Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Dream Log: Social Awkwardness In Bonn

In real life I spent the 1989-90 academic year as a student at the University of Bonn. Other famous alumni of that university include Marx, Heine and Nietzsche, so it makes sense that I was a student there too. The former palace of the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne --

-- houses the humanities departments of the university, so when I was there I regarded it as pretty much the entire university. Turns out they've got a lot of other stuff going on in different buildings. The title of Elector signifies that the Archbishop was one of the 7 princes who elected the Holy Roman Emperor. The palace, built in the late 17th and early 18th century, looks pretty much the same on the outside as it always has; on the inside, very disappointingly, it looks exactly the same as a huge university building without big enough windows. Lots of concrete.

Last night I dreamed that I returned to Bonn. Just as in 1989-90, I moved into a student dormitory and spent little time or energy on academic things, concentrating on my social life instead. Some of the people I had met in Bonn as fellow students 27 years ago had also come back.

I felt that a lot of them were shunning me. I wasn't sure, but that's how it felt. That's how it feels being autistic a lot of the time: socially awkward, entirely unsure how welcome or unwelcome one is in a given social situation.

Someone I knew from 1989-90 was spending some of his time with a tight-knit group of younger students, students of a more typical age for college attendance. At one point I and my friend from back then and a small young man from the younger group were sitting at a long table in what may have been a university cafeteria. Whatever the building was used for, at that moment it was relatively empty. The younger guy was very energetically working at a large notebook, drawing things which looked liked artistic images and scientific diagrams and equations at the same time. The three of us were talking and to me the conversation felt rather strained. In the conversation, it came up that the young guy could do Rain Man-level arithmetic in his head. I was like, Oh yeah? and gave him pairs of numbers to multiply in his head. He fired products back at me right away, without slowing down his work in his large notebook. The problems were to large for me to do in my head, and I was a little annoyed with myself that I didn't write them down along with his answers so that I could check them later with a calculator. I was unsure whether he was calculating accurately or just messing with me. In any case, he knew enough that his answers had the correct numbers of digits and ended with the correct number. for example, if I'd asked him to multiply 563 times 477, his immediate answer had 6 digits and ended with 1.

I was completely uncertain, not just about the multiplication: I didn't know whether the work the young man was doing was art, math, science or all three simultaneously or something else; I didn't know whether he was doing this as schoolwork or for some other purpose; and I had no idea whatsoever whether my presence there was welcome, indifferent or unwelcome to the other two.

Then it was night and I was outside and it was cold. I saw a friend or acquaintance of mine (I didn't know how he would describe me to others) going into a house where a party was going on inside, and I slipped inside right behind him.

John Goodman, the actor who played Rosanne's husband and has appeared in many Coen Brothers movies, was sitting at a table just inside. In the dream, he was one of the people I knew from Bonn 1989-90. He saw me immediately, and rushed me straight back outside into the cold and started walking me briskly away from the house and the party. Sometimes it's clear to me that I haven't been welcome somewhere, and this was one of those times.

At the same time, though, John Goodman's attitude toward me was not clear. He said something to me about my being dressed all wrong for the party. I had no idea whether I really was unacceptably dressed for the party, or if I was unwelcome there for other reasons. I didn't know whether the problem was me specifically or if any party crasher would've been rushed right straight back outside. I tried to get some clarification from John about this, but I didn't get anywhere with that. He was talking to me a mile a minute, and I didn't understand what the problem was at all. Maybe John and the other people at that party never wanted to see me on any social occasion, and John's talk was intended to keep me from seeing this too clearly and becoming enraged over it. I didn't know whether John and/or others had heard that I was autistic, or if some of them equated "autistic" with "crazy" and "crazy" with "dangerous." (The truth is, I'm as harmless as a puppy.) Maybe there really was no problem here except that I was in jeans and a T-shirt and sweatshirt and hooded winter jacket instead of the somewhat slicker attire of the other guests: nice-looking button-down shirts and overcoats for the guys, skirts for many of the ladies, like that. Maybe that really was the only reason why John rushed me out. Maybe it was somewhere in between. I had no idea.

At this point, I just wanted to get away from John and from the party. John mumbled something about his having heard I'd been diagnosed with something, and asked what that was about. Again, I was completely unsure whether this was friendly concern, or an attempt to muddy some waters, or something else entirely. I yelled at John, "It's called autism! Millions of us have it! Google it! Good night!"

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