Thinking about this whole “Asperger and the Nazis” thing

In case you hadn’t noticed, a paper came out recently entitled Hans Asperger, National Socialism, and “race hygiene” in Nazi-era Vienna, and it’s been stirring things up in Autistic corners of the world. Apparently, Asperger’s role and involvement with Autistic children in Nazi-era Vienna was a lot less benevolent than a lot of people have supposed.

The news isn’t good, especially for those who have seen Asperger as an under-the-radar resister to genocidal fascists, a kind of light in the general darkness, whether it was WWII or the cluelessness that’s dominated discussions about Autism, lo, these many years. His descriptions of Autistic kids have been called out as perceptive, even appreciative, and his name has been associated with Autistic folks with a certain profile of abilities and support needs. But… he was allied with the Nazis.

The paper is open access, and you can either read it online or download a PDF. I skimmed through it yesterday. The text itself is over 30 pages, and then there are 10 pages of endnotes (which is fun for some of us – you know who you are 😉  It’s no small task to wade through paragraph after paragraph of carefully woven narrative, citations, references, and so forth, which go directly against the prevailing perception of the once-favored Herr Doktor.

Asperger never joined the Nazi party, apparently. But he did plenty to appear compliant. ‘Beginning in 1938, he took to signing his diagnostic reports with “Heil
Hitler”,’ and he described some of his partly-Jewish-descended patients as “Mischlings” (“mixed Jewish blood”, which was literally damning, for those times). This is just not good:

On 27 June 1941, 2 months before her third birthday,
Asperger examined a girl at his clinic named Herta
Schreiber (Fig. 6). The youngest of nine children, Herta
showed signs of disturbed mental and physical development
ever since she had fallen ill with encephalitis a few
months before. Asperger’s diagnostic report on Herta
reads as follows:

Severe personality disorder (post-encephalitic?): most
severe motoric retardation; erethic idiocy; seizures. At
home the child must be an unbearable burden to the
mother, who has to care for five healthy children.
Permanent placement at Spiegelgrund seems
absolutely necessary.95 (Fig. 7)

Herta was admitted to Spiegelgrund on 1 July 1941. On
8 August, Jekelius reported her to the Reich Committee
for the Scientific Registration of Serious Hereditary and
Congenital Illnesses, the secret organization behind child
“euthanasia.” In the form he sent to Berlin, Jekelius
pointed out that Herta had no chance of recovery but that
her condition would not curtail her life expectancy—an
unacceptable combination…

In the end, Asperger did have blood on his hands. As did everyone who actively cooperated with Nazis at that point in history.

Now, before you start thinking I’m an apologist for this sort of thing, rest assured, I’m not. I’m seriously reconsidering referring to myself as an Aspie, or talking about Aspergers Syndrome at all. I’ve never been 100% comfortable with referring to myself as having a “syndrome”, anyway. If I have a syndrome, then the rest of humanity does, too — and they’re far worse off (not to mention more dangerous and impaired) than I am, thank you very much.

Here’s the thing, though… So much of our completely justifiable outrage doesn’t account for how things were, back then. I often wonder why — why?! — any Jewish or otherwise non-Nazi doctor or professional would have wanted to stay and work in Vienna, in those days? It was their home… okay. They were settled there and had their roots there, and nobody was going to push them out. Okay. I understand that perspective. But if things are going south… or even smelling like they’re going to… why stick around?

I say this as someone who grew up in an environment that literally wanted to destroy me. As a woman, as an intelligent person, as a non-binary queer. I’ve moved a number of times in my life, and for the past 23 years, I’ve been settled in a place where I can peacefully exist without constantly looking over my shoulder or worrying about being attacked or losing my job or being pushed aside, just because I’m different.

I also lived in southern West Germany from 1985-87, in an area that had a lot of children of hardcore Nazis. Even some surviving Nazis. Around midnight in the pubs, when the televisions signed off for the day and the national anthem played, all the old-timers who were out late drinking would be mournfully silent during the song, then their stories would turn to the “old days”, for example, when they worked in concentration camps. Hmm. Something about sitting a few tables away from someone who might have had a day job at Auschwitz … well, it makes you think.

It still makes me ill, to recollect.

And what I remember so clearly from those days in rich, well-appointed, idyllic West Germany was how hush-hush everything “unpleasant’ was, and how incredibly screwed up a lot of people were. Heavy, heavy drinking. Domestic violence. Just a ton of dysfunction simmering under the surface of what was an otherwise prosperous and well-run society — the most prosperous in Europe, at the time. It was seriously messed up. If everything was that twisted under excellent economic conditions in times of peace, I can’t even begin to imagine how screwed up it was back in Asperger’s time.

Now, I wasn’t a professional in Vienna in the 1930s, so I can’t know for sure what I personally would have done at that time, but in my own life I’ve relocated over less dangerous circumstances, and I seriously doubt I would have stuck around. Maybe it’s because of the lessons from that relatively recent history that I’m so willing to relocate — I’ve learned what happens when you “stick it out” even though things are clearly developing against you. In any case, I’m pretty sure I would have booked passage and gotten the hell out of Europe, if I’d had the chance. Hell, even if I hadn’t had a chance, I would have done my best to get out of there. Of course, that wasn’t always possible, especially if you were Jewish, but Asperger wasn’t Jewish. He probably would have had far fewer barriers to leaving. He had more of a choice than most. He chose to stay.

With this in mind, my attitude has always been that Dr. Asperger did a deal with those devils. In fact, I feel like pretty much anyone who stayed behind and continued to be installed in their position in Nazi-occupied areas, had to collaborate at least a little bit, to keep practicing their profession. Think… Vichy France. And a little bit of collaboration could morph into a lot without even realizing it. It’s not hard, under those conditions, to get swept in, even if you are trying to find a balance. The vice was so tight, the control was so pervasive, and everyone and everything was so scrutinized by the Nazis’ machine, that I firmly believe there was no way anybody could have practiced professionally — especially medicine — without furthering the Nazi agenda to some extent.

There were some Schindlers in the crowd, of course, but the vast majority were not… making increasing concessions as the years wore on, to stay in the game, till the pendulum of history swung back around and they could get back to their non-Nazi-fied lives.

Does this vindicate Asperger or any of his other contemporaries who went along (er, like thousands upon thousands upon thousands of everyday people), hoping the bad dream would finally pass? Not even close. But it does put things in perspective.

And whenever we look at history, I feel we must view it in light of how things were, back then. Not how they are (or should be) now. That’s extremely hard, these days, because the world we live in (and lots of young people have grown up in) is so very, very different from how things were in 1930s Vienna. Or the 40s. Or the 50s, for that matter. Things that used to really suck have been turned into consumer commodities, with the rough edges buffed off to make them more saleable. The 1950s have morphed into the “mid-century” with stylish furniture and television shows (e.g., Mad Men) extolling that “simpler time”. But some of us still remember just how completely screwed up that time was, with women not being allowed to have their own credit cards without their husband’s approval, and homosexuality being a jailable offense. The 1960s have been cast in a counter-culture light, but for many people they were just an extension of the oppressive 1950s, with the Vietnam  War taking place of the Korean Conflict. I know my own upbringing in the latter half of the 60s was every bit as oppressive, sexist, classist and exploitive as the 1950s were for others. We look back through the lens provided by a market economy that has everything to gain from us reveling in the good, while setting aside the bad.

The whole 20th century was a bit of a sh*tshow, as far as I’m concerned. And yet, it was an improvement on the 19th. Indoor plumbing. Electricity. Internet. Every generation has its disgraces that it can never get free of. And when we lose sight of that, we lose the ability to think critically and assimilate the lessons of the past.

So, no, Asperger has never had a “get out of jail free card” from me. I’ve always known he was culpable. Especially for the stuff that wasn’t documented.

Plus, beyond the times he lived in, he wasn’t the only medical / psychiatric professional whose practices were suspect. Let’s not forget how young the psychological field is. It’s been around for just over 100 years. Not a long time, really, and in many ways, it’s still in its infancy (despite what the Psy.D’s of the world would have us believe.) Especially with regard to Autism, pretty much most medical professionals have been barbaric / sadistic in their treatment of people like me… And many still are. It’s not so different from the treatment of queers when I was growing up was. If you were a homo, you could get shipped off to a psychiatric facility, given the early version (ugh) of shock treatment, be beaten, killed, lose your job and your home… you name it. And there was nothing you could say about it, because those were the norms of the day. If you were really that different, that’s what you could reasonably expect.

I’m not saying it was right. I’m saying that’s how it was. And it was even worse in prior decades and centuries. When we lose sight of that miserable fact, we stop being able to have a rational conversation about Asperger, Autism, difference, and human nature in general.

So, no, the whole “Asperger was a Nazi collaborator” trope hasn’t ruined my day / week / month / year / life. I’ve always figured his record was far more besmirched than anyone guessed. Just the fact that he was able to keep practicing medicine after the Anschluss, and throughout the reign of the Nazis, always seemed clear evidence that he was compliant in ways that killed off people like me. We just didn’t have documented proof, till recently.

To which I say, “Meh. So what else is new?” People have been trying to destroy me, my entire life. They haven’t succeeded. Yet. They will keep trying. I don’t take it personally. I see them for what they are, and I act accordingly. I live my life — in places where I can live safely. I avoid people who wish me harm, and I try not to give them my money. I don’t take their sh*t, but I know my life force is worth more than hassling with people like that. I have things to do. I have another world to create. Asperger being ID’ed as a Nazi accomplice doesn’t make his work any less useful — for the good it’s actually done. It just makes our understanding of him — and the human species — a little more complete.

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To live a consistently constructive life

stairs outside buildingOh, lord… I’ve been caught up in that high-tech mythos that Everything You Do Has To Have Global Impact, or it just doesn’t matter.

Augh! Pressure!

Huh. How ’bout that. I’ve been thinking a lot about how my life has unfolded, and I’ve been feeling badly that I haven’t Made A Global Impact, the way we’re expected to do, these days.

No matter what we do, these days, we’re supposed to Go Big. Especially online.

We’re supposed to “generate content” that gets lots of views / likes / responses.

We’re supposed to “engage” on a global scale, and that’s allegedly going to change things.

We’re supposed to Go Big Or Go Home. And anyone who doesn’t aim for BIGness is a liability and a drain.

Huh. How ’bout that.

As it turns out, even after being in high tech for 25+ years, I’m deeply skeptical of the whole promise around dramatic, lasting global change. If anything, I’ve become more skeptical. Yes, it’s possible to have a global impact. And yes, it is possible to really make a huge difference in the world. But will it last? Will it have the intended results? It’s still too early to tell.

Plus, the way we measure what does and doesn’t matter seems pretty much based on numbers linked to volume (views, likes, sales, etc), and that doesn’t actually show us what kind of impact we really have in the world, qualitatively speaking.

See, the difference I want to make is about quality, not quantity. I don’t want to have to worry about volume of likes and views and shares and whatnot. I just want to do what I do, and have it make a difference. I want to do something constructive, every single day, and see the tangible results of my work.

I also need to provide for myself, pay the bills, and keep the money coming in, so I don’t end up living on the street (that happened to me years ago, and once is enough for one lifetime, thank you very much). That’s been a huge concern of mine. But I just ran the numbers for the trajectory of my financial situation, and it looks like I’m actually going to be in good shape, provided things stay relatively stable over the long-term. The big opportunity for me are the years between when my house is paid off in another 12 years, and when I am slated to retire, another 10 years after that. Once my mortgage is taken care of, I’ll be able to save most of what I earn, and I’ll be doing that pretty aggressively.

Of course, all this is assuming that I continue to be employed… that I can keep earning at an acceptable rate. But honestly, since I’m a little on the low end, earnings-wise, I’m a bargain. So, I get to keep my job. It’s easy to price yourself out of the global job market. Don’t want to do that.

But it’s not just about money. One of the key ingredients of my ongoing employment is making a substantive, positive difference in people’s lives on a daily basis. If I contribute to the well-being and success of people I work with on the job, they have incentive to keep me around, and even advocate for me. Making a constructive difference means I’m contributing. It means I’m integrated into the ecosystem I’m operating in. It means there’s a reason for people to keep me on.

And this is where being Autistic keeps things interesting. See, I didn’t even realize all this until somewhat recently. I’ve been in the everyday workforce for 30 years, and it took me this long to comprehend all this. I mean, intellectually, I understood the principle of making yourself useful and contributing. But it hadn’t really sunk in about how my day job fits that focus in my overall life. I strive to help people I meet outside of work — but helping people on the job? That was of no interest to me, quite frankly. If anything, other people were an intrusion and a drain to be avoided at all costs.

For so many years, I treated my day job as just that — a job, a way to make money to fund the things outside it — the things that really mattered. I wasn’t interested in getting invested in the relationships with people I worked with, because I just didn’t see myself as part of it all. I was too cut off, too separate, too intent on protecting myself and making sure I had what I needed, regardless of how that impacted others.

But now, I realize that what really matters to me, is living in a comprehensively connected way, finding paths to contribute and be a part of something bigger than myself. While I’ve never before considered my job worthy of full investment, now that’s totally changed. It was partly because I was so busy managing my Autistic issues without having a full understanding and appreciation of them, how they impacted me, what impacted them, and so forth. I didn’t have a whole lot of bandwidth to get personally invested in what was going on — especially because so many jobs I’ve had involved long commutes and really tough environments which were loud and open and constantly challenging.

Now, however, I have a job where I can work from home whenever I need to. That means I can often take a nap when I need one. And I get a break from the busy-ness at the office. I don’t have to drive in rush hour traffic. I don’t have to constantly make eye contact and figure out social interactions. I can relax… Even lie down, if I need to, while I read and answer emails on my mobile phone.

And that makes all the difference.

I can take care of myself. And I can take care of my work, my relationships, my future. The thing, too, is that I notice that others I work with are doing better when aren’t stuck in the office 5 days a week, as well. I find that people who work really effectively in a remote environment can be more mature, better at managing their time, more motivated, and more adept at building and sustaining relationships than people who have to be at an office to do their jobs. So, the types of people I’m working with are also more compatible with me.

It’s a win. For everyone. Especially me.

So, while I’ve been feeling a little “slacker-like” for not having turned the world upside-down with my dramatic innovations and whatnot, I’m finding that I’m much happier just tooling right along, taking care of myself, taking care of my relationships, taking the pressure off. Just living my life… Doing something meaningful each day, wherever I am, whatever I’m doing.

It all matters. It’s all connected. And after so many years of stress and strain, I’m finally really getting it on a deeply felt level.

And that’s a good thing. A very good thing, indeed.

Or, I could just do what I’ve always wanted to do

open book with fairy dust on a messy backgroundAs it turns out, it really doesn’t make sense for me to go back to school, at this point. I looked at the numbers for how much it’s going to cost me, and I checked around to see what other people’s experience has been like with the program I chose. Reports are mixed. Some people love it, some hate it. Being totally realistic, when I think about my time commitments, my money situation, and the general trajectory of my life, if this is gonna be expensive and time-consuming, going back to school is definitely not at the top of the list.

I tend to think about restructuring my life on a semi-regular basis, especially when I am tired and overworked. I end up charting a whole new big course for my life, forgetting about the things I already have happening. And I lose the plot of my life. I’ve been feeling like that’s been happening a lot, lately. Losing the plot, forgetting what my priorities really are, overlooking the things that I love and that mean so much to me, and just getting caught up in distractions.

So, while I like the idea of having a degree, finally, unless it is absolutely, positively critical for me, and it’s fast-tracked and not expensive, it doesn’t make sense for me to sink the time, energy, and money into that whole endeavor.

So, back to my original programming. Focus on my writing, focus on my day-to-day life, my responsibilities, my obligations, and do my best by them, instead of getting wrapped up in a change that I’m somehow convinced is going to dramatically alter the course of my life.

I really have to stay fluid with this. Everything feels like it’s shifting and changing around me, and I need to not lose the plot on my writing. I’ve become increasingly concerned with the end-game I’m caught up in right now. Getting a degree for the sake of professional advancement doesn’t necessarily make sense, if I’m going to age out of the 9-to-5 workforce in 10-20 years. My age is a factor where I work, and people my age are usually shown the door before too long. Early retirement… I’ll be eligible in less than 5 years, which seems just so bizarre to me. If that happens – and I sincerely hope it will – that means I’ll get severance pay, and that’ll be a bit of a buffer to float me. It probably won’t cover me for long, but it will be something. And that is what I am holding out for.

So, yeah… end-game. Not in terms of the end of my life, but in terms of the end of my standard-issue mainstreamed life. I own a house with a mortgage that will be paid off in less than 12 years. After that, my need to make boucoup bucks will decrease dramatically. I’m also setting myself up for greater self-sufficiency — getting a plot in a community garden, setting up my own home for greater energy efficiency, streamlining just about everything I can manage, buying big-ticket items now, while I can still afford them, and generally cutting down on my dependency on whatever I can — especially the expensive shit.

As for income, ideally, I’ll be self-supporting via my writing, in another 12 years. It may sound like a stretch, but I need to get my act together with this, do the work I need to do in order to write the best work I can and really contribute. For all my complaining about the need to promote myself, that’s just a part of the whole for anyone who wants to be self-sustaining. I just need to find the proper tools to get myself some exposure and connect with people who actually want to read my work.

Get my Patreon refined. Actually make that a thing.

And put my energy into that, rather than getting a degree which I may or may not need, in the grand scheme of things.

If I need it, and it’s easy and doesn’t wreck my life, I’ll go for that degree. But quite frankly, I’ve been dancing around getting my writing out there for quite some time. Fits and starts. Fits and starts. And it’s getting a little old.

So, time to turn my prodigious focus to the task of figuring out this writing business, figuring out how I can get some income coming in about it. There are a lot of micropayment options out there, and if I build up enough of a following, that could sustain me, most likely. It’s just a matter of connecting with people who can and will contribute — complete the circle of creation, to keep it going.

Well, we’ll see how it turns out. Always an adventure.

Yes! It’s Friday

I’ve got a million reasons to be happy – I’m Free!

I’ve never been a fan of the whole TGIF thing. Seems to me, if you’re really that unhappy with your life — so unhappy, that the best day of the week is when your regular life is about to go on hold — you should really do something about your life, in general. Why stay stuck, if you can make a change? It’s not always easy, of course, but it can be done.

I still feel that way.

But today I’m really grateful it’s Friday.

‘Cause truth be told, I’m kind of stuck in the job where I am now. It has its high points and its low points, like any job, but I know it’s not where I want to be for the long term. I’m just sort of tolerating it right now.

And I’m in that state of mind that’s all about just getting through this last day and then taking a break from it all and getting back to my own sort of experiences.

Thank God It’s Friday, indeed.

Actually, I’m incredibly lucky, in some ways. I’m able to work from home when I need to. So, I’ve been working from home most of this week. I’ve only been in the office one day, that I can remember. Or maybe it was two? Can’t recall. And that’s nice. It’s when I can remember each and every moment of a week, that I know I’ve had a hard time.

But when I can’t remember… that means I’ve been in a bit of a flow state. And the sh*t that’s hit the fan hasn’t stuck to anything.

That’s a great state to be in.

And here I am.

Well, speaking of work, I should get to it. Just really glad to be here, today.

Very glad, indeed.

 

A little breakfast, a little music, a little writing, then I get on with my day

waterfall with path and stairs beside itI had dreams of being able to kick back and do next to nothing today. That’s going to have to wait till tomorrow. I’ve got too much to do before the day is out, to kick back and do nothing.

  • Drop off a letter at the post office. It has to go out today. It should have been sent out a few days ago, but life got the better of us.
  • Take the recycling to the dump. I’ve been taking the trash down pretty regularly, but there are cartons and bags of recycling that still need to get out. I also need to get rid of old clothes and a bunch of books that were impulse purchases, years ago, and haven’t weathered the test of time. There are donation bins at the dump. I spaced out last week and forgot to drop off the bags of stuff in the back seat of my car. So, this week, I’m making a specific point of it.
  • Return books to the library. I don’t know why I keep getting books out. I have plenty at home. But I can’t resist, somehow. There’s so much to read, so much to explore.
  • Pick up my car from the garageIt’s been an extra week that the worked on it, and it’s high time we got it back.
  • Food shop. Because we need to eat, and when I go to the mechanic, I’ll be near the grocery store that has good fish for sale. We need to eat more fish, so I’ll pick up some, along with some frozen mango. I make a really great piece of cod with honey mustard sauce and mango. It’s really tasty! My mouth is watering.
  • Get my hair cut. I meant to do that last weekend, but I couldn’t get there in time. I’m looking pretty shaggy, these days. Gotta fix that.
  • Clean up around the house more. Do laundry. Reduce the piles of papers, break down the boxes. Sweep out the garage. Move the pieces of the artificial Christmas tree into the basement, to make room in the garage for the car when it comes home from the mechanic. Just get things in order.
  • Collect my tax return supplies, so I know where to find them. I have a folder I started back in January, when all the forms started to come in. So, I’m ahead of the game there. Now I need to get my computer files in order — download bank statements from 2017 so I can calculate the profit/loss of a couple of businesses I’ve had going.
  • Take a nap. This is non-negotiable. I need at least an hour this afternoon. Preferably two. I’ve been getting a lot of exercise, lately, and my body needs to recover. From that, and the rest of life.

It might sound like a lot, but this is a standard Saturday for me. And once I get going, everything just flows. Because I’ve been practicing this for years and years, and I’ve built up skill in all these areas. Believe me, it hasn’t come easy, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, worn myself out, messed up, fallen to pieces, and put myself back together again. But now I can pretty much put myself on autopilot and just motor through everything. So, all the hard work has been for good. It’s paid off. Hasn’t been easy or pleasant at times, but it’s paid off.

So, I’ll drink my coffee and change my clothes and head out to the dump, where I can bid adieu to the paper, cardboard, plastic, and glass that’s been sitting in bags and boxes in my garage for weeks. Adieu! Adieu! Then on to the next thing.

Most of all, I can’t wait for that nap! A reward for work well-done.

That’s the plan, anyway.

Working, earning, deciding how I want my #Autistic life to be structured

path across field and through village to Alps
Eyes on the prize… Eyes on the prize.

Ever since I was a kid, I knew I didn’t want to live like my parents lived. I didn’t like their friends, I didn’t like their values, I didn’t like how they behaved, I didn’t like their life choices. Everything — from food to clothing to how we worked (we did a lot of that) to what we did in our free time — was at odds with what I wanted for myself.

I didn’t want to eat their greasy, fatty, carb-filled meals at 7:15, Noon, and 5:30, that left me feeling worn out… and tied my gut up in anguished knots of pain every single day. I wanted to eat a leisurely continental breakfast, followed by a mid-morning snack (second breakfast!), a light lunch, a mind-afternoon munch, and then a solid dinner, preferably late in the evening (Spanish style).

I didn’t want to “rough it” camping in campgrounds with bathhouses that reeked of disinfectant and bug spray… going on long hikes with loud gangs of people, in the process getting all sweaty and covered in bug bites and various scratch organic matter… sleeping on the ground in a tent that didn’t keep out the noise or the mosquitoes. I wanted to spend my days on a university campus, preferably in the library, reading… studying… writing… and taking solitary walks through the silent woods or along an isolated beach.

I wanted to be free. Free of their small-minded limits. Free of their food choices. Free of their priorities. Free of their roughness. Free of their fear.

And my ticket to freedom was work. Getting jobs that would pay me enough that I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted, as much (or as little) as I wanted. Getting out in the world and finding out how other people lived their lives. Coming up with my own ways of doing things, based on what I learned from others.

I left home at 18, going off to college in a state that bordered Canada, which had heavy Canadian influence. Most of the television, radio, and news were Canadian. This was in the early 1980, before there was cable and internet and DVDs and whatnot. The world was much bigger then, and it was easier to get away.

So, I got away. I took off and got the hell out of there. I was going to school out-of-state, and because I’d gone directly against my parents’ wishes, my parents cut me off financially. They wanted me to go to the Christian college they’d both graduated from, because then I could get a scholarship – a kind of family discount – but there was no way I was doing that. You had to sign a “morality agreement” saying you wouldn’t do certain things. But everything I actually wanted to do in college was on that agreement — drinking, smoking, dancing, loud rock music (a-la big-hair 80s guitar bands — rock on!) So, yeah, ix-nay on that college choice.

Because I went out-of-state (I couldn’t get away fast enough), I paid higher tuition. Now, mind you, that means I paid $8,500 a semester, versus $25,000 — times have changed — but when you have limited funds, and your family has cut you off, that’s a lot of money for an 18-year-old to come up with.

But I did it. I shopped my typing skills around, making extra money re-typing bought papers for my peers, who didn’t feel like writing them, themselves. I tutored a local kid in German. I did work-study programs during the school year and over the summer. I worked it out so I could stay in-state for the summer between freshman and sophomore year to get my state residency and get lower tuition the following three years. It worked.

Unfortunately, I got myself in a bit of trouble over that summer. And the following year was pretty rough, with me dealing with police and the law and a stalker. But again, the thing that saved me was finding work. I went to Germany for a “semester abroad” and liked it so much, I got a job with an American translator and was able to pay my way to stay a full 2 years.

I did get extra help from friends, who paid for more dinners than I could count. I generally paid for my breakfast and lunch — which cost next to nothing for students, in those days. I could get a full lunch meal for less than $2.00, so long as I wasn’t picky about what went into the “Eintopf” — a stewed mix of whatever was leftover from the day before. I had to eat. I didn’t have the luxury of picking and choosing. And the dinners I made for myself were vegetarian, because meat was expensive, and I could get all the nutrients I needed from veggies and rice.

When I reached the end of my 4 years of college, I was out of money and out of options. I didn’t have a degree, yet, because I had lost touch with my home university and didn’t pay close attention to the requirements. I didn’t care about academic requirements! I was an artist! A writer. I was going to write novels and poetry. What good would a math class do me?

Back in the 1980s, you could still get by without a college degree, so I went back to the United States and proceeded to figure stuff out. My life was a lot more complicated and messy than I can describe here, but the one thing that kept me going through it all was work. Having a job. Having a regular income. No matter how screwed up I was, or how messed up my choices were, or how much life seem stacked against me (in terms of crippling chronic pain and coming out as a lesbian in the days when even saying the word “lesbian” out loud could get you beaten up, fired, or cast out of your circle of once-cozy friends)… as long as I had a job, I had choices. I had freedom. I could move. I could grow. I could make art. I could write.

As long as I had a job and kept working with a steady income, I was good.

And I knew that as well as anyone. I’d worked since I was 12 and had a paper route. I’d worked tons of sh*tty jobs in back kitchens of restaurants, at nurseries transplanting hundreds of tomato seedlings (I got paid per piece), delivering meals and meds at a nursing home, and I’d supported myself a number of ways through various illicit activities (selling speed out of my locker and procuring booze for classmates in high school , for example, as well as retyping contraband papers in college). No matter how crappy the job was, every single one taught me something. And I learned as I went.

Work was my ticket to independence, to creating my own safe Autistic haven from the non-autistic world. The money I made allowed me to make choices with how I was going to live, where I was going to live, what I was going to do with my free time, and if I had free time at all.

So, I was super-motivated to always have a job. No matter what, I always had a job. Working full-time, whenever possible. More, if possible. And I’ve typically worked extra gigs on the side, even while working full-time. This has been going on for 30 years, and I’ve never, ever been under-employed. If anything, I’ve been over-employed, with barely any time left to just catch my breath. But that’s my choice. That’s by design. And it’s worked for me.

I mean, look at me — virtually, of course, since you can’t actually see into my life, right now. I live in a 2100 square foot garrison colonial house in one of the most affluent towns in my county, with woods surrounding me and an amazing view of the western mountains from the front of the house. I’ve got to cars in my garage (well, one’s in the shop right now, but it will be back this coming week). I sit on a town board and participate regularly in my town’s government. I used to volunteer at a local botanical garden (till my life got too busy). I have a 6 month financial safety net in the bank, and this month I get two bonuses from work that will allow me to renovate two of the bathrooms in this house.

I’m presently sitting on a nice burgundy colored sofa with a cushy, soft grey pillow behind my back, with my favorite Samurai-design mug of coffee on the t.v. table to my right. Beside it is a ripe banana that looks really tasty, and beneath it is a woven place mat with a folded paper napkin beside it. To my left is my mobile phone, which is playing my favorite tunes, a full box of tissues, a pile of comfy, cozy blankets I can wrap around me if I get cold. Across the room is the fireplace which is built from cobblestones retrieved from a historic district in Boston. You can see chips in the stone where horse-shoes probably struck them.

I’m surrounded by comfort — the two Amish-made rocking chairs in front of the fireplace with an engraved copper coffee table my aunt brought back from Africa between then. Lovely rugs on the floor, a basket filled with Christmas cards from friends and family, an entertainment center with t.v., DVD player, VCR, and cable box… and many, many knicknacks my partner and I have collected over the years. To my right is a bookshelf full of books and papers, and the desk and main computer & printer we use for all-purpose activities. And across the room, the bay window looks out on a woodlot where firs and hardwoods sway in the wind, as hawks circle and call to each other overhead. Upstairs, my partner of 27 years is fast asleep. Later, she’ll get up, and we’ll touch up her graying roots with a “touchup kit”. I’ll do a bit of work for my day job. And I’ll take care of some other stuff for another business we have together.

I’m not listing all my blessings to make anyone jealous. For every nice thing I have, there’s been a lot of pain I’ve endured. But I am listing all these great things to make a point.

Keeping working with a steady income made all this possible. If I hadn’t been able to keep working, very little of this would be possible.

By no means am I vastly wealthy. Far from it. But because I’ve had steady work — a steady income — all this is now possible.  It’s been a long and winding road, and to date (over the past 30 years), I’ve had something like 20 employers. Some of them (temporary employment agencies) were simultaneous. That was by design, because I couldn’t afford to be out of work. At all. If I had to sign up with three different agencies and play them off against each other, that’s what I did. And worked for me. Looking around at my life now, I can see just how well it worked.

Personally, I think people are really messed up about work, these days. Everybody seems to think you need to find a career and stick with that, from Day One.  Er, not exactly. I’ve had four distinct “careers” in the last 30 years, and they all just happened organically. I learned different things at each job, and then I applied what I’d learned to the next one… and the next one… and the next one.

To say that my parents were horrified by my… meandering “career path” would be an understatement. I can’t even count the times they openly despaired of my future — usually in front of other people, so they could vindicate themselves and avoid public shaming.

But you know what? It worked for me. And although my future is far from guaranteed, I am a heck of a lot happier than most people I know, I have a life that really, truly works for little ol’ Autistic me, and I have the things I value most in life — Books, books, and more books… and the leisure time to read them, write, and truly enjoy myself.

Because I kept working. When one job didn’t work out (and there have been lots of them), I moved on. I cut my losses, learned my lessons, learned to portray it to others in a light that made me look like an opportunity-seeking winner, not a loser fleeing my last failure in a long string of screw-ups. I learned how to work the system and find exactly what worked for me. I didn’t hang around longer than I had to, if things got sour. And I never shed a tear about moving on. As a matter of fact, I’ve been actively interviewing for other jobs, so I can keep my hand in the game. I actually turned down a really great offer at the end of last year (because I could), and I have another interview on Monday, which I’ll probably ace, but plan to turn down, because their schedule requirements already look like they suck, compared to what I’m doing now.

Most people I know would get a little green around the gills, if they followed my path. It’s not for everyone. The point is, it works for me. And it’s paid off in some very big ways.

It boils down to the following set of non-negotiable rules I have for myself:

Always work. Never don’t have a job. Keep the income coming in. If possible, get more income coming in. If your day job doesn’t fulfill you, pursue your passion on the side and let that fill in the blanks of your spirit.

Never, ever talk disparagingly about past work experiences, but emphasize the positives. Always look for the benefits and things that other people value, and emphasize them.

And whatever you do, always, always, always work. I don’t care if it’s a crappy temp job shuffling papers for personal injury attorney — I did that for a while, and it was horrible, every single day, but I still showed up and did my best. Even if it’s a seasonal gig selling Christmas trees or lemonade on the corner… even if it’s delivering newpapers or putting flyers on people’s windshields at the mall… always, always, always work. Even if it doesn’t suit you. Even if it’s exhausting. Even if it’s demeaning. Doing shitty work is required, if there’s no other work to be found.

That’s been my secret. Tolerating awfulness and learning from it. Turning it into something better, on down the line. Not getting stuck in lost causes or beating myself up because things didn’t work out. I experience, I learn, I transform, I move on. And I move up. Because I can. And lots of other people can, too.

These days, it seems like everybody has such high expectations from the workplace. Careers. Professions. And so forth. You get out of college, and it’s all supposed to be set up for you (Pro Tip: it’s not, by the way). On the other hand, some of us have to work our way up in the world. And I’ve observed tha those of us who do, who have all those rough experiences we learn from, are worlds ahead of the rest of the entitled set-up crowd, when it comes to long-term prospects… not to mention general happiness and satisfaction with our work and life situation.

When you’ve slogged through the muck, you appreciate and value the clean, well-lighted places like they’re your ever-renewing lease on life life.

Because they are.

So, that’s my riff on working while Autistic. There’s plenty more to say, but I’ve gotta go get some things done in my own clean, well-lighted sanctuary.

Peace, all.

Picking and choosing and getting my priorities straight

dandelion with dried seeds
Oh, this is ridiculous.

What do you do, when your boss doesn’t have a strong personality, they have a lot of political conflicts, and they don’t handle criticism very well? And other people like to “pile on them” with criticisms and complaints, which they lose their sh*t over?

You end up like me.

And you definitely don’t want to be me, right now.

The stuff that’s imploding around me has been blown out of proportion by people who are all jockeying for position in a shifting, re-organizing company. Everybody’s jockeying for position, striking a pose, and up in their heads about every damn’ thing.

It’s a terrible time to be empathic.

Good thing I’m working from home, today.

You know, this job really wasn’t a good idea for me to take. I mean, it has helped me in a lot of ways, but it’s also taken a toll. My boss is a big part of it, as well as my alexithymia. It’s incredibly difficult to gauge how you’re really doing, if you can’t read other people or your own internal state. And when your boss keeps you at arm’s length for a year or two and won’t cut you in on basic information about how things work, it’s even more of a pain in the ass.

I know I shouldn’t get worked up over all this. I’m probably blowing things out of proportion, myself. And I’m in a position where I could literally take six months off and not have (too much) financial trouble. I could literally leave today and have the spring to myself.

Or, I can hang in there for another 8 weeks till I get my bonus payout, and then… sayonara! Yeah, I’ll stick around for another couple of months, collect my biweekly paycheck, and actively look for another job. Then, probably whether I have something lined up or not, I’ll make my exit. This is seriously not going to work for me. Seriously.

In the meantime, I guess I’d better get to work… This sh*t isn’t going to solve itself. And I don’t want to leave it hanging. I do have some standards left…

I just have to find a way to quit perseverating about the stuff I screwed up, and just strap in for the next little while. Turn off my head. Focus on some other interests. Screw it. Let it go. Quit worrying about it. Just live.

And get on with my life beyond this dumpster fire of an employer I’m stuck with.

Slowwww start to the year

snow monkey sitting in waterUsually, I’m “up to speed” by the 2nd week in January. In the past, I’ve been energized by New Year’s resolutions and the feeling that I have a new lease on life. But not this year. It’s different, now, and I’m not all that invigorated by brand new plans for 2018 that are supposed to fix everything that was wrong with 2017.

Basically, my plans are the same as 2017 – just a continuation with some completion of projects and ongoing progress on the agenda. Whether or not it will “fix” anything, is anybody’s guess, but at least some stuff will get done, and I can get them off my list.

But even though my plans are pretty clear and my path is well-defined, I’m really having to push myself to get going. I can do it. I do do it. I’m a grown-up, and I know that’s what it takes to make progress at times. But this year, I feel like one of those snow monkeys who just wants to sit around in a hot springs while the snow falls all around.

If only I could.

The thing is, I really do have a lot I need to accomplish, this year. Projects I’ve been trying to get done, are finally going to get done, and that’s something to look forward to. But there’s a lot to do, with many little details to get worked out. So — much as I’d like to — I can’t just take myself out of “the flow” and camp out in a pool of warm mineral water.

It’s a goal for future years, but not this year.

Because now that January is here, it seems like everything around me has taken off at top speed. The last 10 days feel like the longest month, and I’ve been scrambling to keep up. Work has been extremely busy, and things at home have been picking up speed. There are health problems with friends. Changes to insurance coverage, that I have to track down and keep on top of (so I don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for a medication that should cost 5x less). There’s lots of personal drama. Tears. Anger. Mortality. Asking “Why?” And more.

Oy. I could seriously use a break from all the carryover drama plus from last year the brand new drama for 2018. I really could.

Anyway, my life is mine to do with as I please, and with each passing year, I’m more interested in doing something substantive with it. I’ve always been interested in doing that — motivated… driven, even. It’s just that now I actually have a much better idea about how to help it all happen. It’s one of those weird autistic things, where I’m clueless for decades, then all of a sudden — SHAZAM!I get it, and I can suddenly move forward in leaps and bounds.

I’m “funny” that way.

But that gives me hope in a roundabout way. Because if I can flounder and struggle for oh, so many years… and then suddenly — woo hoo!  the path opens up for me in some ways — that means that it can open up for me in others, at any given point in time. And being clueless and stumbling around right now, doesn’t mean I’ll be stumbling around forever in a clueless fog.

Which is, for me (not speaking for anyone else), why suicide is never a viable choice. Because I never know just when things will suddenly open up for me, and stuff that used to be so awful and unbearable aren’t even “blips” on my proverbial radar. Things can turn around for me, just like that, so that’s the state of mind/body/spirit/logistics that I have to hold out for. It gives me something to look forward to, that’s for sure.

So, yeah. My life is there for me to do as I please. It’s not always pleasant, and it’s often pretty painful, to be honest. But I persevere. I hang in there. And ultimately, (many) things turn around. That’s what I’m hanging onto right now, as I lumber through the first weeks of the year like a hibernating bear waddling through the narrow aisles of an antiques store. Maybe some of the stuff I bump into is valuable, maybe it isn’t. Maybe some of the stuff I knock off the shelves is priceless, maybe it isn’t. A lot of that’s in the eye of the beholder, so I can’t get too worked up over things I mess up or break.

I do that. It’s a skill.

But enough about me. I have to go get some work done. It’ll all get done, one way or another, and a lot of it won’t be very enjoyable. But eventually the situation will change, and I’ll move on to something else. One thing at a time, one step at a time, just taking it as it comes, and doing my best under the circumstances… which is pretty danged good, considering how bad / blah / disconnected I’ve been feeling, lately.

It’s all an evolving process. That’s for sure.


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An interesting start to the new year

road with yellow stripes and trees with snow along the sidesUsually, when the new year comes around, I feel an immediate change in my mood. The last year is behind me, and the potential of the new year is ahead. This year, though, as soon as the date changed over to 2018, I had this abrupt sense of reality. It felt like all of the intentions and all of the resolutions of yesteryear were to no avail, and all the positive thinking in the world was not going to get me where I need to go.

It’s been a bit of a downer, in a way, but on the other hand, I think this is probably one of the most promising changeovers I’ve ever experienced. Because while lacking a buoyant sense of optimism feel strange and out of place, the feeling of stark realism give me more hope for my actual future.

I have a lot to do this year. I have a lot of important decisions to make, and I have a lot of momentous steps ahead of me. My writing has shifted to a more intentional direction, with the emphasis on hard work and personal responsibility, and worrying less about what others are doing, than what I’m up to. And my overall worldview has shifted from one that was punctuated with spurts of wishful thinking and visualization interspersing long periods of frittering away my precious time… to dealing with reality as it is, and taking steps to substantively alter it in the direction I desire.

When I think of all the time I spent in the past, just thinking about how I wanted things to be, instead of actually doing something concrete about it, I cringe. Because for all of its ability to make me feel differently, visualization doesn’t help at all if I don’t combine it with actual work. And it’s the work that I’m focused on for this year.

So, I have no over-arching resolutions for this year, no list of things I’d like to do, dreams, visions, big picture blueprints from my future success. What I have now – and this is much more hopeful – is a long list of things I know I need to do, in the order that I need to do them, and a structure to my life that will allow me to actually get them done.

So while this new year maybe a little little more muted than years gone by, it’s probably one of the most hopeful ones I’ve had. A life well-lived takes a lot of work. And I’m worker, so that is definitely in my favor. Rather than hoping, wishing, praying, and visualizing for a changed life, I’m just getting down to the business of doing what needs to be done, and slogging through the boring, challenging, frustrating, demoralizing stuff that inevitably comes with any kind of substantial change.

It’s a new year, and I have a new outlook. It’s the best one I can possibly imagine for myself.


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Just a few chores to get done…

rope caulk window in winter
It’s that time of year again.

The nice thing about having time off work, is that there’s no set routine for me to stick to.

The downside of that, is the very same thing — there’s no routine for me to stick with.

So, that means I have to work a little harder during my “time off”. I have to put more thought into how I’m going to spend each day. I have to put more time and energy, period, into everything I do.

It’s ironic — the time when I’m expecting to be able to rest, is the time when I get worn out more. But at least I get my naps in. That’s something.

I’ve got to put rope caulk around my windows today. No excuses. It’s getting into the single digits at night. I’m leaving my spigots dripping a little bit, so my pipes don’t freeze, like they did a few years ago. I’ve got the heat turned up. I have firewood put with easy reach in my garage. And I’ve got three days’ worth of hearty chicken-noodle stew in the refrigerator.

Rope caulk is non-negotiable in this house. Its windows are original to the house, dating back to — gasp — 1972 (younger than me, actually), and they get drafty. Personally, I prefer it that way. Because a tightly locked house is a house that doesn’t breathe. And houses need to breathe. I don’t care for getting trapped in a house with off-gassing from whatever stuff I hauled inside with me. Keeping a slight breeze going in the house keeps the air from stagnating. And it saves me from having to circulate with central air, etc.

Rope caulking is my annual admission of the fact that it’s friggin’ cold outside, and it’s not warming up anytime soon! I can let things go indefinitely, especially because I like to have a little chill in the air at times. But eventually, the New England winter gets the upper hand, and I pull out the rolls of corded putty that gets pressed into the seams and cracks around all the open-able windows in the house.

It’s good practice for me, actually. It helps me focus my attention, and it helps me strengthen my oft-flagging ability to keep my focus on one thing for extended periods of time. Rope caulking all the windows — 8 downstairs and 10 upstairs — isn’t instantaneous. After a while, the caulk makes my fingers tacky, and it becomes a sensory issue. But I know it’s going to happen, pretty much when I get to the the 10th window, so I have no excuse for getting bent out of shape about it. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. Yes, it sets me off. Yes, it makes it hard to concentrate. But that’s where taking a break comes in. And I can always step away for a few minutes to get something to eat or drink, wash my hands, and gather myself before I go back in.

I used to get so bent out of shape, when the caulk would stick to my fingers. But please. That’s just caulk being caulk. And me being me. So, enough of the upset. Just take steps to deal with it. And git ‘er done.

Speaking of which, it’s time to gather up my various breakfast dishes and cups, wash up, and dig out those boxes of rope caulk from the bottom of the pantry storage bin.

They’re in there somewhere. I’m sure of it.

Off I go…