A Friendly User’s Guide, Can You Read a Map? and Life Lesson# 384

 

 

doing it wrong

You’re doing it wrong…

I can’t really portray myself as the “typical poster child” for people with autism.  Even after 10 years of knowing that my strange wiring has a name (whether you call it Asperger’s Syndrome or High Functioning Autism or just plain Being Screwy,) I have a hard time wrapping my head around those descriptives.  I don’t want to be labeled, and I don’t want to use a label as an excuse.  I hate to admit weakness or vulnerability.  My standards are higher than that- but reality is what it is all the same.  I have to find ways to cope with the anxiety, the emotional disconnects, and the physical ineptitude that comes with the package.  Some days are better than others, but it does get a bit easier with age and time- and by being around those who tolerate my eccentricities.

Most people who know me aren’t really aware that I’m HFA, or have Asperger’s Syndrome, or whatever you want to call it.  I’m fine with that, because I have spent decades of my life trying to navigate and function in the “normal” world.  Most of the time I can play the “normal” role pretty well, and I’ve learned to either avoid the things that make me look awkward or find ways to deal with them.  I also blend into the scenery very well, and if I don’t want to be noticed, I’m not going to be.

albert-einstein-2

Many people associate autism spectrum disorders with the cognitively challenged or with “idiot savants.”  While one may be both cognitively challenged and autistic, one can be autistic and not cognitively challenged at all.  (Think Albert Einstein or Thomas Edison here, both brilliant innovators and thinkers who were most likely somewhere on the spectrum.)  People with high functioning autism can (and often) do things that the “normals” do-get educated, hold gainful employment, have and raise children, and integrate into the rest of society.   We might appear to be eccentric or odd or awkward, (and we might even fall down a lot,) but we can and do function.  My road map for getting around in this world looks a lot different than yours, but I can make it to the same destinations.  Sometimes I can get there faster, but other times I have to take the scenic route.  I have to navigate with the map I’ve been given, because it’s the only map I have.

Common knowledge paints a  bleak picture of autism- the non-verbal child rocking back and forth, unaware of the world around him or her, rather than the tech geek who might not be a huge fan of socializing but who can design and program and get lost in virtual worlds.  Sometimes society sees autism as the image of the “Rainman” character, or as the guy who can play Mozart from memory but can’t control his bowels.  The key here is that autism is a spectrum. Some people with autism have incredibly high IQs and extreme cognitive ability.  Others are more in the “normal” intelligence range, and some are profoundly mentally challenged.  No two people on the spectrum are alike.

All I can say to parents of an autistic child is that there is good life to be had past that diagnosis, and a lot of that good life is what you create it to be.  It’s not the end of the world, especially when you refuse to accept excuses and when you think outside the label.  In some ways I think my parents’ ignorance of autism worked in my favor, because I was not indulged, mollycoddled or otherwise given a pass on acquiring necessary life skills.  I was actually held to a higher standard in most things when compared with my “normal” sisters because I was a voracious reader, had a broad vocabulary, and was capable of academic achievement in many areas.

read all day

My parents didn’t know anything about autism, but they knew there were things wrong with me: I could read- anything and everything- before my second birthday, without any coaching or lessons.  They didn’t know about hyperlexia- and why should they, when hyperlexia affects 1 in about 50,000 children, and 75% of those are male. They were dealing with one in 200,000.  Hyperlexia is a condition exclusive to HFA children, which is another fact they had no way of knowing back in the early 1970s.

I was born in fragile health and had a litany of respiratory and other health problems in early childhood.  I was also born as the third child in as many years.  Too-close birth spacing, and poor health in infancy and early childhood are associated with an increased likelihood of autism spectrum disorders.  It probably didn’t help matters much that my oldest sister (who wasn’t quite three years old at the time) tried to suffocate me with a pillow the day I came home from the hospital.  (There are more than one reasons that my son is an only child.)

My parents knew my gross motor skills were abysmal, and even sent me to physical therapy for quite some time.  I have very poor balance, as well as severe myopia, and even with vision correction I still have a difficult time with visual-spatial tasks that involve gross motor skills.  I was eight years old before I could balance well enough to ride a bicycle.

kids_on_diamondback_bicycles

My parents knew I was deathly afraid of almost everything- a change in routine, strange people, flying insects, you name it, except for dogs.  Why I was so comfortable with dogs I’ll never know, but I’m still more comfortable with dogs than with people.

I was prone to panic attacks, and I was taunted and beaten daily by other children (especially my oldest sister) and pretty much was a basket case spaz most of the time- when I wasn’t buried in a book.  I had my obsessions with different and often unusual subjects- dogs, murder mysteries, rock and heavy metal music, classical music, all things automotive, and 20th century history.

Though there were bright spots, for the most part, between the anxiety and (later) depression, my childhood was scary as hell.

Deer-in-the-Headlights

 

Even though the tendency to live as a perpetual deer in the headlights becomes less and less marked as I age, anxiety and fear still dominate and define my emotional life.  That may sound bleak, but I am not a person who is dominated by emotions.   I am governed much more by what I think than by what I feel, which is probably the only reason why I can get out of bed in the morning and step out the door and function without completely freaking out.  I do have emotions, but they have to be filtered through and processed through my mind before I can deal with them.  Out of necessity this makes me a delayed reactor.  I can get through a loved one’s death and funeral and all that and not appear to be fazed by it- but a week or a month or even 20 years later the emotions pour out- some trigger or event or visual sets off the process and I find myself mourning a long ago passing or reliving a long ago trauma.  That sucks, but I don’t wear my emotions out for the world to see.  I have a hard enough time figuring them out for myself.

I don’t like being physically touched, especially without warning or by strangers.   I am not in any way a “hugger.”  I will hug when it is socially necessary, but I’m not going to be the one starting it, and the person I’m hugging better be an immediate family member or a very close friend.  My discomfort with physical contact might go back to my sisters and their friends’ constantly tormenting me because they knew if they did poke, prod, grab or otherwise contact my person that they would elicit a response.  I had a most overpowering and piercing scream that was loud, but not quite loud enough to overpower Mom turning the TV up all the way.

old lady tv

 

Having live, stinging insects thrown in my hair didn’t help alleviate my disdain of human contact either.  I’m not sure if my distaste for physical touch came first or if that distaste was created by the indignities of getting punched, slapped, stepped on and/or the challenge of removing live wasps from my hair without getting stung.   I had very long, very thick hair as a child, which made removing foreign objects from it challenging at best.  That’s part of the reason why my hair is cut short today.  It’s easier to color and it survives my early morning swimming much better too.  It’s worth the temporary distress every month or so to keep my hair short.  Even now, a routine hair cut or Dr. exam is not my idea of a good time, although I know both are harmless, temporary and necessary.

I have a difficult time with eye contact also.  In a way it’s good that I stopped wearing contacts a few years ago and I had to go back to glasses.  I never liked the coke bottle thick glasses I had to wear as a kid, but the glasses available today with the plastics aren’t nearly as funky looking.  Glasses give me a little something to hide behind.  I am awkward at best with eye contact because it does not come naturally for me.  Neither does body language.  I have to consciously think about those things and what  non-verbal messages I’m sending when I’m carrying on a conversation out in public.  I don’t always get it right.  I don’t get it right a lot of the time, even at my age.  “Normal” people get non-verbal communication instinctively, but it’s a mystery to me.  Non-verbals are one reason why I prefer to communicate in writing.  I am much more comfortable staying in the dimension of verbal language.

The Written Word

 

I love Cliff’s Notes.  Yes, I read the books too, but sometimes highlights are great as a refresher.  If I were to write a sort of user’s guide to dealing with me and not being too perplexed while doing so, the Cliff’s Notes version would go sort of like this:

If I’m not looking you in the eye, it’s probably because I forgot I needed to.

I trip and fall easily, so if you notice me hanging onto the rail, or avoiding activities that require balance and coordination, remember, my gross motor skills are rather poor.

Don’t touch me without fair warning- including lint picking and tag stuffing.  I would like to be enlightened that I have a tag sticking out, or dog hair on my sleeve, but please let me fix it or remove it.

Don’t be alarmed when I fall off the planet from time to time.  I don’t need to be connected to the rest of the world 24/7, and I do disengage from time to time to help preserve my sanity.

Don’t take offense when I take things literally.  I appreciate sarcasm as an art form, and I have a wicked twisted sense of humor, but please don’t intentionally make yourself hard to read. 

Remember that I’m very poor with non-verbal language, both sending and translating.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Don’t be surprised when I go down a different tangent.  My wiring is different, and sometimes I can associate completely bizarre and different things (that make perfect sense to me) but that don’t make sense to other people.

Please give me some respite from screaming kids, demanding people, and from constantly being “on stage.” I can cope with the “normals,” and I navigate better than I probably should in the “normal” world, but I am still a traveler, not a native.

My primary emotion is “fear.”  Thirty years ago it used to be “terror,” so this is improving, but still…thank God for Prozac.

pills

There’s a pill for that…maybe?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Change In Trajectory, and Don’t Mess With the Almighty Matrix

free throw

Try as I might, my free throw attempts usually ended up somewhere in the next county.

I can aim a pistol reasonably well (within 15 yards,) a shotgun moderately well, but a basketball, not at all.

When the weather in beautiful central Ohio bites (so I can’t take a road trip) and (when he’s not screaming at the dogs for their loud breathing) Tipsy Mc NumbNuts  is sleeping off his hangover, I have time to read.  I finally had time to read 11/22/63.  I almost didn’t buy it because I thought I’d heard all the JFK conspiracy theories, and I’m not much of a fiction reader to begin with.  I did buy it because it was written by Stephen King, and, as is the case with most of his books, (liberal political bent aside) it was worth reading.

If anything it was sort of a sad story, and in a perverse way it shared the same moral of the story as Pet SemataryFor those who have yet to experience that particular tome, it ends on an interesting (if not deliciously macabre) note and reflects a pervasive theme in a number of King’s books.

churchpetsematary

Dead is better.  At least if you’re supposed to be dead, that is.

Not “dead is better” in the serial killer sense or in the jilted lover sense, (or even in the John Hinckley Jr. sense) but in the sense that screwing around with the natural circle of life can have unintended repercussions.  As much as I miss my grandparents, for instance, I wouldn’t wish any of them to be alive today.  All of them were ill and had lived out long lives before they died natural deaths.  Wishing people to live beyond the time of natural death seems a bit sadistic, especially considering that if my grandfather had lived (he died in 2006) he would be 99 this year.  He had heart failure and kidney failure, neuropathy from diabetes (couldn’t feel his feet) and was almost completely deaf when he died.

Being healthy and active at 99 would be another matter, as we humans will cling tenaciously to life when we can, but today it seems as our longer lifespans bring more illness, infirmity and misery than anything else.  The technology can keep one alive, but most of the time it doesn’t do much for your quality of life.  Sometimes the disease- and the end it brings- is better than prolonging the inevitable.

Science can keep people alive that should have long since been dead (and yes, I belong in that category at least three times over) and in the case of the young that might be a good thing, but it’s a mixed bag.  Science can keep your vital signs going on, but at what cost?

What ends up being missing?  When do we break the boundary of the matrix and then really start screwing things up?  How far can we screw up before the process necessarily leads to an end or a reset?

space time pee wee

I wonder what this thing does?

A big part of me believes it’s the hubris of humanity that believes that every little popcorn fart can change the world.  I mean, you have the global warming crowd going off about cow farts.  I can imagine a cow can put off quite a bit of methane, but in the grand scheme of things?   A cow is big, and it farts a lot, but really?  How much authority and how much leeway do we have to screw things up when we really try?  And how long have cattle been domesticated and processed into tasty meat?

Cow-fart

If cows fart like that, then why aren’t they powering our cars?

The Butterfly Effect is an intriguing concept in physics in which it is implied that every slight change of trajectory- even the gentle flap of a butterfly’s wings- can change the course of the weather or otherwise alter events to come in the future.  There’s no mistaking me for a physicist, but I can see how it can work.   How can anyone know ahead of time what the consequence of just a slight change in trajectory might be?  It seems sort of rogue.

Perhaps a better question is (and I am assuming that the universe has an order, that it was created, and necessarily has a Creator) what exactly is within our power to change?

What do we risk when we try?

philosoraptor-alternate-realities

Old Stories Revisited, and Some Things Never Die (But Should)

 TorridTeaser

When I was in high school I had a taste for bodice-ripper novels.  By the end of my freshman year I had an entire locker filled with discount cover-less $1.35 novels from the cigar store that were so graphic I had to get rid of them when school was out.  Mom would have found them in her regular treasure hunts through my stuff, and “smut” like that would have given my mother a coronary.  (I wonder if Beth’s mother ever found them, but then Beth’s Mom wasn’t nearly as snoopy as mine,  which is why I gave them to Beth in the first place.)  I always knew Mom snooped, so I made sure Mom never found anything good such as cigarettes, “smut” books, birth control pills, short skirts, fishnets, etc. in any of my stuff.  I had a few friends once I got a car, and with them, divers places to stash incriminating stuff.

hide guns

I like the concept of stashing one’s guns under the stairs.  I like stashing the gun next to the bed even better.

I wasn’t into ordinary flowery *clean* “romance” stories (think Hallmark Channel snooze fare, or the Harlequin romances Grandma liked to read.) I liked the more juicy ones that usually didn’t have much for a plot, but didn’t leave out the graphic details.  Cut to the chase, already.  I also had a taste for mystery and who-dunnits for a time, along with my usual historical and scientific non-fiction fare, but when I was in high school I would pretty much read anything and everything I could get my hands on.  Today, because I have to do other things (like it or not) I have to be a bit more judicious in my literary choices.  Let’s face it, the myriad ways of performing the conjugal act get a bit overhyped at times, and I need a bodice-ripper like a hole in the head these days. My imagination does not need any assistance in that realm.  Besides, If I’m going to spend time in fiction I want a good story.  Something with an actual plot that’s deeper than, “spying his turgid member, she unzipped his pants…” I want something epic, something meaty, or why bother?

lordoftherings

Whether you like fiction or fantasy (normally I am not into either) or not, Tolkien is awesome.  I’ve read these more times than I can count.

I never read a lot of fiction (other than the aforementioned bodice-rippers, and I’m really not compelled to go for bodice-rippers any more) but I did and still do like Stephen King.  I may not agree with his politics (I don’t) but he is a hell of a writer.  One of my favorites authored by King is the book IT, (not to be confused as a horror novel about IT, which is good given that many in the IT profession are quite scary enough,) so I simply had to get it on Kindle.

Maybe I shouldn’t put it like this, but Kindle is a hyperlexic’s high holy fantasy.  There are millions of books available for momentary download for a modest fee (and some are even free.)  Since my particular Kindle has 3G and Wi-Fi I can pretty much download anytime and anywhere, meaning I have to be careful in the Kindle Store.  I have limited myself to one book a week, and only if I have finished the previous one.  There is something just plain magical about having so much reading material at one’s fingertips.

stephen_king_it

My favorite Stephen King book, except for maybe The Stand.  It might be a tie.

I read IT back in 1987 shortly after its release in paperback.  I couldn’t afford hard back books at that time.  $4.95 was pricey enough back in those days, but worthwhile.  I couldn’t put it down- and read it the first time in about two days.  This time I am taking my time and only reading a few chapters at a time, for no other reason than I don’t have entire days to lock myself away to just read anymore.  I really miss being able to do that from time to time. I am one of those incorrigible nerd types who can get lost in a book and forget just about everything else.

IT,  I am finding, is a more personal story for me now than it was in 1987.  When I read IT the first time, there wasn’t much distance between me as the 10 year old and me as the 18 year old.  It was a great story, but I didn’t really identify with the characters back then.  Today I can understand their perspective much better.   There is a lifetime of distance and several changes of spheres between me as the 10 year old, and me as the forty-something.  There are those long-forgotten incidents and pictures from the back of the brain box that I don’t always acknowledge are there until some external event triggers the memory.  There are plenty of incidents I’d rather forget, and many pictures that are best left buried deep and not disturbed from their sleep.

Do-not-disturb_o_18459

Such as: every day.

Even more unnerving, just as Derry, Maine had its scandals and secrets and monsters in the closets (and the drainage system,) I come from a small town with a history that is mired in intrigue, scandal, untimely death and *evil?* just as the fictional Derry was.  Some of that history is fascinating and some of it tragic, but none of it rests well.  My own personal history rests uneasily too.

 

 

 

 

A Minimalist Approach, Sweat Tsunami, and What Really Matters

fail

And people wonder why I don’t trust the media.

The more I read in the news, or worse, the more TV news I’m subjected to, the more I discover that most of it is not only insanely trite and boring, but also not very applicable to me.

Kilauea-Volcano

Unless that volcano is erupting in my back yard, or my bed is above that 500 foot-across sink hole, I’m inclined not to give a rat’s ass.  I really don’t need to know about it, either.

I will be so glad when the Y pool is opened back up again (this is week 2 of 2 weeks of scheduled maintenance) for two very good reasons.

scandal-abc

I hate TV news.  I’m starting to get Don Henley’s point.  Even if I am listening to my headphones, the various news networks are plastered on the TV screens in the machine room, and they’re captioned. That wouldn’t be so bad, except I am compelled to read anything in print.  (This is one of the things about hyperlexia that can really suck- that compulsion to read everything that’s in print.)  For me, visual always trumps auditory.   What I hear never drowns out what I see.

I am coming very close to hitting my personal vapidity overload threshold.  I could care less whose school is on delay, what cologne my dogs should be wearing this season, and the less I know about Obama’s vacations and Obama’s flagrant violations of the Constitution,  the more sane I can try to remain.

fundraiser

Obama is thoroughly corrupt and loathsome.  I don’t need to keep on observing the media’s attempts to make him look good.

There really isn’t much in the morning news that has any sort of relevance in my life.  Now I know why I don’t watch it voluntarily.  I know most of the normals watch TV news- which is why it’s on during the morning workout hours- but the way I’m wired there are certain things I can only take in tiny doses, such as the Kardashians, gay men who try to tell me how I should dress, and natural disasters in divers parts of the world.  I get what news I really have to have on a need to know basis, usually online.  That minimalist strategy helps me turn down the mental noise.  Why should I get my undies in a bunch over things I have no control over?

gay fashion

No self respecting straight man would be seen dressed like these two- not even on Halloween.

Even though I have my coping strategies, being on the spectrum makes it easy for me to overload and get overwhelmed and depressed, so I have to make a conscious effort to try to be somewhat careful what I load up in my head.  It either has to be practical, or at least funny.

sweaty

The other thing I sort of dislike about working out on the elliptical machine vs. swimming laps in the pool is I hate sweating and I hate being hot.  After 40 minutes on that machine,  my clothes are completely soaked and one can actually wring the sweat out of them which is absolutely disgusting.  Even though my morning workouts are always followed by a thorough, insanely soapy, and ultimately freezing cold shower, that icky sticky sweaty feeling is nasty while it lasts.  Not to mention my clothes- they go directly in the wash when I get home.

I see people wearing workout clothes for more than one day at a time and I sincerely hope that either a.) they don’t sweat like I do, or b.) they’re washing that stuff out every night.  I’m not OCD or a germophobe- at least not to extremes- but my workout clothes are absolutely unwearable after one workout until they’re washed again.

Body-Solid-Elliptical

40 minutes of exercise is 40 minutes of exercise, but it’s a lot more pleasant in the pool.  At least then all I have to wash off is the chlorine.

I am thankful to be able to have a Y membership, don’t get me wrong, but it can be frustrating when I have to shift to a different plan.  I don’t mind doing the elliptical now and then as a change of pace, but every day, and in the summer- not so much.  In the middle of winter it might not be so bloody hot.

At least I’m working out. I don’t look like the buff chick on the machine up there but at least I don’t look like this:

very-fat-woman-eating_130682670469

Belling the Cat, Parents and Children, and the Virtual Graveyard

bell the cat

Jezebel is not happy with me this morning.  Not at all.  But I did level the playing field between her and Fanny.

Cats generally despise collars, and it takes awhile for them to get used to them.  Isabel never would wear a collar.  She was too good at removing them, and at some point several years ago I gave up.  Isabel’s almost 15 years old.  She has no interest in actually going outside anyway, so collaring and belling her is sort of pointless.  Miz Izz is quite content to lounge in the window sill, enjoying the climate control as she watches the birds and other little critters of nature.  She didn’t get to be an old fossil by being stupid.  F.B. is the same way- I’ve never tried collaring F.B., and it probably wouldn’t make much sense because she is even less interested in the great outdoors than Miz Izz.  F.B. has got to be the most sanguine cat on earth.

I put a collar, tag and bell on Fanny after her brief, unauthorized forays out in the great wide open.  Both times I found her large, frightened carcass under the dump truck on the body shop lot.  At least with the bell on, I have a chance of hearing Fanny if she tries to sneak out the door.

bff

Jezebel spent a good portion of the evening trying to run away from the bell.  Hopefully by tonight she will realize the bell’s attached, and hopefully she will begin to understand the more you move the more noise it makes.   I’m hoping she will chill some, and at least partially forgive me.  I’d put a collar on her much earlier to get her used to wearing one, but she is so tiny that I have the collar adjusted almost as small as it will go as it is.   I thought about those teeny collars for ferrets or the collars for ankle biter dogs, but cat collars are specifically made so if a cat gets tangled and is dangling from something the collar will release before the cat is asphyxiated.

bad kitty

Jezebel doesn’t really try to get outside, but she does torment Fanny every chance she gets.  Fanny- all 17# of her- is a wide target.  Fanny’s not only slow, she has a bell on to boot.  So Jezebel, being young, lithe, fast and silent, can stalk and ambush poor fat Fanny with impunity.  Even though Fanny is about 3-4 times as large as Jezebel, Fanny is a poor fighter and has a hard time defending herself, especially when Jezebel wraps herself around Fanny’s neck and starts in with the rabbit kicks.

So I have to try to make it fair.  Even though I know, life is not fair, and some things really suck no matter what you do.

Sheena is not much longer for this world, and in some ways it breaks my heart.  I scheduled the mobile vet to come to our house tomorrow (if she’s still with us then) to put her down.  I hate it, I hate it, I hate it, but she’s gotten to the point where she doesn’t want to eat, and isn’t enjoying being a dog anymore.  She’s actively dying at this point, and it’s not right to let her suffer.

In some ways I wish we could have done more for her, but she was so ill-treated and in such poor health when we found her, that there’s only so much you can do.   She has had numerous issues with mobility from the beginning with the severe HD, but now the mammary growths have come back with a vengeance, and they are everywhere.  She is barely able to stand and walk and it’s getting hard for her to breathe.   I’m glad I got through to the mobile vet.  I wish he could have made it out today but tomorrow’s the soonest I could get.  Although Sheena has never had problems with going the vet, let’s face it, she’s not going to have an easy time getting in the car to begin with, and even worse, it’s not easy to load 75# of dead dog back in the car.  I took Heidi to our regular vet when we had to let her go, which I preferred in a way, because we love our vet, but it’s not a pleasant 40 mile road trip back home knowing you have a dead dog in the trunk that you’re going to have to both unload and help bury.  It was awful enough with Heidi, and she only weighed about 60#.

goodfellas trunk scene

I can’t help it, and I know it’s macabre, but there’s something about transporting a dead body (even a dog’s) in the trunk that reminds me of the movie Goodfellas.

I really don’t want to do that again.

We had a mobile vet come out when Kayla was dying.  I think it’s the same guy who came out with Kayla.  I hope so, because he was very understanding.  Kayla was a good 90# when she died.  I could not lift her by myself.  It might sound cruel, but we laid her out on a large blanket before the vet started in with the chemicals, so we could sort of roll her up as if she were in a hammock- so we could carry her outside and lower her into her grave.  I know it sucks, but even in the mechanics of death, someone still has to think about the logistics.  We will have to do the same thing with Sheena.  I can go on and on about how it sucks that we outlive dogs (and Sheena’s probably only about 7 or 8, which really sucks) but you can’t change reality.

nuns

I think most people have a sort of love/hate relationship with their parents to some degree, but the older I get the more I appreciate my parents and their work ethic and old-school values.  They did the best they could, especially considering Mom is bi-polar, and no matter how much Dad worked, it never seemed like there was enough money to get by.    I could barely afford one child, let alone three, and Steve-o (thank God) had very few illnesses or medical issues.  I do think it a bit creepy last Sunday, out of the clear blue sky, Mom starts apologizing to me for my trainwreck of a childhood.

trainwreck

What Mom doesn’t get, is that even had I been born into a family with every possible material advantage, it wouldn’t have changed my overall reality much.   I might not have been cursed with an uncontrolled, sadistic older sibling.  I might have worn better clothes, and might have had new glasses when I needed them.   Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten rheumatic fever, or maybe I would have gotten a more extensive formal education, but the fact is that in the 1970s, nobody knew how to deal with people who are wired like me.  Hyperlexia only occurs in about 1 in 50,000 children, and 75% of those are male.   Nobody knew what to do with my precocious reading, and nobody knew that it went along with constant anxiety, poor motor skills, abysmal social aptitude, and weak health.

geek_girl_2

High fashion, no.  High IQ, well, intellect does have its advantages.

Mom did the best she could with what she was given, and no apology was ever necessary.  After all, I’m not a correctional institute inmate, I’ve managed to be gainfully employed, and I’m not a serial killer.  I went to school with people who fared much worse in the long run than I did, and they were given many advantages I could only have dreamed of.

Perhaps had I been given every “advantage” I might not have had the fortitude to work for anything or appreciate anything.  Perhaps scarcity and adversity are good for the soul, even though neither of these are fun to endure.

mick-jagger

The older I get, the more I believe the great theologian/philosopher Mick Jagger has it right:

“You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want

You can try sometimes, you just might find

You get what you need-“

Definitely Not Normal, So Adjust, (and Learn When to Say “Tough Titty!”)

I never really liked the word “normal,” because “normal” is a most subjective word.  What is normal for me is probably not normal for most other people, and vice-versa.  That’s OK, because I’m comfortable with the way I’m wired, and I can navigate with it pretty well.   The problem for me is that the rest of the world isn’t wired the same way, so I have to modify my methods and approach accordingly in my interactions with the rest of humanity.  My peculiar wiring gives me some advantages (for instance, for me, speed-reading has always been a mechanism that is both automatic and near and dear to my heart) but my wiring also gives me disadvantages when the only route I’ve been given is not the well-traveled road.   I see much that others miss, but I miss much that others see.  I miss the subtle cues of facial expression and body language that most people cue in on automatically.  I have to make a conscious effort not only to read non-verbals, but also to be sure that I’m sending the right non-verbals, both of which are vexing for me.  I’d much rather communicate in print so I can revise as necessary and say what I mean to say.  I also have to make a conscious effort to do anything requiring gross motor skills.  I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was almost 8 years old, and in spite of intense physical therapy when I was 3-4 years old, and my mother’s misguided attempt to force me into ballet lessons a few years later, (too bad they didn’t have video cameras then, because my abysmal attempts at ballet dancing would have been a hoot to watch) I’m still doing good to walk without falling. 

A better term for “normal” in my world would be “neurotypical”- meaning the vast majority of humanity, i.e. people who can walk across a room without tripping on their own feet, and whose perception is not perennially “cranked up to 11.”   Neurotypical people have to learn to read the written word the hard way (something I still don’t understand, because I can’t remember a time in my life when I couldn’t read) but for the most part they automatically pick up on empathy and relating to others, while I have to consciously develop and practice those skills- the hard way.  I also have to train myself to narrow my focus, otherwise I would be kept awake by a star’s reflection in my window or by the whistle of a far off train.  The danger in this is if I turn down the perception knob too much or hone in on one tiny spot for too long I truly do shut off the rest of the world.  One of my greatest talents is the ability to ignore. I have to consciously keep a balance between the two extremes.   I can go from near-catatonia to panic attack in a heartbeat if I fail to keep the “need to shut down” and “need to experience everything” parts of my mind balanced. 

I have suspected for a long time that I have Asperger’s Syndrome- the description of Asperger’s explains much about my rather “abnormal” intellectual and social development.  I understand how easy it is to simply shut down.  It’s hard for me to describe, but I can see both how and why autistic people do shut down.  It’s easier than the constant fight to maintain the balance, and it beats panic attacks and/or manic rages.  Leave me alone in the ivory tower, because it’s a lot easier that way.  Yes, that I most certainly understand.

I remember all too well Mom used to backhand me for “being rude” or “staring” when I couldn’t see what was wrong with a.) stating the obvious, or b.) making an observation.  Then again I may have had some advantages in such a harsh upbringing.  Mom was a big believer in operant conditioning, and more specifically the negative reinforcement component of operant conditioning.  She would backhand you for a dirty look, or for missing a response whilst doing the Catholic calesthenics during Mass.  In her economy one’s behavior better be appropriate at all times, and to flying hell with any reason you might provide for behavior she deemed inappropriate.   My sisters had a different MO for beating the hell out of me, (unless they could beat me and make me scream so Mom would also beat me- for screaming) and they beat me a LOT more often than Mom ever needed to.  They beat the hell out of me because I was an easy target and it was something to do when Mom locked us outside and cranked up the volume on the TV.  Who knew sadism could be so entertaining?  Today they have video games for that, but not back in the 70’s. 

In my opinion, “telling it like it is,” is simply being honest.  You can be honest and tactful, but tact is an acquired skill, and not necessarily one that I excel in.  I acquired a good measure of tact with the quickness when I was about five- after I commented that one of Dad’s friends was getting really fat. Gotta love that operant conditioning. You will shut up after being backhanded into next week- but it didn’t change the fact that Dad’s buddy was getting downright lardy.  One of the nice things about cougardom is that I don’t have to be as tactful as I was required to be when I was five.  Age buys one at least a slight bit of gravitas in some ways.  I can call a lard ass a lard ass and get away with it, though if I must comment on someone’s superfluous girth, I generally just say “large” and move on.  I’m not consciously trying to be rude, but I do call it as I see it.  I can make commentary as much as I want to at my age without having to be as paranoid about offending people. 

One of the reasons I really hate political correctness is that it gives people excuses to be wussies.  I was never allowed to simply follow the path of least resistance and shut myself down to the point of being cloistered away in a padded room with a stack of adult diapers (though I think I would actually have to leave my little private enclave to at least use the toilet and bathe) and vast selection of reading material.  No one catered to me.  I had to adjust to everyone else and if I didn’t like it, it was tough titty.  I was held to a higher standard because of my IQ scores, with no mercy or accommodation for my motor deficits or emotional and social deficits.  My family forced me to be social and to function in the neurotypical world whether I wanted to or not.  I was not given the choice to withdraw from human interaction.  The best metaphor I can think of is that I was thrown in the pool and left to sink or swim.  No water wings, no instruction, no floatie for me.  Use what you have and figure it out.  I probably could have done without all the beatings and likely the attempts at ballet lessons too, but for the most part I don’t think that I would have the ability to function in the “normal” world today had I not been forced to do so. Sadly, today no one has the audacity to require kids to adjust and to learn how to navigate the world with the wiring they’ve been given. 

Granted, I am probably not an exemplary picture of mental health.  I freely admit I have Issues.  Then again, had I not been thrown into the fire I can guarantee my Issues would be far more profound and limiting.

So, just shut up and make it work.  That’s what has to be done sometimes.

Proven: The Total Depravity of Man, Earthly Purgatory Remembered, and Middle Age Rules

I was one of those wise-assed kids who most teachers really didn’t want to deal with.  Not only was I a whipping post as well as a social pariah amongst my peers, the teachers didn’t like me either, especially in elementary school.  Hindsight being 20/20, I fully understand why a young first grade teacher would be intimidated by a  freaky looking five year old whose current reading list included Dante’s Inferno, the KJV Bible, the Encyclopedia Brittanica, and whatever happened to be lying about the house or in the daily newspaper.  I highly doubt that too many teachers have had the dubious distinction of dealing with a hyperlexic  (or Asperger’s/hyperlexic, because parts of both of those descriptions fit) child, especially in the backwater town where I grew up.  I have all the sympathy in the world for any educator attempting to deal with a child like me.  You can take all the conventional child development theories and throw them out the window because I didn’t come close to following the patterns or the formal stages.  Erickson and Piaget did not encounter kids like me, I can assure you.  I could have had a lot of fun with them though.

I could read when I was two years old, and I can’t remember a time in my life when I couldn’t read.  I read voraciously as a child and still do.  The school system had absolutely no idea what to do with me, so in their wisdom they decided I should go directly to first grade at age five.  The only problem with this was at age five I was reading on the same level as a college freshman. I can just imagine how embarrassed my second grade teacher was when I used the word “sarcastic,” which apparently was not a word in her vocabulary.  She thought I was making up words- until I spelled it, defined it, and looked up the definition for her in the dictionary.  I was transferred to the other second grade class the next day.  That teacher didn’t like me much either.  As a child I made the simple mistaken assumption that if I knew something it was common knowledge.  Today I know better.   It’s safer for me to assume that if I know something, most other people don’t know, which is not a testament to my intelligence, but a sad commentary on the progressive dumbing down of society.  Intelligence is a constant and the population is growing.  I certainly don’t know everything- the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know- but I do know that humanity has continued to head downhill since the Fall.  No matter what society wants to believe regarding technology and the human ability to build utopia, utopia is not happening.  Utopia is not going to happen at the hands of humanity, believe that.   Dystopia is alive and well though. If anything, human beings just screw things up in ever more creative ways.  Even though I would not consider myself a Calvinist in regard to theology (I lean more along the lines of being a confessional Lutheran as far as theology goes) John Calvin had it 100% correct in his teaching on the total depravity of man.  We are all born with the brown touch.  Everything human beings touch eventually turns to, well, you know, poo.

I’m not implying that I was some kind of prodigy or anything like that.  To this day I can’t explain why I could read at such an early age.  I still struggle with math (anything beyond basic business math is out of my realm) and I have the physical coordination of a drunken mule.  I’m scatterbrained and disorganized.  I remember things I don’t need to, and forget things I need to remember.  I am not particularly social unless I have to be for business reasons, and no one would accuse me of being Miss Manners or Emily Post.  What you see is what you get.

I’ve been trolling some blogs written by middle school teachers lately (oh, my condolences on that career choice) and thinking of that dark portion of my life almost makes me believe in purgatory again.  Middle school had to be the absolute worst three years of my life.  There were some funny parts, most memorably the day Ellen stuck a roach clip on Howie’s belt loop and then locked him in the science room closet, but for the most part it was a living hell.

“Howie” was my eighth grade science teacher.  I have all the sympathy in the world for this poor guy.  First of all, even considering this was 1981-2, he could have used a few couture lessons.  The polyester high water pants and white socks with black shoes weren’t winning him any fashion accolades.  He also combed his hair into an Elvis-style pompadour waxed up with that greasy Brylcreem stuff.  To top it off he had thick (and also greasy looking) coke bottle glasses- the style of glasses referred to in the military as “birth control glasses.” 

I have to wonder if Howie was one of those guys who went to college to avoid going to Vietnam.  I had several teachers in middle school and high school who readily admitted to doing exactly that.  I bet some of them wished they would have gone to ‘Nam instead of dealing with the hellions I went to school with.  Education was one of the easiest majors to complete back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, so a lot of guys who normally would have ended up as factory workers or truck drivers or roofers ended up going to college to avoid the draft.  This probably explains why I was volunteered to correct spelling for my freshman English teacher, and why my sophomore history teacher spent every class period reading the day’s chapter to the class in a dull, dry monotone.

Anyway, poor Howie had his work cut out for him.  My eighth grade science class was filled with every misfit and jackoff in the school.  Howie, being rather soft spoken and somewhat of a wimp, didn’t have any kind of control over that class.  It was cacophony and chaos every day. Most days I left that class with my hair full of spitballs and/or nasty notes taped to my back.  

One of the girls- Ellen- who was 13 going on 35, had a thing for Marlboro reds, enjoyed sleeping with anything remotely male, and rolling up a joint of Marion County Homegrown whenever she could get it, usually sported a pink feathered roach clip attached to her hair like a barrette.  I can only assume that she kept the roach clip handy should the opportunity to smoke some homegrown come along. 

One day Howie was trying in vain to get people to shut up and stop throwing spitballs, eraser tips and other divers projectiles.  At the same time one of the boys decided it would be fun to grab my notebook and draw swastikas and SS lightning bolts on it.   At least he didn’t spit on it or smear boogers on it, which would have been more typical of this particular dude.  There were so many things flying through the air and so much noise going on that it was difficult to discern how many rules were being broken and to what degree.  It was in the midst of this tempest that Ellen sneaked up behind Howie and pinned her pink feathered roach clip on his belt loop.  Howie had absolutely no clue and went back into the back closet to get something, wagging his roach clip tail behind him.  Normally I didn’t take any kind of joy in others being tormented, being no stranger to torment myself, but this visual was so outrageously funny that the entire class was laughing themselves to tears and I was laughing right along with them. 

The science closet had a locking door on it.  A key was required to open the door from either side.  The key was on Howie’s desk as he usually left the closet door open.  Just when the visual of the roach clip tail couldn’t get any funnier, Ellen shut the door, locking poor Howie in the closet with no key.   The entire class (I hate to admit it but me included) was absolutely howling in uncontrollable laughter.

About  fifteen minutes later the principal showed up.  I can’t believe it took him that long to hear all the racket.  He immediately starts looking for Howie and then he hears the frantic pounding from inside the science closet.  Howie was eventually set free, but it took the principal awhile to find the key on the desk.  Rumor had it that Howie resigned from the school system following that school year from hell and got a job driving a bread truck.  I don’t blame him one bit.

Middle school thoroughly sucked.  Also in eighth grade I had the misfortune of being placed with a classmate who had been in all kinds of trouble with the law and technically should have been in Juvenile Hall- he was sixteen, still in eighth grade, and he was a pervert.  Granted, all sixteen year old boys are perverts to a degree, but this lecherous freak was way too close to me- the only thirteen year old in eighth grade with a 36C chest.  Every morning before home room this nasty dude would chase me around trying to grab said chest to the chant of “titty, titty, titty.”   This dude scared me half to death- but there was no way in hell I was going to let him grab me.  One morning he was particularly randy and had gotten very close to getting his wish.  It didn’t help that the other boys were egging him on.  Then my best friend decided she’d had enough of his behavior, so she tripped him.  He grabbed back at her, knocked her down and broke her leg.  The part of this that really torqued me was that she got in trouble for fighting as well as the pervo which in my mind was completely unfair.  I don’t agree with the common school rule that both parties in a fight get punished.  In my opinion there is an instigator and a victim and no one should face a penalty for defending themselves or for defending someone else who is being victimized.  So she got to finish out the school year in a cast.  The pervo ended up being expelled because he had caused so much additional trouble in the school, so that at least was a good thing.

I had a few small victories in middle school, but the best thing about it is that it is long since over. There were too many mornings of being thrown head first into garbage cans, stuffed into lockers, and being chased by a pervert.

There are those who say that they would like to be young again.   I would only want to be young again with one caveat- that I could be young again knowing what I know now.  I think I’d have a lot more fun with it.  Middle age has its disadvantages, but for the most part cougardom is a lot more comfortable.  I don’t worry about impressing anyone, and I don’t think I have to worry about being tossed into garbage cans, stuffed into lockers or being chased by perverts.   I don’t have to wear my sisters’ old clothes nor do I have to put up with guys asking for my phone number to call them for dates.