The Terror of Progress

This morning I had a very minor car accident. I bumped into a parked car and caused a dent in their bumper. It wasn’t anything special and I was quickly able to handle it, albeit after going to great effort to find the owner. I shrugged it off quickly and by noon barely thought about it.

This isn’t how moments like this have gone in the past. In the past my accidents, ones which are common and which everybody gets into, caused me to crumple. I’ve been unable to function, convinced I’d transgressed some great social norm. But today I was completely calm and not only handle it like an adult, but by going to great effort to fix thngs, probably handled it better than most adults. I didn’t even slightly freak out.

That’s a big deal for me and it gives me an opening to discuss the tricky subject of progress. There’s a great line in Tatsuya Ishida’s masterpiece Sinfest that nails the terrifying nature of this subject. A character falling in love notes “I met a boy who made me feel not so worthless… like maybe there’s hope for me… and it terrifies me.” This is the truest evocation pf this feeling I’ve ever heard. Hope is scary. Progress, which carries with it the hope of improvement, is thus terrifying.

See, progress carries with it the awareness that we’re advancing from where we were. We’re no longer trapped in the place we were. We see we can do better and grow. That’s scary because we know too that we not only can fail but will fail. Life isn’t a straight slope after all. It’ll hurt even worse when we fall.

As a result it’s become very easy for me to bemoan my dark patterns of behavior because I’m aware of them and comfortable with them in a sick way. But that’s not healthy. My therapist pointed this out and had further advice. He thinks I need to celebrate when things do work out for me. With my fatally low self esteem that isn’t my modus operandi but self-examination is.

So I’m fighting my fears and noting this. I had a moment of triumph today. I experienced a stressor and a moral dilemma that usually go very poorly for me and I faced them like an adult. I was able to do so because I’m in therapy which is giving me the tools to actively improve my life and I’m on medication that regulates my neurochemistry. Every day, I accomplish more and more in the quest to improve myself.

I am making progress, scary as that is.

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The Virtues of Writing a Bad Script (And Other Failings)

This spring, I wrote a bad script.

This is not something I’m completely ok with admitting but it’s something I need to say aloud. I, Austin Shinn, wrote an utterly awful script. I wrote a piece that’s almost disturbingly self indulgent, dramatically inert, and even tone deaf about mental illness, the one subject I’m supposedly familiar with. I wrote a bad script.

It’s called The Wingwoman and it can be read by clicking that link. It deals with an agoraphobic who gets visits from a mysterious, beautiful creature who lives in the woods. The idea of it was a modern update of the Boggy Creek myths with a different angle, going with beauty instead of terror. It’s not a bad idea in its essence but it simply did not work in execution. It had no flow, my characters were thin, and it just felt like I was trying something that did not work. I wrote my draft and decided I was done trying to tell it.

Here’s the thing: I’ve developed it for years. Drafts of the script exist in various forms dating back to 2002. That’s a long time to cling to an idea and a short time to walk away. But I’m done with it. I’m burying the idea and moving on, much as I eventually did with Unworthy. I should be sad.

But I’m not. In fact, I’m genuinely happy with the project even though it didn’t work out. That’s the enigma of writing and in many ways life.

See, I had an experience. Writing the script felt great. I blazed through it almost without stopping, not an easy feat given that it was fairly lengthy and mostly visual, something new for me. There’s much less dialogue in the first half than the normal pieces I write and I found that invigorating. I got to have the fun of laying it all out.

That’s something I think we lose sight of when we work on projects. We focus so much on the reception we fail to consider if we had fun just doing them. I’ve worked on a number of large multimedia projects that died on release while a blog entry I impulsively spat out drew attention across the autistic community, even reaching a number of best selling writers. Truthfully, I’m happier I worked on the underseen projects because I had more fun doing them.

But that doesn’t seem to be the metric we go with. There’s this drive that we have to measure our satisfaction with our life experiences by the quantity of “things” we got out of it, be it awards or money earned or reviews. It’s not for nothing people fixate more on Rotten Tomatoes scores than on their own opinions. Quality of experience must be what we can point to at the end.

There have been experiences like that in my life, shopping trips where I’m let down because I didn’t get enough stuff. Yet when I stop to think of it, my most favorite trip I’ve ever taken I only walked away with a couple of issues of a comic and I’ve taken great trips on which I found even less. The quantity of things? Not much. The quantity of quality memories? Epic.

That’s what The Wingwoman is to me. It’s a great experience I got to have. It made me feel good to write it. I’m not blown away by it. But I’m glad it exists. I might’ve failed but hey, I tried something. That’s better than saying I didn’t. I did something and I’ll remember doing it.

My headspace: An Experimental Post

This is a test of something I wanted to play with. A more experimental post where I convey what it is to be autistic without going into the standard prose. What I wanted to do was put you in my shoes precisely and there’s no better way to do that than to use a mix of screenwriting and images. So I’m going to give it a shot on a vital subject: my relaxation exercise my therapist used. I’m going to guide you through what it feels like.


BLACK

The sound of breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

NARRATOR (V.O.)
This is not relaxing.

CUT TO:

INT NEWSROOM – NIGHT
A quiet but messy place. 28532_566208048102_4742476_n

NARRATOR (V.O.)
It’s where you work. It’s nice. It’s a fun job. It’s the opposite of relaxing.

CUT TO:

INT. LIVING ROOM – DAY
A beautiful baby crawls around.

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NARRATOR (V.O.)
Cute, playful, love of your life. But also stressful. Maybe not the first thing to think of.

CUT TO:
INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT
You lie in bed, completely at peace.

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NARRATOR (V.O.)
Ah, this is the end result. But we can’t jump the queue. So focus on that breathing and we’ll get there.

BLACK

NARRATOR (V.O.)
Picture a soothing sight.

CUT TO:
EXT. OVERLOOK – MORNING
A beautiful, spacious mountain view.

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NARRATOR (V.O.)
This is a good start. But really think about it. When you picture this scene, are you truly at peace? I don’t think so. You’re thinking about the stimuli. You don’t want that. It’s nice but it’s not you.

CUT TO:
INT. MOVIE THEATER – NIGHT
A typical movie theater.

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NARRATOR (V.O.)
This is more like it. But still… Movies aren’t where you really relax. They’re often where you fire up. You don’t want to fire up. You want to let go. Where do you let go?

CUT TO:
EXT. MOTEL – DAY
A standard motel.

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NARRATOR (V.O.)
Here we go. This is the place to set your image of calm. But wait, why here? Why not–

CUT TO:
INT. MAGNOLIA HOTEL – DAY
A nice hotel.

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NARRATOR (V.O.)
We have no budget limit. But still, that’s distracting. Also the lobby. Do you relax in a hotel lobby? Choose a standard room in a standard hotel.

CUT TO:
INT. STANDARD ROOM – NIGHT
A standard room in a standard hotel. The least noteworthy room possible.

the-magnolia-hotel-dallas

NARRATOR (V.O.)
Here we go. Bog standard. Nothing of note at all. It’s day in that shot but it’s likely day when you’re doing this so deal. Picture the room. Picture the basic details of it. The way the stiff carpet feels on your feet. The chemical scent of the cleaning products that smells just right. The perfect temperature control. The lack of detail. Just you and your thoughts. But not the bad ones. The peaceful ones. You’re away from your stressors. The outside world is outside. You aren’t in it today. You’re away. Sink into the bed. Relax.

BLACK

The sound of breathing.

State of Brain 6/9: Mental Overstimulation, Lola’s B-day & Book news

This is kind of a hodgepodge post where I’m slamming together a few unrelated topics that can’t make a full post but I still need to blog on.

First up: Therapy this week was fascinating as I realized the strategy of withdrawing from the world to refocus my energy in a more healthy way was exactly the right one to engage in. I’m increasingly less patient with people who constantly express negative thoughts. I feel like there’s a toxic defeatism that’s infecting me. I’m not putting up with it anymore.

In therapy I was able to see that withdrawing was indeed correct. I can’t shoulder the burdens of life. I lose sight of the micro trying to live in the macro. What I engage in when I engage in social media amounts to the mental version of sensory overstimulation. My brain short circuits no differently than my senses do.

I’m going to continue to step back as much as I can. What I really need to do is to try and address the underlying issues that feed my addiction. I’m lonely. I’m jealous of Amanda for having friends nearby. I’m mad I can’t find new outlets. These are real issues. I need a social life. I’ll get one in time.


There was a conspicuous lack of blog posts yesterday for Lola’s birthday and there’s a very good reason why. I didn’t feel like anything I could write would feel genuine. I tried to put something together but it felt arbitrary. Nothing I could say yesterday would’ve been any different than what I say on a daily basis.

So instead I cherish that fact. That I love my daughter so much that I exhaust the supply of words I have to say about her. I take her everywhere. I play with her. We’re extremely close. I would rather have a close tie I don’t feel like exploiting than a distant one that I do.


There is a lot happening on the book front. One of the things I can’t yet announce but is going to be amazing when I do. The other I can: I’m writing the sequel which will be released hopefully next February. It’s going to take a while as I need a bit of time to write and I will have to get clearance from a few people. But it’s coming along. I’m using a carrot/stick process to write, having purchased 16 graphic novels from Amazon during an epic sale. I write a chapter, I read a book. It’s good self care!

An Exorcism Of The Sins I Carry With Me

This is not a rehashing of my earlier entry on the events of 6/5/07. If you’ve read that, you know what I think happened that day. That entry was about the events. This is about something different.

This is addressing a hard truth about why after all these years I still care about two days in my past. It’s hard to ignore that for most people, West Memphis would be a joke. They screwed up at a new job but who hasn’t. They’d tell it with bold laughter that would inspire warmth from their peers. I’m unable to do that. As the anniversary of tomorrow has loomed, I’ve actually felt a wave of sadness and pain. I’ve taken a long look at myself and I’m not at peace with what I see.

And I really should be! I’ve been at my job for nine years. Things are ok. I haven’t repeated that incident though I’ve made new mistakes. I’ve redeemed myself. I’ve even fixed a lot of mistakes others made. I can let go of this juvenile mistake.

Except this isn’t the only mistake I carry. That’s what this entry is about. The other wounds.

For instance I should be able to forgive myself for ditching a friend at the movies when I was 9. I was literally a child. I didn’t know better. Why on Earth should I still regret what I did when I was 9?

I should be able to move past the time my brother goaded me into prank calling a crush and I made an ass out of myself when I was 11. Again, just a kid. Except it was the most humiliating moment of my life to that date. But a kid.

I’m right to feel bad about having called a girl in my class and bullied her at the same age. But she’s forgiven me long ago. Maybe I can too.

I regret having rudely passed up my grandmother’s offer to pay for me to see a movie when I was 15. Looking back, not only was I a horrible ass to a woman I love dearly but I could’ve seen Life is Beautiful at the theater. That’s a movie I actually do kind of love, problematic as it is.

I also regret having been an ass on my birthday that year. As well as on vacation that year. And also generally interacting with humanity at 15.

I regret everything about my senior year of Journalism class. Like every second of it I was at my worst as a person. I was a terrible leader and my work was awful that year. I was a raging asshole to boot.

I regret the awkward way I handled a gift from a friend that summer, but less so. That one dovetails with happy memory. Miss that woman so.

My meltdowns in college will always haunt me but the one over Hot Fuzz not playing Little Rock was the utter worst. Especially since it, um, did that week.

And then past West Memphis, I regret things.

I regret the job interviews I was awkward at. I had no chance in any case so I should’ve done better. I was never meant for interviews but still.

I’ve made mistakes at work I’m still tormented by even after they were fixed.

I regret the meltdowns at work in my absolute soul. How can I not? One of them caused a nervous breakdown so bad I tried to leave the state the next day.

I’ll never allow myself to feel peace over how I wounded Brandi, the girl I dated before Amanda. I knew I wasn’t into her early but I strung her along because I wanted to be into her and thought I could force it.

Of course there are ways I’ve hurt Amanda, mostly by not thinking of her feelings. I can be very self centered.

And there are so many I’ve hurt just by not thinking. I can’t count all of them.

These are the moments I replay in my head in the dark of the night. They’re the moments I can’t forgive myself for. The times I was self centered and lazy. The times I just didn’t care. These are the sins I carry.

That’s why I care about reaching the 10 year anniversary of this day. Because I’ve reached the 10 year anniversary of one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made. It’s the centerpiece of my ledger. I want so badly to let go of these feelings, to not have this balance. But I fear that if I ever let go of it I might allow myself to forget.

But then maybe it’s time I do. I don’t know that carrying these failings has worked. Maybe writing this serves as a grand exorcism of my misdeeds. A public apology. I have hurt so many people and I will never stop trying to fix that.

I have sinned and I am beyond sorry.

Maybe someday I’ll apologize to myself.

A Love Letter to a Celebrity Crush

PRELUDE

We all prefer to avoid telling stories that make us look bad. This is a fact of human nature. We like to make ourselves look good and no matter how much we claim to be open, we all have weaknesses in this area. We have things about ourselves we’d rather not expose.

That’a what this story is. It exposes things about myself I’m highly uncomfortable with, namely my sexuality. I’m a straight white man so in theory I shouldn’t be unsettled by discussing this. I should feel free to leer. But I’m not proud of doing so.

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Why I Need to Talk (About Myself)

My name is Austin Shinn and I have an addiction. I am fixated on talking, especially about my life and myself.

The addiction became clear to me when I launched a second twitter feed in part to talk about stories from my past. I shared two or three before it became clear that nobody was listening. Admittedly, I don’t have many followers on that feed. But in the isolation, I realized my addiction. I need to talk nonstop and mostly about me.

Why? There are several excellent reasons. I’m a bit lonely during the day with just Lola around. I don’t have many friends at night. I’m constantly unable to stop thinking which burns off as excess energy. These are standard reasons. No reason to waste a graph on each. But there are two other reasons on my mind that I can’t stop weighing. It’s these that make me write today.

The first is a need for validation. Why do I write such long, expansive essays along with regular repeating columns I’m not sure are read? Because I’m fishing for that one specific topic that will interest people and make them listen to me. I want to know that I’m interesting because internally I fear that I’m not. Sure, I love writing but more specifically I want others to love my writing. It’s the one thing I’ve gotten any attention for in the past.

The second is why I talk about me. I’m not a narcissist. I rather clearly hate myself. But I’m desperate to reach out. I want others to understand me. I feel like if people knew me they’d get me and respect me. So I cast my net wide in desperation that maybe the lockbox that is my brain will be opened for others.

There’s a third reason though. I was lonely as a child. I’m still trying to heal the silence and that doesn’t come easy. I want to fix the pain of my past. The solitary bike rides still wound me.

There’s no easy answer to this feeling. I have deep needs I’m struggling with and it doesn’t make me fun to be around. I’m way too much. I know. I think half of my twitter followers have me on mute. I’m working on this. I try to limit to one tweet an hour. But I still need to vent. I still have these issues. I still want to be heard.

I just need patience.