Onto the FUN things!

I realize I've been getting all uncomfortably deep and thinky while adjusting my perspective on various brain-things lately, and that this is probably boring people to death. So I'm going to chew on that in the background for a bit while I figure out whether I can usefully offer my help to people from that point of view without coming off as condescending and insulting. I do fully realize that while I think the say-what-you-mean method of social interaction is perfectly valid, a lot of autistic people have been told all their lives that they're broken as designed, and since I do do the social things successfully, from their perspective I'm probably one of the big faceless group of mean people they have to go swim in on a daily basis. Upsetting people doesn't help them at all -- they'd rather shank you than learn from you, for one thing -- and I'd rather not.

So in the meantime, onwards to the more interesting weird!

My brain is always chattering. A hundred percent of the time. The traditional triumvirate of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll don't do anything but change the topic. I've tried meditation, and the main use I've found for it is that if you tell people you're going off to meditate, they leave you alone for about half an hour. Other people look at me in horror when I say all that, as if I'm missing something fantastic by never having an empty head. I don't know why. I think very interesting things, if I do say so myself; it's occasionally irritating when I'm trying to get to sleep and something is hogging all the spare processor cycles, but for the most part appreciate always having something to ponder.

The one time in my entire life I've ever had nothing in my head was when I tried SSRIs. I found it terrifying. I wasn't a human being. It also very nearly killed off my episodic memory for about a month; the only bits I remember were very brief moments when I managed to break the surface of the stultifying void long enough to make a deduction about something, like when I was staring into the bathroom mirror one day and realized that I'd taken a shower sometime in the past couple of days, because my hair was clean, but I didn't recall doing it at all. The chilling notion that this might actually be what other people called normal did cross my mind, but given the reaction of the ER staff when I hiked up there to complain about it, I think I just had every side effect on the insert short of seizures and death. I refuse to take any more of them, ever, and I now state on medical questionnaires that I'm allergic to the damn things, just to make sure.

Pattern emerges from randomness for me, if I fixate on it hard enough. Irregular surfaces like stucco, gravel, and that heathered industrial carpet they use in schools and medical offices develop suggestions of pictures and paths if I just pick a section and stare. It's a bit like a dolly zoom, only it's attentional instead of visual -- after a few moments, some section of the randomness suggests a design of some kind, and it pops forward in significance, the rest of the carpeting receding into lesser importance in the background. They're about as real as constellations. This is what I mean I'm doing when I refer to entertaining myself by staring at the wall/floor/ground; I'm getting the idea, from reading the personal pages of people who write about having Asperger's, that this is not a thing neurotypical brains do. I don't even know how I'd live with that. Wouldn't you just go insane? What do you do in waiting rooms?

Once, several years ago, I decided to take a couple bottles of Robitussin cough gelcaps to see what 'open-eye visuals' were supposed to look like. (One bottle, for the record, made me whirly and prone to having to rediscover that I had toes every fifteen minutes or so. Most people apparently think it's very uncomfortable to spend six hours knocking around in the hollow recesses of their own head; I thought it was fun.) About an hour later they all kicked in, and if I turned off all the lights and laid very still and stared fixedly up at the ceiling, I saw a swarm of Easter-colored jellyfish swimming aimlessly around in the dark. I was profoundly unimpressed. I thought they were just not particularly good hallucinogens, but it occurs to me now that it might just be that I'm accustomed to entertaining myself by watching the pseudo-movement my brain reconstructs from staring at random phosphenes shooting around in the dark, and OEVs are just not enough different from that to thrill me.

(The closed-eye visuals are kind of wryly hilarious, though. Much like dreams, they tend to be reconstructed from flotsam your brain has collected in all its various corners over the course of the day. I spend so much time staring at a browser window that all the stuff on the insides of my eyelids gives the distinct impression of being bordered by a title bar and tabs at the top, and a scroll bar on the right.)

Pareidolia is especially good entertainment for long car rides. Arizona is composed primarily of great empty stretches of road between things, and my sister and I haven't gotten along very well pretty much since she gained the power of speech, so I used to tune her out by spending the ride with my eyes closed and my head propped against the window. Bright sunlight -- another thing Arizona is full of -- coming in through closed eyelids throws some interesting shadows onto your cornea. If I really plugged my ears and gave it a moment or two, it spontaneously resolved itself into something that looked like a slowly-panning view of some kind of ancient lettering -- a bit squarish, maybe like Hebrew -- inked in bold black on a piece of gold-tinged vellum. It was much more fun pretending that it said something and wondering what that might be than it was dealing with my little sister, plus my mother's chain smoking in the front seat, plus being carsick.

I've always had an excellent idea of what I physically could and could not do. The adults often failed to believe me on this; after the time a gym teacher more or less forced me to keep running after I told her I was on the verge of hurting myself, and I did something unpleasant to one of my arches (which still, twenty-five years later, occasionally revisits and makes me limp for a while), I started just flat refusing no matter how much trouble they said I'd be in. I didn't like team sports because I wasn't very good at them; I wasn't very good at them because I didn't practice; and I didn't practice them because I was convinced -- and I still don't think this was unreasonable -- that the other kids would use it as an excuse to hit me in the face with sporting equipment. I remember my mother enrolling my sister and me in a gymnastics class once that failed dismally, because I didn't like heights (still don't) and I knew my arms weren't strong enough to support me very well. I don't think they ever managed to get me to do anything other than walk very, very tensely across the balance beam, and I don't remember ever acceding to doing anything at all on the uneven bars. We took group and semi-private dance lessons up until I was in high school, though, and I was always quite good at that.

There are specific sensations I can't stand that I assume are strictly my personal malfunction, because other people look at me like I'm mad whenever I say so. Drawing charcoal, or chalk pastels, are horrible. Even the memory of having the stuff on my fingers makes my skin crawl. Chalkboard and sidewalk chalk, somewhat less so. Fingernails on a chalkboard actually never bothered me, but radio static -- including the stuff on the soundtrack during analog TV snow -- drives me berserk. The Ring was about a million times more horrifying than it really ought to have been because of it. The slick, glassy overtones of an MP3 that has been recorded at much too low a bitrate for the content makes them pretty unlistenable. I vehemently dislike most tea (actual tea, not herbal tisanes) and grape wine; tannin tastes terrible.

I even find the unpleasantness interesting, in an intellectual sort of way. It forces me to go digging for the exact word I want to describe something, and generally makes me a better, if somewhat wackier, writer.


  1. What I've always gotten out of meditation - what seems to be perceived as an empty mind - is really just managing to get my brain to focus entirely on NOW. Depending on what gets specified as that 'NOW', it either is a nice way to absorb the environment or to develop more awareness of my body (which muscle groups need to be stretched, my posture, etc.). It's very similar, I think, to the state of mental focus athletes achieve when performing; when I rode horses regularly I could drop in to it very easily, because it was basically the mental state I had to be in to compete - the actual explicit thought necessary was pretty low (mostly positioning myself/horse re: the judge and other riders) but there was a lot of intuitive muscle-memory stuff going on to get my horse to move just /so/.

    It's also very useful if you have a brain with a tendency to get in to obsessive loops of thoughts, or just ADD tendencies that make it difficult to stay focussed. I don't do formal meditation much - I either do something moving, like Tai Chi (or riding), or I go flop in a patch of sunlight - but it's very helpful when I start feeling overwhelmed and just need to reboot things.

    The inability to entertain myself by staring at walls and such is something I solved by carrying a book compulsively and (when staring at a book wasn't feasible) writing stories in my head. I wrote absolute epics of porn back when I was a dining hall cashier in college . /Terrible/ porn, (bad characterization, enormous plot holes) but I wasn't really worried about the quality so much as the personal entertainment value. I get the impression it's how a lot of fanfic gets written, really.

    1. But I'm always kind of in NOW. You cannot Sherlock without paying attention to what's going on right this instant -- so very, very many of the observations you need are things like fleeting movements and microexpressions, or traces that are easily destroyed by time or careless movement. It is possible to sneak up on me if I'm deliberately heads-down in something like proofing an article, but it's difficult and happens very rarely.

      The thing that throws people is that I'm not entirely in NOW, at any given point in time. There's the track that's watching what's going on, and then there's the track that's ticking along trying to remember who exactly that girl is reminding me of and why, the one that's remembering that other thing my coworker said a week ago that dovetails neatly with this other thing he's spouting right now and means that he's not happy with his girlfriend and he's going to mope around for days once she picks the inevitable fight, the one that's got some random song on endless loop for no good reason, the one that's filling in basic context like gravity and the current weather and what time it is, the one that's sorting files alphabetically and by category while people are saying all these inane things to me, and the one that's writing a blog entry about it for later that night.

      It sounds exhausting, I suppose. It really isn't. They all drift in and out of priority as needed. There's just always stuff in there. Meditation doesn't alter it, except to remove external stimuli that were previously keeping some of the randomly-flapping edge pieces weighed down with something to do. I find it tremendously boring, and if it does anything to my mood it's unpleasant.

      I completely understand why Sherlock throws himself around the apartment in a snit when there's nothing to do. If I were petulant enough to cut off any sources of information I didn't think were immediately useful, I'd be bored to the point of random gunshots, too.


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