Once upon a time, Stacie Williams asked me to come to an event at Boswell Book Company and I was all like “No WAY, Man. I *hate* readings!!” For the record, my knowledge was based on some pretty bad experiences with sleepy readings during my Master’s program at UT–Austin. When I say “sleepy readings,” I mean I literally fell asleep during them. First, because they were boring. And second, because I was so stressed out just being there.
Last night, I ate a crow-and-humble-pie a size worthy of Guinness. Last night, thanks to Boswell Book Company and David Finch, I’ve completely changed my tune. I’ve gone from the jerk sleeping in the third row to the groupie hanging out ‘til close. It helps that I work at Boswell—which makes it less awkward to lurk around the store until close. It also helps that Daniel Goldin, my fearless leader and the owner of Boswell Book Company, completely understands this groupie phenomenon. And it is to him and to David Finch that I must express the utmost gratitude for my conversion, and for an all around good time tonight. To Daniel and David: THANK YOU!!!!
This isn’t all thanksgiving, though. I wanted to be sure and follow up on my previous post in which I reviewed David Finch’s (awesome!) book The Journal of Best Practices. It’s one thing to post a review, then another to have the book come to life at an event. And quite another entirely to get to have an honest, face-to-face conversation with the author. I wanted to be sure and record this experience for myself, but also to share it with people who are unsure about readings, and people curious about David and Asperger’s. Not that David is the poster-child for AS—that would be a difficult burden for any Aspie to carry. Rather, I want to speak to some of the things David Finch taught me about AS, both on the page and in person.
At one point this evening, David’s aunt (?) bought a copy of The Journal of Best Practices. As I was chatting her up during checkout, she mentioned that she loved the book because reading it was just like listening to David speak. She’s right. He’s just as funny in real life as he is on the page. And he’s just as honest. Folks, he’s a real person. A real person, with real pain, real secrets, and a real desire to give back. I suspect Kristen (and probably David’s aunt) have always known this. For noobs—especially those just meeting him on the page—it’s easy to forget that there’s a real person who sat down and poured his heart and soul (and brain!) into this book we hold in our hands. That’s so important, and easy to forget. Which is, I learned this evening, exactly why events like these are necessary. Tonight, I got to have a serious conversation with the person behind the page. Most importantly: I got to say thanks to him in person. Terrifying for me, but totally worth it.
Now, I’ve been to a few of Loyal’s events over the years. Yeah, yeah, yeah—I know you’re all saying “GOTCHA!! You don’t GO to events!!” For the record, this was during my I-hate-readings-but-love-my-partner phase. What I noticed is that Loyal tends to work from a script, which includes a couple of his favorite anecdotes, and that the Q&A’s seem to revolve around the same four or five questions.
Tonight was no different. I bet David gets these questions all the time…questions about the diagnosis, his kids, what it’s like to have AS, and why he wrote the book. But one answer he gave struck me pretty hard. For awhile after Loyal and I went to see “Adam,” there was one piece of the Asperger’s puzzle that kept me in firm denial: I wasn’t a super-genius at anything. Even this afternoon, when David and I were talking, he made an offhand comment about being able to solve differential equations easy-peasy, which made me queasy. I’m no good at math. Never have been. Probably could be if I cared enough to spend a few years working really hard. It’s that whole AS-special-interests thing again, coming to haunt me. Don’t all Aspies have at least one super-power?
So the question came up tonight. Someone asked David what his special interests are…and his answer shocked me. He said that all through school, he’d be interested in the saxophone. Then he started working on his career and became “a troll without a bridge” (his genius phrasing, that). It wasn’t really until The Journal of Best Practices began that he had a new special interest: to work on his marriage. This blew my mind. Finally, I get it. It’s not that all Aspies are really talented in one area—instead, it’s the focus that matters. I’m not super-smart at any single one thing. In terms of deep, sustained focus, however, I’m a troll with MANY bridges.
Then David mentioned that he left his engineering job to become a writer. The math and engineering stuff was so easy for him, but he said it made him miserable. Instead, writing and working on his relationships makes him happy. Let this be a take-away, folks: do what makes you happy, even if you’re bad at it. This is totally ironic for David, though. See, he’s not at all a bad writer. So he’s actually doing something he’s really quite good at…again. Not one superpower, for this guy, but two. Lucky bastard!
At the beginning of David’s talk tonight, I had another eureka moment. He shared a powerful anecdote about his third-grade teacher bringing his parents in for a parent-teacher conference to explain to them why their son’s sense of humor was detrimental. His father stuck up for him, letting the teacher know that this sense of humor was part of David’s identity, and that it’s not something his teacher should be messing with. I find this so wonderful because I understand what it’s like to use humor to deflect and to relate. When I was in elementary school, I was a fat kid.
I knew I couldn’t be the pretty one, so I decided to be the smart and funny one. Eventually, that turned into the hard-working one who did impressions. I was devastated my senior year of high school when I didn’t win the awards for “Funniest” or “Wittiest” of my graduating class. Instead, my school legacy would still be tied to acceptance into three different military academies, and that “Most Likely to be a Used Car Salesman” award I won in fifth grade. I still don’t know what the fuck that means, although I suspect it’s not something to brag about.
David also talked about trying to be funny, even at his own expense. During the Q&A, someone asked if anyone ever took advantage of his mind-blindness. David had a hilarious anecdote about a hot-dog costume (you’ll have to go to an event to get the full story!). He also said it’s kind of nice not being able to read people sometimes because it leaves him blissfully unaware of the negative ways in which people might perceive him. This is something I have spent way too much time and energy fretting over in my life. I wish I could save this moment and go back in time to give it to my fat-kid self in elementary school.
Because David gets it, we were able to have a genuine, honest conversation. Who needs small talk when there are more interesting things to talk about?! David taught me that accountability is vital for people with AS. This is something I’ve always been instinctively drawn to. My Dad taught me that excuses are like assholes. My time in the military reinforced this. I was never the girl who blamed bitchiness on her period. But for a long time, I didn’t have the tools to understand exactly what I was supposed to be accountable for. Girls were supposed to be emotional, right? Wrong.
Loyal taught me that I should be accountable for my behaviors, and I’ve been working on that for the past couple of years, bit by bit. Feminism taught me that there’s no such thing as an intellect/emotion split, and that there’s no one single way to be a woman. David taught me in his talk tonight that I’m also accountable for being present and showing up for the people I love, no matter what’s happening with me. So it’s one thing to acknowledge that a melt-down is on the horizon, and quite another to put someone’s needs before my own when such a melt-down is imminent. I think I’m still learning how to do this like a neurotypical adult. For the record (and from years of working in retail and customer service), there are also still many neurotypical adults learning how to do this, too.
This brings me to the #1 lesson I learned from David Finch: to be accountable for something I’m not really good at yet, which is thriving with Asperger’s. Not dealing with or living with, but THRIVING. Using my unique brain to optimum advantage and capacity. Celebrating my differences and using them to save Gotham.
Or something. David and I were both on a roll for awhile talking about how much Aspies have to contribute to the world. Yes, we may be difficult for neurotypicals to deal with in terms of public decorum and conversation, but our particular ways of seeing and being in the world are value-added. And on the flip-side, there’s a lot of baggage we put up with from non-neurotypicals, too. It’s a two-way street, guys. We’re only trying desperately to fit in because there are more of you. After kicking it with David tonight, I see a world of possibility for Aspie-dominated spaces. I imagine this place as one in which people understand instead of say assholish things like “Oh, he has Asperger’s? And that makes it okay?!” Trust: we’re not monsters. We’re people with brains and hearts, wanting to connect just as much as the next neurotypical. Even if, at this stage in the game, we’re the Marilyn in your Munster’s Family.
Hanging out with David made me feel better about myself because I didn’t have to front for him. Imagine that! A complete stranger who doesn’t require the full performance! A person who doesn’t need an explanation for everything I’m saying because he’s lived some of it. At one point when we were talking about rituals and how bloody difficult it is to be on time, David said that he felt it’s important for neurotypical people to understand what Aspies go through because they’re going to have Aspies in their workplace and in their classrooms. In my mind, this works directly with the accountability issue. For me personally, I know I should be accountable for learning how to manage my behaviors and how to communicate with the neurotypicals I care about in a way that fulfills us both. What David inadvertently brought to light for me was another call to accountability—to Aspies. I owe it to myself and my loved ones, but also to all Aspies out there, to live my life and be unabashedly who I am. I owe it to myself—and to the world around me—to not only try to learn to empathize with neurotypicals, but also to empathize with Aspies. This may sound weird for those of you who think Aspies are robots who don’t want or need sympathy or empathy. On the contrary, we want these both very badly. We’re just not hardwired to jump directly to these kinds of connections with people.
If you have someone in your life that you can’t figure out, read The Journal of Best Practices. If you are in a neurotypical/Aspie relationship, you should also read this book. If you’re a parent or a young person with AS, or a teacher who works with AS students, or an employer who has AS people on the payroll, or person who has anxiety or depression or just a person with a pulse, read this book. Like I said in my last post, I fully plan on distributing copies to everyone I love in my life. It’s a great way to start the conversation, to get people talking about their own stuff. Like George Carlin used to say, everyone has stuff. Not sure if the rest of that sketch is applicable, but I suspect for those of you reading David Finch’s book, The Journal of Best Practices, the very particular set of AS “stuff” will start to make sense!