How a man on the Spectrum learns to live

Posts tagged ‘Geek’

Random Bliss

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Sometimes, you find random bliss in the most unlikely places. That recently happened when I was on DeviantArt and read the latest journal entry of an artist I follow. This woman who calls herself PixelKitties is known among some artists and pop culture geeks for being skilled with drawing and crafts, and possessing a very witty sense of humor. What was different about this journal entry was the candor, honesty, and thought-provoking words that left me speechless.

I don’t have time, inclination or the patience to tell other people what to do or how to live their lives. Policing my own self is a full time job. I don’t want to be anyone else’s moral gendarme. All I want is to be a good person and treat others with the same respect, understanding and kindness that I want to be treated with.

I don’t deal in stereotypes or broad generalizations or beating people over the head with the cudgel of my own personal beliefs. I have faced pain and suffering and discrimination and hurt and heartache in my life-just the same as anyone. I’ve done good things and bad, brave and cowardly, honorable and self-serving. I have been there, just the same as you. And because of that, more than anything else in this world, I believe in empathy and understanding, never condemnation. My past mistakes- and they are multitude- is today’s lesson and tomorrow’s regret. I dare not judge or begrudge others for their missteps along the way.” (May 22, 2014)

Reading these words was like reading my innermost feelings. I felt a sense of grace, as if God and the Universe were showing me that I wasn’t the only one who was felt this way in their core; a reminder that I’m not alone in believing in the best of humanity. I remembered to stand in the truth of my own flaws and mistakes, and remembered that even when I was bullied, I chose to rise above the role of victim. This is important for anyone, not just someone on the Autism Spectrum. I feel like we all need to be reminded that we are not alone in our hopes and dreams. Even on days when we feel secure, a friendly and unexpected reminder can bring us extra joy and contentment. Even the simplest of words can become a gift of unexpected grace and random bliss.

Read the short, but sweet journal entry here at DeviantArt: PixelKitties’ Journal Entry

Today’s musical inspiration is favorite of mine and it’s how I feel right now: Live High by Jason Mraz

Very Well Met: What I Learned From Gail Carriger

Gail CarrigerMy Costume

When you click on an intellectual level with someone you admire and respect, its priceless. That’s what happened when I met author Gail Carriger who was the Guest of Honor at a Sci-Fi and Fantasy convention in San Diego. Gail Carriger is the author of several novels, including the five-volume Parasol Protectorate series and the Young Adult fiction series entitled the Finishing School.

I enjoy the smaller conventions because of the panels about different writing styles and subjects, socializing and networking, and feeling like I’m in college again. Learning something new every day gives me a feeling of pride and self-respect that I feel is very important for Aspies. Most of us need that encouragement every day to feel like we’re being seen and heard. Then again, doesn’t everyone need that feeling, deep inside?

I read the entire Parasol Protectorate series long before the convention, and was blessed to have them all autographed by Miss Carriger, herself. As if this wasn’t enough, she granted my request for a short interview. What was most enlightening was the last two minutes of the conversation when I asked her about the possibility of some of her fictional characters showing traits of people on the Autism Spectrum.

Me: “As far as the angle goes of people that have lived their lives on the Autism Spectrum…this is the real kicker for me. How much of that seeped into your creation of the characters and in retrospect, how many or how few of them display traits of someone on the Autism Spectrum?”

Gail Carriger: “Well…we had a little bit of a discussion about this earlier, but for me, you’re not the first person to have pointed that out. It wasn’t intentional in my books, but I do model a lot of my characters off of my friends and the people around me, and I did grow up in fandom and I grew up around people who were Autistic or had some of the qualities of being on the Spectrum, whether they ever got diagnosed or not. So I’m not surprised that it leaks into my books, but it wasn’t ever my intention. That said, I’m kind of excited by the fact that people are spotting it in my characters. I think it’s…I think it’s kind of a privilege!”

After thanking Miss Carriger for her time and insight, I came away from the interview feeling more enlightened and inspired. It’s one thing to be a literature major and to earn validation from a well-established author. It’s another thing to learn about their experience and awareness of the Autism Spectrum! Just to hear about her viewpoints and the fact that I’m not the only person to bring up Autism, it shows just how much awareness is out in the world today. I never imagined that one of my core issues would be touched upon by a woman of such talent; it means so much to me!

I feel so special and so blessed to have been given such unexpected hope and enthusiasm that was worth every moment of the entire convention weekend! Who in your life has given you an unexpected boost in self-esteem? What extra lessons have you learned that made you feel alive and inspired? I hope you have other stories of inspired learning to put a smile on your face and a spring in your step; each one has the potential to be a lesson plan for life!

Learn more about Gail Carriger here at her website: http://www.gailcarriger.com/

Today’s musical inspiration is an American standard done by Michael Buble. It’s called “Feeling Good” and I feel so damn good about life!: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Edwsf-8F3sI

Behind the Armor

The life-size Iron Man armors at San Diego Comic-Con 2010. (Photo taken by me.)

The life-size Iron Man armors at San Diego Comic-Con 2010. (Photo taken by me.)

Who knew that pop culture could play a big part in my “Aspie” life?  I remember the first time I saw an iconic character on film; it really stuck with me.  The truth is that I’ve had more than my share of insightful moments in pop culture and I could continue speaking about them unabated, but that would turn most “normal” people off.  My point is that there are fictional characters that I’ve been able to relate to in some way.  One of the most famous in the “geek-centered” world of comic books, video games, and superheroes is one whose humanity made me look at myself in a whole new way.

The character I’m talking about is Anthony Edward Stark, better known as Iron Man.  Of course, the first thing I noticed was that he shared the same first name as me.  Now there may be a tendency for some men to turn into fan-boys when talking about someone as famous and possessing of swagger as Tony Stark, but my admiration for him comes from the way he became more human & less egotistical after the incident that made him into Iron Man.  When I read about his origins in the different permutations written in different decades, I could see the meaning between the lines.  I first learned about Iron Man when I was in high school; as I was embracing my geeky side I looked into his story a bit more.

He used to be the ambitious, brilliant, but self-centered head of Stark Industries, founded by his father.  While visiting a war zone he is the only survivor of an enemy ambush that kills his escort of American soldiers. Tony is taken prisoner by the enemy, who force him to build a deadly weapon with his knowledge.  He discovers, with the help of an imprisoned professor, that the explosion that killed the Americans has left pieces of shrapnel in his chest that threaten to pierce his heart.  The professor helps Tony construct a life-saving device that enables him to finish his creation: the first prototype of the Iron Man armor.  Even though the professor sacrifices himself in the process, his death enables Tony to destroy the enemy and escape back to American-held territory.

From then on Tony becomes an advocate for science that brings health and abundance to the world.  It is then that he discovers that this brave new world has both challenges and rewards.  While battling villains around the world and within his own life, he begins to slide into a state of denial about what he uses to cope with pressure.  For me this was a pivotal moment in his story: he was a textbook alcoholic leaning on liquor, desperately hoping to forget the pressures of his life.  Only the intervention of his closest friends and family enables him to get the help he needs to gain control of his addiction.

It was this story about Tony Stark’s insecurities that made me respect his character even more.  As I grew older I speculated about him having Asperger’s Syndrome.  He has an almost genius level intelligence and a natural skill for electronics and engineering.  These talents cannot disguise his tendency towards addictive behavior and a sharp tongue in social situations.  How he gained his well-deserved reputation as a womanizer is still a puzzle to me, but what really changed my perspective was the story arc of the early 1980s entitled “Demon in a Bottle”.

Several different events would push Tony towards drinking liquor very often.  When he slumps into his desk chair, pouring over scrapbooks and newspapers, the look of bitter reflection over a life that he once held together is a look I’ve seen my own mirror.  Just to know that there are factors in life that cannot be controlled is enough to make someone used to being in charge of their own life feel like caving into pressure.  That feeling can be even more pronounced in people on the Autism Spectrum.  You know the feeling you get when your life is so out of your hands you feel powerless?  That is a constant, nagging problem that can take hold of someone on the Spectrum and last for long time without support.  When the moment came for Tony Stark to be confronted with his alcoholism, it was done in such an honest and personal way that I’ve read it over and over again.

When his girlfriend tells him about how she lost her first husband in a car accident after months of him abusing prescription pills Tony says that he’s sorry for what happened. She rebuffs Tony and tells him that she doesn’t need his pity, she just needs him to listen.  He was going down a dark path; the same one that led to the death of her husband, only Tony’s choice of a slow death was alcohol instead of prescription drugs.  He may have been carrying the weight of the world, but he had forgotten about his closest friends and employees who could help him carry that weight.  All he had to do was to remember that he could lean on the people he loved instead of using liquor as a crutch.  It was a moment that stays with me today: Tony Stark made the decision to put away the alcohol and be vulnerable for once in his life.

Every time I read that story arc, it is a sobering reminder of my own humanity.  When I look at Tony Stark’s face as the pressures of his life and the words of his girlfriend collide in his mind, I can feel the desperation as he holds the half-full glass of liquor in one trembling hand.  Even as setbacks start to jeopardize his journey to sobriety, Tony becomes strong enough to put down the bottle and begin climbing out of the hole that his addiction had dug for him.

Watching the agony and terror overtake him as he stands at a crossroads is reminiscent of the times when I could not seem to find hope in my worst moments.  It’s a sickening feeling when you realize how out-of-control an addiction has made your life.  My own problems with poor diet and video games were definitely addictions; it took a lot of courage and insight to admit that I inherited the gene of addiction that runs in my family.  For someone on the Spectrum, it’s easy to be self-absorbed while not necessarily being self-aware.

Seeing Robert Downey Jr. cast as Tony Stark in the Iron Man and Avengers movies was a well thought-out move.  Using a skilled and versatile actor with his own real-life struggles was a great way of keeping Iron Man relevant and bringing new life to the franchise.  Apart from enjoying the movies, I was impressed at how human Tony was when played by Robert Downey Jr.

The power and humanity of Iron Man has had a significant impact on my own self-awareness.  It’s taken me a long time to open up to my friends and family about my own struggles, but the strength I gained from doing so made the effort worth it.  I feel like “Aspies” such as myself are forced to put on an armor of our own making to protect ourselves from a world that doesn’t understand.  However, it takes real courage and vulnerability to be open and honest so that the world can see the person behind the armor.

“I Have Diverse Interests”

What is Autism?

To understand Autism, you must understand the diverse methods of approaching it.

If someone were to ask you “so what are your interests?” or “what are your hobbies?”, how would you respond?  If you had asked me the question years ago, I probably would have stumbled over my words and spoken in a half-hearted manner because I was still coming to terms with who I was after being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

It may come as no surprise that I would have responded that way.  It’s a pattern that occurs in people born on the Autism Spectrum; social skills are a very notable weakness, but the severity of such a handicap is different for every child.  Some people never evolve socially beyond a certain age.  There are others who perform adequately in a social environment and one would never know that the person had an Autism Spectrum Disorder unless they were told.  In the past few years, I would consider myself part of the latter.  I introduce myself to someone and if it feels right, I let them know that I have Asperger’s Syndrome.

If I was asked today what my hobbies and interests are, I would say with a certain confidence “well, I have diverse interests.”  Why?  Because for most of my life, I’ve found myself drifting between different hobbies, life paths and career choices.  Feeling like an outsider kept me from staying on one path for too long, but there have been different events that have enabled me to understand what brings me joy and satisfaction about positively contributing to the world.  To look at these events in retrospect is vindicating after what I’ve been through, and I’m grateful that I could find the wisdom to do so.  There are some “normal” people who never achieve that wisdom.

My core interest has always been music; I have spoken about this on two different occasions in the “Music” category.  I mentioned about first singing when I was four years old, and how I’ve been in different singing groups for most of my life.  I also love listening to music from different eras.  I’ve never been satisfied staying with one style, I always felt like I was missing out on something more.  That’s why my tastes are eclectic and why I enjoyed attending different music classes in college.

There was a time when I believed that I would be a famous singer who started out as a humble music librarian, but I steered away from that path and began pursuing my Literary degree.  I was no longer focused on a music career, but my creative, artistic spirit was as strong as ever.  At Cal State San Marcos, I remembered how much I enjoyed writing and when the time came for group projects I had no trouble finding partners.

I accepted the challenges of every class until I graduated.  When times became difficult, I only had to turn on my music collection and I would be taken out of worry and back into clarity.  I still hear a song in my head and I have to play it and sing along with my Ipod or on YouTube.  The rush of good vibes continues when I find another song with a similar feeling, rhythm, or key; all the music has to do is move me and I’m inspired.  The power of music fuels my creative energies and lives at the very core of my existence; it has saved my life and given me greater purpose.

I’ve also found strength and inspiration in different parts of geek-dom.  Yes, that’s right; I’m proud to admit that I am a convention-going, graphic novel-collecting fanboy.  Being a geek is a label I’ve learned to embrace as a trait I’m proud of.  It has also become an indelible part of me, just like my Asperger’s Syndrome.  In my post entitled “I Was Born This Way”, I spoke about the revelatory feeling I had when I went to San Diego Comic-Con for the first time.  I was so thrilled to feel like I belonged to something greater than myself that I experience a natural high every time I attend.

As I’ve expanded my awareness, I’ve discovered something interesting.  If you don’t know already, it’s common for people on the Autism Spectrum to have difficulty accepting changes in their environment and/or personal lives; I was no exception.  For all the love, support and understanding that I’ve received, I owe a debt of gratitude to my mother, all of my counselors, the understanding people in my family, and most recently, my father.  Their unwavering support is something I needed to deal with the changes in my life, and I couldn’t have done it without them.

What I discovered was that one of the best things I could do was visit other “geek” conventions to satisfy my tastes and put myself socially into the world.  The first time I branched out was in 2006, and it was more than just going to another convention.  I traveled to Phoenix, stayed in a hotel, and took care of my basic needs all on my own!  You’ve got to understand: I didn’t start driving ’til I was 21 and I always took trips with other people.  It may seem insignificant, but for me this was a big step in boosting my initiative and self-confidence.

I picked up on the feeling again back in 2011 when I discovered the San Diego Anime Convention.  On a whim, I bought a ticket and thoroughly enjoyed myself; so much so, that I attended the 3rd annual convention back in March of this year.  I’ve always enjoyed anime growing up; it taught me a lot of mature lessons at just the right time.

Back in May, I diversified my interests even further when I went to the 2nd Annual Gaslight Gathering Steampunk convention.  I had only begun taking an interest in Steampunk a few months ago, but I was so inspired that I went to Gaslight in May.  I am also exploring another Steampunk convention happening up in Long Beach in January; definitely will be something to write about.  I know that because I’ve gained more confidence and self-awareness I’m able to put myself in more social situations with the added assurance that my interests are shared by a group of people who are more than happy to accept me as one of their own.

All in all, my eclectic hobbies and interests are a reflection of the many ways I see the world.  Besides music and “geekdom”, I enjoy my blog, writing, and doing research for a novel.  I’m at a place right now where I’m aware and honest about all parts of me and I’m no longer afraid to live authentically.  Each of my interests is one piece of the puzzle that is me; I guess it’s no coincidence that the symbol of the Autism Awareness movement is a puzzle piece!

I Was Born This Way

Have you ever gone somewhere, done something, or have something happen that made you feel like you belonged?  Did your sense of well-being become uplifted in ways you couldn’t imagine? Did people build you up with so many positive comments that you felt like you were home?  Now, imagine never having that feeling for your whole life, or thinking that it was never going to happen.  I was living in a hell within the chaos of my mind for years, never feeling like I belonged anywhere or that I would be validated…until the events which took me in a whole new direction.

For a long time, being in school was difficult.  Several times in grade school I was the victim of cruel and vicious bullying.  This was made even harder by the fact that I couldn’t avoid the conflict that would occur in my family.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love my parents and family, and they love me very much; it’s just hard to avoid the big drama that inevitably occurs in a big family.

Going into junior high, the bullying was a lot less, and I found a couple of people who were my friends for that time.  Unfortunately, I was still not immune.  More than once I gave into the demands of a short, stocky little bastard who threatened me with bodily harm.  On two occasions I had my gym bag and P.E. clothes taken from me; having to borrow temporary ones and then later buying new ones was embarrassing to me.

During high school, I began to feel accepted.  Having joined the music department and choir, I soon had a great circle of friends,
some of whom I’m still in touch with today.  The problem was that even though the bullying lessened once again, it took on a more “adult” form.  It took me a long time for my aspie brain to notice, but eventually I could feel it: the whispers behind my back, the ostracism, and the gossip…hell, just go to any country club or “society” function and you’ll find it there: more glorified bullying in my eyes.

After starting college, the bullying ceased.  Looking at it now, it was because I began taking my life in a whole new direction.  I realize now that I was subconsciously inclined towards “geek culture” for some time, but it wasn’t until 2001 when I first went to the San Diego Comic-Con that I had finally come home.

When I was little, and the torment was strong, the cartoons I watched after school and on Saturday mornings provided a respite from whatever bad feelings I had.  The memories and thrills they gave me are still with me after all these years.  Most of my favorites are from the mid-eighties to the late nineties, and thanks to the power of YouTube, I can relive the action and humor once again.

I also took notice of certain movies when I was growing up; another subtle introduction to being a geek.  Of course it also helped that music has been a part of my life for years because now I could express my knowledge in a setting where such insight would be welcomed without judgment.  But the Comic-Con, well, the day I went to my first one, was the day that my world really opened up.

The first time I walked into the convention center, I could see the tables, booths, and displays that held all of the comics, graphic novels, videos, and DVDs that felt like visions of fantasies in my head come to life.  To meet people who had interests similar to mine was one of the biggest revelations to my aspie brain.  Even though I did receive some much-needed guidance and support during high school, the way that the Comic-Con experience touched me was on a whole other level.  I was definitely in a place where I belonged and in the subsequent ten years that I have attended, my feelings haven’t changed and I know they never will.

To find your place in the world is a great feeling, but it may not come easy or in ways that you expect, or even when you expect them.  It took me a long time to find that feeling of belonging.  However, when I did, I found out that the world opened up to me when I became more open.  The lesson I learned was this: learn to embrace who you really are, and find out where you fit in the world.  There will be challenges that will test you, and finding these things may take a long time, but to find them is, for me, worth everything that I’ve been through.