Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge – June 2019

This short story was written as part of the Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge, organized by LisaBee at the Sims Forums. Readers are invited to read all the entries, and vote for their top three choices in both categories (novice and veteran), for a total of six votes. Any vote that doesn’t contain three for each category (six total) will not be counted–so if you want to vote, please be sure to read all the stories and vote for three Novice and three Veteran stories! This month’s theme is “A June Wedding.”

June 26th: Home Is, Love Is

At that time, we were technically homeless, though we lived in a tent at a campsite in the state park where nobody bothered us. I knew the ranger.

I’d lost my job, we’d burned through Maddy’s financial aid months before, and we had no prospects of money coming in until fall. We were broke: nothing for rent.

Maddy’s mom and dad would’ve taken her in, though not me, even though we were engaged. It was to be a June wedding, June 26th, to be exact, both a political and a personal statement. We can do this, it’s our right, and so we will.

But her folks weren’t pleased.

“Don’t worry, honey,” Maddy said. “They wouldn’t like you even if you were a guy. You’re an artist! A rebel! They only like business people and realtors.”

Maddy sold her wedding dress to buy the tent.

“We can’t live in a dress,” she said. “Well, we could. It’s big enough. But I can’t see you surrounded in lace.”

I could–the lace of her skirt wrapped around my face, my arms wrapped around her waist.

We forgot about being homeless, for the sun rose every morning and sparkled through the trees, and hermit thrushes sang, and dragonflies darted with wings lit up by the morning sun. I lost track of what day it was, what month, though I knew it was early summer and I could tell you the phase of the moon.

“I love the full moon,” Maddy said.

“You are the moon,” I replied.

As we returned to camp one day, after gleaning the neighboring farmer’s fields, our arms full of squash, tomatoes, and onions to roast over the fire, Maddy said, “Tomorrow is June 26th.”

I woke up early, while Maddy still nestled in our sleeping bag with her burnt-sugar hair tousled around her full moon face, and snuck into the meadows where I gathered all her favorite flowers: daisies, columbines, lupins. I wove them into a crown.

When I returned to camp, she stood at the grill, flipping pancakes. You’ve never had pancakes until you’ve had campfire pancakes. They either come out tasting like scrambled ash or like wood-roasted heaven. After the first few disastrous batches, Maddy’s were heaven, every time.

“Happy wedding day,” she said.

“I’m not supposed to see the bride,” I joked back, covering my eyes.

“I’m serious,” she said. “I want to marry you, and I want to marry you today.”

“But your parents–“

“–can’t control me anymore.”

“But our friends–“

“will be happy for us.”

“But our home–“

“–is wherever we are.”

“But our political statement–“

“–means nothing if we’re not happy, doing what we want, in spite of circumstances.”

After we ate, she led me through the field, up the hill, to a natural archway in the rocks.

“This is our place,” she said. She slid a ring of pine needles she’d woven around my finger. I cut a lock of my hair and braided it into a tiny braid and tied it around her finger. She wore her crown.

“You should be wearing our tent,” I said.

After we kissed, she said, “I marry you, Sylvie, because you are, to me, what a spouse is meant to be, the partner who is with me, through it all.”

It wasn’t the wedding we’d intended, but it was the wedding we had. Later that winter, when we lived in a proper house again, after I’d found work crafting artisan furniture and Maddy was back in school getting her counseling degree, we went to a justice of the court and made it legal, because we could.

“I like our first wedding best,” Maddy said.

“I like the wedding of our imagination,” I replied, “the one we’d planned with your dress that you sold, and your parents all upset in the parlor, and our friends cheering, and our big bold statement. But our first wedding was good. And this legal one is good, too. Because marrying you is what counts, really. Happy?”

Maddy nodded. “I don’t care if we’re living in a tent, or on the beach, or in a house–as long as we’re not living with my folks–as long as we’re together. Because, honey, home’s wherever I can be with you, my wife.”

CathyTea’s Bonus Shorts

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A Note to Readers of A Psijic’s Measure

Hello, lovely readers!

A few days ago, we posted Michael’s latest chapter in A Psijic’s Measure, and, because initially we posted it as password-protected so that Michael could review it prior to publication, it’s possible that some of you missed it when we published it.

I want to be sure to bring it to your attention, for it’s so well-written and so integral to the story. We hope you enjoy it!

Here is the link to Chapter Nine – The Power of Love, written by Michael/Shishwik.

Happy reading!

A Psijic’s Measure: The Power of Love

Author: Michael/@Shishwik

Aliasandrya

Power.

So much power.

The kind to kill gods. As I have recently done to Molag Bal, at least temporarily.

I can always feel it seething and writhing beneath the surface of my consciousness. Feel it burning its way through my blood stream. Feel it cloud my vision and darken my way of thinking until I want to melt the entire world. This power is consuming me, and I don’t mind.

I may have to turn this power against myself to avert the consequences of its growth unchecked and unbalanced.

Hmm, perhaps that is the better outcome, use all I have in one great rush of cataclysmic energy and remove a possible threat to the innocent.

You see, I am still searching for my sisters. I know I WILL find them. I do not know WHEN. I feel that if we do not come together soon, I will lose myself in what I am afraid of becoming. A monster myself. Uncaring. Pitiless. Addicted to the screams and blood. What in the name of the Tribunal is happening to me? I am so alone…

I have spoken to Almalexia, Vivec, and Sotha Sil. I have helped each of them with something they could not do themselves. I have had adulation heaped upon me until I was drunk with the respect… and fear. Yet the Three did not warn me, did not offer advice, did not so much as hint that there was something wrong with my psyche. They did, however, offer empty platitudes and a rather subdued thank you, along with the mention that I have helped save Nirn from some unknown yet terrible threat.

Gods are worse than children sometimes. I hope I will not have to deal with another.

As I battle my way across Tamriel, I have noticed something unsettling. In the more intellectually gifted beings I must battle, I recognize in their eyes exactly what I feel more and more often: an insatiable desire to destroy. Take this giant I am looking at through the gaps in the trees for example. Casually walking around a village it helped destroy, eating cows, smashing barns, stomping like they are kings without a worry or responsibility for their actions.

Oh hell, my blood is starting to boil, the sickeningly sweet power is stirring, I rush forward…

I don’t know how long I was dazed. It cannot have been too long because the brute is standing over me slowly raising its massive foot to turn me into jelly, the whole time sneering down with rage and glee from 20 feet above me. I contemplate not moving.

“Roll!!!!”

I dart my gaze at this unexpected command and see this little woman rushing toward us, some kind of metal skull cap on her head and glowing runes on her face. My eyes shift back to the now descending foot. I roll. The impact is deafening at such close range. My eyes are filled with dirt and grass and snow. I can’t breathe through the mud clogging my mouth. I just start running in random directions, doing all I can to clear my face of the detritus. After what seems an hour, I can see and breathe again. I am now quite far from the little woman and extremely angry behemoth. I will say this, that little lady has spunk! Just look at her dodge and weave, throwing everything she has at him. The giant is loosing his mind! He stops.

Wait… Why is he stopping? He is facing the woman who is standing before a half destroyed and open barn. She is facing the giant squarely, breathing like bellows.

I am running up behind the giant when I notice a giantess emerging from the barn behind the woman. I scream, pouring every ounce of rage, pain, loneliness, and loss into the sound tearing my throat. As the male turns, he is felled with fire and lightning. As he falls sizzling to the ground, the woman is sailing through the air from a hit from the giantess. She lands limply. I immediately change direction to offer what paltry aid I may. The female giant is prodding the smoking husk left by my power. I smile.

I don’t have time to check for signs of life in the woman; I just apply what little restorative magic I have into my would-be battle companion. Blood covers her face, and her arm is bent unnaturally. As soon as the spell is over, I gather my remaining strength and turn to face not one, but two of these powerful beings. I may get my wish after all. I feel life and energy coursing through my veins. Powerful healing has been given to me. I start to turn my head…

“TO THE LEFT!!”

I run left. Laying down a carpet of lightning, I summon my familiar, Mouthie. He immediately charges the giantess. I cast another spell to bolster his damage and turn to the newcomer. The woman and I make short work of him together. She is pumping me full of healing magic as I electrocute and burn the giant down. My familiar has unsuprisingly driven the female giant away. He can be quite thorough in his desire to please. I love that ugly little bastard.

As we approach each other, the woman and I start to slow. We stop some 30 feet apart and seem to each be mesmerized by the other. Her face is covered in blood from a head wound. She is staring with an intensity I have never felt before, given or received. I shake loose of the feeling and start forward again. So does the woman. I retrieve my water skin and a cloth to help clean her up. She closes her eyes as I perform my ministrations. Neither of us saying a word. I finish.

She opens her eyes. Our gazes lock. Time is forgotten. Love is here, right now in this scene of destruction. My doubts are gone. I am no longer alone.

My heart swells, tears streaming down my face. Overcome, I fall to my knees. She moves close, embracing me, and rests her head on mine. I wrap my arms around her legs and utter a single word through my sobbing…

Kitty.

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A Psijic’s Measure: Moon Hallowed, Another Name

Author: Cathy Tea

Cat Littlebird

Nerraba, outlander, n’wah. Filthy elf, thief, cannibal. Milk-drinker, limp staff, coward. Soul-shriven. Vestige. I have been called these names.

And also: Brave-toothed, steel sword, Bosmer. Beeko, cerum, champion. Mystic, mage, hero.

The names roll easily off my back. I am as much one as the other.

But one title tempted me to claim it as my own, though I knew well by then that no words can name us once we slip through the rifts of time to become Unnamed. Yet this term played a chord that chimes the inner cathedral, where my soul resides–that same soul they claim was stripped from me. Something in me responded to the sound, and I knew then that not even Molag Bal could steal a soul, no matter what they say. Something in me awoke. And in walking the path laid out by this name, I remembered myself. My sister. I remembered that change brings us back to ourselves.

Moon Hallowed.

My father and I followed moonlight as it traveled up the stream through the meadows outside Haven.

“Look, Cat,” he said. “Our path is laid down for us.”

“Why do we follow the moons, Ata?” I asked.

“For wonder,” he said.

We came to a clearing where a dozen thunderbugs sparkled, lightning shooting between them.

“What are they doing, Ata?”

“The moon dance. It is for light! Look! They change!”

They shone white, silver, pure light. And with a crack, the charge between them lit the clearing. The flash shot us back, twenty-eight meters!

“Are you all right, kyne?” my father asked as we scrambled to our feet.

“I’m fine, Ata.” Every hair on my father’s head stretched out, crackling with electricity, pulling the follicle so his scalp looked boiled.

We laughed when our breath returned. “Well, we are alive then! Even if we are changed! The Moons will do that!”

We sat on the bluff while our hearts settled into a steady beat.

“Do you see how the moons always change?” my father asked. “They grow full and fat until they spark! And then they grow lean, and the sky is black.”

“But they always come back,” I said.

“They do. But are they the same?”

They were and they weren’t.

“There is another moon, kyne,” my father said, “the dark moon.”

“I can’t see it.”

“No, because it’s dark. But it is there. It’s there to bring the two moons together. Without it, they would wander the sky, always straying further and further apart.”

Moon Hallowed: I yearned to cling to this title, the same worn by all before and after me who walked alongside the Champions down the Two Moon Path. That was one name that meant something to me.

I walked with two sisters, Shazah and Khali, twins born during the rare alignment of Jone and Jode that allows the third moon, the dark moon, to appear. That is the alignment in which the Mane is born, and of the twins, only one could go on to assume that role. It fell to me to choose which one.

“This one was a father’s kit, too,” Shazah told me. “Khali stuck by our mother’s side. But for Shazah, it was to please Father, always.”

“Was your father a warrior?” I asked.

“No, that was our mother. And so my sister grew to love battle. Our father was a healer, a wise one, and so this one grew to love wholeness, peace.”

I thought of my father, wandering with me at his side, and his words of moons and change, to follow shadow and light, and our mother, who roamed the forests with Twig, bow in hand, to hunt the senche tiger.

Shazah walked with me through her childhood, the streets littered with sick and dying as the Knahaten flu festered in gutters and alleys of Orcrest.

“I was so afraid,” she said. “Father’s friends, his team. Each one succumbed. And with each husk, this one feared the rising of Dro-m’Athra.”

In the shadows of her memories, mist figures stirred. “I feel what you feel,” I said to her, my breath catching, my heart an ice block, my gut of empty iron. “Should we leave?”

“Leave, no. We must press on. These are but my fears, when I was a little cub. So many bodies. So much death. My father died. Our friends, his team. But he said that I should move forward. This one needs to look ahead. There is so much waiting to be done.”

At every step, Shazah would pause, to look about, to face the spectres of corpses, sick and dying, to remember her father. “He never gave up,” she said. “Even when he was sick himself. He said the Mane asked it of him, to help the others, to use his skill. What else is life for? And so he gave up his life in answering his call.”

“But maybe we can find a way to do what we’re here to do without such sacrifice,” I suggested.

“No,” said Shazah, “that is not what this path is for.”

She told me, when the time would come, that I would know who to choose, among her and her sister, which should go on to become the new Mane, and which should stay below, in the realm of Dro-m’Athra, to contain the Dark Mane.

“It must be me,” she said. “This one knows the darkness. My sister, she is strong, a warrior, and she is also full of anger. Such anger will serve her well, when she is leading our people. She will transform it into power, into strength. But here, below? No. Anger cannot diffuse hate. Only love can do that, Hallowed.”

I knew the truth of her words. I thought of my sister. She would have been grown by then–did she pour the hunter’s sharp focus into anger? How did she respond to cruelty, to murder, to slavery, to our fate?

I did not respond with anger, but I suspected, even then, that Twig did.

In Shazah’s eyes, I saw my mirror. It was not a hard choice: Only one who meets adversity with love can contain, and then dissolve, hate. The love that shone in her eyes, for it, darkness was no match.

Khali would go on to become a strong leader, this I knew. Containing the Dark Mane would have destroyed her, but guiding her people through battle and into peace? That would make her.

When I left Shazah below, in the dark realm, her eyes shown brighter than two moons, and she thanked me, Moon Hallowed.

That is why that is one name that I claim, because it was spoken with love. Only one other name has been spoken to me, by one other person, that resonates, also, in the key of love: Kitty.

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Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge – May 2019

Veteran Participant - May 2019 SimLit Short Story Challenge

This short story was written as part of the Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge, organized by LisaBee at the Sims Forums. Readers are invited to read all the entries, and vote for their top three choices in both categories (novice and veteran), for a total of six votes. Any vote that doesn’t contain three for each category (six total) will not be counted–so if you want to vote, please be sure to read all the stories and vote for three Novice and three Veteran stories! This month’s theme: ” Mother … motherhood … mothering.”

Into Green Arms

“Tree-head!”

Kids were being kids again. That’s what Mom would say. But Sela thought they weren’t “being kids”; they were being mean.

“Who knows other ways forest ecosystems interconnect?” her teacher had asked.

Count to five. No one said anything. Six. Still silence. So before she could count one more, Sela jumped in.

“And so, you see,” she continued, minutes deep into her explanation of forest-system communications, “the mycelium acts as a type of network through which electronic and chemical signals can pass, much like the Internet, or even like the human brain. In fact, in many ways, the synapses in our brain are very similar to the fungus web of mycelium.”

“Did you say fungus?”

“There’s a fungus among us!”

“Mushroom brain!”

The teacher, who couldn’t quiet the students’ raucous laughter, let the class out early for recess. Sela stayed behind at her desk, nose in book.

The rest of the day passed in spitwads, snickers, and sneers. The lonely walk home brought, at least, the relief of quiet and the anticipation of finally being with the one who would understand, her mother.

It could be any day, Sela told herself, for days like this were more common than not, and on days like this, there was only one place where Sela found comfort, in the quiet shelter of her mother’s wide arms.

When she felt alone and misunderstood, her mother let her be herself. She didn’t have to talk. She could sit and listen to soothing whispers.

Her earliest memories held this quiet presence, nestled happily in the shelter of her mother’s shade.

Sela felt, sometimes, that it was remembering her mother’s stillness that got her through the toughest days.

She found the house empty when she got home.

“At a meeting,” Mom’s yellow post-it note said. “Snack in fridge. Back for supper.”

Sela felt relieved. She’d have had to listen to lectures again, if Mom had been home. “Kids will be kids. Besides, should you expect them to sit still and listen while you rattle on? What have we talked about before? Just say the first fact, not all 101 of them.”

At least 122 facts about mycelium branched in her brain, each as significant as the other, and if she left out one, it might turn out that that was possibly the exact fact that people needed to know. Anyway, once she got started, she couldn’t stop, and if she’d sat quietly, she would have gotten into trouble, at least with her conscience.

“Look at this,” Mom had said one day, showing her two pictures of what looked like white strings of mycelium on a black piece of cardboard. One of them looked like all the branches had been snipped off, and the other looked like fairy lace.

Mom pointed to the snipped-off one. “This is what the synapses in most people’s brains look like,” she said. Then she pointed to the fairy-lace one. “This is what the synapses in the brains of people like you look like.”

“Did you know that the word dendrite means tree?” Sela had replied.

Mom gazed back with her common blank stare. “What even goes on in that head of yours? The doctor said they’re working on drugs to snip off the extra synapses. You know, to make you more normal.”

Sela didn’t want to be normal. She liked her fairy-lace brain, with its white connections stretching across both hemispheres, picking up the whispers of ferns, of spiderwebs, of dendrite branches, sparkling in the light and shimmering in the wind.

Mom was out! And not back until supper? That gave her all afternoon to be with the one whose company she loved the most!

“I’m off to the woods,” she scrawled in the note she left. “Back by sunset.”

And off she ran, past the meadow, through the forest, across the creek and up to the glen where, in the center of a clearing, with wide green arms open in welcome, stood her one true mother, with a thousand whispers of comfort from the one who understood her fairy-lace brain and spoke in a language that also traversed wide broad fields.


CathyTea’s Bonus Shorts

Spectrum: Meltdowns and Shutdowns

A brain with abundant synapses takes in abundant stimulation–sometimes, more than can be easily processed. When a brain receives more input than it can process, chances are, it will go into meltdown or shutdown in an attempt to reestablish balance.

An early childhood memory: I’m sitting in the back of our red VW van when my mom and I are picking up my dad after his day teaching, and I am gulping air and shaking in the aftermath of crying. In between the painful gasps, I am aware of an exquisite feeling of relief and clarity. Even the tenderness of the nerves in my skin feels exquisite. I’ve just had a meltdown, and now, my mental processes have re-regulated. I’m calm, though quivery, and by the time my dad opens the car door, I greet him with smiles. Everything will be OK.

My mom describes me as a cheerful and happy child, so I guess that meltdowns weren’t too frequent during early childhood, perhaps happening between one and six times a year. That’s about the frequency with which I experience them as an adult, also.

While they aren’t comfortable, meltdowns, for me, at least, bring relief, so once I began to understand that they are part of my self-regulatory processing, I’ve stopped dreading or trying to prevent them. In fact, I now intentionally engage in them when I feel that need for release and rebalance.

For many decades of my adult life, I thought that, if I was crying, it must mean that I was sad or distressed, and if I were sad or distressed, there must be something wrong with my life. But as I’ve come to identify what’s really happening, I’ve learned that my life can be going really well–I can be in the right relationship, living in the right place, having a successful career, managing all the details and responsibilities of taking care of a home, myself, and a job–and I can still have meltdowns. A meltdown simply indicates that I have exceeded my capacity for processing.

I have learned to have meltdowns in private, for they make others uncomfortable or distressed, and I’ve learned to have them as soon as I can recognize the need, rather than holding them off, for that lessens their intensity and allows me to restore internal balance more quickly.

This past week, I experienced two mini-meltdowns, as a result of having attended the employee recognition celebration I wrote about a few posts ago; the social activity and demands of that event overextended my processing capacity. These mini-meltdowns are what I’ve come to call “mindful meltdowns.” I engage in them intentionally and with mindful awareness. With this approach, a mini-meltdown is no more painful than a sneeze, and the resulting relief afterwards is just as sweet as the relief after a sneezing fit. Some tears, some sobs, some deep breaths, some quiet moments afterwards, and the excess energy and input is released. My emotions and mental processes free up, and I can feel joy again. The entire process can be as quick as five minutes.

A mini-meltdown, engaged in with mindful attention, is much better to me than a shutdown.

I also experienced a shutdown this week. On Monday morning, although I’d had a fairly restful weekend and had slept an extra hour the night before, I woke with a sluggish cotton mind, through and through, without a spark of feeling, emotion, or energy. It felt like every synapse had gone dark. I moved mindfully through our morning routine, which is structured in such a way as to provide a healthy and healing container in which to start the day: the preparation and eating of a healthy breakfast; time to read and play brain-training games; time in the garden; time to play cello.

But as I drove into the office, I could feel that something was not right in my brain. It took courage and resilience to walk through the parking lot and into the office, when all I wanted to do was sit in the car with eyes closed, avoiding everyone and everything, and I felt relief when the usual people who greet me to engage in morning conversation were not there. By the time I took my lunch break, I knew I had to be in nature, in a spot as private as possible. We have some dense shrubs and wildflowers in a lot at the edge of the parking lot, so sitting there, in the bushes, hidden from all others, I was able to breathe and to get my mind unstuck enough that I could engage in an intentional mini-meltdown and release all the residual unprocessed input and energy from that social event five days before.

Yes, it does take that much out of me to be part of large groups, even when the event goes well, even when I enjoy myself, and even when everything seems smooth. My mind has too much to process, and sometimes, as in this case, certain inputs get stuck–that’s when the shut-down happens.

When I woke up on Monday morning with cotton-brain, I felt a brief flash of comfort: this was a familiar feeling to me. In fact, I spent much of my childhood in some degree of shutdown. After every mother-daughter tea, every award ceremony, every piano recital, many noisy classroom days, every family trip to the city, shut-down was my consequence.

By the time I was seven, I had been socialized to believe that crying, meltdowns, and any type of emotional outburst, noise, or unconstrained movements, were unacceptable. Good girls kept hands-in-pockets, didn’t swing their arms or twist or spin, didn’t laugh in outbursts, and certainly didn’t cry or have tantrums. And never got mad. If I was going claim my spot in the family, and be loved the way I wanted to be, I believed that I had to be a good girl. I began to repress meltdowns, and as a result, I experienced shutdowns.

I grew up in an active family, with an older sister and brother who were (and are) gifted, creative, athletic, social, and engaged. When I was seven through the time when my older siblings left home six years later, we were rarely home on weekends. Our parents took us on family outings, camping, hiking, skiing, canoeing (all of which I loved) or to the Bay Area for festivals, concerts, plays, art shows, and trips to museums (which I loved in theory–and still love in memory–but not so much in practice). My parents wanted us to have a culturally rich upbringing–and we did. We did, at the cost of needed downtime.

Combine with that stimulating upbringing, a brother who teased, punched, tickled, poked, slapped, and expressed himself sarcastically, a school life with noisy classrooms and no lasting friendships I could count on, and the demands and input were often more than I could handle. This is why, when I felt the sensations of shutdown the other morning, it felt familiar to me.

During the past few decades as an adult, my mini-meltdowns have been more frequent than shutdowns, fortunately, but previously, especially when we lived in the overstimulating city of Seattle or when I was teaching full-time, shutdowns were common enough. Now that I reflect on it, during my Seattle and full-time teaching years, shutdowns alternating with hypomanic bliss were my regular states of being.

My best way to find relief from shutdowns is to spend time in nature. Fortunately, during the childhood years when shutdowns happened regularly to me, we lived in a home with a wild creek behind the house, a giant poplar and oak tree in our back yard, and wooded and grassy hills across the lane. My happiest childhood moments happened when I was alone, under the broad California sky, halfway to the top of an oak, or hidden under a scrub of wild broom. The shining leaves, the flit of bird wing, the song of mockingbirds, the soaring of a red-tailed hawk, the silence beneath the leaves’ whispers–these brought my comfort. I still turn to solitude in nature when I need to find my way out of and recover from a shutdown, and wherever I’ve lived or worked, I’ve always scouted out a wild pocket where I could find sanctuary and relief.

Of course, we want to avoid meltdowns and shutdowns, when possible. They don’t feel good; they are stress responses, and reaching that level of stress isn’t good for us. In my next post, I’ll share some of my strategies for self-care to keep meltdowns and shutdowns from happening, as much as possible. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that, even when we’re doing everything right, even when our lives are really good and everything is fine, the input we receive can still sometimes exceed our capacity for processing.

Sitting in the garden this morning, with white sunlight dancing on the edges of thousands of leaves, a hummingbird hovering in and out of the periphery, a mockingbird singing fluted songs, and the warm, warm sun cradling my shoulders, I called back to all the snipped-off versions of myself who had cried when I couldn’t understand why I was crying, to all the ignored shutdown mirrors of me, who I’d looked at with confusion–what is wrong with you to feel depressed when your life is so good?–I pulled back to me all the meltdown, shutdown Cathys that I didn’t know how to fit into my life or myself. They rushed back, relaxing under the comforting blanket of sun wrapped around our shoulders, my shoulders. They came back to me, not as parts that were broken or sick or lacking or unacceptable–they came back as parts of me that had been overwhelmed by too much input for the abundant synapses in my brain. And in the quiet busy morning of my garden, we all came together into me.

Want to learn more?
A really great article about meltdowns and shutdowns by Rachel Schneider, a counselor with Sensory Processing Disorder, 5 Things I Want to Know about Sensory Shutdown.
And, of course, from the lovely and brilliant Amythest Schaber in her “Ask an Autistic” series: What are Autistic Shutdowns?

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Spectrum: Can You Feel Yourself Think?

All my life, I have been able to feel, to sense, my brain thinking. I feel the electronic energy of synapses firing and the chemical releasing of neurotransmitters. I don’t know how many other people feel this–it’s a tricky thing to talk about.

I’ve googled it, and the results aren’t that encouraging (see this post on Quora, for example). I’ve asked my family members, both when I was a child, and, more recently, as an adult. None of them can feel, in their brain, brain activity, and they all attributed my claims to my imagination.

When I’ve explained to my boyfriend that I can feel the regions of my brain that are active when I play music, when I read, when I daydream, when I play video games, when I write, and when I practice brain-training games at Lumosity, he doesn’t scoff, even though he doesn’t share a similar sensory experience of brain activity.

I read recently about a study led by David Sulzer at Columbia University Medical Center which indicated that autistic people, both children and adults, have “too many” synapses. I’m wondering if it’s the abundance of synapses that allows me to feel my brain activity, and I’m wondering how many other neurodivergent people have this type of sensory awareness.

Sulzer’s study reports that neurotypical children experience synaptic pruning, trimming back some of the synapses, through a developmental process called autophagy. This pruning, the researchers believe, is inhibited in autistic children, resulting in brains with multi-branched synapses.

“What’s remarkable about the findings,” continued Sulzer, “is that hundreds of genes have been linked to autism, but almost all of our human subjects had overactive mTOR and decreased autophagy, and all appear to have a lack of normal synaptic pruning. This says that many, perhaps the majority, of genes may converge onto this mTOR/autophagy pathway, the same way that many tributaries all lead into the Mississippi River. Overactive mTOR and reduced autophagy, by blocking normal synaptic pruning that may underlie learning appropriate behavior, may be a unifying feature of autism.”

Children With Autism Have Extra Synapses In Their Brains.” IFL Science.

One direction, terrifying to me, that some are exploring as a result of these findings is the development of drugs to artificially prune the “extra” synapses in autistic children and adults–to make us “normal.”

Our problem is not that we have “too many” synapses. Our problem is that others have issues with our divergent perceptions, thoughts, responses, and actions. Create a world that accommodates divergence and diversity, and having more synapses becomes a gift, rather than, simply, a disability or difference that makes us weird.

Any ecologist can talk at length about the value of diversity. Healthy ecosystems depend on biodiversity. (In fact, the greatest threat and tragedy in conjunction with the climate crisis is not the direct inconvenience and hardship experienced by people; it is the threatened extinction of millions of species, having tragic impacts on the biodiversity of our planet.)

Diversity serves an evolutionary purpose. When environments change, the more genetically diverse a population, the better the chances for adaptation and survival.

In the human species, too, our diversity is our greatest strength. We should not want to achieve a population that consists solely of the neurotypical. Health is important, of course, as is creating societies, cultures, and a world that accommodates, appreciates, and welcomes diversity and divergence of all sorts, including neurodivergence. But to administer drugs to prune synapses so that autistic or other neurodiverse individuals can learn “appropriate behavior?” That seems dangerous and insidious.

Likely, an abundance of synapses leads to rich, abundant perception. For several years, I’ve been following the blog of Helen White, an artist who’s recently self-identified as autistic. Even the name of her blog, Spinning the Light, describes the experience of a synaptically abundant person, and looking through her artwork is seeing through the eyes of someone whose mind is lit up by firing synapses. She paints the way the world looks to me.

I discovered her blog looking for someone who shared my physical sensations of spikes in the Schumann resonance, during the first time I identified the tingling buzz throughout my electronic fields as being connected with this. I found this post by her. That post led me to discover the rich accounts and insights which she shares throughout her blog, wisdom drawn from enhanced perception.

The increased sensitivity experienced by those of us with abundant synapses shifts our perception, allowing us to make connections and notice things that might escape others.

I am guessing that many of my awkward feelings in social situations, especially in large groups, comes from this excess of synaptic activity. I perceive “too much,” and that often causes me to miss what others are perceiving. It often feels to me that others connect with each other through synaptic synchronicity, whereas I experience the same firing of synapses that they do, plus more, and I don’t always know which synaptic activity to pay the most attention to. Sometimes, it seems to me that the important perceptions are the ones that are not shared. This causes me to respond to impulses or to make comments that seem odd or out-of-place to the others. To me, I am stating what seems most important, given the specific input that I am making sense of at the moment. But to them, these observations seem out-of-the-blue, disconnected to the shared experience of the moment.

But I have always valued the out-of-the-blue more than the mundane, for that’s where the magic lies.

Postnote: Helen White continues this conversation with some beautiful insights into “Being the unpruned tree” over on her blog. Take a look!

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