#Autistic joy – it’s a thing. And we should have more of it.

agora theatre wall
Agora Theatre Wall – isn’t it lovely?

This morning, during my morning exercise bike ride, I read a piece by John Elder Robison about My Life With Asperger’s

Sex, Lies, and Autism Research – getting value for our money

How to get tangible benefit from the millions we spend on autism science

The US government is the world’s biggest funder of autism research.  For the past decade I have had the honor of advising various agencies and committees on how that money should be spent.  Sometimes I’ve been pleased at our government’s choices.  Other times I’ve been disappointed.  Every now and then I turn to reflect:  What have we gotten for our investment?

Autistic people and parents agree on this:  The hundreds of millions we’ve spent on autism research every year has provided precious little benefit to families and individuals living with autism today.  Over the past decade the expenditures have run into the billions, yet our quality of life has hardly changed at all.

You can read the full piece here. It’s worth it.

And of course it got me thinking… along similar lines to yesterday’s post, wherein I pondered the irregularity of autistic joy.

Returns on investment. Getting our money’s worth. Having something to show for our investments… What a world it would be, if all the money spent were going to opening up chances for good to flourish, rather than some “war on autism” dedicated to <begin sarcasm> hunting down and eradicating the dread disorder that “steals” perfectly healthy and happy children from their families and tearing apart everything their parents hope for and hold dear </end sarcasm>.

Now that we’re all triggered, let’s take a deep breath and step back from that hijacking of the collective consciousness by ve$ted intere$t$ and pause to actually recognize and laud the truth of Autistic joy.

If there’s one thing that seems to set Autistic people apart from non-autistics, it seems to be the capacity for joy. Honestly, looking at the neurotypical world, all I see is pain. Frustration. Anguish. Predators and prey. And the best that most non-autistics I know can hope for is just a temporary relief from their pain. Drinking. Drugs. Facebook. Yes, they have their friends and family, their careers and reputations. But even those joys seem so fraught with danger and conflict, there doesn’t seem to be much purity there at all. And the times that my non-autistic friends and associates are happiest, are when they’re numbing their pain with a stiff drink or distracting themselves from their pain and fear with some form of entertainment.

Truly, it’s such a dreary world they inhabit. Where’s the joy? Where’s the ecstasy? They don’t seem to have much capacity for it, and they treat my (and other Autistics’) capacity for unbridled joy like it’s a disorder. A condition that needs to be fixed.

How does that work, exactly? I just don’t get it. I would imagine it’s a little like being a really tall person during the 1700s, when people were considerably smaller than they are today.

The thing is, I don’t think non-autistic people are completely devoid of the ability to feel and experience ecstatic joy. I think they have as much capacity as we Autistics. They’re just not allowed to experience it by their milieu. They’re smacked down. Held back. Shamed and blamed and pressured into being certain ways because that’s “normal”. Huh. How ’bout that.

Meanwhile, it just holds them back. It cripples them, not only in their own lives, but also in how they relate to us.

It’s a little like the inexplicable conditioning of women to not really move that much in their lives. I’m noticing this more and more, these days, as I continue to move and be fairly limber and spry and strong, compared to my female peers. I take stairs two at a time. I lift 40-pound water bottles on a semi-regular basis. I rake my own lawn. I shovel refuse into my wheelbarrow and push it to the dump pile down the road. Even though I have issues with chronic pain and scoliosis, I get up and move around with pretty decent mobility.

Meanwhile, my female peers — friends and family — move a lot more slowly than I. Their joints are giving out on them, and they just don’t move as well or as freely as I do. In some cases, I realize it’s because they’ve been focused on being “good girls” for their entire lives, and good girls don’t jump up and run across the room. Good girls don’t take stairs two at a time. Good girls don’t stretch their backs and necks to get them to crack. They might go to yoga. Or take a pilates class. But they don’t really move freely in the course of their everyday lives.

And after decades of being demure, it’s taken a toll. They can’t just hop up and run across the room. They can’t dart out of danger, if something is flying towards them. And they run out of energy pretty quick, pumping themselves up with carbs and sugar and caffeine.

I’m not talking about disabled people who are dealing with physical limitations. I’m talking about healthy, non-disabled people who have actively limited themselves with their choices and behaviors. Because good girls don’t move quickly. Good girls aren’t physical. Good girls don’t take stairs two at a time. That’s not normal. And it’s certainly not free.

I have no idea why some people can’t deal with freedom. Or joy. Or ecstasy. But that’s not really my problem. My job is to make the most of my own freedom, my own joy, my own ecstasy. And to protect and shelter it in the face of all the people who covet it but refuse to allow themselves to experience it.

Autistic joy is a thing. Today, for me, it’s about getting back to my routine, which allows me to do so much more than I could if I had to re-design the schedule for my day, each morning.  I have a lot to get done, and my routine allows me to focus on the new and exciting things that interest me, even while I can consistently complete the basics that form the foundation of my life.

With my routine, I can get myself out of bed, wash my face, brush my teeth, and get myself downstairs with relative ease. With my routine, I can get my daily exercise, catch up on my online reading, have my breakfast, and get some writing done before I start my day-job work. With my routine — which other people might consider mind-numbingly consistent — my mind is freed up to do more interesting (and far more complex) things than figure out how to fix my breakfast. With my routine, I can get a whole lot of things done, that most people wouldn’t think are even remotely possible. And there’s a lot of joy to be had in the doing. Having four(+) projects going at the same time, and seeing them all coming to fruition in their own times and their own ways, is a rare treat that isn’t even on the radar of most people I know.

Autistic Routine — as much as it’s pathologized by the diagnostic establishment — is the very thing that makes it possible for me to function at higher-than-average levels.

And it’s something that brings me joy, which should be more than enough reason to depathologize it.

So, yeah. Rather than getting hung up on all the downsides of Autism (and don’t get me wrong — there are a lot of challenges that can make your life really miserable), maybe we need to focus more on the joy that seems to come part-and-parcel with  Autism.

Autistic Joy is a thing. Let’s have more of that!

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Through the river locks of #autistic joy

Quebec river locks
I’m coming ’round to my desired routines again, getting back to some narrow interests that have drawn me in and held my keen interest for years at a time. I’m finding myself able to think again, after a months-long hiatus of all-consuming DO-DO-DO–GO-GO-GO. I’ve been so busy “upping my output” that I’d lost touch with the simple act of taking in.

I had all but forgotten about some of those vital interests — the books I’d bought to read (devour, really) and ingest and think on, long and deeply, got stashed in my office and I haven’t spent much time there at all for months… the papers I’d downloaded to take in and consider also ended up in piles in my office… the theories and philosophies that have lit up my life so brightly for so many years, faded into the background of my day-to-day rush to Get Things Done…

Yeah, I got busy. And necessarily so. All of it was important. All of it held my interest and taught me useful things.

But as with any all-consuming effort that flames up in a series of inner fireworks, there’s a price to be paid, and that price was the steady flame of joy from what’s held my interest in a steady, rapt embrace.

I think perhaps this is a distinctly autistic feature of mine. I tend to be so completely consumed by what I’m doing at the time, I lose sight of everything else. And then my best-laid plans to do such-and-such a thing in such-and-such a timeframe… well, that all flies out the window like a caged bird that’s realized the keeper left its door unhooked. At the same time, my “interim” interests (intellectual sprints in the midst of my conceptual marathon) tend not to last long. Maybe a few weeks, maybe a few months. And I can lose interest in them rapidly, so that the full roster of Productive Activities I’ve earmarked for doing… well, that just gets lost along the way, too.

So, I end up with a lot of things started, and not a lot finished in the intended timeframe. Ultimately, I do finish things. But it’s years after the original plan. One of my books took nearly 20 years to complete. While others took me maybe 6 months, tops. Other works have been under construction for a couple of years, and they still don’t feel like they’re ready to be done.

I guess I do need to let my imagination “off the lead” and let it run around wildly for a few weeks/months at a time. It re-invigorates me, when I’ve reached a point of overwhelmed ennui, and nothing I’ve been working on makes any logical sense anymore — not because it has no sense, but because I’ve pushed myself to the point of not being able to reason, to think, or to draw anything useful out of what I’m pondering.

It’s cyclical. It needs to be. And yes, it doesn’t conform to the usual timeframes of the neurotypical world. How do those people live that way, anyway? I don’t get it. It seems both forced and dessicated, as though there’s no room for anything human at all. Just a mechanization of our creative impulses.

I can say this (and complain bitterly about it), because I make my living as a Program Manager at one of the planet’s largest high-tech companies. I see (and have to live) this forced, artificial, mechanized way of doing things every moment of my professional life, and I don’t like it. I’d love to toss a wooden shoe in the whole works and grind the teeth off the gears. Stop the whole machine from working that way. But alas, ’tis not in the best interests of my ongoing employment to do that. I like to eat. I like having a roof over my head. I like being able to afford to live my life. So, I keep those gears turning.

It’s a master-class in Everything Not To Do, If You Want To Keep Your Spirit Alive.

Well, so it goes. Railing against the imperfections of the world is all very well and good, but it’s much more productive to counteract it.

And I guess that’s what I do, when I move at my own speed and meander through my personal projects. Like a boat moving between two bodies of water that are at different levels, I need to progress gradually through the “locks”, letting the waters flow in/out and lift (or lower) my proverbial vessel, as I move from one level to the next.

Maybe, just maybe, that gradual way is my own way reclaiming my own autistic identity and reinforcing my own “organic” process (much as I hate that expression). The daily grind really does show me how I do NOT want to conduct my own affairs. And while it does grind me down, and there’s a big part of me that wishes I could make a living doing what I love to do, rather than doing what others will pay me to do, because they’re under the impression that it “needs” to be done… I’m not holding my breath. I’m an inventor and a builder, not a marketer, and I’m not going to waste my time trying to force myself to work in a mode that doesn’t suit me.

So, the day job remains in place. Until I can make a living otherwise.

Well, the day awaits. I have a bunch of things I need to do, and I’ve got a social afternoon ahead of me. I’m looking forward to it. Hangin’ with another Autist. It’s always a pleasure and a relief.

Till Monday rolls around, and it’s back to the same old…

In the meantime, though, I’m good, just going along at my own pace, piecing things together as I go, and keeping my spirit alive and lively.

With joy.

All that joy.

Into the weekend

man walking on pathI’m working from home today. My first conference call is in 10 minutes, so I just “dash off” a quick post to get myself in the mood for the day.

I got a lot done, yesterday, actually. Finished three really daunting tasks, some of which have major political implications and may spark some in-fighting (which I hate). I just took care of it. Because it had to get done, and I was on deadline.

I’ll let the captains of industry duke it out. I did my part, sending out the emails and notifying people of stuff. And I’ll do some more today.

The weekend is looking promising. It’s not going to be easy, but it will go. Some good things. Some sad things. And errands. Always the errands.

An old friend of mine lost his wife to illness a few weeks ago, so there’s a memorial service tomorrow night, which I’m attending.

I took care of the biggest chores last weekend, so I won’t need to work on them this weekend. I will have time to write and read and relax and make some progress on some of my side projects.

I’ve found some good podcasts, and I can listen to them.

And rest. Nap. Catch up on my sleep. I’m a little behind.

But it’ll go. It will all go — who knows if it’ll happen according to plan, but it’ll go.

Dropping back – then stepping forward

road with yellow stripes and trees with snow along the sides
It’s been a while since I blogged here. There’s a good chance people have forgotten about me, or they figure I’ve moved on to other things.

Actually, I have been doing other things for the past few weeks. Good things. Challenging things. Draining things. Restoring things. I’ve been writing a lot, researching a lot, thinking a lot, which means I have to cut down on the amount of input from the outside world. That means less blogging, less getting on Twitter, because there is so-so much that is distracting (and distressing), and I can’t afford to be pulled in all those different directions.

I think something may be “up” with my parents. I haven’t heard from them in a number of weeks. My mother’s cards come on a regular basis, but my dad has stopped calling me every Saturday. That’s a change. I need to check in with them. He hasn’t been in good health, for the past year or so, and despite surgery that looked wildly successful, he’s still got additional issues — including diabetes, which will do a number on your brain function, if you don’t control your sugar.

I kind of dread it, actually. But I should call. I’ll find some time. I’ll make the time. It’s the right thing to do.

I’m not sure why, but the last couple of weeks have been pretty intense. Well, there was the big event a couple weeks ago, that had me leaving the state and “peopleing” with strangers and finding my way around an unfamiliar college campus (while I was nervous that my car would get ticketed or towed because I parked in the wrong spot without knowing it).

There was the doctor visit with my partner, who’s extremely anxious around doctors, and the new meds prescribed to her, which I needed to research (I found what I needed to avert some likely serious side effects).

And then there’s been the whole work thing, with the Big Project I’m on being generally doomed, from the top down, as managers battle for territory, and the underlings get the brunt of their poor thought process. If we were left to our own devices and didn’t get dragged into their territorial disputes, we’d have the whole thing sorted, by now.

horse racing jockeysBut no. They have to jockey for position. Racing for the front and pushing each other against the rail. It’s tiresome. I feel like a horse that’s been ridden hard and put up wet.

We all do. And I wonder how long it will take, till we just throw the “riders” who are whipping us to go faster.

Maybe never. People need their jobs. I’m tired of this. I’m tired of the whole thing. It’s futile. It’s pointless. And I’m traveling down to HQ in a couple of weeks to continue the pointlessness. I hate business travel. It throws me off. It steals precious time and energy away from me, and it puts me in the middle of throngs of strangers who will trample me, if given a choice. Heck, they do it by default.

Well… what-ever.  I’ll just make the best of it.

Actually, I’m doing better than making the best of it. I’ve given up caring. I don’t give a damn, one way or the other, how things turn out. Oh, sure, I want the thing to work perfectly, but it’s literally impossible for that to happen, so I’m encasing myself in a protective shell of divine indifference and just getting on with my life, regardless of what happens around me.

Seriously, I’m beyond caring. I’ll do my part. I’ll pitch in and participate. I’ll fulfill my duties and my role to the fullest extent possible. But I’m not attached to the outcome, one way or the other. I didn’t ask for this project to happen. I got shoved into it by default, basically forced to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, and I’m expected to make it all work to everyone else’s specifications, even though I advised against it from the start, “raised red flags”, documented the risks, and so forth. I did my part. Nobody listened. At least, nobody at the top.

Maybe this works out. Maybe it doesn’t. What. ever.

I frankly have no personal interest in the whole thing. I’m not invested in the outcome. I’m oblivious to whether or not things are to others’ liking. All I care about is if I’ve done my best under the circumstances. I’m just “doing my thing” to the best of my ability, playing my part as is required, and letting go of any outcomes. It’s out of my hands.

So the project is doomed? So what? Who cares? Certainly not I.

And it’s wonderful.

So, yeah, I’ve dropped back a bit from life… Pulled back into my own little autistic experience… To work on some projects I’ve got going, and finally make some progress. I’m quite pleased with one of them. It has real potential. And there are several others that look promising, as well. Sweet. And these are all things I can do, myself, while I go through the motions of my everyday day-job, making a living, collecting a paycheck, getting what I can out of the situation.

silk purseHere, have a silk purse.

I have extra, from all the proverbial “sow’s ears” I have lying around.

What if I just let that sh*t go…?

danger falling rocks sign

“If you want to hear God laugh,
announce your plans.”
– Said someone somewhere, sometime.

I’ve been a pretty reliable source of entertainment for God, for years, now. And while I’m sure He’s gotten plenty of good laughs from me (you’re welcome, God), I’m kind of tired of being laughed at.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m autistic, so I’m used to being laughed at. And if anybody has a right to do it, that would be God. (I’ll overlook the fact that I don’t actually believe in God – I’m taking artistic liberties here.) But now, after all those years of striving and hoping and planning and wishing and working… I realize that God laughing at me really shouldn’t bother me at all.

Truth be told, the point of all my undertakings hasn’t been in the neurotypical mold. It hasn’t been in anybody’s mold. And that’s the point. I’ve frustrated my family and colleagues and bosses and recruiters for years, with my laissez-faire approach to career and undertakings, my lackadaisical, shifting focus from one fascination to another, not to mention my (shrug) “whatever…” attitudes toward advancement and achievement and worldly success.

The world’s idea of success is fine for everyone else. But I’m just so tired of it. What a time-sink it is. What a heart-breaking waste of time it is for me. All the shiny baubles and trappings and evidence of world domination that brighten the day of the Masters of the Universe… they just leave me cold. All the goals, the intentions, the schemes… yeah, I’ve had them a-plenty. But what I’ve gotten out of my life has been so much more than all the plans and hopes and wishes that urged me along.

I got a life. I got experience. I’ve failed fantastically at many things, and I’ve done so-so at others. Sometimes, I’ve nailed it. Just “hit it” exactly right, and I managed to ride a wave of success and achievement for a number of years, till I moved on to the next thing. And in the end, I think my failures have served me better than any of my successes.

That fact means more to me, every single day.

It’s not the end result of my plans and activities that’s meant the most to me, or that’s stood me in the greatest stead. It’s been the process… the experience… the peripheral collateral of joy that’s come along with the endeavors. The ultimate goals of specific intentions was really just the context, the impetus for moving me along. Ambition is the delivery agent of experience. And unlike some who revere the final result of a completed project/plan/scheme, for me it’s actually all the other stuff in-between that matters. Experience — good, bad, or neutral — is what’s made my life what it is — something cool and awesome. And far more valuable than any flush bank account.

So, I’m letting certain sh*t go. As in, the “end game” ideas that have progressively dragged me down and made me increasingly uncomfortable and frustrated. I’m shifting my ambition away from specific “targets”, and towards the quality of my experiences. I’m tired of being pushed and pulled by internal drives and external impetus toward specific outcomes… and then never getting to enjoy myself along the way, because the specifics haven’t materialized exactly as I’ve dreamed them up… or as others expect them to.

I’m also letting go of looking back in frustration, looking back in criticism, viewing my past as a series of failures. Failures at what? Some idea I had in my head about “how things should be”? Or worse, some idea that some marketer out there concocted to sell me? Those rocks and blocks are like so many useless, pointless obstructions teetering on a cliff above me (as I wait for them to break loose). It’s time to cut them loose myself, and just live my life, driving around the blockages with a gunning motor and a squeal of brakes… doing what I do for the love of it, rather than for money or quantitative measures. Quality, not quantity, is what I seek.

And interestingly, when I’ve put the emphasis on quality… on my own experience… somehow money and other quantitative measures have showed up.

I’ve still got a lot of dreams, still have a lot of hopes and plans… but the important thing now is really the process I go through as I make my way along those paths. The “final” destination I’m shooting for is just the carrot enticing me along… keeping me motivated… keeping me interested. But it’s not The Reason I do things, anymore.

Something much more intriguing is filling my life, these days — What Happens In Between.

And I’m finding, when I let go of specific outcomes, they actually show up — not always exactly as I envisioned them, but present, nonetheless.

Until they give way to What Else Is Yet To Come.

Finding my “sea legs”

ship in a storm with lightning flashing around it

I have to say, the past few days have been some of the best I can remember having in a really long time. Plans didn’t work out. Schedules changed. Expectations weren’t met. I didn’t get nearly as much done as I’d intended. But somehow I’ve been staying chilled out and even-keeled.

My work situation stinks. It just irritates me so much. So, I’ve been putting my resume out there, in hopes of finding something new and different. It’s slow going, because the automated systems in place “see” my educational history, and they block me before I can even reach a live person.

Whatever. Where I am now isn’t where I want to be for the long term, but I’ll make the best of it, while I have to. I’m finding ways I can meet the basic requirements each day, but still keep my sanity intact. And that’s fine. I just can’t get too wrapped up in expecting more of it than is reasonable.

My home life is going better than it has in a long time. I’ve let go of a lot of my old persnickety obsessions (and yes, they are obsessions) with perfection… not fretting if Everything Isn’t At Peak Expression… letting a lot of things slide and going out of my way to not take stuff personally. I’m treating dynamics that used to drive me batshit as opportunities to learn and grow and strengthen my character.

Healthwise, I’m doing okay. I’ve got intermittent pain, vertigo, and a whole raft of sensory issues. But you know what? It’s all old news. I’ve been through the wringer over this sh*t so many times, over the past 40-some years, I can’t even worry about it, anymore. It should come as no surprise to me. In fact, if anything, it should (and often does) bore me. Lately, the internal dialogue about my intermittent disabilities plays out like this:

I’m in pain! No shit, Sherlock.

I’m hypersensitive! Well, duh! You’re friggin’ autistic.

I’m uncomfortable! This comes as a surprise to you? Exactly where have you been for the past 52 years, that this is noteworthy?

I really am losing patience with myself, over all my wailing and gnashing of teeth. Seriously, it solves nothing. Might make me feel a bit better (temporarily), but it doesn’t change anything. And it seems I’m subject to an odd supposition that anything could be perfect… ever.

Silly. What am I thinking?

In a way, I feel like I’ve been kidnapped by pirates and taken away on a stolen ship, crossing stormy seas both night and day. And all my life, I’ve been wishing I’d never been kidnapped… longing for dry land that stays stable… just wanting to get to the proverbial shore and get off the ship.

To no avail. After way too much bitching and moaning, I’m finally finding my sea legs, getting the hang of sailing the ocean blue (and black and gray, when the storms hit), and realizing that I actually like it on board this privateering vessel — and accepting that I fit better here, after all the years aboard, than I fit anywhere else. Even if I did get to “dry land” tomorrow, even if I did set foot on shore and not have the ground heaving under me, I’m no longer sure what I’d do with myself.

Because it’s not home.

Home is here. Out at sea. In my storms… and in the company of other misfits and cast-offs and very-very-different folks who “get” me, even when the “normal” world doesn’t.

It’s all very well and good to dream about the luxuries of a staid and settled and conforming life, but here on the high seas, in the midst of 10-foot waves… this is home.

Raised to be #autistic

driftwood on the beach
My family would appreciate this piece of driftwood as much as I do

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about how fortunate I am. I’ve been kind of tangled up in all sorts of emotions about letting go of old unrealistic expectations that were very much a part of who I thought I was — or could be. I’ve always had goals, always had aspirations, but the more I think about it, the more I realize just how non-autistic so many of those goals were.

I think it’s just normal to internalize the values of society — we’re constantly being shown images of the “ideal”, constantly getting unspoken messages about how we should/should not be, constantly being redirected in subtle ways to keep us on society’s “straight and narrow”.

I also think the influences are particularly pronounced, when you’re autistic. We pick up so many cues and clues that slip by others, and we can be so strongly impacted by even the slightest nudge in a certain direction… even the faintest hint that we’re not OK… Which sets us up for ongoing bombardment, because society’s clues and cues are really designed to pressure folks who aren’t sensitive, who don’t pick up on subtle messages, and who can’t discern the gray-area differences between good/bad, right/wrong.

So, autistic folks end up bludgeoned. We really do.

Which is why I’m really, really happy that I was raised in an autistic family.

Nobody called themselves autistic, of course. It wasn’t a thing when I was growing up. Autism was a classic-Kanner deal, where you had to be severely impacted/disabled by your challenges, in order to be considered autistic. We knew of families who had autistic members — the guy who renovated our kitchen, for example. But those cases were just whispered about. Those of us who suffered intensely from environmental and sensory distress, but were able to go about our lives without being permanently disabled by all that, were considered “normal as normal can be”.

Indeed, for that time and place — in an insular religious community that was highly regimented, rules-oriented, literal, hard-working, and chock-full of physical activity that gave you ample outlets for your overabundance of energy — we were normal. Because how we were and what we were, was the norm. And our community of faith was sufficiently insulated from “the World” (capital W), that the ways of the evil outsiders never posed a danger to us.

Our autism was our creed. It was the right way to be. It was the only way to be. And anybody who wasn’t like that, was considered a minor (or major) threat. The ways of the non-autistic World were evil. Temptation. An ever-present danger that put our souls at risk. In the world where I was raised, you followed the rules. Autistic rules. Religious rules. Social rules. You didn’t deviate, on pain of expulsion. It wasn’t pathologized. If anything, NOT following the rules was pathologized.

Of course, all that pathologizing got a bit old, after a while. Especially for me. I wanted something bigger and broader than what the rules allowed. A more generous interpretation of gender. A less debilitating interpretation of what was possible for girls and women. The rules may have spared me a lot of anguish and insecurity, when I was growing up, but they also hemmed me in… in ways that were excruciating. Nearly lethal.

But let’s talk about the fun stuff, shall we? I can sit around and feel bad about the bad, or I can choose to feel good about the good. Life supplies ample amounts of both, and where I choose to concentrate is up to me.

There was a lot of good, in being raised that way. As painful as it was, as excruciating as it could be, it trained me along certain lines. And having a hyposensitive mother who was always on the lookout for the next exciting experience turned out to be a boon. Seriously, my Mom was/is like a shark… always moving, always seeking her next sensory experience, looking to fill up on the inputs of life. We did a lot, when I was growing up. Camping. Hiking. Playing. Working. Always active, always thinking, always talking. Even though it overwhelmed me constantly, and it took me years of pain and frustrationi to learn how to deal with it, now that I know how to do it, it’s an incredible gift.

My father, with his unending pontification, philosophizing, pedantry… always thinking, always talking, always convinced that his ideas were the stuff of wonder and awe, always convinced that he was on the cutting edge… His bravado (annoying as it could be at times) is something I carry with me. I’m more tempered, I think, in my suppositions of grandeur, and I do believe I have a wider base to draw from than he, who’s always operated within a fairly narrow mindset and belief structure. But that same conviction that my thoughts matter, that my insights have depth and importance, is clearly inherited from him.

My whole family was so autistic… Pick up a (credible) work on autism (preferably written by an autistic writer/researcher — Milton Damien comes to mine, along with others whose names I can’t conjure right now — or someone who’s a true ally — Luke Beardon’s latest work is a good bet)… and make a laundry list of autistic traits, and I can assign them, to most (if not all) of my biological immediate and extended family to one degree or another. I can also find those traits in my onetime neighbors and classmates, the folks who attended our church, the people I interacted with daily as a kid.

They all helped raise me. They “trained me up in the way I should go”, and that way was autistic. They raised me to be neurodivergent, and it was our most critical identity. It was our saving grace. All those rules, all those pressures, all that constantly reinforced messaging of right/wrong, on/off, acceptable/verboten… all of it spared us from the world. Our agreed-upon rules, our regulations, our religion… it buffered us and gave us a profound, unassailable sense of belonging with one another that was so powerful and enduring, it makes today’s identity politics look like capricious dabbling.

We were autistic. All of us, to one degree or another. And the ones who weren’t, were recognized as “different” and accommodated, so long as they made an attempt to comply with our ways. In a sense, I was raised in a world that was the flip-side of the neurotypical mainstream — all the autistic folks were normal, non-autistic folks were the neurodivergent ones, who were looked upon askance, not quite trusted, sometimes pitied, often excluded, and constantly pressured to become like us.

To be autistic.

Well, it’s a beautiful day, and there’s an adventure out there “with my name on it”. How’s that for an image — in my mind’s eye, I see a vast stretch of wilderness with a stickie tag on it that has my name written in dark blue marker.

Time to make that come true, and do my parents proud.

What makes it worth it

two stacks of rocks beside a rushing streamHere’s my little Stoic meditation for the day…

I had a dream last night that I was cooking a meal for my extended family with my mother’s pots and pans and cooking implements, in a kitchen I wasn’t familiar with, on a gas stove that was hard for me to control, in a house I didn’t recognize. All my four siblings and their kids were there, as well as some cousins, who came in and out of the dining room, where everyone was talking and yelling and laughing in pandemonium, getting hungrier by the minute. The number of people kept changing, as people came in and out, and they were all yelling for me to come join the party.

They wanted me to cook, as well as play games, and the whole scene was joyful chaos. They were having a grand time. I was having a terrible time. I kept miscalculating the timing on how long the food should cook, I had rice on the back burner and stir-fry vegetables on the front burner, and a bunch of other side dishes in various states of preparation.

On top of it all, my mother kept coming in and out of the kitchen, correcting me about how I was doing things, offering to “help”, and generally distracting me when I was trying to sort things out.

It was a typical time with my family… and I was beside myself with anxiety, frustration, overwhelm… the works.  I wanted to cook a nice meal for everyone, to show them how much I cared for them. But they were making it impossible.

Impossible, I tell you!

I woke in a state of irritation. No surprises there. Fortunately, I got nearly 8 hours, last night, so that’s a big plus. It takes the edge off things. Eases the burn, so to speak.

So, yeah, I woke up feeling frustrated and agitated, feeling like I can’t do anything right. I’ve really been struggling with the choice to let go of a lot of my false hopes that fueled me with irrational optimism, all those years. I’ve spent so much time trying to fit myself to external requirements, that I’ve usually gotten lost in the mad shuffle. And now I find myself without so many of the things I’d hoped for… that I worked so hard for… but could never do consistently because of fatigue and confusion and overwhelm. I’ve spent so much of my life trying to offset my limitations, that I haven’t given enough time and energy and attention to my strengths.

And now where does that leave me?

I lay in bed feeling sorry for myself for a while, then I gathered myself and got out of bed. Made myself some breakfast. Did a short strength training workout. Talked to my partner. Admired the view outside. Checked the weather. And now I’m getting some time to write.

When I look around me at the life I have, it’s actually a pretty cool thing. But then I look at where I am, agewise and financially speaking, and I feel so… delayed. I’m at the age where my peers are sending their kids off to college, or their kids are finishing school, and they’re getting ready to retire. The 55-years-old early retirement option is increasingly common, and people at my job who are over 50 are more at risk for being laid off. That puts me in at or near the “skeedaddle” stage, and I just don’t know what’s going to happen to me, over the long term.

It kind of reminds me of my dream. I’m headed into new territory, with everything around me shifting and changing rapidly. I’ve put a whole lot of my heart and soul into keeping up with things and building a good life for my partner and me, but it’s been overwhelming, confusing, and the rules keep changing… all of which make life a lot more “exciting” than I’d like it to be. It’s all for the sake of everyone else, I think sometimes. It’s all for the sake of everyone except me.

So, why do I do it? Why do I bother putting myself through those paces, day after day, week after week, month after month after year after decade? Why bother?

Because it shapes me. It strengthens me. It hones me. It’s like a really hard resistance workout, seemingly without end. It’s no fun when it’s happening, but it builds me. It shapes me. It directs me. And it teaches me not to sit around and feel sorry for myself when I’m in pain and discomfort. It trains me to function, even in the face of extreme odds. It’s a masterclass in drama management, and it serves me well.

It might not fill my coffers, but it actually trains me to function really well, even without filled coffers. Learning to deal with all the passing overwhelm, the crisis, the drama, the disappointment, and one failure after another, conditions me to do well when things really get tough. And given the way the world’s been going, this is probably an extremely useful trait. It’s a helpful trait, in any case. Because things don’t always go right, and somebody’s gotta be there to keep calm and carry on. Do the things that need to be done, even when the doing is miserable, thankless, and feels like a “one-way trip” of energy.

And I think our modern world tends to lose sight of that. It seems to have lost the appreciation for the traits and qualities that are genuinely useful — replacing it with a worship of things like the ability to buy stuff and how many people “like” or recognize you online. What a strange, strange world… It makes me just want to ditch it. But that’s easier said than done, and in any case, you have to take the bad with the good. In some ways, maybe the “bad” is even more useful than the “good”, because it builds me, it shapes me, it strengthens me. And in the end, being strong and flexible and capable are really my main goals. Without them, what am I?

Not me.

I really need to get back to reading the Stoics. It’s the one thing that reliably keeps me centered and puts things in perspective. Maybe I’ll make that a daily exercise. I’ve had a number of other daily exercises, over the years, and many of them dropped off after a while. This could/should be one that replaces some of those that have disappeared.

I got away from reading them… and I should change that. So, I shall.

So, I shall.

When plans (fortunately) just don’t work out…

So, I had plans for this weekend. I have a project I’ve been wanting to finish for months, now, and I actually had 36 hours of solitude all to myself. This is rare.

Construction works in Funchal harbor

Silence. Solitude. Freedom to move around the house without concern for disrupting anyone’s sensitivities

Quelle Luxe! But yesterday I was tired. So tired. It’s hard to think creatively, let alone finish, when I’m tired. Everything fades

So, I let myself be. I did stuff. I let myself watch Galaxy Quest again. I watched some movies I normally don’t. ‘Cause… solitude.

Now it’s nearly 1 p.m. and I have less than 8 hours of solitude left, and I’m wondering what I should do… Errands? Food shop? Dunno…

I should probably do just a little on that project, just ’cause I promised myself. But days when I have free time, I realize just how much I actually do on a regular basis

and how vital my routine is to me, to get it all done. There is a ton of detail in all I undertake

And to the rest of the world, it may look like a disjointed mess. But to me, it all fits. It’s beautiful. That’s just how my mind works.

And when I have the chance to just let my mind do what it will, without being “harnessed to a plow” of some kind, it’s wonderful.

Truly.

Days off, days on

sunspot animationI just got my telescope figured out for the eclipse tomorrow. I’m in a location where we’ll have about 70% eclipse, so it’s not going to be as dramatic as in other places, but still…

Friends are coming over for the event. Actually, they’re coming home tonight after an event my partner is attending today, and they’ll be here tomorrow. I’m not happy about my routine being disrupted — it’s stressful in an already stressful point in my life — but  at least I like these two young people. They’re fun and invigorating and very open to life. I also don’t need to mask around them. I can just be me.

I’m hoping we can get a look at some sunspots. I got a telescope with a sun filter, so we can look close-up at the sun during the eclipse. I also got us some eclipse glasses from a reputable manufacturer (not all of them are), so we can take a look. I practiced setting up the telescope and pointing it at places. It’s a reflecting telescope, so things look upside-down, and to make it look right-side-up, I need to have another attachment. I should have set the whole thing up sooner, but this week has been stupidly busy, and I’ve been absolutely swamped / assailed at work.

It’s pretty bad, actually. And a lot of the beliefs and assumptions I had about the larger team and how well we were working together pretty much went out the window in the space of 24 hours.

That seems to be how everything is going, lately.  A lot of the ideas I’ve depended on have gone away… And it’s disorienting. Stressful.

I don’t like it.

Anyway, it’s a paycheck, right? And in some ways, I’m actually adjusting to how Things Are Supposed To Be Done better than before. I’m so tired. It’s hard to know what I should do, or why I should do it.

So, I sit tight, take it day by day, and eventually… eventually… things may sort themselves out.

I’m just not a fan of the dynamic, right now. Nor am I fan of working remotely with people. I have a hard time interacting with people over the phone and IM primarily. I can’t “get a read on them” and I constantly misinterpret what people are saying. I think they also misinterpret what I’m saying. It’s such a pain in the ass. And I realize that I really need to work with people on-site. Not remote. Best case for me, is to work somewhere close to home, where I am part of a live, in-person team that actually communicates with each other.

That’s really the bottom line for me. And yeah – I need to not keep bending myself out of shape to adjust to this job. Why should I? They should adjust to me, not the other way around. So, I’ve updated my resume, and I’m going to start putting out feelers for other positions. If it happens sooner than later, I’m fine with that. I’ve been looking forward to my extra vacation time coming up, but is it really worth it, if all my time off is spent recovering from the daily dramas, and I still feel like crap, the whole time I’m “off work”?

That makes no sense. I’ve been uncomfortable in this job, practically since the start, and I’m tired of bending myself into pretzel-like configurations to make it work.

Why should I have to make it work?

Why can’t I work at a place that already works for me?

Anyway, that’s where I stand, right about now. (Though technically, I’m sitting down.) I’ve had it. And I’m tired of thinking that it’s my fault that things aren’t as lovely and delightful as they’ve been for me in the past. I’m tired of blaming myself for not being all enthused about how things have gone. And I’m tired of feeling responsible for fixing things that other people break.

So, I’m pretty much done.

I had a quick burst of excitement about my job, lately, but it’s rapidly soured.

What’s next?