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DanaFarber Cow Parade and Female Autism Collide

This year was awesome! I finally got to paint a public art piece, and it happened to be a cow for the Dana Farber Cow Parade!!! This was a dream come true for me, definitely something from my bucket list!


I wanted the Cow to represent something meaningful, and to serve a purpose. I was trying to think of ideas, all the while kind of freaking out about the whole thing at the same time. Why was I freaking out? Well, for those of you who don't know, I have Autism. It's something I've had and struggled with my entire life, I just didn't know what it was called. I was only diagnosed 3 years ago at the age of 43, and that's because Female Autism presents differently than the typical Autism symptoms that most males have. So for years and years many women and girls like myself went undiagnosed and still do so to this day. The only reason I was finally diagnosed was because I read about the symptoms and had to self advocate to finally get tested by a Neuropsychologist proving that I do in fact have Autism. How does Autism present itself in females? well here's a list of some of the ways, keep in mind everyone is different and may experience slightly different symptoms themselves.


Female Autism Traits that I have (and most women/girls with Autism have)

  • Audial Processing Disorder in my "left ear" (left side).

  • literal thinking (sometimes finding common expressions confusing).

  • Black and White thinking, not seeing the gray areas in situations.

  • Difficulty reading micro expressions, or reading them at all.

  • Not understanding or recognizing social cues.

  • Generalized Anxiety/Social Anxiety.

  • Difficulty processing information when overwhelmed with surroundings.

  • Poor Working memory, and short term memory.

  • Poor Executive Function/Organization of thoughts and timelines.

  • Difficulty with emotional regulation.

  • Hyper-fixation on certain subjects.

  • Special Interests that consume all thoughts and energy.

  • Extreme proficiency in masking to blend in with societal norms.

You can imagine the difficulties having Autism would cause while in Grade school, then Middle and High School, College was extremely hard, and then even as an adult it affects any jobs I have and usually can't keep because of it. It makes socializing very stressful, and regular day to day activities like going grocery shopping can be a challenge.


There have been two things in my life that I do very well. Making Art, and Masking.

Since you know all about making art, let me explain what masking is. Females on the Autism spectrum are especially good at masking their symptoms and emulating others in order to "fit in" with societal norms. Basically we can observe, memorize and then replicate how others act, speak, look, and present themselves in different situations. The problem with this behavior is, first of all, it's exhausting to do every single time you go out of the house. Many Autistic Women don't even know they do it, and then don't understand why they suffer from migraines and fatigue. They are EXHAUSTED! Doing this for years and years can and usually does lead to burn out or "Autistic burnout" since it typically happens to Autistic people.


ANYWAYS.........This is why I was freaking out a little bit. Now that you understand Female Autism, you can imagine working on a public art project would be very daunting! The Cow Parade people wanted me to come in to a warehouse with all of the other artists there in order to paint my cow, Then after the cows were painted there was a special event for all of the artists and sponsors to come celebrate, see the cows and mingle. Oh and not to mention all of the timelines and dates to remember and to make sure I adhered to.... I had to submit my proposal by a certain date, sign forms, get the cow painted by a certain date etc. Talk about overwhelm.


THE IDEA

During my little freak out, I realized that was what I should make my Cow about! The thing that was causing the freak out! The Autism! It is a cause that needs more attention, people are walking around with this and suffering with it because Doctors, teachers, and parents don't know the signs and symptoms to look out for. If I could spread the word even a little bit with my Cow that would be amazing. It is something I am very passionate about (can you tell??) and something that I found really inspiring to paint/create.



OK GREAT! I submitted my idea for my Female Autism Cow. they asked for the name of the cow on the form, so I put, "FEAMLE AUTISM COW". A very Autistic name if I do say so myself. The director, Maryann Zschau got back to me and said, "how about something a little catchier for the name? like Masking Cowgirl or something?" With a little help brainstorming with my husband Scott, We came up with...


"SPECTRA THE MASKING COWGIRL"

Which I guess I can see in hindsight why we needed a catchier name. Many of the other cows have a toungue in cheek sort of name like "On the MOOOOOOOVE" or Miss MOOOOOOOOOsachusetts". So Spectra, because of the Autism Spectrum, Masking because of, well......Masking, and Cow because she's a cow, then girl since it's all about Female Autism. Then of course theres the whole pun thing going on like "Masking Cowgirl" I think of a female version of this guy:

In my original sketch, I made the Mask the Cow is wearing to look more like a full face plastic halloween mask with lipstick etc. Then I thought of this guy and realized his style mask would work so much better with the pun.

Some facts about Spectra The Masking Cowgirl

  • Spectra is wearing a "Cow Costume" to try and fit in with the Herd.

  • The mask is gold to represent how precious it is to her, the costume is also lined in gold.

  • The infinity spectrum symbol is on her forehead, this is the newer more socially acceptable symbol for autism. The puzzle piece is viewed as juvenile and offensive by most Autistic adults.

  • Spectra is part of the Autistic Spectrum, and has it flowing through her showing on her horns and hooves, it's in her bones, the core of who she is. Her skeleton is also a spectrum you just can't see it.

  • She is a purple sparkly cow, and this is because of the purple cow metaphor used in marketing. (See below)

  • Her cow costume is supposed to look like a normal Dairy Cow. (No cows were harmed in the making of her cow costume, it's all synthetic.)


Here is an excerpt from How to Wow Your Customers with a Purple Cow (leaders.com) in an article written by DAVE TOUHILL

The Purple Cow Metaphor

Godin came up for the metaphor behind Purple Cow when driving around the French countryside with his family. At first, they noticed all the brown cows grazing in the fields around them. But, as they drove on for miles, the hundreds of cows they passed quickly lost their allure. They became an unremarkable part of the scenery.

When businesses fail to effectively market themselves, it’s because they’re a brown cow. Consumers already know what they have to offer because so many others are offering it, too. If this happens, an organization sets itself up for closure. Customers have no reason to be loyal and continue buying from them when purchases become based on who offers the lowest price. To be successful, a company has to stand out—be a Purple Cow.

What It Takes to Be a Purple Cow

So, what are Purple Cows made of? There are particular qualities most companies don’t have that Godin says sets outstanding apart from average.

The first quality of a Purple Cow is that it immediately looks different from all the brown cows. These companies gain attention for uniqueness, passion, and willingness to dare outside the ordinary. An example of this is Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Only one of the many brands in the frozen treat aisle, theirs stands out due to the company’s dedication to political and social activism. Yes, their ice cream tastes great, but the primary reason for such a loyal following is that they are very vocal about supporting causes their consumers support.

Additionally, Purple Cows are willing to take the lead in their industry by being innovative and implementing new ideas. Godin says most companies rely on copying what their top competitors are doing. But this presents a problem when that business fails or the market dries up. His point: “Safe is risky.” As he explains, “You can’t be remarkable by following someone else who’s remarkable.” Companies that implement this strategy set themselves up to be just another brown cow. Instead, he suggests organizations stop mimicking their market’s leaders and do something different. “You’ll never catch up by being the same, make a list of ways you can catch up by being different,” he suggests.


THE PAINTING

When I signed up for this project it was a full year before painting was to start, and a lot of things changed during that time! I live in my RV fulltime, When I signed up, I thought, "no problem, we'll be driving all over the country, we'll just have to swing by Boston to grab my cow so I can paint it!" Well, then all that stuff happened in Nevada/Arizona with Scotts blood clots, and because of that, running really low almost out of money, driving across the southern US to Key west, working that nightmare of a job there.....etc. (See earlier blog posts to learn all about that stuff!) So when it was time to paint it, I was in Key West Florida! I was committed to the job there and *thought* it was going to be great. We had committed to at least one year there, but then got fired for having Covid, and I still suspect it was because the office manager couldn't deal with the fact that I had Autism. Before we were fired I was seriously looking into hiring a fellow artist to execute my design on the cow as part of my Team! But then we were fired, and had to drive all the way back up to Massachusetts in the dead of winter because we had no place else to stay, and of course, MY COW NEEDED ME!


Once in Massachusetts, Scott and I visited the warehouse where all of the Cows were being painted and I got to see the progress everyone had made so far. Many were already finished! While there I took a lot of pictures, and tried to ask the artists questions etc. Scott and I realized that going into Cambridge to paint with all of the other artists, and having to SCHEDULE when I could paint on their calendar wasn't going to work for me because of my Autism. Maryann Zschau was very nice to extend the deadline for me and another artist or 2, so I had an extra couple of weeks to finish. So we loaded my cow into the RV, and I painted her in my mobile art studio at our campsite in Ashby, MA. After a couple of weeks she was all done, and we dropped her off in Cambridge at the warehouse for her photo shoot.














THE PARTY

The party invitation said, "Festive dress is encouraged" I didn't know what that meant. I tried asking but nobody seemed to be able to explain it. so.... I dressed up like my cow.

Of course I did! Because that's normal right!!!??? Ugh.




I got a full length Purple sequined Caftan, and had my nails painted to match my Cow. I swear people thought I looked like one of the aliens from Classic Star trek! Not to mention it turned out to be the most UNFLATTERING outfit in the world!

Notice the necklace the alien is wearing? Oh yes, I even had a necklace. The resemblance to this alien is uncanny! At least I have hair. (Little known fact.....the alien in that episode of Star Trek was actually played by a woman!)

I actually made two custom necklaces of Spectra the Masking Cowgirl. I wore one, and gave the other as a gift to Maryann Zschau the person who organized the New England Cow parade.



I hope she likes it. I wanted to give her something special since she was so patient with me! Even during my mini melt-down when I thought I was getting a cow with its head up, but ended up getting a cow with its head down. (Another Autism thing. People with Autism don't do well with change. At all. If they are expecting one thing, but something different happens, it can really throw them for a loop. It's worse if they are already stressed over whatever it is in the first place!) I got a little upset over it, and I reacted in a way I am not proud of. I'm sure working with me can have it's moments. Maryann was always so patient and kind. I am so grateful for that.


During the party, I was able to meet and interact with some of the other artists, I had fun, and all of the artists who were there got to sign a little mini cow! We had a heart shaped space to fill on the cow, I didn't know what to do, but many of the other artists were making a design that matched their cows. I decided to do the same thing, so I made a golden mask with a spectrum flowing from it.



I think my favorite part of the entire evening was the "MOO-TINI"!



THE COW IN THE WILD

My cow ended up being placed in the Coca-Cola pasture right in downtown Boston, City Hall Plaza. Mine was placed just outside of the exit from the Government Center T-Stop (The Boston Subway). There were 75 Cows all over Boston and New England. The cows were there from June through September, and then sold for charity for the Dana Farber Jimmy Fund.

While mine was in Boston, my family and I made a trip in to see it and get lunch.




I am told that my cow was sold to a family in Connecticut with a 12 year old Autistic daughter. Perfect!!! Enjoy your new home Spectra!!!


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