In a recent blog entry Autism Speaks, the bane of our community, addressed writer/advocate Steve Silbermann, who recently wrote a fine editorial¬†which I cannot improve upon attacking them. They responded by listing all of the “good things” A$ has done, including referencing our tendency to wander at length. They titled the article A Call For Unity, despite not saying a single thing about unity and simply talking themselves up.

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The Brutal Kind: A Full Archive of the Podcast by Lauren Dunn and Austin Shinn

Below are the full links for every episode Lauren Dunn and I recorded between June 2011 and May 2012. These were a unique, wonderful experience I enjoyed so much. I was never able to distribute them very well but we loved doing them because it was fun. We had no way of knowing how vital they would be now. I hope you listen to them and don’t feel sad but rather joy that you get to listen in on two friends just talking. I cherish these












A Letter to Lauren Dunn

Dear Lauren,

I’ve always valued anniversaries from the time I was a child. A year means something in my eyes. A concrete marker of life. Another 365 day orbit around the sun concluded. Another moment to stop and take note of our progress.

And so we are back here again. Once more it is 8/25. Last year’s variant was one I’ll never forget. Started normal. Then in 2 hours I had a financial blow that frustrated me and angered me. At least it angered me for a few moments.

Because next came the phone call I would never forget. A call from my father to inform me that you, who I’d seen a mere six days earlier, had been killed in an accident. Someone I was taking a few days off to hang out with the very weekend ahead I would never see again. For a few hours there was conflicting word, yes, but by night’s end the facts were clear. You were gone. And I’m never going to see you again.

The year that has followed has been a long one. The first few months immediately afterwards were awful. For about two months I couldn’t go home on my weekends when Amanda wasn’t there. I buried myself in anything to distract me, just to forget the pain I felt at the realization you were gone. I couldn’t turn to chemical means, mind you. I was so deep in pain I drew no pleasure from alcohol or anything else I’d enjoyed.

Everything hurt. It hurt because I lived in a world that was cold enough to take you, my friend.

Before this, I had no idea what mourning felt like. I’ve lost three people close to me before and in all three instances, I was prepared. In the case of my mother’s mother I was even glad the pain was over. I missed them but I had a framework for their deaths. They were old. Old people die. I had no framework for the girl who’d crashed on my couch the Wednesday before dying.

Intellectually, I even thought I’d understood the topic. I don’t know if I ever told you this but I spent the summer of 2001 researching grief for a book. So I knew all of this was coming in my mind. But the emotions? The crying in public? The inability to feel? None of that was predicted sadly.

There were times too that I felt guilty for my pain. I thought it was unearned. We hadn’t seen each other too regularly over the years. For at least 7, barely if at all. True, in the last four, things has picked up immensely, but still not every week. Would you even count me high among those who’d miss you? I’m sure you’d expect me at your funeral, and I was there, but would you expect this? Did I deserve to be this angry and sad? Was I just feeling this to feel it?

I’ve come to a realization though. I feel this anger and pain not over the amount of time we spent but the quality. Lauren, there was never a moment where I was in your presence that I wasn’t breathless trying to keep up with you. You were a burst of energy and life that made every second with you count. You truly were a friend like few I’ve ever had in my life. If I mourn so greatly it’s because however limited our interactions might’ve been at times, they mattered to me. I cherish every single one.

And I have so many things I wish I could tell you. I can’t watch a movie without the lunge to my phone to ask your thoughts on it. You missed the entire Oscar season last year! I miss getting to watch a movie and just hear your thoughts on it. You got them like nobody else. You were also one of the only people I’ve known who read my writing. I wish you could give me feedback on my latest script. You knew what you were talking about!

I mourn that the weekend we had planned never came to pass. We had such fun things in store and I would’ve loved getting to be out there with you and Maegan. You’ll be happy to know btw that Amanda’s spending time with her which I think is awesome. But I mourn that we didn’t get THAT time. It would’ve been epic and I miss it.

I miss all the time we didn’t get. Times so amazing they’re beyond my reach to even imagine. Times in an alternate future yet for us. None of that will ever come to pass and I’m broken for it. You never even got to crash at our new, much more awesome house.

You were such a special, amazing person. Such a force of life. And I needed you this year. There were times when life got hard and Amanda and I would’ve been for the better to get to hang out with and just chat. Whatever indescribable magic friendship imparts in such situations, I needed it.

And yet, in my pain, I turn my mind to the time we did have. I think of high school. I think of Mrs. Johnson’s room. I think of the Towne Centre theater. I think of Journalism Days. I think of Facebook chats. I think of the Breckenridge Village and the Rave. I think of Scott Pilgrim. I think of our homes. I think of Amanda’s apartment. I think of the wedding. I think of the house on Durwood. I think of the arcade. I think of never really saying more than an exhausted, mumbled goodbye to you.

And then I think of these words “It was really really great to get to hang out and talk to you more this visit!” I never responded to your text. I’m sorry I didn’t. I guess I figured I’d get the chance later.

Lauren, I don’t know what lies beyond us. You had more faith than I. But I have to believe in something more because something more means I’ll get the chance to see you again. And that’s worth hoping for.

I love you and I miss you,
Austin Shinn

Face Blindness

This entry exists because of three incidents.

A few weeks ago, I finally got a haircut after a bit too long without one. It was an action I’d needed to do and the results looked great. This simple action had an unexpected impact though. Sure, I expected Amanda to react. Same for my coworkers and family. What I didn’t expect was every single clerk at every single place I frequent to comment on it. People I thought didn’t recognize me turned out to very much recognize me.

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Three Things

I’ve never hidden from anybody, especially the readers of this blog, my struggles with self esteem. Growing up AS/HFA, my self esteem levels have always been decidedly low. It’s hard to feel high on yourself when the simplest actions seem to go awry. I’ve had it pounded into me that my thinking is at times “wrong” and that acting with good intentions, I manage to wreak havoc. So yes, I have issues.

There comes a point at which that becomes unacceptable though. There is a level to which tireless self hatred becomes destructive and purposeless. So it is with me. I’ve reached a level where my tireless disdain for myself has worn me out. I need to improve.

For that reason Amanda challenged me to each day for a week thing of three things I liked about myself and to think about them all day. She felt by doing so I would improve my self esteem and develop a more positive opinion of myself. I did as promised and every day on the way to work, I told her three things an I thought on them.

What were they? Many of them were traits I like. I like my passion for my interests. I like my energy for my writing. I consider myself a kind and devoted person. I’m willing to upend my life at a moment’s notice for other people. I know a lot about a lot of obscure topics. I think I’m somewhat funny.

How did the experiment go? I’m not sure. I think the results were generally successful. It certainly forced me to take a hard look at myself and expend a lot of effort to find things. The first few days were easy with surface ideas I could mine but time forced me to think harder on things I hadn’t considered.

The result was introspection that went counter to much of what I see in life. Many of us need to look harder at our flaws and admit they’re there. I had to do the opposite. It challenged me to go against what I believe in: the need for such deconstruction of the self. I had to build myself up despite my distrust of the person I might find.

And ultimately I found things to celebrate. The things I listed were things I believed in. Do they heal the darkness within I still fight? No. But they are there. We have to force ourselves to look for the light in our lives, even when it’s hard. It can gie us some small embers of hope.

August: The Cruelest Month

I need to write a serious entry. There’s no denying I feel I owe this site that. It’s been a far too long period since I’ve done that and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I’ve written extensively on my mental state and while that reflects HFA, it’s not about it. I need something real.

Instead I’m going to write about August.

It’s my opinion that August is indeed the cruelest month. August is the pit of the year, the moment where everything that has festered boils over. Everything is stagnant to the point of breeding disease it feels. It’s a hot, unpleasant period where the sky and the Earth bake us. It’s a moment that burns all the more as it’s the last gasp of summer before things turn cooler.

Most American Children have an image of August as such due to school starting up. I certainly have felt that in years past, especially in August 1996 which in retrospect feels even underprepared for what came next. Summer is ending and that stinks as a kid. Admittedly as High School hits it looks better since by that time you have more power, but still, August is the harbinger of the end.

Then there’s the heat. Who among us likes the heat? The heat is as vicious as the cold but the opposite effect comes from it. Instead of energizing as the cold does, it wilts a person. Heat drains all energy, all fluids. It creates anger and frustration born from discomfort. The heat can’t be overlooked.

But one thing makes me view August with suspicion: the culture. It’s no longer rare for great movies to open in August but by and large the last two weeks of the month are a cultural sewer across the board. Any books hit earlier in the month. Any movies the same. Tv looms later. What does hit is garbage of the worst kind. Lack of decent culture is the worst.

I think there’s a deeper reason to August being the cruelest month though. It stems with where it lands on the calendar. Spring and summer are distinct seasons but they fade in gradually. Fall is a sudden shift to the dark. Light recedes. The temperatures drop. The year is headed to an end. August is the reminder of that fact. Everything is as at its peak as it’ll get. In September change comes.

And of course there are anniversaries. At the end of the month, I face one year after Lauren. One year of violent bouts with depression that have recurred. My soul is openly not at peace. August has always felt haunted. Now it is.

Time will take August away. It won’t be clear at first. Much of the first week of September carries the fetid stench of the month. But in time the leaves turn, the air cools, and we’re in a new cycle.

And the cruelty ends.

Audio Entry: Summer 1999

As happens when you blog, I’ve got a few gaps here and there I’m in desperate need of wallpapering. The summer of 1999 is one. In this entry, I briefly hit on what it was like to be 15, describe a favorite vacation which had more rats than most, cover a few movies I DIDN’T like and just generally reminisce.

I’d love to do more of these by the way. I really enjoy talking out my memories. If you guys enjoy these, I have 15 gigs of space. I’ll take requests.

To hear my thoughts click here.