happy october (a little late)

this has been one of the busiest few weeks of my life, and i’ve yet to get into the october spirit, sadly. i’m gonna try though, because autumn/wintertime is my favorite time of the year-the only time tolerable when you’re autistic, to be honest.

i thought i would update with some illustrations i’ve done recently, as a nice change from all the Words Words Words. (does anyone else ever feel like they’re sick of speaking, reading, and having to put together words, and just want to bask in pictures? no? just me…?)

all images are original content, so if you repost them please provide credit, thank you!

(please note the funny little squirrel in the ‘october’ picture.. i was going to crop him out but then i became fond of the little guy… i guess i need practice drawing squirrels)

Sketchbook 3Sketchbook

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‘atypical’ season one: what it got right, what it could do better (a short review)

atypicalblogpost

i am so excited about season 2 of netflix’s atypical (coming out on september 7th – tomorrow!) to prepare, i of COURSE rewatched season 1. and this time around, i thought to jot down thoughts and criticism about the show. it turned out i had a lot of both.

if you’re not familiar, atypical follows the life of sam, an autistic high school student. the show is about sam learning & growing, mainly so that he can find companionship – a girlfriend. in this, he’s guided by the neurotypicals in his life.

praise and good things

when i first heard about atypical last year, i was so excited to finally watch a TV show about someone like me. i’m so happy that the show got renewed + i really hope for its continued existence. here are some things i especially love:

  • penguins penguins penguins.

penguins and antarctica are sam’s special interests, and penguins, as we well know, are adorable. the writers chose the perfect motif for autistic isolation, uniqueness, and resilience, and i love the antarctica facts peppered throughout every episode. i learned a lot of things. funny as it may sound, it’s important to me that a TV show/movie incorporates new information & that i learn something, anything.

  • demonstrations of sensory overload that are edited/filmed well.
  1. bullying. sam is teased by his school peers for naivete and bluntness. when this happens reality becomes very broken down and artificial. sam’s eyes flit from parts of one face to another; the screen blurs; the dialogue jumbles together and becomes taunting and overly loud like a fever dream.
  2. paige’s demonstration of sensory overwhelm. she pitches the ‘silent night’ dance to the PTA, flicks the lights on/off and blasts loud music out of nowhere. if you are on the spectrum &/or hypersensitive &/or have been to a large dance/party, the experience is not far off. it was a decent way to portray sensory shock to NTs.
  3. meltdown. the first time i watched the series finale i cried a bit – it was the first time i saw a meltdown on a TV show.  (i did not like, however, that we hear sam refer to this later as ‘an incident’ or a ‘scene’ [it was not his fault!] and not a meltdown, a.k.a. a thing that naturally happens to autistic people sometimes.)

criticism/areas of improvement

  • the people in sam’s life (neurotypicals).

much of the plot centers around sam’s NT parents and their ability to ‘cope’ (ugh) with having an autistic son. elsa (& later doug) will often vent to a support group for parents of autistic children -having frustration and addressing that is OK but i don’t like how much attention is given to the adults having a hard time. .

  • inconsistencies with sensory detail.

for one, i wasn’t happy with the “dressing room” scene (sam magically ‘overcomes’ sensory processing issues because he wants to find cool clothes). you can’t mind over matter that stuff no matter how hard you try – believe me. secondly, sam can’t go to the mall or most public places because of harsh lighting, loud noises, and unpredictability, but has no problem with the fluorescent lighting and noise at techtropolis. this is so unrealistic — retail stores, with customers coming and going, are totally unpredictable places that can turn tiring quickly. it’s inaccurate & disingenuous to show sam working there (w/o headphones or other sensory support) 😦

what i’m hoping for in season 2

  • more casey gardner.

we really need to keep seeing her character develop- she’s hilarious, honest, a good sister, hardworking, and genuine. i actually relate to her the most after sam; we’re both snarky, fiercely protective of people we love, and demand a high level of honesty from others.

  • less focus on sam’s social awkwardness and more insight into cognition, perspective, and experience.

too much media with autistic characters focuses on social awkwardness, particularly in romantic relationships – it’s the punchline of so many jokes it’s tiring. by showing over & over again that sam ‘messes up’ socially, the writers play into popular and annoying stereotypes about autistic people. show us more of sam’s wonderful creative inner world, not his screwups!! let’s hope, in season 2, for more attention to his perspective/ intake of the world (sensory detail and environmental stimuli), thought processes, and the experience of being neurodivergent.

last thoughts

Photography is truth. The cinema is truth twenty-four times per second’. — Jean-Luc Godard, Le Petit Soldat, 1960

if the creators of atypical, and writers at large, care about accurately and interestingly portraying neurodivergent people, they have to take into account our literal viewpoint of the world. get creative with film & editing; use the camera’s “eye” for its purest purpose. moreover, instead of NTs projecting their own thoughts & desires about autistic people onto us, ask us how we feel, think, and what we care about. get into OUR heads just like we endlessly, exhaustingly try to figure out your minds 24 hours a day. lead the audience through our perplexing, unique, analytical, fatiguing, and strange world–you have no idea how much truth and beauty you can uncover.

what it’s like being an autistic college student

i’ve had this idea spinning around in my head for a long time, gathering dust. but i haven’t been able to find the words. after going through a particularly depressing breakdown about college today, i have a slightly better idea of what i’m going to say.

what it’s like being an autistic college student

i’m going to say this flat out: it’s f*cking hard. every day tests your resilience and stretches your ability to function. my life for the past 3ish years has been a slog. the excitement of learning wore off a long time ago and now i’m exhausted and lethargic and the only thing keeping me going is getting the degree – which, if you’re autistic, you know, isn’t even remotely close to a fulfilling reason to be doing something. we don’t do things for accolades or utility, we do things because they make our soul sing/the days a little less depressing.

i hate being told by others what to do and school is that, day after day, semester after semester. very rarely can you find a professor that energizes you to really want to learn something for the sake of it. most of them are after teaching you so you can do well on term papers/exams, and the bureaucracy of academia + low pay wore them down years ago. i’ve witnessed many an intelligent professor who’s obviously been dulled by years of neglect from a school that doesn’t care about them, and thus sank into complacent tenure.

as for daily functioning? actually getting to class on time is so, so hard. waking yourself up early day after day is miserable. (and i feel extremely guilty complaining about it knowing that a lot of people do so out of necessity for 9-to-5 jobs, etc.) remembering to do homework on time: a hassle/chore. i dread that awful feeling of word-block when writing essays even though i have the material down pat — it all just drifts away and i’m sitting there staring at the screen.

i knew at some point in middle school that the pure pursuit of learning for grades wasn’t for me and never would be. plus, the awful competitive environment created by getting into university made it so that getting to the top would never be a reality for me, with all of my sensory/learning disabilities. i knew early on that i would have to create a better alternative for myself somehow. and now that i’m 21 — it’s fully sinking in that the traditional system of jumping through hoops will never be my life and i have to figure out – not right away, but rather quickly — some kind of a trajectory. because otherwise i’ll sink into boredom/dullness.

the last thing i would like to address is apathy/indecisiveness/growing sick of your major. i’m an english major now (and funnily, that’s what i originally set out to do out of high school) – but i took a winding road to get here, from art history –> critical/visual studies (a bs major at the art school i briefly went to) –> business –> film –> finally landing here @ english. and 2 years away from getting my degree, i’m unsure again if i’m on the right path. because english started out as a sort of ‘special interest’ topic for me (i’ve always prioritized reading books… even though, admittedly, i don’t spend enough time reading — but don’t we all slack off on reading? we’re only human beans).

to conclude, being autistic + in college is a huge pain; it’s like being in a race, only your racetrack is littered with broken tin cans to trip over, dogs barking at you, rocks to skin your knee on, and people on the sidelines constantly yelling discouraging things. at some point you’re going to learn that you’re not racing to compete/for the reward/to prove you’re better than anyone else, but because you’re figuring out how to traverse the incredibly difficult, long, EXHAUSTING road that only you are running. (and that means dealing with change + challenges, which i can’t address in this post, which is already so long!).

if you’re also in college or have gone through the hell that it is, i’d love to know about your experiences/hardships/successes. and if you made it this far in this rambly post, i’m giving you a big thumbs up for enduring my writing (and thank you for reading!! :^) )

woes

it’s 1:22 AM and i can’t sleep, i think because i had one of those tiny 1-ounce trader joe’s cups of coffee that nonetheless energizes me as if i’ve had a giant espresso. my mind is bouncing with ideas for ‘future’ projects (air quotes because ‘future’ is a construct), my impoverished decision-making skills (and if i need to find a book about decision-making to get better at it), my loneliness (when i was in high school and couldn’t sleep i’d go somewhere online and chat to near-strangers or effective strangers, but decent people in their 20s don’t do that). and other things. i’ve lit candles to try and make my room feel dim and cozy and lull me to sleep. one of my personal rules is that i don’t turn the lamp on after i go to bed because it disrupts REM cycles. another rule is not going on the laptop/phone/blue light emitting devices after bedtime because, the same, and eye strain – and i’ve broken that rule. i’m not happy about it. eating a garlic-heavy meal for dinner (homemade pad thai! it was pretty good, but kind of soggy) didn’t help. my digestive system really didn’t like the garlic.

i’m pretty aimless about what to do on the internet when i can’t sleep, mostly because it’s (the internet is) a device created to provide entertainment (that is, ease boredom) that in itself is actually a boredom-generating machine. youtube = full of narcissists, forums and blogs = who even reads those anymore?, reading a book = ha ha ha, i’m not as smart as i think, journaling/drawing = impossible in dim-ass candlelight. so here i am, typing at a blank wordpress document, getting meta, running out of things to say.

on being ghosted

recently, i was ghosted by somebody who was active in a group i was in, and the situation left me surprisingly emotionally reactive, considering we were not close friends and didn’t talk one-on-one. this person blocked me (and, i’m extrapolating, the other people in the group too) after abruptly exiting the group mid-conversation and giving no notice about why she was leaving. not a classy thing to do, really. but it got me wondering why i was so rattled. i wondered why the other group members didn’t seem fazed or concerned. i was — probably by the sudden change and a disruption in the stability of the otherwise really quiet and peaceful little group. i was concerned: what if she had lost her phone, or it had been stolen? what if something had happened to this girl (let’s call her betty), and i had no way of knowing? what if we had done something wrong to make her leave? what if i was the only one she blocked and she’d made a secret group without me (the most paranoid thought of all)?

so why did being ghosted disturb me so much? it brought out all my worst insecurities. that i’m annoying, that i overshare or don’t know how to maintain the ‘normie’ friend equilibrium of keeping it cool/being emotional enough/not being too awkward/also being honest/being stable/also being fun. (again, we weren’t even really friends and this all ran through my overthinking head.) the urge to people please which pops up like an annoying whack-a-mole once again went pop! and i had to get to the bottom of things.

my naturally obsessive, overanalyzing mind could not let it go for a few days. (honestly, my summer is so boring, things like this have been preoccupations. these petty dramas.) i’ve been ‘ghosted’ before, but lightly. i should explain that i’m not even a fan of the term. i used to think it was annoying and overdramatic because no one you meet online is entitled to your friendship unless you explicitly share some kind of bond. and ‘ghosting’ (as the annoying millennial term) is overused to describe people being silent/not texting you anymore in online dating scenarios. so i didn’t understand right away that it happened to me/us (the group).

i’ve even done it before; i’ve cut all contact with people in real life, but those people were super toxic, fake friends who didn’t invite me to things, scheduled hangouts without me, gave me the silent treatment later, were shitty in general etc. and that was in high school, arguably the worst four years of my young life. i just didn’t think that someone deciding they didn’t want anything to do with me anymore would affect me as much now that i’m basically a determined loner type. but it did. i don’t want to end this post with ‘really makes you think’ but… it really makes you think.

an attempt

so, i’ve been going through a phase of sorts. it’s one where i can’t make decisions, or be confident about anything. i waver with words, double- and triple-checking them in my head, making corrections as i go, rather than letting the failures exist out there and dealing with the consequences/awkwardness. i’m petrified of saying the wrong thing, or living the wrong way.

i’m so indecisive i can’t decide how many spoons of tea to put in the pot, or if i should eat a snack now or later, or if i should read now or later, or what TV show i should watch, or if i should be watching TV at all. my entire life feels up in the air and confused, almost like playing a game. that scares me.

one could say if one were making comparisons (which i have been, to make myself feel better) that i’m in a “better place” than i was a year or so ago at this time. i’m better functioning and not AS depressed, certainly. but i do not know what to label this grayness. this time around, it’s full of awareness that things are unsatisfying and slow. i tell myself, relax. chill out. you don’t have to hop from thing to thing and stay busy all the time. that’s what summer is for. right?

in any case, this feeling isn’t new. it’s been around. only, since school and external purposes have dropped away, the ’emptiness’ (space, silence, peace, call it what you will) of reality is laid bare and all light shines upon it. it’s daunting. i am faced with the days and the task of reconciling them, of constructing something. or of accepting doing nothing. and doing nothing seems often like the better option, because anything i do is not good enough, or somehow feels wrong. i’m not enthused about my options or about the final things i land on. e.x., i’m watching the show community right now with my best friend and while it’s good, i can’t focus on it. even when it’s funny, it’s not funny. nothing is.

when stuff gets like this, people say you should return to the things you love. what things do i love? they don’t satisfy me anymore. all cultural products intended for amusement or entertainment are fleeting and superficial. if i try something new i am embarrassed and give up easily. my brain seems to have surrendered, or something.

i am unenthused about writing this post, even. i only did it because it was written into my journal for today: “draft blog post”. and because i made a commitment when i made this blog.

i just don’t have anything to say that feels worthwhile. it’s all been said before. it all comes out wrong. being misunderstood is painful. i can try to be like someone else, an ideal in my head, but my performance is lackadaisical. i’m not even good at mimicry anymore because my attempts at pretending are half-assed.

i’m tired all the time. so, so tired. fatigued as hell. and i’ve said all of these things in my head so many times that my brain is gritting its teeth and going: “enough already. can’t you just calm down and accept that your life is good and peaceful and you have nothing to stress about and no real problems?”

i’ll end this post here because there’s nothing else to say.

Exhaustion

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T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Exhaustion comes in many flavors. It can smack like a train collision, lurk in midnight shadows, deceive you into thinking everything is fine and then pull a fast one, numb and deaden, stultify and slow down. In autism discourse, there’s not enough talk about the ways exhaustion takes over life and runs the show, fills your bones like liquid lead and weighs the body down, so that the merest task is like tunneling through an avalanche, where you are the point of nothingness and the other side is clarity.

Think of energy as liquid in a tall glass. Most able-bodied, neurotypical people start the day glass-full, able to go about the day with a reasonable amount of fuel in the tank, to plan and prioritize, and to use background energy to recall past errors and avoid them in the present, thereby improving functioning.

Autistic people wake up with a glass not-quite-full. To take an arbitrary number, autistic people are at 75% or less if the night was particularly fitful — many of us experience anxiety-ridden existences that follow into sleep and cause panicky dreams or nightmares. The sensory operating system doesn’t do a full, clean reboot. We don’t wake up fresh and ready by default although we damn sure do a lot to streamline the day and make existing a bit easier. We have our routines, goals, work, lists, et cetera.

But all of that takes immense effort. Too much existing and I’m back at square one: Exhausted. Sprawled on the bed with eyes closed, unable to speak, unable to be a human. Stuck in the dark and drippy tunnel on the other side of bustling humanity. They are made of lightning and sunshine and I’m inert, slower than molasses, my entire being metaphysically leaden. Gravity presses down with all its might and if not for the laws of nature I’d sink into the floor and the dirt and down into Earth’s core.

Exhaustion means I can’t take the same number of classes as my schoolmates nor can I experience dorm life like a typical college student. Many days I’m too zapped by 3 P.M. to drive to the store five minutes away for groceries. I’m a 50-year-old trapped in a 21-year-old body and the worst is knowing there’s nothing that can fundamentally change. There’s no miracle cure. I’ve simply got to make do with what I’ve been given, even if it means watching as a fictive gap widens between me and others my age.

On the darker days I, or more accurately, that little mean voice in my head (LV, to borrow Samantha Craft’s metaphor) excels in persuasion and I am almost convinced that I want to be like them. Then I remember I have never wanted to be a fish among other fishes just like me. Once upon a time I burnt every bridge there was because the people in my life were toxic. I did everything in my power to escape their demands and judgmental eyes. That was long ago. I’ve grown.

Today, I refuse to compromise my unique existence so I can be a little more ‘normalized’ and gain a second of approval in the fleeting, fickle attention spans of the people who live by making constant binary judgments of approval/disapproval. I don’t abide by their rules. Human nature(s) is (are) too complex for that.

The exhaustion of autism — combined with the exhaustion of innumerable chronic issues — often feels like a punishment. Let’s see that it is not. No, this isn’t bullshit optimistic nonsense. Think about it. Tiredness/shutdown/the sudden depletion of energy are as natural as the wind. They’re the body’s way of keeping equilibrium. Rivers rush in some spots and are unbelievably still in others. I don’t have to be a torrent all the time, nor will I be. I’m given this corporeal frame and no other. What I do with it — how I care for it — is my prerogative.

Condemning the tiredness gets us nowhere and is as good as wishing away the present. Sometimes I slip so far down the negativity slope that escaping the present takes on the mask of a reflex, suffocating my sense of the Real. The braver thing is to accept the hard facts of reality. This is a tired body unusually susceptible to gravity: Clumsy, uncoordinated, weighed down; the limited energy I have needs to be conserved.

I have lofty goals and amazing ideas and extreme ambition and everything I want exceeds my abilities. I’m not too proud to admit that. So I overshoot and end up completely worn out. Exhaustion is a precondition of my existence. Resting is the ongoing antidote. And as someone very brave and wise in my life frequently reminds me: Rest is a part of the work.

Rhythms

There is a popularized (and debatable) notion that autistic people are ‘naturally’ adherent to rigid, repetitive routines and structures, as if the implication is that we are automatons without feelings, that our valves are closed to beauty and variance.

I question this notion. It’s completely wrong for me. I’m not naturally drawn to inscribed routines and timetables. In fact, I’m afraid of living by the clock (I don’t understand the significance of it, or how to plan my life around it). I get major anxiety about the passing of the hours. Appointments make me writhe with the agony of anticipation. I don’t like calendars.

I have no notion of time discipline. “Time discipline” is a term that arose during Western industrialization, when the proletariat (mainly factory workers) were increasingly expected to obey the authority of clocks. The organization of people’s lives around the hours changed how they viewed themselves and fellow beings; clocks came to ‘regulate’ people, instead of people regulating their own daily schedules according to the flux of Nature (as they did on farms).

Which brings back to my original point: Autistic people are not robots.

I think we can (and should) re-conceptualize our innate desire for comprehension as a need for flows, not structures; and view the way we tend to repeat the same actions over and over not as repetitive, meaningless, and robotic, but as deeply meaningful, a way of creating rhythms. Think of a farmer living by the seasons. Nature is not scheduled out to the last minute and neither are we. It is colorful, varied, with many different synchronized tempos that weave together and harmonize. It’s beautiful!

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To put it another way: I do not wish to create “order”, in the hierarchical and authoritative sense. Order is dehumanizing and forced; it is a temporary way of superimposing a desired outcome on top of the real life that’s already there. Order is connotative of imposition and is a disturbance, limiting creativity and self-expression. Order is not regenerative; it is a norm, limiting the range of acceptable activities, feelings, and behaviors.

More useful is an understanding of time (lived and perceived time, not clock time) as composed of repeating rhythms — waking up and having breakfast; birdsongs as temporal cues (birds at the bird feeder in the morning, and the lull in the evening when they fly back home), the rise of sun, the waxing and waning of moon, the movements and the moods of the weather, the growth and decay of plants.

I instinctively and viscerally feel the cycling of fresh, new morning into lazy, sleeping, snoozing afternoon. I don’t need a clock to tell me that; in fact, I’m better off without the tension of constantly glancing at it. If only I never had to. I wish I could flourish as my rawest being, a being who engages with places and environments and understands these intuitively (but remains uncomprehending about why people willingly follow and perpetuate damaging social mores and conventions). To understand the world, I witness how everything continues, ages, and blooms, and feel the best when I am one with these natural patterns, not living in a mind-created artifice.

For us autistic people, each day is both continuity and a fresh start. We re-make ourselves every morning in amazing shows of resilience. I see my so-called ‘routines’ more as sacred rituals of marking life, as they are my body’s way of ‘tuning in’ and engaging with the days. This is how my brain breathes — it seeks, as best as it can, to be connected with life and not detached from it. This is how I seek natural balance.

This is Hell

(In honor of Autism Acceptance Month.)

Living life as an autistic person is an exercise in contradictions, every minute of waking. Life feels as though it were an elaborate game designed specifically to torture you.

Life says:

Give her heightened senses and an above-average appreciation of beauty; let her find it where no one else seems to — and then punish her by giving her sensory overload and meltdowns.

Give her a burning, aching desire to connect with other people, an endless capacity to feel their pain, sorrow, joy, and hope — and then punish her by making her literally incapable of crossing the veil into their world.

Give her excellent language skills, an intuitive grasp of the English language, and a quick wit — and then punish her by giving her social anxiety. Make her verbally incompetent, anxious, and unable to articulate herself without stuttering or wavering, no matter how hard she tries, or how many times she rehearses.

Give her a radically open mind, one that sees the boundless possibilities of human connection; let her see all of the ways in which people can come together and live in societies that are full of love and real connection — and then punish her by making her live in a country that harshly sidelines any variance, that stigmatizes it by calling it disability, and entrap her in a hetero-patriarchal, capitalist system that thrives on the exploitation of the innocent without apology.

Give her boundless hope, resilience, optimism, and the ability to treat each day like a blank canvas — and punish her by giving her executive dysfunction, autistic burnout in heaping doses, and fatigue her so that it will take her years to catch up to her peers.

Give her the ability to understand what suffering humans are going through, give her the qualities of nurture, honesty, unconditional love, and empathy — and punish her by making her unable to understand how everyone around her keeps a relationship. Make her unable to read the body language of those she desperately wishes to help. Constantly place her in scenarios where she is humiliated by those who have been conditioned to mock the different.

Give her all this, and punish her by giving her: trauma, poor motor skills, a vitamin D deficiency, a convergence insufficiency, and a whole mess of other obstacles that would have been easy enough to prevent and treat, were not everyone around her — adults and family members, doctors and teachers — so quick to stigmatize, so quick to call her a liar, not believing her, every day implying or outright saying that she is just incompetent, lazy, and exaggerating her struggles.

Make her brain and entire being radiate with light. And then attempt to snuff out that light with each new day that comes.


This is what life seems to tell me, every single moment, and in my darkest hours, I believe it utterly. I believe that I am a walking paradox designed to fail and ride through the bleakest waves of depression, the most heart-rending pangs of anxiety, the most painful chokes of trauma.

And yet: When I wake up and begin anew, no matter how hard it might be to get out of bed and meet with the day, there is something in me that perseveres.

Even given this brain that is considered defunct in the world I inhabit, I find the simplest thing — a bird singing in my backyard — proof positive that I exist for a reason — no predestined reason created by God, or any utilitarian reason — but for a reason glowing in the deepest part of my core. I meet with the world in that moment of stillness, and the world extends itself to me.

And my nihilism wavers; the deep, hardened sadness and disappointment dissipate like vapor, just for a brief moment.

Call it a life instinct, obliviousness, or blind hope. I continue.