Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Some Aspects Of My Autistic Experience Of Life

On "Homeland," Saul once said to Carrie, "You are the smartest and the dumbest fucking person I have ever met." The producers apparently liked that line: they added it to the audio of the next season's opening montage. (I like how cable series still have what would have been considered "full-length" opening montages on network TV until 1990 or so, when the networks started making them shorter and shorter, and/or running the main credits over the beginning of the episode, sometimes eliminating the opening montages altogether, not to mention what they do with the closing credits. All to make more time for commercials. NOT TO MENTION RUNNING GODDAM COMMERCIALS DURING THE SHOWS, POP-UP COMMERCIALS ALONG THE BOTTOM OF THE SCREEN, THAT ARE GETTING BIGGER AND BIGGER AND LONGER AND LONGER, AND MAKING OUR LIVES MORE AND MORE CLOSELY RESEMBLE CONSTANT NIGHTMARES. Maybe 1990 was when the MBA's started to take over network TV from people who actually knew something about TV and to systematically ruin it, as they've ruined so much else in our lives. Anyway, although I like how cable shows still consider opening credits to be worth doing, it disappoints me that they tend to run identical opening credits every season. The only exception I know is "Homeland," so good for them.)

Anyway, the line struck me too, because more than once someone has said the same thing to me. One difference is that it hasn't been said to me when I was a top-echelon CIA agent by my good friend, a former and future Agency Director, but when I was working for minimum wage at McDonald's, or for 50 cents an hour above minimum wage at a national-chain bookstore, or for 2 bucks an hour above minimum wage for a year-round outdoor graveyard-shift job in Alaska. Yes, it was colder than a welldigger's ass. Colder than penguin shit. Colder than -- well it was pretty cold, and I had chronic bronchitis, so I finally had the sense to quit before it literally killed me.

But I'm accepting that I've had it this way because I'm autistic. Not because I'm lazy or something like that. On some of the aforementioned entry-level jobs, some co-workers, emphasizing my exceptional intelligence more than my exceptional stupidity, assumed that soon I would be moving up in the world. They seemed to take it as a given that I was going to be doing something much more interesting and making much more money doing it.

Over and over I encountered such assumptions about myself, and before I was diagnosed, these assumptions puzzled me. I always felt more convinced by the assumptions of different people, who assured me that I would never amount to a sack of shit. Now I know that I'm autistic, and those two radically-different attitudes toward me and my aptitudes, taken together, make sense. Am I a genius? No. Am I a moron? No. I'm a genius and a moron. I'm a mutant. An alien in your midst. (Have no fear: I come in peace.) Sometimes I can solve a problem that's had you completely stuck and sometimes you'll need to explain something to me like I was 5 years old.

Some autistics have elite, top-government-clearance jobs. I don't think Carrie Mathison is autistic, but she's definitely neurologically divergent, and being atypical on a fundamental, neurological level often brings with it being very smart and very fucking stupid compared to average. Some autistics die homeless or in institutions and will never get even the lowest-level government security clearance. Most autistics my age or older haven't been correctly diagnosed. Consider Rain Man: correctly diagnosed even though he was older than I in 1988, smart enough to help you count cards in a 6-deck shoe, but too stupid not to tell the casino that you're counting cards. Didn't even seem to understand that he'd done something wrong by letting them know. The Feds aren't going to give him any kind of security clearance. In fact, it's pretty hard for me to imagine any sort of job for which Rain Man would be suited, other than charging admission for people to come and observe him. And believe me, I've given it a lot of thought. Why? Because I have a lot in common with him.

My arithmetical ability to do things like count cards in a 6-deck shoe and multiply 4-digit numbers in my head is somewhat less than Rain Man's, but it's way, way above average. And my tendency to tell the casino that we're counting cards seems to be very high -- my sense of what is appropriate or inappropriate to say in a given situation is very weak, that is. I'm guessing here, going over events in my mind which completely puzzled me at the time and trying to figure out what happened. Sometimes I'll figure out years after the fact that I should have said something at a particular point, or shouldn't have said what I did. After years of pondering it the way Rain Man ponders Abbott & Costello's "Who's On First?" sketch without getting it at all. Sometimes years after the fact I'll figure out something that someone said in a joking way.

For example, about 15 years after the fact, I finally put it together that a guy I'd known had been making fun of me by comparing me to Rain Man. (Politically-correct folks: sit the fuck back down and shut the fuck up, this was a very nice guy, an extremely nice guy, a perfect example of the point I often try to make in this blog that you can be extremely politically-incorrect also and a loving, generous, caring Left-wing Democrat staunchly opposed to all bigotry and prejudice, or politically-correct and also a hateful asshole.) That's why he would often mimic Rain Man and say thing like : "Yeah... Yeah... Yeah, definitely." He was mocking me, because, apparently, sometimes I act a little bit like Rain Man. Or maybe much more than a little bit. This was 1997, 10 years before I was finally diagnosed.

After 15 years I figured out he did his Rain Man routine in order to mock me, which gives me hope that eventually the real Rain Man, with the loving, dedicated, although occasionally impatient and not necessarily always politically-correct help of the young Tom Cruise, may finally figure out what the "Who's On First?" sketch is about. It does not give me a lot of hope that I will ever be a certain sort of sparkling social butterfly who gives inspiration to the next Noel Coward. I'm more likely to inspire someone like the next Mel Brooks or the next Farrelly brothers. (And that's okay.) Like Sheldon Cooper on "The Big Bang Theory," I have a crazy-high IQ while at the same time there are very important, basic areas of human intelligence in which I'm very, very stupid. No doubt there have been very many incidents in which I have behaved very stupidly and never noticed that something was wrong. Sheldon's Mom had him tested but she didn't follow up with that specialist, so I've had several years' worth of opportunity to become more aware of my neurological situation. I don't have a prestigious job like Sheldon, but I can drive (3 speeding tickets and 0 collisions in 39 years). I don't know Klingon but I know Latin. Sheldon's pronunciation in German is just freaking terrible for someone who insinuates that he's read Einstein untranslated.

Where was I? Just recently I've become aware that I constantly go off on tangents and that this is common among autistics. Been doing it all my life, just very recently became aware of it and began to ponder the consequences of it in my social interactions with the Earthlings.

Then there's eye contact: I'm not so good with the eye contact. Back in 1988, that acting teaching in Acting 101, did he tell us about how we could look at another actor's forehead onstage, and to the audience and even to the other actor it would would look exactly as if we were making eye contact -- is that something he always said in Acting 101, or did he toss in that tidbit because he noticed that I pretty much couldn't maintain eye contact for more than a second or so at a time? I've been working on eye contect in therapy, but I don't see any reason to expect that I'll ever become normal in that respect. "Look me in the eye, boy!" "Nossir, don't think I'll be doing that."

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Valete. E pluribus unum. Aio, quantitas magna frumentorum est.

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