down 38th Street:




Turn on Minnehaha and you’ll be there!

Window Plants

My garden is looking nice today.

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

Writing thoughts

image

I’m thinking a lot lately about going back to writing fiction.

My big writing project lately has been a new memoir, Erika to Earth, where I talk about my life since the publication of my first book Born on the Wrong Planet, as well as exploring in depth some issues that I regret ignoring or portraying simplistically in my first book (which I wrote as a college student with limited experience and a somewhat idealistic worldview).

Similarly, I want to write fiction that portrays humanity with more of its true complexity than the first fictional book I published, Kea’s Flight. When John and I collaborated on that novel, I still believe we did something good in telling the story of some strong and intelligent autistic characters like ourselves, but there are still aspects of it that I regret.

I’ve been working on a sequel, bit by bit, and as time goes on, I’m becoming more and more aware of how important it is for the sequel to be more inclusive.

I want to show a wider range of the disabled people that were mentioned living on the ship. The first book never went into their lives, and I regret that. I want to show those with more severe impairments, those who can’t speak vocally, those whose intelligence was never recognized, those with low intelligence. I want to show Kea interacting with them, listening to them, taking their ideas into consideration. I want to see her learn to respect them, as I have.

I want to show non-disabled people who are more in-depth characters than Brandon from the first book. Life is not just autistic heroes versus allistic villains. I want to show interaction between autistic and non-autistic people as the complex, nuanced, sometimes enlightening, sometimes painful reality that it is.

“Kea’s Flight” included a lesbian, a bisexual and an asexual, all female. I want to show more of the LGBTQ spectrum. I want to show gay and bi men, and maybe some trans characters. I want to make them complex characters and show more scenes from their viewpoints. There were also a few characters in “Kea’s Flight” who were apparently Hispanic (though the setting is such that people’s ethnic heritage is difficult to know). I want to show a wider range of people of color. I want to paint humanity as it really looks, in all its intricate detail, showing all the colors and shapes and fascinating twists.

I know I’ll get things wrong, and I’m prepared to accept criticism. I hope to build my skill at accurately depicting all aspects of the world and its people.

I’m a growing and changing person, and, I think, so is Kea. When John and I created her, our hearts were more or less in the right place, but our awareness was narrower than it is now, and we made her in our image.  I believe she can grow as we have, and expand her worldview and the diversity of her group of friends.

Random act of kindness

THANK YOU to the person who sent me silver wire from my Amazon wish list!!! I didn’t recognize the name on it, so I’m guessing you’re either a casual acquaintance whose name I’ve stupidly forgotten, or a fan who doesn’t know me personally. (Also, I’m writing this cautiously because I’m not sure if you’d want to have your name posted in public). In any case, thanks so much! I made some really cool necklaces out of it.