Spectrum: Empty Gray Chair

Picture of gray chair

Ostracization, rejection, and isolation happen.

More Pieces from the Seamless Pocket

About five years ago, my then-supervisor hired an outside contractor to help us with a large writing project. I liked him instantly: T. was intense, funny, and smart. I felt that affinity I feel when I’m with people whose minds work like mine. “Someone I can talk with!” I thought. And I could talk with him, like myself, without changing my natural style, without limiting enthusiasm, without stifling my gestures, or dulling my “big eyes,” which is the look I get when I’m intensely interested in a topic. And he could talk to me, too. We didn’t talk that much because it was a work environment, but it felt great to have someone around whose mind resonated with mine.

A few months after he completed his contract and left for another job, I walked in on my office-mates talking about him. I won’t write what they said verbatim–it was too mean, and I don’t want to feel those words travel through my fingers into the keyboard. They didn’t like the way he ate his apple every afternoon. They couldn’t stand the way he asked if he could keep the apple in the fridge. They didn’t like how he stood, how he sat, where he looked when he talked, how much he talked, and how he combed his hair. And his shirts!

“Wait,” I said to them. “Are you talking about T?”

They were.

“I like him!” I said.

They laughed, turned their shoulders, and continued to talk with animated vitriol, gleeful in their disdain.

These were our team-members, our work team, my office-mates! This was the assistant who greeted everyone with a charming smile and a sweet voice. This was my work partner who listened with patience to everyone, including me. Did they truly hate him so much? 

It seemed they did, for it wasn’t only that afternoon that they tore him down. It happened repeatedly, no matter how much I defended him or protested or pointed out his strengths. No matter how I much I reminded them that he was another human being, doing his best. 

I felt deeply hurt that they would talk about him like that. First, it confused me that people who could seem so friendly, polite, and accepting to everyone would harbor those feelings–and not show them. Second, I couldn’t believe that they would feel this way–and talk this way–about someone who worked with us, someone we should go out of our way to include and make welcome. 

Third, the things they criticized were not things that he could, likely, change–or that he should have to change. There was nothing wrong with them. They were, simply, the signs of a neurodivergent, likely autistic, highly gifted individual. It wasn’t like he was doing things intentionally to bother them, annoy them, or anger them. He was being himself–and that infuriated them.

He wasn’t perfect–I knew this. We had to rewrite much of his work, and I overheard him make some less-than-appropriate comments to people he was interviewing over the phone. But these weren’t the things they criticized, and certainly even these few limitations didn’t warrant such harsh rejection.

I came to realize that part of the reason this upset me, aside from the pain of seeing another mistreated and the confusion that people I trusted and thought of as friends–or at least, collegial work-mates–could be so mean, was because I identified with him. When he began working with us, my thoughts were, “At last! Someone like me!”

And the things that he was rejected for were traits that could belong to me, too.

A few years later, we all moved into one big office, with individual cubicles in the corners.  My work hours begin later than the others, and this left most of the morning for them to talk with each other before I arrived. About midway through last year, I noticed a shift toward me. I might miss a lot of social signals, but my intuition towards gossip and exclusion has been sharpened through a lifetime of standing outside the gossiping circles. I picked up signals that, in the mornings before I arrived, my work partner and the assistant sometimes talked about me, and I could tell that it wasn’t in a kind way.

My work partner, whom I’d considered a friend during the many years that the two of us shared an office, began to stop greeting me, unless I greeted her first, cut conversations short, and turn her shoulders away from me. The assistant remained friendly, but I think it was often a fake smile, and she spoke with the same sweet voice she uses on the phone when she’s speaking to someone she doesn’t like.

Maybe I’d said something insensitive. Maybe I’d been too assertive. Maybe I seemed like I thought I knew more about our joint project. Maybe, and most likely, I had just been myself, and who I am–the way my mind works, the way I talk, the way I look and stand and move, and the way I express myself–is different, and it’s the differentness that they, finally, could stand no more.

My former work partner retired at the start of summer. I wanted to take her out to lunch to celebrate our ten years of having worked together and shared an office. I wanted to wish her well. We both love to garden, and I hoped she would let me treat her to a lunch at the botanical gardens. 

“No, I’m good,” she said, turning back to her computer. 

And that was it. We gave her a big gift of an oversized clay pot which we all painted and filled with seeds, gardening tools, and sparkly garden art. I volunteered to buy all the goodies that filled the pot, and I went to the garden center which is her and my favorite. It felt good to stuff the pot with our good feelings and to paint it with our well-wishes. And that was the goodbye. I haven’t heard from her since she left. Ten years of working together daily, covering for each other, sharing many conversations, some quite personal, and some even spiritual–and it’s over, like that. Maybe I’ll run into her someday at the garden center. Or maybe I won’t see her again.

I don’t know why people reject others who are different. I have an idea that it’s sociobiological–that people feel, on a very deep level, an impulse to drive those they reject out of the village so we won’t procreate and so that, even if we should, our resources would be too scarce for our offspring to survive. I think it’s a sociobiological impulse, not a conscious decision.

In looking for support for this idea, I found a 2015 article by Wirth, Bernstein, and LeRoy, titled “Atimia: A New Paradigm for Investigating How Individuals Feel When Ostracizing Others,” which posited that people rejected those who felt burdensome to them, meaning they didn’t help them achieve their goals. Unlike previous studies cited in this article, in which participants were directed to reject others and then reported feeling guilty or badly for doing so, their study posited that individuals felt no guilt or remorse when the motivation to reject and exclude the others came from themselves. 

When my officemates rejected T, they displayed no remorse–even when his strengths and his humanity were pointed out, even though these are people who would describe themselves as kind and compassionate. They displayed joy when he left our employment, and glee when they talked about whatever it was that they disdained in him. 

In my braver moments, I’ve sometimes responded to the happiness that others feel when being mean towards me by thinking and saying, “Well, at least they’re getting some joy out of the experience! At least I can bring them a little bit of happiness, even if it’s at my expense!” But that’s kind of a martyr’s approach, and it doesn’t serve the greater good in that it comes close to condoning meanness. We don’t have to be slaves to our sociobiological impulses–we can pause and observe and note them, without acting upon them. And I feel the happiness we get in doing so, in accepting and valuing diversity. Even when that means that we accept the possibility of diverse gene pools, that happiness is something solid at base, whereas the gleefulness stemming from meanness has nothing solid at its core.

Work Cited

Wirth, James H., et al. “Atimia: A New Paradigm for Investigating How Individuals Feel When Ostracizing Others.” Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 155, no. 5, Sept. 2015, pp. 497–514. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00224545.2015.1060934.

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Spectrum: Invisible Friends

Picture of CT with friends

If you were to ask me if I had friends, I would answer, “Oh, yes! Hundreds. Thousands. Millions, even!” 

Can you be friends with an alder leaf, a November cloud, a drop of rain slowly traversing the windshield, an arpeggio in E-flat major played on the cello, the man in the white sweater with frayed sleeves who smiles at you as you pass each other crossing the street, the spade-foot toad on your patio, the magenta pansy smiling from the garden border? A stone? A tree? A path? The planet? Angels?

I feel friends with everyone and everything, and I always have. 

But this doesn’t seem to be the common definition of “friend.”

A 2013 study by Gael I. Orsmond, Paul T. Shattuck, Benjamin P. Cooper, Paul R. Sterzing, and Kristy A. Anderson, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, found that:

– almost 40 percent of youth with ASDs never got together with friends;

– 50 percent never received phone calls or were invited to activities; and

– 28 percent were socially isolated with no social contact whatsoever.

(as ctd. in Heasley, “Study: Nearly 1 In 3 With Autism Socially Isolated“)

Though I’m not a youth and haven’t received an official diagnosis of autism, I fit the remaining criteria for the first two categories: I never (or very, very rarely) get together with friends, and I never (or very, very rarely) receive phone calls or am invited to activities. I don’t consider myself socially isolated because I live with my boyfriend and, Monday through Friday, I interact with five to twenty people daily at my place of employment.

However, a review of the study in disabilityscoop, interpreted social isolation in this way: “almost one-third of those with autism qualified as socially isolated because they never received telephone calls or went out with friends.” I haven’t tracked down the study (only an abstract was available for free reading online), so I don’t know if that’s the definition the authors provide; but it’s the definition used by the reviewer.

So here’s a spot of significant cognitive dissonance in my life. I was born feeling connected to everyone and everything. This state of unity which yoga practitioners yearn for and practice a lifetime to achieve has been my birthright and is always available to me. I feel I am friends with everyone and everything on the planet–we are all cells in the same system, right? And yet, by common standards, I don’t have friends and may even be considered socially isolated.

Yet how can I feel isolated? I am connected to all-that-is, and this connection never leaves me. On my own terms, looking within at the state of my spirit and soul, I am healthy, whole, resilient, well-adjusted, and lacking nothing. I live in the full abundance of energy, of life. 

“Difficulty navigating the terrain of friendships and social interaction is a hallmark feature of autism,” states Paul Shattuck, in a widely quoted interview about this study he led (as qtd. in Heasley).

It depends on how you define friendship, I suppose. 

I am only lonely when I try to fit my social interactions into a standard definition of “friendship,” and I’m not even sure what that means. When I operate within my own lexicon, I am never lonely. I am never even alone, for always, there’s a breeze, a sound, dust motes, sparkles of light, a leaf, a cricket–always, there are friends.

Works Cited

Heasley, Shaun. “Study: Nearly 1 in 3 With Autism Socially Isolated.” disabilityscoop. 8 May 2013. www.disabilityscoop.com/2013/05/08/study-socially-isolated/17905/. Accessed 30 Nov. 2018.

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Spectrum: Yellow Flags across the Finish Line

photo of CT standing by flags

What I’m Trying Not to Do Here

I’m not writing these entries to complain, and I’m not soliciting sympathy or attention. I’m well aware of my privilege: I’ve been able to craft a successful, fulfilled, rich life largely because I’ve started out high up the ladder. My family, like most American families, is mixed-race; but for the past hundred years, we’ve been perceived as white. (It was only recently that a cousin’s DNA test revealed our African heritage–not all members of our extended family are aware of or acknowledge our ancestry.) During my childhood, we were lower middle-class, and money was very tight, but we had a home with wildlands across the street, and we never had to skip a meal. We lived in a culturally rich area, and my well-educated parents, both teachers, valued the arts, reading, music, nature, and physical activity,  so we went to museums, concerts, and plays. We hiked, swam, camped, and skied. It was a rich upbringing that gave me, maybe, my best possible start. 

So, I’m not complaining. I’m not looking for pity, and I’m certainly not trying to make it out like I’ve had it tough or that life has somehow wronged me. I’m not broken: I’m blessed.

 What I am Trying to Do Here

This is a very personal project, undertaken for a very personal goal: The reclamation of those bits and pieces of me that I shoved into the seamless pocket because they didn’t fit the profile of a neurotypical person. Many of these pieces are wrapped in layers of pain, shame, or humiliation, so while I unwrap them, it’s likely that my hurt will come through my words. 

This isn’t a cry for sympathy. It’s a laying-out in the sunshine, so that these pieces can sparkle again before I stitch them back into the quilt that is me.

Dreaming of the Race

Before dawn this morning, I dreamt that I was in a race with four others. Two started before me, and two after. I didn’t know the rules of the competition–I wasn’t given the rulebook, and if anyone explained them to us, I neither heard nor comprehended. I was simply expected to compete and to do my best, figuring it out as I went along.

We were to race every day for five days, though I didn’t know that until the end of the event. 

On the first day, I just ran, watching, and seeing what was expected.

At the end of the race, we were served lunch with all the other participants. Those in my group were given something different than the others, but it was OK because we liked the food.

After a few days, I began to figure out the rules. Apparently, I was supposed to pick up sticks that the others dropped. They each dropped two sticks, so I was supposed to pick up eight. And finish first.

By the fifth day, I was ready. I knew the rules and what was expected. I’d worked out my strategy. I was ready to compete. 

But on this day, the two participants slated to start before me decided not to race. They’d already won, so they didn’t need to take part. This meant that there wouldn’t be enough sticks for me to pick up. But one of the participants who started behind me said that he would drop extra sticks, and I could find the remainder scattered about the dirt track. It meant that I’d need to let the boy behind me get ahead, but if I were smart, fast, and clever, I could do that and still meet the expectations of me. I had to be creative and strategic, but I managed to succeed, thanks to the help from my friend. Yet this race didn’t count because the other two hadn’t participated.

That day, after the competition, our group wasn’t served lunch. The three of us stood in line, but there was no food for us. The servers whispered to each other, and one of them went back to talk with the manager, and the three of us were directed to sit at a long table with the diners. No one explained why we weren’t served food, though there was a lot of gesturing towards us and a lot of whispers. Eventually, one of the supervisors came to say that the three of us wouldn’t be eating that day.

By now, outside of the dream, it was nearly time for me to wake and begin preparing our breakfast, so I was hungry! In the dream, I left the dining hall, realizing I needed to be responsible for meeting my needs and caring for my two friends. I walked outside, through the alleys, to the food court, where too many stalls sold too much food and too many scents of cinnamon, fried meat, fried dough, coffee, and fruit filled the air, the air particles jostling with the sound–so much sound of talking, shouting, brass instruments, a trolley car, a bongo drum, the hum of electric fans, the honking of horns. With all the focus I could muster, I screened out the extra stimulation, and zeroed in on my task: Buy something I could eat. Buy something my two group-mates would like. Across the crowded food court, I spied a rack of cinnamon empanadas. Those would do.

When I woke, I realized this dream represents my experience of what it’s like to live as a neurodivergent person in a neurotypical world: I’m expected to compete in a social and professional world for which I haven’t been given the rulebook, and by the time I’ve figured out the rules, the conditions have changed, others have moved on, and I need to rely on the help of those who remain, combined with my own creative and strategic skills, to finish the event. And by then, it’s the last day and the results don’t count, anyway.

About fifteen years ago, after a successful performance evaluation, I asked my supervisor, whom I really liked and admired, what specific skills I should work on. She said that for my current position, there was nothing to improve: keep doing what I was doing, learning and growing. However, if I had my eye on her position, if I wanted to take over as the school district’s IT director in a few years, after she retired, she could make some suggestions for what I might learn. I felt flattered that she thought, with a few more skills, I could be a candidate for her position. I also knew, without needing a moment to consider, that this was not a career move I was interested in. It required more of a trade-off than I was willing to make, and I’d be left with no time or energy for my own personal creative endeavors. Later, as I mentioned my supervisor’s comment to a counselor, I felt a twinge of sadness–not exactly regret, but grief. I couldn’t, then, place its source. But I know now: It’s because I realized, on some level, that I lacked the capacity for that position. Sure, it was the best decision to maintain life-balance not to pursue such a demanding career. But I think I knew, too, that I didn’t have the capacity to manage a large staff, to coordinate complicated plans involving the labor of hundreds of people and impacting tens of thousands (it’s a very large school district), and to interact regularly with a fractious board. I knew this task was beyond me.

I’ve stayed at the same position I held then. It’s been… close to perfect. I love my tasks, which are detail-oriented, regular with a few interesting changes, sometimes challenging, generally fun, and which serve a purpose I can support. I’m the web editor for the school district’s website and Intranet. I’ve been able to create my own work schedule, reducing my hours to 30 per week, in order to enjoy long quiet mornings, each day, before I head into the office. Sometimes, the conditions change, and I’m left scrambling for a few weeks or a month to locate and decipher the new rulebook, but generally, the same old rules come back into play, and I’ve got teammates who will drop a few extra sticks for me. I try to look out for them, too.

It’s possible to thrive as a neurodivergent in a neurotypical world. For me, it takes using my creative and strategic thinking–and it also requires that I don’t allow myself to fall into societal expectations. I need to learn to define success my own way. For me personally and individually, being a web editor is far more successful than being an IT director. You know, I might complete the race and then have to go find my own empanadas. And maybe the race won’t count to anyone but me and a few others, those who look out for me and whom I look after in return. But I think, maybe, I like it that way. I kinda like inventing my own success as I go along. 

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Spectrum: Red Pomegranate Sepals

Picture of CT looking at things lined up on the kitchen counter

A few years ago, my mom told me that the grandson of her husband (not my dad, but the man my mom married after my dad passed on) was being diagnosed for autism. 

“And you know,” she said, “many of the symptoms that this little boy has which lead to his being diagnosed are things that you did when you were a toddler.”

I didn’t ask what those were. It was a phone conversation, and you know. The Phone. I couldn’t see my mom’s face–because it was a phone conversation–and I couldn’t tell what her voice meant. So all I could say was, “Uh-huh.” 

And after I hung up, when I went into the garden, as I always do after I talk to my mom on the phone, because The Phone… and My Mom… Anyway, after I walked around the garden for a while, and got my breath back and my heart to slow down and was able again to feel the earth beneath the soles of my feet, and when I heard the goldfinches sing and saw the marigolds in bloom, then I stopped to wonder: “What were those same behaviors that I did which would, these days, lead a child to be diagnosed for autism?”

I was a toddler in the early 1960s. Back then, little was known about neurodivergence. Children were generally not diagnosed unless they had significant challenges speaking, learning, and functioning. I had enough trouble speaking that I went to speech therapy when I was in second grade, but my parents and I were led to believe it was related solely to pronounciation: to my “lazy R.” 

I met with a psychologist for testing the summer before fifth grade, but this was to test into the gifted program. I was so worried before this. I think, on a deep level, I knew then that I was neurologically different. I was very much afraid that it would be discovered that I was mentally deficient in some way. I knew I was socially deficient, and I had a feeling that this psychologist would uncover what was “not right” about me, and that it would be something dismally wrong. It was my older brother and sister who were the smart ones, and this was some mistake that would uncover what else it was that made me different from all the other kids.

Then my mom mentioned that she didn’t give much stock to IQ tests. “It’s all dependent on socio-economic status and privilege,” and when she explained what that meant, I felt ashamed and a little horrified that, because my parents were educated and took us to museums and concerts and filled our bookshelves with Classics and gave me art lessons, I would score well on a test that another child, whose parents had to spend all their money on food, might not do so well on.

When the psychologist asked me if I knew the meaning of the word “ochre,” and I replied, “Do you mean ‘ochre,’ the mustard-like color, or ‘ogre,’ the ugly troll-like monster?” and he said, “Ochre the color,” and I replied, “Yes, I know what it means,” I felt that I had to qualify: I only knew what it meant because we had friends who had a golden retriever named Ochre, and if we didn’t know them, I wouldn’t know what that word meant.

He replied that it didn’t matter how I knew what I knew, only that I knew it, and he smiled. His smile crinkled his eyes, and I liked him at that instant. As we talked and played games, his demeanor toward me changed. He began to treat me with great respect. I felt, then, that maybe being different wasn’t so bad. 

For the first few days when I returned to school, after the test results were in, the teachers treated me with respect, too, and I was placed in the mixed-grade class with older kids, and only a few kids in my grade. For a few days, it was really nice. 

Feeling so healthy and whole these last few weeks, as I’ve been integrating my experiences with my new understanding of myself, I’ve begun to consider that maybe I am not on the spectrum, after all, and I was just identifying with my friends who were. Thinking about writing this post, and beginning it with my mom saying that, as a toddler, I displayed the typical symptoms of an autistic child, I decided to look up those symptoms. I only identified a few that I recalled having. But when I took the online Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised, answering for my three-year-old self, I received a score of 9. High risk. Evaluation strongly recommended. 

So if I were a child now, I’d likely be evaluated.

When I was three, we had huge ornamental pomegranate tree growing outside the window that my bed was beside. Not only that, but it grew over the patio where we sat with our next-door-neighbor, an eighty-year-old woman, single all her life, who was robust, wild, proper, conservative, rebellious, free, constrained, and outspoken–all at once! She was hardly typical in any way.  I spent many happy hours sitting on the cement pavers in her patio, listening to the conversations of my parents and siblings with her, their voices low and soft and gentle, mingling with the chatter of house sparrows and the chuckles of pigeons, while I, happily on the outskirts, lined up the fallen pomegranate blossoms, their fleshy red sepals facing me, and their frilly, fancy stamens facing the hedge. When they were all lined up, I would turn them 180 degrees. These afternoons could never last long enough for me, and at night, when I sat in my bed looking out the dark window, I reflected that, even though I was now inside, the tree still stood in that exact same spot, and the lines of blossoms still kept their rows. 

I still love to line things up. One of my greatest joys comes every morning when I reach into the cupboard and lift down the small white plate to put in the corner of our near-black Dekton counter. A lemon and a lime, sliced in half, will go on that plate, every morning. Then, I bring down the yellow mug that holds our forks, spoons, knives, and the stainless steel chopsticks I use for most meals. The cutlery mug goes right in the middle of the long counter, near the back-splash. Then, the cutting board and the paring knife, everything arranged just so. As I complete these acts, feeling the solidness of ceramics and metal in my hands, feeling the symmetry of everything in its place, I feel the soles of my feet on the hard tiles, and I feel how sweet it is, to be home, to be alive, to be able to do this same simple act every morning.

Life becomes a sacred ritual.

I love to hang laundry on the lines to dry, especially the dish-towels, which I hang by category: striped, greens, oranges, the flowers, the owls. Each towel shares the clothespin with the towel next to it, and that sharing, for some reason, brings me such joy. It’s part of “everything fitting.” The mountains stand behind our garden, and as I hang the dish-towels, I feel them smiling at me, and I smile back. 

I wonder if neurotypicals feel friendship, like this–to an extent that becomes kinship–with mountains, towels, clothespins, and red pomegranate blossoms. 

I like to line things up, and in the ritual of the line and the right place, in the sacred act of making things fit, that’s where I find friendship with the things around me, the things that make up my life. 

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Spectrum: Blue Raincoat

Picture of CT child in blue raincoat

On a rainy school day, I wore my blue raincoat. I liked the coat, though it smelled like Scotchgard and mildew, though the fabric was stiff and though my shirt bunched up beneath the sleeves, and even though the kids teased me whenever I wore it, for it was out-of-fashion, unless I was a kid-detective in a Bogie movie. But it was the wrong color for an old black-and-white movie. It was blue. But it had neat plastic buttons that felt soft and smooth beneath my thumbs, and when I had to wait in line, I could wrap my index fingers in the belt loops and twist them until it hurt, and this took my mind off of the noise of the kids in the line I was standing, and it almost made up for being teased. At least the smooth plastic buttons did.

On this one day, the rain poured, and we were outside anyway, waiting in line, as we always seemed to have to do everyday at school. Maybe waiting in line was designed to build character, or patience, or discipline. It was one of the tortures of school, especially as it meant standing close enough to others that they could poke you, if they wanted, or pull your braids, or whisper things. The whispering things was the worst. 

This day, I stood off to the side, and the rain poured, and the clamor of the kids in line, underneath the pounding of the rain on the metal roof over the walkway, kept bumping into my thoughts. My sleeves bunched up under the coat, and the material was so stiff. I stood off to the side and shoved my hands deep into my pockets, trying to smell the rain and mud, and not my mildewed collar. In the bottom of my right pocket, I felt a small hole, just big enough for my ring finger to slip inside. It felt good to have the material tight around my finger, and when I wiggled it, the material gave way. Soon, the hole was big enough for two fingers, then three, then, before it was big enough for my whole hand, I found, in my left pocket, another hole, and by the time the line of kids began to file their way inside and it was time for me to join the line again, both of my hands had found their ways through the holes in the pockets and to the lining of the coat, which I had happily ripped to shreds. But this was inside the coat, so no one was the wiser, and I was secretly delighted for I had discovered a strategy to be able to survive the torture of standing in line. 

Until I got home.  I must have not hung up the blue raincoat when I got home.  I must have been in a hurry to shed its dampness and get out of those bunched sleeves and into a sweatshirt, and I must have left the coat in a pile on my books on the stairs, for my mom picked up my coat to hang it up and, in doing so, discovered the tattered lining and the pockets with no seams anymore. 

No lie could cover up what I’d done–I realized that. I didn’t know what to say.

“Do you hate this coat?”

Of course not. I loved the coat, in spite of the smell and the teasing and bunching-up of sleeves and being out-of-fashion. It had buttons. It was cool, if only to me.  Of course, I couldn’t say that. I only shook my head.

“Why would you do that? Do you know how much it costs?”

I shook my head. I had no words. I had no way to describe that all the girls in line, save for me and Laurie who smelled like stale Fritos and who wore clothes with tatters on the outside, stood beside their best friends in line. I had no words to say that all the others whispered and laughed together, while I stood apart, watching them or finding my own friends inside myself, in my daydreams.

I had no words for the comfort and secret joy my fingers found in winding their way through the holes and in slowly shredding the coat’s white lining. 

“Here,” said my mom, handing me an old sheet. “If you want to rip something up, rip this. Don’t come inside until you’ve ripped it to shreds.”

And I was sent outdoors, on the covered porch, in the dark evening, while the rain poured and the lights from the kitchen window whispered of golden warmth while the creek, swollen with February’s rain, roared in the black dark behind our house.

I didn’t want to rip anything then. I wanted, only, to sit inside our warm house, brushing my dog, while the conversations rang softly in the other room and the kitchen filled with the scents of baked potatoes and meatloaf. 

I knew I would never be allowed to wear that coat again, even though we didn’t have money to replace it. I knew I’d be wearing sweaters for the rest of the winter. I knew we’d never speak of this again, once I was allowed back inside. 

I discovered then what I’d discovered before, that what brought me comfort brought me shame, and it was a tough trade-off, whether to be good or to be shameful, if being good brought misery and being shameful brought, at least, a feeling of peace while standing at the edge of chaos.

I think that it was in the seamless pockets of that old blue raincoat where I shoved all the memories of the bits and pieces of me that don’t fit into the profile of a “normal” person. 

Maybe, since those pockets each have one big hole at the bottom of them, I felt that everything I shoved into them would disappear, too. Gone, my comfort. But also gone, my shame.  And then I could carry on as the person I pretended to be, the one who wasn’t so overwhelmed when standing in a line with twenty-nine other kids that she needed a source of sensory comfort.

I realize now that I wasn’t bad, that there was no shame in what I did. I realize that I was simply over-stimulated by the noise and confusion. I couldn’t process–I couldn’t process the patterns of sound in the rain over the talking of all the kids, and the tactile sensation of gently ripping material, with its soothing tearing sound, helped me to focus on a simple act that I could process. 

I wasn’t a bad kid. I was an overwhelmed kid. 

Until recently, this event stayed buried deep in the pocket. It didn’t disappear. I remembered it sometimes, with a hint of shame. But when I began to consider that I might be on the autism spectrum, this memory was one of the first that I pulled out of the pocket and carefully unfolded, smoothing its rough edges. I found, within the crumbled and torn lining of the coat, a little girl who wasn’t a bad girl, but who was not understood and who didn’t know how to explain or understand herself what was going on inside of her some of the time. 

Loving this lonely little girl and letting her know that she did nothing wrong on the last rainy day that she wore the blue raincoat has brought me as much a feeling of wholeness as anything in my life. 

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Spectrum: Stitching the Fabric

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Preface

I’ve recently begun to realize that I may be on autism spectrum. This view of myself is one of the few (or maybe even the only one) that allows me to construct a self-portrait in which all the pieces fit.

You see, all my life, there have been little blips that I’ve shoved deep into a pocket. These are the actions that I couldn’t fit into the portrait of a neurotypical person. I didn’t know what to do with them–I knew that I had to carry on, in order to survive, and act like I was a confident, capable woman. To me, this was a matter of survival, what I had to do to hold a job, pay the bills, and navigate the social world. So I snipped off those divergent bits, stuffed them into a deep pocket, and I carried on, snipping, stuffing, and camouflaging, until I’d snipped and stuffed so much that I didn’t know who I was anymore. I felt I was all camouflage and no me.

Coming into this realization has allowed me to, slowly and lovingly, pull out those little snipped bits and stitch them back into the fabric of myself. The unexpected gift is that I am, once again, beginning to feel whole.

That midnight dread and that upon-waking fear of “I don’t know who I am” has dissipated in the sunlight that spreads around all-of-me, with my neurodivergence at the core.

This autobiographical series will reveal the stitches in this fabric: I’m making the cloak whole again. I’m writing it for me. I’ve decided to post it here because this blog contains the stories that have composed my past four years, so including it here lets me integrate these new understandings into all the stories I’ve told and the poems I’ve written in the years and months immediately preceding this new realization.

You’re welcome to read along. I’ll be writing for myself, but I’ll be including you, if you want to come along. Maybe reading this will help you understand puzzling people in your lives. Maybe it will open you up to showing kindness to those who don’t fit who you think people should be. Maybe it will inspire you to be more kind towards yourself in all the ways that you diverge from expectations and demands.

I hope so. The one thing I know in my core–and have always known–is that it’s through our kindness and compassion, towards self and others, that we nurture wholeness. In a kind world, being neurodivergent isn’t a problem: It’s a gift that brings bright colors into the spectrum.

 

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A Psijic’s Measure: Haven

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When desperation gives way to surrender, a door opens for grace.

I have been saved countless times, and on some golden occasions, I have saved others.

I met a woman who had become a blood fiend. She rued the lives she’d drained, in her blind raptures, and so, in a sober moment, she swallowed cold poison and died, before she could harm another.

I came upon a village where all had been turned to stone, save one: the mage. His spell hardened flesh, calcified pulse between the heartbeats. Fear drives one to strange measures. But it was his spell, too, which had first rendered savage the wolves and bears. Grief raises unsuspected monsters.

Some say rescue follows brave acts. But I know, the bravest act is to turn within, to face the knife of grief, to feel the snap of fear. In the alchemy of mind and flesh, transforming panic to breath to calm to peace: that is where true magic resides.

The mage in the stone village lost a son in battle. If he could harness the energy within this earth, surely he could raise his son! But when we turn from pain, monsters escape the cracks.

We had to kill many beasts before we could close the rifts. When all was done, and the villagers’ hearts began to pound again, they shouted for justice.

“Kill the mage!” they yelled.

“I deserve to die,” he said, and through his eyes, his son’s glance shone back. He wept. The sun shot rays of gold.

“No one will die,” I replied. “He turned you to stone to save you from the beasts. The savage ones are gone now. You’re safe, as you are. No one need pay more.”

The mage looked in my eyes. “A psijic’s measure,” he said. “Kindness. Mercy. Courage.”

The hardest courage is that which opens the path for kindness, for that’s the courage of setting down armor and walking through fire, ice, arrows, and spears, right into the battleground of pain and fear: unarmed, protected with only the openness of the heart. Mercy requires the greatest bravery.

But that’s the path that Meridia lays down.

After our parents were killed by maormer, my sister, Twig, and I stowed away on a Khajiit trading ship, leaving Grahtwood for Auridon. Our parents had moved to Haven, emigrating from Elden Root when I was just a baby, years before Twig was born. They abandoned the Green Pact when they became merchants. It was the sweet taste of pumpkin, my mom always said, that drove them to break the vow.

There were times, an orphaned teen beneath Alik’r’s taut skies, when I believed my wanderings to be Y’ffre’s curse, repayment for our parents’ betrayal. But I don’t believe that any longer.

If one lives long enough, one finds curses turn into blessings.

I sit now, an old mystic, in the wild meadow by my cottage outside of Haven’s walls. I hear the gull call. The evening wind carries memories of battle cries and mourners’ sobs, mothers’ songs and reapers’ chants, a Khajiit’s prayer and an Argonian’s meditation. When I am especially still, I catch the scent of cherry blossoms from Artaeum.

We ended up on Vulkhel Guard, my sister and I, after the ship landed to unload. I found an empty barn near the docks, and we slept in the hay. Only two days later, she was gone. I returned from scavenging food, and the barn was empty, and the old Khajiit on the dock told me Argonians carried her off to their ship.

Thus began my peregrine life: What started as a search became a pilgrimage.

What if you woke one morning to find that every choice you had made and would make, all that had happened, and all that would happen, including getting lost and getting found and finding others and losing them, the deaths of those you love and even your own death, what if it all had significance and meaning? What if, after all, everything really was all right?


Author’s notes: I’ve been immersed in Elder Scrolls Online. What began as WTF, what even IS this game, and how come there’s so much killing! has become an enchantment with rich lore, landscapes, stories, and worlds and a delight in the ethical considerations of the game. Right now, this game is filling a niche for me. The in-game quests can happen so quickly, even when I play solo and read everything, so I often don’t have time to process and internalize the story. That’s what A Psijic’s Measure is for: It’s a chance for me to engage fully with the stories, characters, and worlds of Elder Scrolls Online.

As such, it’s fanfic: The world-building, many of the characters, and many of the plots come directly from the game. There will be loads of spoilers in every chapter–gamers beware! If you play the game, I hope you enjoy an internalized, reflective look at a sojourner’s life in Tamriel. If you don’t play, I hope you enjoy this story of a wood elf who wanders far from home.