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. Blog posts happen at least once a week here, on Sunday morning. Add me to your bookmarks! I’m always up to something.

Spectacular, symmetrical, eloquent, elaborate, kaleidoscopic Abby and Norma poster! VERY limited time!

Attention fans of my webcomic Abby and Norma, and anyone else who likes fantastic posters! Please read, please share and pass it on to your friends!

There is a Backer campaign to make a crazily cool, very exclusive limited-edition Abby and Norma poster! It will be a psychedelic geometric explosion of images and quotations from the comic, and will look awesome on your wall regardless of the style of your home.

And after this campaign is over, there will be NO MORE. You will own one of the very few posters like this in existence!

Remember Ron’s art? He would absolutely approve.

Become a backer at app.net and get your own poster, plus loads of other cool stuff like books, stickers, t-shirts and even a chance to add your own idea to the poster design!

Just a reminder: one more month until SpringCon!! Save the date!

Springcon: a local comic book festival at the State Fairgrounds in Saint Paul, on the weekend of Saturday May 17th and Sunday May 18th.

More info in this older blog post

Jewelry, Abby and Norma merchandise, and various self-published books will be for sale!

Do Aspies Dream of Eclectic Sheep?

When I’m having trouble sleeping, counting sheep often works for me.

Or rather, imagining sheep jumping over a fence works for me. The counting part is irrelevant. I don’t keep track of how many there are. I just keep my mind focused on the image of one sheep after another jumping the fence. When I give myself freedom to picture this in whatever way comes naturally, I tend to imagine the chain-link fence in my parents’ front yard, with sheep approaching from outside the yard and jumping inside.

It works because it’s more relaxing than whatever else I might think about as I’m lying in bed at night. Sheep step in and take the place of planet-killing asteroids and nuclear wars, and I just might be able to get my nightly eight hours.

When I first started trying this method, it didn’t work for me. This was because I had not yet gotten used to what my mind does with things that should be dull and repetitive.

The first time I tried to get to sleep this way, I watched about three or four sheep complete their uneventful motion through my mind’s eye… and then the next one, at the apex of its jump, turned its head and grinned at me. It was wearing sunglasses, with garish multicolored frames.

That woke me right up.

For some time after that, I gave up on sheep-watching, because I felt that my mind was just not capable of imagining something to bore itself to sleep.

But in recent years, I’ve made a return to it. I’ve found that, given the chance, I kind of enjoy the scenes my sleepy mind invents when I give it sheep to play with.

Here are some things sheep have done in my imagination, given a healthy dose of tiredness to remove inhibitions.

1. A sheep jumps over the fence, and lands on the other side with a somersault that ends with it standing up on its hind legs and taking a bow.

2. A sheep looks as if it’s about to jump the fence, then at the last moment decides to burrow under it instead.

3. One sheep attempts to jump the fence but can’t jump high enough, and ends up lying on the ground at the foot of the fence. Another sheep arrives, has the same experience, and ends up lying on top of the first one. This continues until there are enough sheep piled up that the next one can climb over the pile to clear the fence.

4. A sheep magically shrinks itself so tiny that it can fly through one of the diamond-shaped holes in the chain-link fence, then returns to its usual size on the other side.

5. A sheep builds an airplane, flies it a distance of a few feet to get over the fence, then lands.

6. A sheep approaches the fence, then turns upward to walk up the fence, as if gravity had begun pulling it toward the fence instead of the ground. At the top, it stands precariously for a moment with all four hooves together on the upper rim of the fence, then proceeds to walk down the other side in the same way.

7. A sheep runs full-speed at the fence, and the chain links cut the sheep into a hundred small diamond-shaped chunks, which then reassemble themselves on the other side and the sheep walks happily away.

8. A sheep runs full-speed at the fence, and hits the fence, and the fence acts like a big horizontal trampoline, rocketing the sheep in the opposite direction. It flies all the way around the world and ends up on the other side of the fence. (Hey, don’t judge my physics. Maybe this is happening on a very small planet. Sheep can live on very small planets– just ask the Little Prince.)

9. A sheep jumps over the fence, but at the top of its leap, it suddenly stops in midair and falls straight downwards. The fence slices it in half. The tail half grows a new head, and the head half grows a new tail and goes on its merry way.

10. A sheep looks at the fence, and then walks a few feet to the left and opens the gate and walks through.

The crazy thing is, this doesn’t keep me awake. It’s weird, but not in a scary way, and it seems to form just the right surrealist mood for drifting gradually into a dream.

I don’t remember any of the dreams I have immediately after I fall asleep… but I suspect a lot of them are silly and sheep-related.

Creepy midnight memory

This is another repeat post from my old blog, this time from July 2012. It was weird enough that I thought it was worth sharing. (To me, weird = valuable. Your mileage may vary.)

*****

I’ve been having strange experiences with dreaming lately.

In the spring, when I was a few seasons into watching the Tenth-Doctor episodes of Doctor Who, I had a dream about being his companion. Up until then, I had had a totally asexual appreciation of the show. But somehow that dream triggered something akin to my teenage obsession with Mr Spock– I realized with a sort of blinding flash that David Tennant was sexy (something every other geek girl had noticed long ago) and spent the next few months with a very intense crush on him, much to my husband’s irritation.

Then, recently and perhaps unrelatedly, I had a much stranger and more morbid midnight epiphany.

I woke up to the sound of a thunderstorm, with something in my mind that felt like a memory. As far as I could tell, it had nothing to do with the dream I’d been having, which was sexy and Doctor-Who-related. It was vague, but it felt like a memory from real life, not a piece of a dream.

It seemed to be a memory of a time in my childhood or teens, when I was living at my parents’ house. It was composed of images of me going through boxes that belonged to my parents, and finding a box that had been sent to them or given to them by some acquaintance. I don’t specifically remember a name on the box, or any papers inside it– there’s just a feeling associated with it, a feeling that it came from someone who lived somewhere else, maybe one of our European relatives.

And inside the box were some bones and dried tissues that appeared to be human remains.

I don’t remember what part of the body they appeared to be, or how many pieces there were. I don’t remember what I did with them. But there was another strong feeling associated with the memory– a feeling that I did the wrong thing, that I hid them or buried them or threw them away, without talking to my parents about it. I don’t clearly remember why, but there was a feeling of fear, maybe fear that my parents would get in trouble for having them around. I vaguely remember wrapping them up in several layers of paper and tape, or some other sort of covering, before putting them wherever I put them.

Despite how vague this whole thing was, it stuck with me very strongly for at least a few days after it happened. I was thinking about it at work, for most of the next day.

I still don’t know what it was. It could very easily have been a memory of a dream after all– maybe a scary dream I had as a child, so long ago that the memory of it is no more vague than my memories of reality at that time. It felt real, but I know that under certain circumstances the brain can sometimes get confused between dreams and reality.

If it was real, I suppose there are quite a few possible explanations. It wouldn’t be the only time there were human remains in my parents’ house. They’re doctors; they had a real human skull on a shelf in the living room for much of my childhood. I’m not sure why someone else would send them parts of a dead person, but given their professions and widely varied interests, it could have been anything from a medical sample to an archaeological specimen.

Anyway, I find it a very interesting example of how the brain can work so very differently in the middle of the night. When waking up from a dream, people can get so many inspirations, realizations, and new perspectives on the world, even ones unrelated to the dream itself. It must be something about the state of the brain as it shifts from dreaming to waking– maybe it’s overactive at that moment, in prime condition for dredging things up from the subconscious.

I don’t know if my what I dredged up was a false memory, or a repressed memory of a long-ago dream or reality. But another interesting thing: putting together this blog post has changed the quality of what I remember. As I put it into words, it began to feel less vivid as a real memory, and more as if it could have been a dream.

This is actually something I’ve noticed before: putting my memories into words reduces their clarity as memories. It’s as if my brain realizes that describing a memory in words is a way of compressing it to save space in my brain– not lossless compression, but like resizing a family photo to a lower resolution. Actually, more like replacing the family photo with a text file saying “Christmas party, 2009. Left to right: Grandma Ruth, Aunt Carol, Mom, me.”

My brain realizes that once I’ve summarized a memory in words, I don’t need the visual, sensory and emotional detail of the memory anymore, and so it fades. I’ve hears that the people most likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder are the people who think about their traumatic experiences in pictures instead of words. I’m a strange type of person– someone who does much of her thinking in pictures and abstract concepts, but frequently puts them into words later.

Personally, I just plan to get a huge sugar high.

Gardening update

John gave me a Twilight cup as a joke, and I put it to the most practical use I could think of.

Today there is a single tear running down Edward’s face. It probably splashed over from watering the beans, but I like to think he is weeping about the garlic growing in his head.

Thoughts on feeling proud

This is a reposted post from my old blog, circa April 2013. Posting it because I was thinking about it, and realized my newer readers may not have seen it.

*****

To those who ask “Why isn’t it okay to have white pride, or straight pride?”

My own answer:

I am not proud of being white, or straight. But I’m also not proud of being a woman, or having Asperger’s Syndrome, per se, because I did not choose those things. What I do feel pride in is the accomplishments I have made despite those traits and the way society reacts to them.

I feel that pride is for things you accomplish, not things you have no control over. So, to me, gay pride or black pride or women’s pride is real and laudable, but it’s not about feeling proud of a characteristic you can’t control. It’s about feeling proud of the things you’ve accomplished in the face of prejudice. And that’s why there is no sense in being proud of an uncontrollable trait for which you have never experienced discrimination.

Portrayal of sexual violence in one of my short stories (Trigger warning!)

In my short story collection “If the World Ended, Would I Notice?” I have one story called “Ardent,” which is set in the same world as our science-fiction novel “Kea’s Flight.”

As warned in the mini-introduction on the page preceding it, “Ardent” is a dark story, portraying the descent into madness of one of the villains of “Kea’s Flight.” And it may bother some readers that it contains what appears to be a scene of attempted rape, from the point of view of the aggressor, who is undergoing a mental breakdown and losing control of his actions.

Even as a woman with openly liberal political views, I know I’m taking a risk by having a scene like that in a story. Every day I see more and more articles online complaining about rape being used as a plot device, giving the impression that many people don’t find any fictional depiction of rape or attempted rape acceptable.

And because of the nature of my story’s depiction, I’ve been feeling some concern about the possibility that people might interpret the story as an expression of support for rapists, a sympathetic account of what it’s like from the rapist’s perspective, or a statement that rapists “just can’t control themselves” and are “driven” to commit the crime.

This is obviously not what I intended, but I understand the complaint, and I’d like to do what I can to explain why I wrote the scene as I did. First, a clarification of exactly what the scene entails. (Possible triggers and spoilers after the cut.)

Continue reading

Vicious predator

The prehistoric Terror Bird rips flesh from the dinosaur it has just slaughtered. (Or, Siri the starling likes watermelons.)

My one regret: I didn’t spend enough time working

They say that people never die wishing they had worked more.

But I’m pretty sure that if I died now, that would be my one big regret. I fully expect to die someday wishing I’d worked more.

Not at my job, necessarily, but at writing, participating in events, talking to people, making connections. Perhaps even if I worked harder at my paying job, earned more money, earned promotions, that would have contributed something to my life’s goal.

My life’s goal is to make my way into a position where I have the influence to help fix the greatest problems in the world.

Everything has always been about the future for me. And it’s the same for most people, even those who say otherwise. If you say “I’m going to try to live in the present, because that will make me happier,” even that is a form of planning for the future.

After all, it’s natural for any living creature to be focused on the future, whether it’s long-term or just a couple seconds from now. The future is the only thing that our actions can affect, so logically it’s the only thing worth worrying about.

If there comes a time when I realize my body has no future, then I will become fixated on the future of what I leave behind: the traces of my personality that are preserved in writing and art, and in other people’s memories. When I write and speak and otherwise put my thoughts out in the world, I consider it a way of making a personality backup.

I fear death, but much more, I fear being forgotten. My greatest nightmare is that I die and then, some time later, the human species manages to kill itself off completely, and so there’s never anyone to remember me. Unless aliens find Earth in the next several billion years, or a new species evolves with intelligence enough like ours that they could have some comprehension of the things we created, we would all be lost forever.

Of course, if I’m dead and there’s no afterlife, I will have no way of knowing or caring whether this happens or not… and if there is an afterlife, then I don’t have to worry that my identity, or anyone else’s, will be lost. But my living self persists in caring about it. My living self knows that my dead self won’t care, but still pours boundless energy into doing everything possible to prevent that one terrible future that my dead self won’t mind.

Yes, it is illogical, but it’s based on fundamental biological drives. You can’t suffer when you’re dead, but every species of life still tries its hardest to avoid death. If they didn’t have that instinct, they wouldn’t have lasted this long.

Of course, there are times when I think that even if I saved all of humanity from the Earth’s destruction, it would still be pointless, because the universe won’t last forever.

Then I try to console myself with the thought that time is just another dimension, and if we all die and all the stars go out, that doesn’t destroy everything we did– it’s all safely locked away in the past.

But even so, I can’t help that I want my own part of that past to be as big as possible. And that means trying my hardest to keep humanity alive as long as possible.

I can think of hundreds of things that could help avoid the wordwide death that I fear. Certainly not a guarantee of preventing it, but a little chance, which is always infinitely better than nothing. (Infinitely in the sense of ratio, rather than the additive sense. One chance in a million is only one chance more than no chance, but it’s an infinite number of times as much as no chance. That is, if dividing by zero always makes infinity. I admit I do math unconventionally, but I kind of think it does.)

Our sun’s aging and death will eventually make life impossible anywhere in the solar system. Before that, there are plenty of things that could happen to our individual planet: nuclear war, global climate change, supervolcanoes erupting, solar flares or asteroids hitting us.

Of course our species would be likelier to survive if we lived on more than one planet. But we’re very, very far from technology that could take us to planets outside our solar system. And the planets in our solar system won’t necessarily last longer than Earth, and as things stand now, even traveling to Mars would expose humans to a lot of dangerous radiation.

Clearly we have to come up with ways to make space travel truly safe, and that may take a long while. In the meantime we have to make life safer on Earth– not just to buy us time until we get all our eggs in more than one basket, but also because Earth is going to be one of our baskets for a long time to come.

I imagine that the best way to give humanity a chance at survival is to build lots of secure underground bunkers, all over the world, each big enough for a city of humans to live in it. I imagine them having solar, wind and geothermal energy sources, growing their own food and recycling their own waste. If built well, a lot of them could survive natural disasters that would otherwise wipe out whole cities… maybe even some solar flares or asteroid impacts that could disrupt the atmosphere to the point of uninhabitability.

This is a lot more within our grasp than building colonies on other planets. It would keep us alive on Earth long enough to develop our technology to the planet-colonizing stage, even if terrible things happen to Earth’s surface in that time. And it would also serve as practice to prepare us for colony life.

In my worst times of anxiety, it freaks me out that the world is not working harder on this. But I don’t have nearly enough infuence to change that. I desperately want to be famous and powerful enough that I could convince the world to be interested in such a project, but I can’t even try to sell my handmade jewelry to a stranger without panicking.

To become influential, I’d have to work painfully hard, for hours every day, on overcoming my conflict-phobia and making constant, vigorous effort to spread my views and ideas to others.

This is utterly alien to who I am, but I’m going to keep trying. I may be unique, but I don’t want to be the first person to die wishing she’d worked more.