The Truth in West Memphis

This year marks several notable anniversaries. It’s been a year since Lola was born. It’s been a year since the book came out. Four years of living with Amanda and the marriage that came with it. 15 years of reading comics. 20 years since the diagnosis. 33 years of living. 10 year anniversary of my college graduation.

And 10 years after West Memphis.

Of every incident in my life, there is none more nebulous than this one. I can give a clear answer to what really happened in virtually every instance of my life, at least to the best of my abilities. But this one? It feels vague and amorphous to me. I don’t have any clear answers.

The basic facts are this. I had a phone interview for a job in West Memphis while still in college. I got the job. I moved to West Memphis, fast finding an apartment. I got set up over a weekend, and then the following things happened, as described in this excerpt from my memoir.

I went to work on time [on my first day], my first actual in person appearance at the job. I’d never interviewed in person which felt immediately like a mistake. I was given very icy treatment by the editors. My attempts at trying to make myself heard were ignored.

The day went slowly. I filled out paperwork and was put at a desk. I did a bit of work based on an assignment. I wasn’t very good at it, not having done very many like it. There were a few more minor tasks to get accomplished. Then I went home.

The next day I went to work. I had no assignments to work on so I waited for work.

Fifteen minutes later, I woke up. To my utter horror I’d drifted off to, if not sleep, unconsciousness. This was something I’d done all too often in class but sadly did in the real world for the first time. I was ashamed and highly apologetic as I faced my editor, taking the blame like an adult. I was promptly sent home to get my needed sleep.

I went back after a quick nap where I talked to the editor. We came to a mutual agreement I shouldn’t be there. At least that was the polite way to put it. In truth she chewed me out and accused me of being a liar on my resume, which I wasn’t. She excoriated me for mistakes I’d made on a story the day before. She made me feel small, like the very person I was afraid I’d prove to be in the “adult” world.

With thought, I might view that moment different. I might see what an unethical bind I was put in. I might see how they were wrong to ever hire me without a proper interview. I might see that I was put in a no win situation. I might believe I was setup to fail.

None of that mattered in the moment and it certainly didn’t sitting on the floor of the Kroger where I used a payphone to seek my mom’s advice. Hers was simple: flee. I hadn’t exactly quit but I could so I did. If I returned, and it was made clear they didn’t want me back, I couldn’t redeem myself.

This is how I described the incident in the book. It’s a perfectly workable version of the event. It has the facts. You could ace a test on my life based on it. I don’t even think anybody there could dispute it.

Yet I kind of do. That’s the weird thing about it. I actually reread the book upon the one year anniversary and a few errors aside I found it rather bracingly honest except for this section. Reading it feels evasive. Sure I describe the thing I did wrong but do I ever admit fault? I don’t think I do.

Instead I craft a narrative that makes me look good. I made a mistake but they were mean to me. What I don’t put in there is how utterly scared I was to be there. I don’t admit that I had no idea how to adult. I don’t note that I had zero preparation for the situation. The universe had always helped me before and it wasn’t going to be there now.

There is indeed an alternate version of this story. In that version, I’m an arrogant student who felt entitled to a decent job fresh out of college, resting on laurels others wouldn’t be impressed by. I took a job in a city connected to a big city because I thought I deserved it. I went in with no preparation and showed how completely unqualified I was. I was shown up with an epic mistake and returned home to face reality.

That version is true too. At least it’s true from another point of view. So which version is truly the truth?

Before I answer that, I want to talk about a film I just saw, Asghar Farhadi’s masterpiece A Separation. In the film there is a fight that seems to lead to a miscarriage. Much of the narrative consists of the question of intent and of facts that are unknowable. The characters debate endlessly but there is never a clear answer. The truth, Farhadi implies, is impossible to know because it is colored by our perceptions and our biases.

Memory is a lie. It’s colored by retellings. It’s heavily suggestible. It’s altered by what we come to believe. I like to refer to my book as my personal historical fiction. It’s what I think was true but there are inaccuracies there. In the end unless I had video of a moment, all I can ever know is a variant of the truth.

That’s the likely truth here. I can debate in my head endlessly what happened in this moment and I will go to my grave not truly knowing. All I will ever know is what what happened did happen.

But there is definitely an answer I can live with. Which version of what happened? A version that combines all 3.

In this version I was naive and a bit arrogant as I pursued my career. I took a job despite clear warning signs they were just settling on me. I went into it with no idea what I was really doing which exacerbated my anxiety. I found myself in a hostile environment and my behavior didn’t make anything better. I made a grievous error but one which was almost inevitable in light of the situation. The situation ended in failure. It was one which was inevitable from the start.

In the end, nobody acted right. I was too naive and proud of myself. They ran a bad business. It happened.

I can live with that. It’s a truth somewhere in the middle. It’s cliched but the truth of a situation almost always winds up there. Even the lies are true.

A Guide to Handling Current Events For The Autistic

It’s an understatement to say the last week has been a very trying time if you’re autistic. Many of my peers are hurting rather badly. Our spoon count is low. I’m certainly in that number, having had at least two panic moments. The only thing I can think to do right now is reach out to my peers and give my best advice about enduring this challenging time.

First and foremost, do not let the macro overwhelm the micro. This is a scary time on a large scale but all of us have lives on a small scale. Do not neglect them. Your obligation is to your own life first. Make sure you are still taking care of it before you work on the larger scale. You can’t help anybody if you don’t first have your own life in order.

Definitely do not stop any treatment you’re on. This is vital advice at any time but it’s needed now more than ever. If you’re in therapy, STAY. (I have resumed counseling myself.) If you’re on your meds, stay on them. There is never a good time to go lax on your treatment but this is when you need it the most.

Control what news sources you are exposed to. Cable news? Out. Internet news that’s not AP based? Out. I’m biased because of my job but I really think newspapers are the way to go for staying current. There’s a slight time delay but that  allows for more solidly sourced facts. I know from working in a newsroom that there is a hard focus on objectivity. You need to stay current, but be careful how.

Social media is out. Yeah, I hate to say that as it is our main method of communicating and this will ironically be spread over twitter, but until you are stable STAY OFF. What I’m trying to do is keep messenger available but otherwise I’m trying to stay off. Yes, that hurts because it limits my social life. But again, I’m not doing any good if I’m not ok. Social media is triggering.

If you must go on, it’s time to question every single thing you see. Seriously, 75% of the quotes and “facts” you’re seeing aren’t well sourced and often lies. This is the age of propaganda. Do your research. Question anything that seems hyperbolic. We’re known for being rational. We should show it.

Don’t feel pressured to be an activist. There is a violent pressure on all of us to stand up and if you’re capable of it then yes, by all means do all you can. Many of my friends and family are and I admire them. I can’t though. I’m not comfortable, I have violent social anxiety, and honestly I’m not knowledgeable enough to help. All I can do is vocally support which I do. If you don’t have enough spoons, do not kill yourself trying to act like you do. However, if that does make you feel better, then get out there.

Ultimately, my best advice is this: Understand that we are fundamentally powerless. I voted. I had my say. I didn’t vote for him. That was all any of us could do. And yes, it’s ungodly frustrating. It hurts. If you’re angry, you’re only reacting accurately. But know this, you’re not alone. There’s a lot of us out there. The good people are trying.

Will we get through this okay? I doubt it. I’m not going to lie. But will it be doomsday? I’ll concede it might not be. We survived a civil war, a revolution, a terrorist attack, the 60s, and WWII. We won’t be ok immediately. But we might yet be OK in time.

 

 

In Praise of Abed Nadir

It’s very easy to focus on the things we dislike in reviews. Doing so allows us a safe outlet for expressing our anger we usually sublimate in other issues. So it’s tempting for me in this moment to write about a trope I dislike, the unlikable autistic, and use that as an outlet for such feelings. It’s tempting and I’m certainly thinking a lot on the trope due to reading an atrocious book with an autistic coded character. But why not critique it from a different angle by looking at an autistic character I actually love?

Abed Nadir from Community is by far my favorite autistic coded character in mass media today. He’s the rare example of an accurate portrayal, one who has issues but highly recognizable ones. He’s not a cartoon of quirks and rudeness but a genuinely likable human being. What’s remarkable about this is Abed still goes through the same humanization journey as shown in the rest of the media. It’s just his is right. 

First off, I have to concede the character is technically shown as undiagnosed. Yet this is the one time that doesn’t matter. In fact creator Dan Harmon did extensive research into the disorder and realized he himself falls on the spectrum. And the show does make frequent allusions to the idea he might be one of us. So I’m not even treating it as headcanon. Abed is on the spectrum. 

And he’s a remarkably accurate portrait at that. Abed’s dominant trait is an obsession with media tropes he applies to every step of his life. This might seem strange to an outsider, even unbelievable, but it might be the single most accurate thing about him. Abed is a rare example of something I’ve seen in my own life. He’s baffled by the outside world so he uses the language of media to process something he’s confused by. It’s a remarkable thing to see. 

Abed also serves as an accurate example of how we actually are about order. Unlike the utter rudeness of Sheldon Cooper, Abed is very matter of fact about his need for routine. He’s not a jerk. He’s just very matter of fact in the way we are. In one episode, he’s frustrated by his favorite show not coming back and he gets annoyed in a realistic way. He vents like I would. 

He also handles moments of severe upheaval in a familiar way. He vanishes into his mind, seeking the safe structure of it. In a key episode, he realizes his social network is going through a massive change and he can’t handle it so he fights it, first criticizing it then utterly melting down. It’s an honest moment and at the end there’s a poignant bit of narration where he concedes he has real issues. This is how the show treats him throughout. He isn’t a joke. He’s someone it sympathizes with. 

And that sympathy is key to his best trait. Abed is the rare social autistic in mass media. He’s shown as having friends that he genuinely cares about and wants to help. He’s not cold and asocial. He even eventually gets a girlfriend. It’s sad how rare this is but how nice it is to see. 

Because ultimately that trait might be what sets him apart from all other portraits of us. We’re shown as actively hating socializing. Abed is baffled by it at times but he tries. He tries because he wants to have friends. It’s not a subtle hidden trait either. He clearly, distinctly cares and he works to hold onto what friends he has. He even openly discussed 

Is he a perfect portrait? No, he gets cartoonish. But that’s the show he’s on to a great degree. Everybody is a cartoon. I’ll take a good version that’s a bit of a joke any day. 

So yeah, I could focus on the bad, but in this moment I raise a glass to one time the media got it right. Cheers. 

The Social Life Demons I Need To Slay

There is nothing more hypocritical than writing a post on why you’re stepping back from being on social media that will be blasted all over social media. It’s the equivalent of a rapper telling those who hate him he doesn’t care about them repeatedly. So yes, I’m starting on a fatally flawed premise right off the bat.

And isn’t that fitting for what this piece is about? Because that hiatus is really background to the real subject which is the things I’m seeing in myself I need to change. Taking that hiatus is a first step. If I can take a moment to remove all the noise then I might be able to reflect as I need to. The next step is using this site so that I might study some of the behaviors which need changing.

What brought this on was a sudden moment of reflection I had recently. I was talking with my father and I heard myself expressing extremist ideologies which sounded alien even to me. Now there’s no denying I’ve tilted that way of late and the basic points I was making are ones I do believe in, namely that I am horrified by the rise of hate speech in the US. But how it was coming out? Not me.

I realized with horror that I’m not sounding like myself of late and that’s a scary thing. Thus I realized, as I often must, that I needed to silence all voices I was hearing save for my own and a few trusted peers, just as a test. Within 24 hours, my head was remarkably clearer and I started to see what I needed to see.

I’ve realized I’m addicted to Twitter. Like I’m recognizably addicted to it. I go through withdrawal. I check it incessantly. I fixate on my likes. I get excited when something I say gets retweeted a lot. If a conversation goes bad, I can get insomnia. Sure,  nothing but the last part is abnormal but the degree to which I feel these things is getting to be too much.

But Twitter is itself of course a medium for social interaction by its very definition. Any issue I have there has a “real life” counterpart which can be taken down just as easily. These are the demons at the root of everything.

None is more prevalent than my need to be liked. All of those likes? They’re a perfect symbol of what I’m craving. This makes sense as I have fatally low self esteem. I struggle to produce from within so I seek from without. This is pretty logical. And after all, I’m trying to rebuild a self esteem that was destroyed by others after a childhood where I was rejected rather firmly by the outside world.

The problem is that my need to be liked often dictates my actions and my thoughts. I change my opinions to fit in. I try to post things that will get me attention. Believe me, several of my blog posts were written with that purpose, though the ones that tried actually failed to do so. I talk about things that will get me the “right” attention. I’ll even hedge an opinion or two when it doesn’t go over with the crowd.

Trying to stretch myself hurts with time. While there are issues that I truly am profoundly passionate about–I will shatter my fist trying to beat down a door in the name of equality–there are times I can’t fit in. I wasn’t offended by Doctor Strange for example. I recognized it was a fumbled effort by Marvel but it didn’t bug me. Yet I felt compelled because so many were offended to be offended by it and I wasn’t. I thus felt amoral when I wasn’t joining in on the outrage as so many I respect were. (I didn’t finish Luke Cage while I’m confessing my Marvel sins. It was ok but didn’t grab me.) You can use this story as an example for a good many issues.

I’m trying to be the me I think I should be to others. When I do go off on the weird tangents that are fundamentally me, with rare exceptions it does leave me feeling isolated. I’m reminded even in my groups that I don’t fit in. Going back to the times I tried to get responses and failed, those really hurt because I thought I was going to stoke the interest of others. I’m frustrated.

This leads to the inevitable pain I face. I do sometimes have an outright falling out with people. In fact, I’m a few months out from what looks like a permanent severance of a tie I’d had for years. This was one of my best friends from way back but we finally grew apart and I decided I didn’t want to deal with him any more. The pain hurts still and may even increase with time.

And all of this spirals to a simple, brutal fact: I’m lonely. Yes, I’m a married man with a daughter but I’m still very lonely. Friendship fills a niche relationships don’t and vice versa. I don’t have any in person friends I see regularly anymore as all have either moved or I’ve had a falling out or both. As a result, I’ve turned online for that fix. And that’s not proving all that healthy anymore. I desperately need a functioning social life not linked to a screen.

So with all this said, what do I need to do? It really may all come down to this: I need to be honest about who I am with people. Am I a firebrand? Not on most issues so playing one needs to stop. After all, it dilutes my voice on the things I care about. I need to accept that my opinions may alienate others and that’s ok because better they like me than someone who isn’t there. I need to hope that others will accept me. I also absolutely must find group activities in person here.

And ultimately I need to accept that I’ve probably screamed this into a void. But that’s fine. I wrote this for me. That’s enough.

Why You Cannot Use Autism To Justify Your Bad Behavior

Last week, I found myself pulled into a conversation on twitter that I desperately wish I hadn’t been. In it, a guy used autism as his excuse to hold sexist views, claiming women had attacked him for being autistic and slandered him. When I countered that I had never run into such and noted my own open feminist views, I was immediately attacked and called hateful. Rather than indulging him, I blocked and walked on.

I was reminded of it a bit later when I found myself in a discussion about the idea that there are people within the community prone to these behaviors. It made me realize I couldn’t just treat this as an isolated thing I’d encountered. Upon reflection, I realized I’d seen this a lot in the community. I might’ve brushed it off, but it’s hard to ignore that there is a dark contingent.

So let me be blunt: If you are doing using being autistic as a justification for prejudiced or any other kind of unpleasant behavior, you are causing a rather epic level of harm to our community and might even be a bigger problem than ableism.

Why? Because you are giving every opponent we have ammunition. When the image of the sexist twitter user comes up, you’re giving someone a reason to call them autistic. You’re confirming that yes, we are that way. You’re suggesting that being autistic inherently means being terrible.

And we have to struggle enough with this. I liked Colin Fischer but once more I had to endure a tale of a hard to be around autistic. The media loves to say we’re awful. How many diagnosed/undiagnosed characters who are unbearable can we list? Bless Abed Nadir for being the exception. Otherwise, the outside world believes this of us. So if they already think that, you’re making this worse.

To some degree, I think this is internalized. I catch myself using the disorder as a shield for times that I screw up. Some of these, it’s accurate. Some it’s not. At no time is it okay though. We have to break the internalized notion that the disorder inherently makes us broken in this manner. We can grow.

And we have to if the community is to be strong. I cannot fathom how anybody within the community can be prejudiced. After all, ours is an umbrella which includes all races, all genders, all ages. If one is to represent the autistic community, ideally they stand for the entirety.

Furthermore, if one knows what it is to be judged for a trait we have zero control over, it is all the more vital that we not do the same for others. Otherwise we are hypocrites defined. It having happened to us is the opposite of a license.

Not that I think this will matter. I’m trying to use a logical argument while prejudice is illogical. It won’t change anybody’s minds. But I can stand up and speak out. We are strongest together.

Review: Colin Fischer

I’ve been planning on starting this since the dawn of the blog and here I finally am. This is the first in a series of entries examining books and movies dealing with autism. My hope is to get one entry up a month as I explore art relating to the subject matter. I kick things off with a book that seemed to have a lot going for it. Did it meet its promise?

Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz

Plot: a teenager with Asperger’s inserts himself into an investigation to clear his bully’s name after a shooting. 

Analysis: Colin Fischer is a good book that never reaches great. It’s a definite page turner and I was always interested but I felt a bit frustrated thinking back on it. It’s a case where the genre and the subject matter simply aren’t compatible resulting in an atonal read. 

First the good. This is pretty much steeped in autism on every page. Either in actual discussion, and the book gets major points for actually using terms instead of being weaselly in order to create its own version, or Colin’s behavior. Colin is also an exceedingly accurate portrait of an autistic teen. He’s a shade more severe than I was but he’s recognizable to a fault. Teens who find this book are going get a strong dose of what it is to be autistic. 

Colin himself is also a sharply etched character in his own right. At times he’s a bit of a cliche. He’s an arrogant autistic with a mystery fixation. But this is a cliche that’s well executed so I let the book have it. He’s given a rich inner life at least. 

I also felt like Colin lived in a clear world. I could buy that the writers had thought every element of this story out. Colin clearly lived in a defined universe and I dug that. That’s all too rare. The supporting characters were fairly engaging. 

The problem the book hits is a real roadblock. The mystery is almost a complete afterthought. It’s not a very mysterious mystery largely because I didn’t think the book was all that interested in it. There’s a few token clues and it goes through the motions but it’s not at all satisfying. 

I also could clearly see this wasn’t written as a novel originally. This is a transparent pilot reworked into a book. As a result it never feels like a complete read much less a book. Adjectives are barely there. A real loss. 

And that’s why I’m frustrated. This is ALMOST there as a book. As a depiction of autism it’s incredible. But it’s not satisfying on the basic level. In spite of that, I do recommend the book. It’s worth reading for the depiction. But the balance must be struck. 

The Domino Effect: Where Am I 12/19

So, it’s been a very, very long month and I feel like a post is due on what’s going on as well as a bit of housekeeping.

First off, Diary of an Autistic Father is going to a monthly rather than weekly schedule. There has been a slip and that’s in no small part because I’m repeating myself. So as of 1/8, it’s going monthly so I can give you better entries. I also have a bit less time right now as Lola is teething and napping less.

As for where I am? I’ve had a rough month. I’ll be blunt: The election took it out of me. I’ve had nightmares about it and an intense level of frustration. I’m worried and I feel powerless because I am. I’ve never had world events affect me as badly as this is impacting me, likely because I’m triggered by flashbacks to seeing people who hurt others get away with it.

This has left me anxious. When you’re anxious because of something you can’t control, you try to control what you can in your life. I’ve rarely been quite as fixated on money as I have been of late. I’ve had those moments where I was obsessed with numbers in my head. I’ve tried to be on top of everything. I can’t be.

I’ve also been exhausted. When you’re anxious you don’t sleep well so you perpetually need sleep but don’t get it. Instead you lurch around. Caffeine consumption has been up big time.

Since I’m exhausted, outside of my job and caring for Lola, I’ve been frustratingly unproductive. I haven’t blogged like I’d like. I haven’t watched nearly as many movies as I’ve wanted to since I haven’t had the attention span. I started a script which is in a solid place to continue but again, no will. I haven’t even had the energy to watch a few of the DTV movies I like which are barely over an hour.

So what have I been up to? A lot of playing with Lola of course. I’ve spent most of my time before work caring for my daughter. I’ve been reading too and I may yet get a piece or two up on the tie-ins I’ve read. I’ve been playing a lot with Google Street View VR. That’s exciting.

I’m trying to deal with me. I don’t know how that’s going to go but I stress: I’m trying. We’ll see where I wind up.