Not that I’m counting, or anything.
Except… I am.
In a little less than three days, I’ll be lugging my “carry-on” to my car, putting it on the back seat in a position that will make it easy to grab, when I finally find a parking space at the airport garage and get ready to jog to my departing terminal. My partner will be standing at the window overlooking the driveway, and she’ll turn away as I pull out onto the road. It’s bad luck to watch someone drive away, she says. She’s always said that. And I picked up on the habit, too, years ago.
I’ll make my way to the airport, driving the 45 minutes in a constant state of low-level anxiety, since I’ve cut it so close — either got stuck in a freak snowstorm, or went to the wrong terminal — and nearly missed my flight at least once. For all the times I’ve flown for business, I’ve been later than I liked a bunch of times, but I’ve only cut it razor-thin close once. But once was enough. Yes, they held the plane for me, and for that I’m grateful, but the mortification… all the irritated eyes on me, some of them my own colleauges, because a bunch of us were flying to the same convention for work… that’s something I’ll probably never live down.
At least, not in my own mind.
This trip is a rough one. The stakes are higher than most trips I take, although it seems like every single business trip has increasing levels of criticality. I don’t travel for pleasure — at least not like this, with planes, trains, and automobiles. My idea of travel for pleasure is a three-hour drive to the beach and a week of stationary, stable routine, with plenty of healthy food, long beach hikes, and spontaneous naps sandwiched between sunrises and sunsets over the ocean.
This trip will not be like that. I’m crossing the country — the whole continent — and my routine will be the main casualty. Try as I might, each time, I can never seem to get enough exercise or eat the right food. And every morning and every in-between break during the conference, there will be nothing but different configurations of sugar and carbs and chocolate and caffeine stacked high on wide silver platters, all of which are poison to me. I’ll be stuck talking to people. I’ll have to mix and mingle. I’ll have to go to the cocktail reception, possibly get stuck at a group dinner. Help. Help.
h e l p
I’m also staying in an upscale hotel in a city whose development represents just about every aspect of 21st Century “modernization” to which I object. 25 years ago, when I lived there, the city was smaller. Funkier. More human. A place where people on the margins of life could go about their business and be left alone by other people on the fringe who simply nodded and passed by. Now, it’s built up, tricked out, pimped within an inch of its life… chock full of respectable mainstream people flush with the glory of high tech ventures, rolling in cash and flaunting it, oblivious to anything other than their own milestones and timelines and key performance indicators.
Into the midst of this I shall go — to the heart of it all — becoming yet another corpuscle in the lifeblood of that city, that industry, those trends. And I shall play my role as a “willing” participant who embraces the future arm-in-arm with the Overlords who decide who gets a place at the table. I shall have a place at the table, because I do a damned good impression of someone who belongs there.
I do such a good impression that my crunchy granola cousins who live out there don’t really want to see me, when I say I’m coming to visit. They’re polite about it, of course. “Oh, really… that’s great…” they say on Facebook when I message them. But the last few times I was there, it was clear they consider me a part of the problem, one of the high tech interlopers who’s taking over the Tenderloin and driving up rents for everyone else. Crowding out People of Color from the neighborhoods they filled, before the gentrifying real estate prospectors got hold of them. Gold rush. It’s always a gold rush out there, and they think I’m part of it.
What they don’t realize is that I’m horrified by what I see, the trends that have emerged over the past 15 years, the ways that the industry I work in has trashed lives and wrecked communities. In all honesty, it’s trashed my life more than once. And community? I hear about it, I talk about it, I imagine it, but it’s been a long, long time since I experienced anything like that under the watchful eye of The Owners who need to make sure we’re getting our work done on time.
What my cousins don’t realize is that if I could avoid doing this trip, I would. I hate what’s happened to the city. I detest what’s become of the people, all wandering around the streets with their eyes glued to their mobile phone screens as they meander across wide crosswalks and do their zombie stagger down the sidewalk. I hate the hype, the shine, the glitz, the glass and steel.
I wouldn’t go anywhere near it, if I didn’t have to.
And I would never see my cousins again. That would be a relief for everyone, because I know I embarrass myself around them by talking too much… by my clumsy, domineering pacing… my conversational roughness… my lack of spontaneity when they talk about things they care about (but I know nothing about). I’m just another white high tech dominator showing up to kill their buzz.
But I have to go.
The reasons are complex, of course. What is there in my life that isn’t? I have to go, because I’ve been told I should. Because my boss said I should. And I know I should. I run a program that’s based on the technology company that’s hosting this conference. It’s a user conference. I’m a user. I’m supposed to have a high profile. I’m supposed to be a “Player”. I’m supposed to make my presence felt. It’s what someone in my position does — makes their presence felt. Show up and participate. Engage. Contribute.
Please, God, make it stop. My pleas would sound more convincing, if I actually believed in God, but there we are… How ironic. Me praying to a perhaps-non-existent God for release from a situation I got myself into.
Anyway, in the end, I’m sure it won’t be the unexpurgated horror show I anticipate. None of these situations are. And the one mitigating thing in all of it is the fact that I’ll be presenting at this conference. In front of a room full of my professional peers… even a few superiors. Putting on a show. Putting in a good word for a product I detest, singing the praises of a vendor whose people are the bane of my existence and who have cost me a lot of sleep, over the past year and a half. It’s fair — and accurate — to say that I hate them — ALL of them — with a cold blue flame, and if they were hanging off a cliff and I were the only one who could save them, I’d actually have to give it a lot of thought to decide what to do.
It’s that bad, my attitude towards them. I, a hopeless benefactor who has stopped traffic to move a tiny baby snapping turtle off the road, am questioning whether I’d spare a human life. How low I’ve sunk…
But yet, I’m doing this. I’ve got a pretty compelling presentation pulled together, along with a colleague (whom I also detest with a cold blue flame — ha ha — because she’s so hellish to work with), and we’re gonna rock the room, I’m tellin’ you. How could we not? Once I get up there, in front of the room, I’ll turn on the charm, crank up the compelling use cases, and do my seasoned best to put us all in the most glowing light possible.
I’ve done this a lot, actually. I’ve presented professionally and for fun a lot of times. More times than I realize. I’ve done “roadshows” at work, making the rounds to different offices to present mission-critical information to top-performing teams. I’ve spoken at funerals (I seem to be really good at that, actually). I’ve spoken at special interest groups. I was in Toastmasters for a while. And I’ve gone on the radio to talk about current events in the USA with people far from this country who couldn’t figure out what the hell we were up to, over here.
I love to present, actually. It’s scripted. It’s focused. And I’m usually well-practiced. I get to talk about the things I love and know a lot about, and people get swept up in my excitement. I’m allowed to be geeky and nerdy and a subject matter expert. After all, that’s why I’m there. And this presentation is the one thing grounding me, for this trip.
It might sound strange, coming from someone who dreads being around people, but think about it — my whole trip will be organized around that presentation. And I’ll be identifiable as a presenter, which will give me an identity that people respect. After the talk, I’ll be recognized as a subject matter expert, and people will reach out to talk about my presentation with me — an area of conversation I’m ready and willing to discuss. And best of all, my co-presenter is a legitimately awful presenter. She’s going to make me look really, really good. It will be the sweetest balancing of the scales of justice, considering how miserable she’s made my life over the past 18 months with her incompetence, lack of transparency, and outright sabotage.
So, I’m hanging all my hopes on that talk. It’s only an hour, but it’s got my full attention. It will focus me. It will center me. It will make me a star. And the company I detest, whose product I’ll be praising, will owe me big-time for it. They’ll know it. I’ll know it. Again, the scales of justice will get just a little more ballast.
If I weren’t Autistic, I couldn’t pull any of this off. Because I wouldn’t have the practice I’ve gotten at functioning through the pain, the frustration, the anger, the rage. I very likely wouldn’t have the tolerance for all of that, as well as the deliberately honed ability to not only “fake it till I make it”, but actually outperform anyone who truly likes and believes in what they’re doing. I feel the way I feel. I think what I think. But I still do the job that’s required of me. I still perform, regardless of the anguish. I outperform, perhaps because of it. And in the end, no one is the wiser for it.
There’s a reason I keep this blog anonymous.
No one can know.
No one can ever know.