High School Month Prelude

It’s been a very long, trying week. I’m not going to lie. But, we must go on. 

High school. For some it is the perfect era in their lives they desperately wish to return to. For others it was a brutal nightmare filled with pain and rejection. Often romanticized, often slandered, high school holds a tight grip on our culture. Why shouldn’t it? We were young, dumb, hormonal, and honestly just coming on line as people.

This is the prelude to what I plan as a four part series. There will be two entries covering HAs itself with two extra entries to focus on single days Why do I want to give so much time to this subject? Well, to look at my life in literary terms, this is the turn. Before this I had years of feeling wildly out of place. I didn’t know what hope I had. In these 4 years, everything changed. So it makes perfect sense to write this much on this period.

I admit this set of entries will be lighter on the HFA/AS material than some of my others. At least on the surface. Look deeper and I think the opposite is true. This is where the advantages of the disorder come out. I had skills waiting to be tapped.

The plan is to go weekly with the first bonus entry hitting by Monday followed by the Freshman/Sophomore entry the next week. Why such an odd release pattern? Eh, the bonus entry will be finished first. So on we go into the past.

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Where I Am Today

I’m writing this entry in the moment, expressing my present mindset rather than looking back. This might be a rambling entry but so be it. My goal with AFL has always been to show you my mindset and today nothing will help me more than baring my soul.  

This week has been a brutal one in my community of friends. One of our lights was taken from us all too soon. And I’ll be perfectly blunt: it’s really hit me hard. I just saw my friend last week and I will never see her again. I’m really trying to process this.

I have no experience with grief like this. I’ve lost grandparents. I’ve lost acquaintances. But I’ve never lost someone who was so deeply a part of my life. My friend was someone I’d even been seeing more frequently of late. She was very close with my wife. In fact it didn’t shock me to come home and see her hanging out with Amanda.

It’s weird because it’s not real. Or at least it’s just now sinking in. My dear friend Albert compared it to trying to process infinity and he nailed it. It isn’t “like” it, it is just that. I’m NEVER going to hang out with her again. This isn’t someone moving away or getting into a fight. This is it. And the human mind isn’t built for it.

I had the inevitable weirdness about not crying. That lasted a day. It was followed by the equally inevitable weirdness about crying in public. I tried my best not to. I failed. At least I had a good reason. HFAs usually don’t. We cry anyway. I expect to shed many more tears.

I feel selfish too. I’m feeling this intense powerful emotion. But so are other people. Usually when I’m hurting like this, I’m alone in that hurt. But I’m not. I’m not even sure I have the right to feel as strongly as I do. I’m not family. Just friends. But I’m so deep in this. Is even writing this a violation of the norm? I don’t know and I wish I knew because I want to do right.

I know this: I’m not alone and that’s, in a sad way, great. I have a wife, friends, family, and all manner of people who care about me. I’m just at a loss. Grief is messy, complex, and weird. 

Next month I’m going to delve into my high school years. She will come up as she was a close friend then. I look forward to looking back. Until then I can only take heart that I’m trying to do right. Tomorrow isn’t going to stop.

The Craziest Thing I’ve Ever Done

“What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?” I think you can tell a lot about a person by how they answer that question. You’ve got the specific thing they do and then you’ve got the tone of voice. A person can be incredibly proud of the most awful thing or humiliated by the smallest thing.

Rather inevitably, my answer is pretty PG. I’m after all a rather quiet guy. I keep to a firm budget. I’m married. I have few vices now and never have had many at all. Even my taste for cider has far less to do with intoxication and far more to do with flavor. So yes, my craziest thing is a quiet one, but it was a wonderful moment.

It began with the discovery that the documentary Best Worst Movie would be playing 4 hours away in Springfield, MO. The doc, for the unaware, focus on Troll 2, one of my favorite b-movies. As someone who’s studied bad movies, I had to see it. But…well, I couldn’t go across state lines just to see a movie. It would be a giant waste of money. The idea stayed in my head though.

The day before I had a day off, I went to see Inception with my friend Lauren. (1) Lauren is one of the most impulsive people I know and I say that in the kindest way.  I mentioned that yes, I was considering this idea. Lauren, being far from a voice of restraint (2), decided I should go. And she was right.

This is a perfect chance to pause to discuss rituals. I may or may not have done so in a full entry but yes, I’ve very diehard about my rituals. On vacations, I’m incredibly ritualistic. Usually

Normally when I plan a trip, I spend weeks prepping it. I plan out my entire schedule for every day. This time, I had mere hours. First things first: find a place to stay. I debated finding a hotel but opted instead to stay at my brother’s house about an hour and a half from Springfield. Arrangements were made for my yorkie. I shuffled the funds around, a fairly easy thing to do. I was set.

That morning, I headed down the highway with energy drinks at hand. My route took me up to Conway where I dropped off the pup and turned off the interstate to take the highway up. I made my way through the winding path up through Harrison on my way to Branson. Since I lacked time to find any trip audio, I used anything I could find in my car which worked. (3)

I paused briefly in Branson. I genuinely like Branson. I had a lovely visit in December 2001 when it was empty. I also ran up after an interview in 2007. (4) This noon it was absolutely swamped but not unmanageable. I stopped in at a surprisingly nice used bookstore on the strip. I also hit up an outlet mall but was decidedly nonplussed by it.

Then it was off to Springfield. I’d had a mixed reaction to the town to this point. No strictly comic stores. (5) This is something that I admit I consider heavily when deciding where to go on trips. But it was where the film was playing and so it was that I arrived in town at around two.

The film wasn’t playing until 9ish that night so I had 7 hours to kill. How was I to do it? Used bookstore shopping. I’ve always loved getting lost in a used bookstore, pillaging the shelves for undiscovered treasures.  I visited a number of shops and found several good bookstores. Then I found an even more awesome store.

Eventually I will do a full entry on HFA and alcohol. For now I’ll pause to note that I do indeed drink on occasion. I like the taste quite a bit, having acquired it. I also concede a mild buzz has its benefits for some of the issues we face. I’m not prone to overindulgence on the substance but yes, I’m definitely not an opponent.

So it was that I found myself in an international wine and spirits shop. It was awe inspiring to me, the freedom to sample and try these new items from around the world. They even had Strongbow, my favorite brand which I couldn’t get in LR. (6) I purchased several new items and went on my way.

There was the inevitable pause for dinner. I have very mainstream tastes and I concede on this exciting night I went to Red Robin. Yeah, exciting I know. Dinner was solid as I kept my energy up. Honestly, this was the tone of the evening. It was mainstream but it was so satisfying to me!

I hit up a string of bookstores before I reached downtown. I pause here to discuss Downtown Springfield. In time I’ll hit up my other visits but I want to express my love for the district. Downtown Springfield is a beautiful place with a specific feel. It’s a grounded bohemian if that makes sense. I like the bars, the various shops, and as I would eventually find, the retrocade there. (7) Missouri is awesome overall. (8)

Then, we hit the climax of this story. I took a seat and watched the movie. I’ve reviewed it elsewhere but I can give a short review: it’s a superb film celebrating a very unique culture. It was a film that spoke to me and that’s really the joy of cinema. That we can be captured and reminded we’re not alone. I bought it once it hit DVD, still holds up.

The trip ended with a nice hour long drive to Huntsville where I crashed at one of my happy places, the house that was once my grandparents’ and now housed my brother. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.

But why? As I lay out the details, the day doesn’t seem too exciting. Hell, another year and I would’ve just watched the film on VOD most likely. But the thing of it is days like that aren’t about the details. They’re about the music of the experience. The joy of going out and living. Maybe I didn’t fight a bear but I took a journey on a whim. I had a moment I’ll never forget. The craziest thing I’ve ever done? It’s simple, peaceful, and it made me happy. All it needed to be.

NOTE: I’ve been holding this one in my back pocket for several weeks as I tweaked it but as I’m finally ready to release it, the idea of a fun night in Missouri feels very different. While Springfield is a good 220 miles from Ferguson, the final polish of this was affected by the realization Missouri has a different connotation today.

(1) Lauren is identified by her actual name. Again, rule of in touch.

(2) Do NOT take this as an insult for my dear friend. I just mean that she encouraged me to have fun.

(3) This has happened since but I prefer it not.

(4) Teaser for The Gap Year. Coming within the next 6 months.

(5) No longer true to be clear. The last time I was in town I visited a lovely shop.

(6) No longer true either I’m pleased to say.

(7) Retrocades are trendy. I love it.

(8) Shoutout to my podcast partner who lives there.

What Keeps Me Going

This piece is inspired by Matt Fraction’s stellar article on the subject of suicide and I write this in reaction. In it he encourages the suicidal to find SOMETHING to give them a reason to keep going. Perhaps that’s a bit simplistic but it triggered in me the need to write about what propels me through life. I write this not as any critique of suicide, indeed I feel such deep sympathy for the suicidal, but as an affirmation of my life.

Nothing drives me more than my wife of course. I have only known Amanda for just over three years and I don’t feel like I’ve spent enough time with her by a long shot. I cherish our time together so much. I want so much more of it. There are long term plans we have and I’m eager to fulfill them. 

I have my family too. My sister has a son who isn’t yet one. I haven’t been called Uncle Austin yet but I really want to hear that. I want to pass his first comic books to him. I haven’t gone to the arcade with my brother in a long time and I really want to soon. I have so many conversations yet to have had with my parents. I need those.

I have my friends, a mix of ones online and in real life and at this point some strong overlap in the categories. I need to get to know them better. I have so much yet to say to them and so much yet to hear from them. There are so many things we need to do together. How could I pass that up?

I have my job. I love my job greatly. I’m not satisfied with the quality of work I do. I want to prove myself to my fullest and I know I can. With each day I have the chance to show what I can do. I want to really blow people away. 

My writing isn’t complete. I’m not even a published author! I haven’t started and finished a new script in years! There’s this very project too. I’m just getting started and I have so much I want to do here! I haven’t even gotten to some of my most important stories.

The Film Room has a schedule including an episode in May. How could I miss that? We have so many plans for the cast that I want to hear. This cast has been so incredible too. I got to talk to a professional director who did films you love this way! When your cast is that fulfilling, you have to see how much better it can get.

There are so many movies coming out I want to see. How can I miss Marvel’s slate? Pixar has a great looking film next year I need to see. I have to see Batman v Superman! Paul Thomas Anderson has a new film coming that sounds like a return to form. I have no idea what Spike Jonze is doing next but after Her I want to know. There’s too much out there.

Also my comics. Marvel has two great sounding events coming. I’m eager to see what my friend Ramon Villalobos does next. (I’ve bought all of his Marvel work and won’t stop.) I really love the current X-Files series. I’m curious about where Rocket Raccoon is going. I need a new Howard the Duck series and in my dreams I write it. There’s too much to read yet. 

Then there’s the library. I’ve got 14 books on hold. That’ll grow and shrink but at the end of the day I have so much yet to read…

But there’s the most important one. I want to grow old. I want to know the experience of looking back on 50 years. I want to see the world grow and evolve. I want to have children. I want to have grandchildren. I want to be amazed by change. And I want to go out strong until I just fade some day. I’m living for my future. 

These are the reasons I live. I write this merely as an affirmation of some of the drivers in my life. I know there are more I could list. I love that.

Destroying the Shelters

My mother has, to this point, not really been the major factor in my entries she deserves to be. My mother is a powerful force of nature who fought to get me help. She has been supportive of me my whole life. Part of that support came in an unlikely form: refusing to shelter me due to my disorder.

Giving me a special plan for school? Sure. That included having a set of textbooks at home and typing my assignments on computers. But I paid the price for my outbursts and my grades weren’t curved due to who I was. My mother’s goal was to get me on my feet and I am.

But that’s not universal and to be blunt, it aggravates me. I’ve seen a lot of people in my situation be sheltered their whole lives and I really think that does as much damage as the disorder in its way. I don’t blame my peers for wanting to avoid a world that isn’t exactly friendly to us. I don’t blame parents for wishing to shield their children from harm. They just shouldn’t.

Why does sheltering kids outrage me so? Because living in the real world isn’t optional. I’ve seen so many people with the disorder reach my age and be lost. They can’t function. It’s very common for them to stay pretty close to, if not remain at, home. (1) They also seem locked into a mindset that rejects the real world. They get angry that the world won’t shift to fit them. I’m guilty of this, mind you. Stubbornness just comes with the disorder. I think part of the reason we wind up being sheltered is that stubbornness. Who wants to be told they’re wrong?

But ultimately, the best intentions have dire consequences. We wind up assuming that we are helpless and I don’t buy that! We need to be taught that yeah, we’re not going to think like others and we aren’t going to fit in. But by accepting that we can move on and learn to work in the real world. Shouldn’t we encourage the high functioning part, not the autism part?

Fundamentally this comes back to how I feel about the education system as well as parents. I’m not sure how I feel about it currently since I’m 11 years removed from public schools but I felt like they tried nicely. Not segregating me from the others was nice. (2) I went to a first rate school district which helped. They were remarkably ahead of the curve.

What do I think the ideal is? I think it’s simple: don’t protect your kids. Let them hurt a bit. (3) Let them grow and learn. Help us, work with us, but don’t candy coat the real world. We’ll learn sooner or later.

NOTE: This is hardly a problem limited to the disorder. I live in the south and I see the effects of sheltering a lot. I have friends who have been raised in extremely restrictive environments of all kinds. One of two things will happen inevitably. In the first case, they will rebel as wildly as possible at the first opportunity. In the second, they become like their parents. I’ve always felt the second variant was fated to be that way no matter what. I know and love both.

(1) I am not knocking living at home. We’re in the after effects of the recession. I get it.

(2) Honor roll vet, academic scholarship, and as I’ll soon discuss, king of the Journalism room

(3) This does not mean accepting bullying. My mother handled that right. The schools didn’t. I despise bullying with the fury of the sun. I don’t stand for it. Hurting means making mistakes. NOT accepting that.

The Identity Crisis of the High Functioning Autistic

I am a man of two worlds. 

On one hand, I walk without much trouble in the world of the neurotypical. I’m married to one. I work among them. My life is not only par with my NT peers but in many ways above it. I’m above water financially. I’m a careerist. I’m on good terms with my family. You’d qualify my life as a normal one without hesitation.

Then again I’m socially awkward. I don’t make eye contact with very many people. I speak in strange sentences. I have overriding fixations which annoy people. I’m easily distracted. My motor skills are awful. When things go wrong, I am prone to violent fits. I often act out in embarrassing ways.

I am of two worlds and neither as a result.

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Odds and Ends 0803

There won’t be a new entry this Monday I’m afraid. I have plans to write about eye contact but I really need to do some research on that vital topic before I get the entry up. I got an entry up Thursday on film criticism in case you missed it. I’m pleased with it.

I have two major periods in my life I still intend to cover in lengthy narrative entries. I’d expect those entries to come within the year. Right now it’s hard because I’m writing around them. But they’re coming. There is also at least one entry I’m considering writing but want to take care on. 

I want to stress this: this was among my most productive weeks as a writer. I finished a 2200 word draft of a short story. I wrote 800 words on Howard the Duck. I wrote 900 words on film criticism. I just hate that I didn’t get more for this.