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.
Finally finished and photographed the jewelry collection I’m making for a local art show at the Vine Arts Center in Minneapolis, put on by an art discussion group called “The Art Salon for Fertile Minds.”
I will post more about this show as our plans progress.
The theme of the show is “The Space Between the Words.” That can be interpreted many ways… the phrase was chosen because we are a group of artists who discuss our art at the Art Salon every month, and our art is created on our own time, “between the words” we say at the group.
My own interpretation refers to my short story collection, “If the World Ended, Would I Notice?” In the first story, “Doug Day,” I described a necklace given by one character to another. It was basically my dream necklace, the epitome of exactly what I find beautiful.
Recently, while preparing for my upcoming craft fair, I’ve figured out a way to make a wide variety of useful rectangular boxes out of regular 8.5″ x 11″ sheets of cardstock or paper.
Knowing how to do this can come in handy for any seller of small arts and crafts, providing a cheaper and more personalized way to package your goods than store-bought boxes.
Start with an ordinary sheet of paper or cardstock, any color. (For smaller boxes, you can split a sheet of paper in half and use the resulting 8.5″ x 5.5″ sheets. Any square or rectangular piece of paper works.)
Decide how wide you want the box to be. Fold up the sides accordingly.
Fold each corner in, lined up with the folded edges.
Fold the ends of the paper in, as shown; then unfold.
Then fold the sides in, as shown, followed by the ends.
Now unfold the whole thing. You’ve created the creases that will allow you to complete the project.
Refold the square on each corner so that it points inward.
Now comes the slightly tricky part. Fold the corners in, inverting them so that the top edges of the paper walls touch the inner bottom. The box’s walls are half as tall as they originally were, but they are now held in place.
To make the box lid, take a second sheet of paper and fold the edges as before, allowing slightly more space in the middle than the first one.
Follow all the previous instructions for the second box that will form the lid.
The lid now fits on top of the box, and the box can now be lined with tissue and filled with your handmade jewelry or other trinkets.
You can make several different box sizes using this basic formula; just adjust how far you fold the sides in the first step.
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:
-how counting sheep can turn into a surrealist fantasy
-the dangerous concept of expecting fictional characters to behave consistently when real people don’t
-my obsessive fear of societal collapse and the extinction of humanity
-subconscious meanings in paintings
-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
-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.
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
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.
-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.)
-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.
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).
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.