F-U-N is a Four Letter Word

Sorry to bother you on vacation, but could you take a look at the email you just got from Soandso and send her a quick reply? Thx! Have fun!

I stared at the screen on my Blackberry (or, as I like to call it, The Leash) for a full ten seconds. It’s pissing rain and 40 degrees outside the car. Rage is simmering somewhere just beneath the surface.

First of all, I already made arrangements to deal with Soandso before I left.  The person I delegated to is not on the email chain where they are busily trying to deal with this PWINAP (problem which is not a problem) in the background, since I have been driving for the last four hours and not checking my texts. I have to send another email on the teeny tiny keypad in the middle of a store to fix things.

This is inefficient, and it annoys me.

I resist the urge to type the phrase, “Fuck you” because everybody at work knows I’m on vacation and they are bugging me anyway.  I have several texts from different people varying on this theme: I know you’re on vacation, but … have fun/hope you’re having fun.

Now, I haven’t told anybody at work why I am on vacation for three days, for all they know I’m taking the time to bury my dog, so a cheery “Have Fun!” could be in very poor taste on their part.  Unless you enjoy that sort of thing.

Secondly, if you wanted me to enjoy myself away from the office, then you wouldn’t be texting me for work stuff, would you? You’d leave me the hell alone.

This is the sort of neurotypical nonsense that drives me mental.  “Have fun” is a throwaway platitude, not an actual statement of anything. It’s something you’re just supposed to say, but it’s semantically null. I hate that.  You’re wasting my limited social capacity.  Also, if you take a look at the sentiment behind it, it’s completely superficial.  You may have hoped I was having fun up until the exact moment you knowingly interrupted it, in which case you don’t actually want me to have fun, you want me to do some work. Just say you’re sorry to be disturbing me, but it’s important.  That’s honest.

The other thing I hate about it is that it’s trying to impose an emotion on me. I don’t know how other Aspies feel about this, but trying to tell me how I do feel or should feel about something really, really offends me. Deeply.

In point of fact, I rarely have “fun”.  The things I enjoy doing, that make me happy, are not “fun” in the truest sense of the word.  Nobody ever says, “Let’s go play triathlon!” “Yeah, a Half Ironman, that’ll be fun!” and means it.  The closest I get to “fun” is “happy” or “very satisfied”.  The word “fun” is derived from an old English word meaning “foolish”.  As in undignified or silly.  Ugh. There’s nothing enjoyable about that for me.

Yes, I realize that this post is making seem like a cold-hearted bitch or a complete tightass.  I’m OK with that, as long as you consider what I’m saying with an open mind.

This is an important point for people to understand: you cannot assume that an autistic person experiences anything in the same way a neurotypical does.  We don’t, and trying to force us to, or expressing disapproval of us when we don’t, is petty and intolerant.

Everyone should be allowed their preference for how they want to be treated, as long as it’s not unreasonable.  That’s the meaning of diversity.

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Buy my novel Unusual Connections at Smashwords, Amazon, or iTunes.

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Agatha’s Rule: It’s OK To Be An Asshole As Long As You’re Interesting

I’ve come up with this rule in response to what I’ve come to think of as the Normalization of Society.  By which I mean that, if you think of a population distribution as being “normally” distributed, there is increasing area under the curve at the two tails.  It doesn’t matter what the scale is measuring, it could be empathy, intelligence, gayness, autism, dyslexia, whatever. I have a theory that at some point a typical human brain, designed to deal with social interactions in a rather small (and therefore relatively homogeneous) group, can’t deal with any more diversity and simply begins rejecting anything “extreme”.

Thus my observation that people in positions of authority have The 70% Rule.  Which is to say that they like to reward and recognize the 70th percentile of apparent competence.  It’s high enough for the person to be obviously more competent than average but not so much for the people recognizing it to feel threatened.  That goes a long way towards explaining why, if you in the top 30% you think your management are morons.  They are … relatively speaking.

What does this have to do with Agatha’s Rule? Many people have this idea that people with Asperger’s are “antisocial, introvert assholes” (direct quote from somebody I know).

We are.  And it’s OK.

Actually, that’s not quite correct.  I have to go all Aspie and pedantic and correct something. An asshole is an arrogant, rude, obnoxious person.  If you change the perspective on that just slightly, it’s pretty close to being overly honest, direct, lacking in empathy and somewhat annoying.  All of which are undoubtedly true.  I would also say that being an “antisocial introvert” completely fails to understand the truth of the matter: we are more accurately asocial or nonsocial.  Appearing to be an introvert is a mere consequence of this.

Anyway, the point is who cares?  Would people in the Harry Potter universe buy Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans if they all tasted like raspberries and chocolate? No, they enjoy the idea of occasionally getting a vomit, booger, or earwax. If everybody were nice and social nothing would ever get done.  People would sit around all day talking about their feelings and I’d want to kill them all cause I never got my iPhone.

Let’s apply Agatha’s Rule to some real-life people and see what I mean.

Steve Jobs.  Is there any real debate about this one? I recognize some people do not like to speak ill of the dead, but the guy was apparently a serious jerk.  A jerk who founded a company that got me my iPhone.  Would Apple products be so fabulous without his intensity, focus, and insanely high standards? We’ll never know, but Woz stands in line to buy the iPhone is all I’m saying.

Lance Armstrong. Lots of people really hate him for some reason.  Many would agree he’s an arrogant asshole.  Look: when you beat metastatic testicular cancer and win 7 Tours de France in row you’ve probably earned the right to think you’re better than everyone else.

Thomas Jefferson. One of our most-respected presidents. He wrote the Declaration of Independence, etc. There’s also a lot of physical evidence he fathered a bunch of children with one of his slaves.  If you want to get really technical about it, there’s a lack of consent on her part there and there’s a word for that.

I could go on.  The point is that there’s a an equilibrium.  Almost like you’re allowed a certain budget of extra-ordinariness and it gets balanced out by by some not-so-savory character traits so you average out somewhere close to average.  Frankly, if you encountered someone who was exceptionally attractive, brilliant, and incredibly nice, everybody would hate them.

Someone of course Godwined my rule with the question, “does that mean you’d rather have dinner with Hitler than Mother Theresa?” My answer was a) Hitler was not an asshole he was a psychopath and there’s a difference and b) Mother Theresa was actually a horrible, evil little person so I choose c) fuck both of them, I’m eating alone.

There are very real consequences to the Rule in everyday life that I think everyone should take into account. For example, we see a lot of recognition of superficial kinds of diversity (race, sex, etc) but not inclusion of diversity of style.  You can’t force somebody who is by nature somewhat quiet to become loquacious just to fit your preference for communication style.  Everybody is going to lose in that situation.  The Quiet Person is going to expend a lot of energy they could be better channeling into solving cold fusion and a good authority figure (supervisor, teacher, etc) will recognize this waste and channel the energy into more productive channels.  Sadly, as I pointed out above, they are probably chosen in such a manner as to be completely incapable of doing this.

The key take home message here is that as a society, we have become very bad at distinguishing between “atypical” and “bad”.  I sincerely hope that we eventually reach the point where being inconvenient is no longer a sin.  Until then I’ll keep looking for the diarrhea bean.

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Buy my novel Unusual Connections at Smashwords, Amazon, or iTunes.

My First Olympic Triathlon

Today was the Muncie Labor Day Triathlon, and, if you have missed the central theme of my existence, it is to do Really Stupid Things occasionally. Case in point: you’re training for your first Oly in October, but you have to go to Europe on business, so you move it up to the first week in September, thus depriving yourself of four weeks training.  Genius.

Since I am wiring this, you can imagine I survived.

The swim

Did I mention this was my first open-water race, as well? Let me just tell you that swimming 1.5k in a lake is several-fold more difficult than in a pool. It’s hard to keep watch on the buoys, the chop made me sea-sick, and my goggles kept fogging up. Also, I’m a slow swimmer to begin with, so I came out of the water far more tired than I thought I would be.

The bike

Chip and seal, my favorite! A rough ride in which my hands went numb towards the end and I was actually worried about being able to shift. This was probably because my clip-on aerobars fell off due to the shaking. I never found the pad that went tumbling to the side. I had to stop for a minute or two when my seat tube came loose.  Also, my right foot was a little uncomfortable during the ride.  I found out as soon as I hopped off at transition that it was swollen down most of the right side, and, more importantly, the bottom.

The run

I say “run”, I walked the first 2.5 miles on a bad foot.  That’s how long it took me to work the pain out. I’m pretty sure I was dehydrated, too. I drank water on the bike; next time, sports drink. By this time it was in the mid-90s and freaking hot, lots of topical ice and internal Gatorade. I dumped some of the ice down my bra, which meant my boobs went numb at some point, which was fun.  There was still ONE GUY out on the course when I came in, but I think I did pretty well considering it was difficult to put weight on my right foot.

Afterwards

I’m exhausted and I have a really bad sunburn on my shoulders (wear a shirt next time, crazy lady, I don’t care how cool your tri singlet looks). My foot is still swollen, so I’m hobbling. But, I’m satisfied with the day: I didn’t die, I finished, and I wasn’t last.

What did we learn on the tri today, Agatha?

  • Need lots of work on the swim, I suck
  • Open water swimming is frakking hard
  • Wear a t-shirt (duh) unless you really want to be Lobster Girl
  • Get a real tri bike that has actual aero geometry and shock absorption not cheap clip-on bits.

Now to spend the rest of Labor Day weekend doing what normal people do: eat too much and drink too much beer. And play video games with my foot propped up.

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Buy my novel Unusual Connections at Smashwords, Amazon, or iTunes.

The post that got this all started

At work we have personal blogs. Based on some feedback and rather difficult interactions with my supervisor the previous year I outed myself on mine. I thought about it for a long time, A few people knew already, but going public was a difficult choice. A combination of wanting to preserve my privacy and fear of exposure. In the end I decided I had to do it because if it were a secret I was afraid of then it had power over me. I dislike that on general principle and refuse to go along with it. I was also honest about being a neo-pagan as a high schooler, which in the Bible Belt I do not recommend unless you have a strong constitution. (I’ll bet I would be a very hard person to blackmail, the worst thing you could dig up on me is my iTunes purchases, which will reveal that I have actually paid for a Nickelback song.) The other was that any people who would think that I was making excuses for bad behavior had already given me a bunch of notes on it, anyway, so I really had nothing to lose. Here is the post in its entirety:

End of the year feedback is always an interesting time. It seems like last year you were told to focus on learning about the business, so you did that, then this year, you were told you needed to focus on technology because you spent too much time on business activities. You can’t win.

But every once in a while you get some that really bothers you, and this year is one of them. So, to start the New Year, I’m going to take a leap of faith and do something that I have avoided thus far, and out myself.

You see, about four years ago I discovered that I have a mild version of Asperger Syndrome.

For those of you reading and thinking, “this is what all geeks say when they’re making excuses for being rude,” I assure you it is not the case. My brain is wired differently than yours.

Let me give you a few examples:

• I am almost incapable of doing anything spontaneously
• I have to practice talking in the car on the way to work in the morning
• I am almost completely blind to subtext
• I rarely show strong emotion, even when feeling it
• I lack intuition, every decision I make is the result of a logical process
• Cologne makes me physically ill

So, when I got feedback this year that I need to work on proactive communication because I seem to be a little too laid back sometimes, and that I have been perceived to be dismissive of others, I think those are perfectly valid comments from the point of view of a neurotypical person and I respect them.

Although my AS is not severe enough to cause me a significant impairment in everyday life, it does sometimes have very real effects on my interpersonal interactions. Particularly on days where I find the physical act of speech difficult. The only way I can describe this for someone who doesn’t have a limited vocal capacity is that every time I speak it is not spontaneous, but feels like I have to rummage around in my brain for words, grab them by the handful, and shove them out of my mouth. It is exhausting. As a result I tend to limit verbal communication to the minimum necessary, and if I’m close to my limit, it will be very short. I don’t know that there’s anything I can do to change that, it’s a physical limitation.

As to appearing too laid back, I find this a tough one. Even if I were worried about something, it wouldn’t show. Again, physical limitation, I don’t emote much. The flip side is I’m really cool under pressure, which seems like a good thing.

My request to you, if you are on one of my teams or are a colleague, is to interpret my response within this context. If it helps, you can ask me point blank, it won’t bother me at all.

And, let’s be honest, it may have to come from you. I’m not saying that to be recalcitrant, it’s just that’s what autism means: being trapped inside yourself. Reaching out is not what we do naturally. I can do it, but it takes a conscious effort, and, again, is physically and mentally exhausting. If I’m at capacity, less likely to happen.

Does that make me less valuable as an employee? I like to think not. I hope I’m not wrong.

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Buy my novel Unusual Connections at Smashwords, Amazon, or iTunes (coming soon).

“Is it hard to write a novel?”

“No, I already wrote a dissertation, which is pretty much the same thing.”

This is, of course, a somewhat facetious answer, but there is a kernel of truth to it. Which is that both works are of similar length and they have to tell a good, cohesive story. One hopes your thesis is not fiction, however.  (I’m sure that many of them are.  Anybody who has ever been in grad school knows this is true beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Just like they claim to be atheists but have named all the instruments in the lab according to their personalities and would happily sacrifice a black goat in the fume hood if it would get their last experiment to work.)

How long did it take you?

In the end it took me from March to July 2010 to write the entire thing.  It topped out at 115,000 words, but I spent the next six months on other projects and let it sit, editing every once in a while.  Finally, I cleaned up a few bits and cut it back down to 105,000 words.  I think the math works out to be something like 1,000 words a day.  For me that’s about 1-2 hours.  I don’t watch much television.  I edit during my lunch breaks. You can find the time … the same year I wrote Unusual Connections I had a full-time job, learned to read Italian, trained for a sprint triathlon and became a National-level beer judge. I may be a bit restless.

So, Agatha, why did it take you a year to epublish it? 

Well, the brutal truth is that I spent a few months trying to get a literary agent and failed to find one.  In the end I decided to give print the finger and figure out how to do it myself.  It’s shockingly easy, but that’s another post.

“Bubububut, you won’t make any money.”

A literary agent signs a couple of new authors a year; only some of those will get a publishing contract.  The numbers are NOT on your side.  After that, when it IS published you get to find out how much money you’re going to make.  I’ve read the author usually gets something like 25% of the wholesale price on their book … I get 70% of the cover price I set, which, granted, is probably less per copy than tradpub but, in case you’re missing the point here somehow, I couldn’t get an agent, so my physical sales would be ZERO.  Even if I sell 1 copy at $3.99 I just made more money than I would have otherwise.  There’s NOTHING to lose.

“Yeah, but what finally got your finger out?”

A published author named Michael Stackpole started writing a series of blog posts called, “Swimming Lessons for House Slaves”.  They gave me the impetus to just do it.  Thanks, Michael. _________________________________________________________________________________________________

Buy my novel Unusual Connections at Smashwords, Amazon, or iTunes (coming soon).

Busted Flat in Heathrow, Waitin’ On a Plane (Part 1)

This is part of an essay I wrote while waiting for a flight in London.  Hope you enjoy.

Heathrow is allegedly an airport, but as I look around Terminal 1 it more closely resembles a shopping mall with airplanes.  Detroit is more like a penitentiary at which airplanes occasionally drop off more convicts.  It’s the only airport I’ve ever been in with an acoustical drop ceiling.

Across the way is an electronic billboard listing the estimated walking time to the gates.  Some are as long as 20 minutes walk from here in the center of the mall.  I only came through Heathrow for the first time as an adult earlier this year on a business trip to Windsor.  As we got off the plane and commenced walking to customs … and walked … and walked … and walked … I realized I had not anticipated that we would actually be walking all the way to Windsor.

I suppose I could wile away my time in duty free shopping, but that’s not really my thing.  I already converted my excess coins to enormous white chocolate Nestle bars.  You can’t exchange coins, so I have laundered them.  The next step is to convert them to fat on my thighs.  It’s the circle of life.

All of these idle observations are keeping my brain occupied so I can avoid staring at the true object of my fascination at this moment: the fully covered woman across from me.  She has an adult male of apparently Arab extraction beside her and a small boy child climbing on the seat next to her.  They are both wearing Arsenal jerseys.  Not her, she’s covered in a solid black tent.  I like to consider myself a culturally-sensitive person, accepting of cultures social mores … but I’m strongly resisting an urge to scream, “don’t you realize you’re in a civilized country now and you don’t have to do this crap anymore?!?  Just tell Abdul he’s not getting any more until you can take the fucking burka off!”

Seeing women in head coverings of any sort is still pretty weird in the United States.  It’s extremely uncommon, especially at work.  My counterpart at the company I work with in the UK is completely covered up except for her face.  We were at dinner one night and I was kind of freaking out internally because she had a middle class English accent which didn’t mesh at all with the clothing.  Then we started talking about kids and she started reminiscing about her My Little Ponies.  At which point I learned that a) they had My Little Ponies in England and b) that little muslim girls played with them.  Oddly, this made me feel more comfortable, it was something I could relate to.  (Not that I ever played with My Little Ponies, I had the complete Star Wars collection like a good little tomboy nerd girl.  My sister had Strawberry Shortcakes, which were little plastic dolls impregnated with artificial berry fragrance. You only had to accidentally leave one in the car on a summer’s day in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to learn a fresh definition of hell.  Our station wagon was pervaded with the smell of artificial blueberries for weeks.)

I had a similar experience a few years earlier in New Jersey.  For a Southerner all Yankees are strange and alien, so I was having trouble adjusting to them.  Until I saw a group of guys fishing.  They were dressed in jorts, work boots, and flannel shirts with the sleeves cut off.  As they waited for a bite they sat in the bed of their American model pickups drinking from the case of Bud Light at their side.  AHA! I said to myself.  Jersey has rednecks; I can deal with this.

Ok, that digression is not helping me derail the interest I have in her.  You see, she’s eating an ice cream cone.

It’s one of those British cones with the vanilla soft serve on a waffle cone.  Of course it has the obligatory chocolate straw sticking out of it, which I am informed is called a Flake.  Now, I can’t eat one of these things without ending up in a nice coating of melted, sticky goo all over me like I’m in some sort of really depraved Japanese porno.  I’m a messy eater, what can I say.  She’s in solid black, surely some will end up on her lovely niqab (see, I said I was culturally-sensitive, motherfuckers!).

Watching her eat this cone is really captivating.  She grabs the end of the veil with her left hand and holds it straight out.  Then she leans forward just a bit and angles the cone up and underneath with her other hand.  It’s like watching a squid eat.

I give some passing thought that I actually cannot be totally sure that the creature underneath the blanket is human.  It could be a cthuloid, there’s really no way of knowing for certain.  The ice cream re-emerges.  It has distinct lick-marks on it.  So at least the being has a tongue.

Probably.

She has done all of this operation without getting a single dollop of melted ice cream on her voluminous clothes.  Personally, I would go into the bathroom and eat in in the stall with my veil off. Wait, in the UK those are called cubicles. If I told an American I was taking a shit in a cubicle, they’d bust a gut, assuming I was evacuating on the floor of my office.

At which point I decide to pack off, because I’m going to keep staring at her and this is probably going to irritate her owner, I mean husband.   I scoot before I can make some acid comment that in my place of birth some people wore similar outfits, but they were men and the veils were white.  I’m in the UK so there’s probably some sort of local government agency watching me on the CCTV to make sure I’m respecting her human rights and ready to slap me with an ASBO for educating her that she can show something more than her hands in public, if she so chooses.

In Which I Bitch About Things That Aren’t Actually Problems

My obstetrician once apologized to me for a wait in his office for 2 hours before an appointment. It was made memorable by the fact that he was between my legs suturing up an episiotomy at the time. So we were, naturally, having a chat.

“Sorry about the wait yesterday,” he says, pulling the thread tight. “Two of my nurses got into a fist fight, so it was a mess. Too bad you didn’t go into labor while you were there, would have saved you a trip. You could have spent the night.”

“Well, for a while there I thought I was going to, anyway,” I retorted. He chuckled and slapped on an ice pack. I found out later it was a condom filled with ice chips. Bless you, Blake.

This is the only one I have ever gotten in many years of going to various doctors’ offices. Granted I don’t actually go very often. Today I had an appointment at my dermatologist to get my face lasered. Rosacea is a bitch; I’m supposed to avoid things which make me flush. Like alcohol. I laughed out loud when she told me that and asked for the pills (Which cost $400 a month, by the way.  Unless you have the Magic Coupon, in which case they are $35 a month. The great thing is the coupon only works if you have medical insurance … I guess if you don’t have enough money for health insurance rosacea isn’t your biggest problem, but still).

You’re supposed to identify your triggers for flushing.  In my case it turns out to be a) the sun and b) curry. Religious application of SPF 60 sunscreen and eliminating spicy food (*sob*) has, along with the Pills Of Solid Gold and a topical cream, greatly reduced the redness on my face to the point where I could get the surface capillaries ablated to reduce some permanent ruddiness (Curse you, Scottish ancestors!  I don’t get anything awesome out of that deal, just uncontrollable curly hair, a propensity to sunburn, a tendency to pick fights for no apparent reason, and a random thirst for hard liquor at 10 in the morning during management meetings.).

Thus here I am sitting on my ass for half an hour after my mutually agreed upon time. My mind is like a border collie left home alone: I’ll come back and find out it has disassembled the deck with its teeth out of sheer boredom.  The only things making this bearable are my iPhone and the fact that the TV is set on MSNBC, which is vaguely tolerable, rather than FoxNews.  At least the anchors are able to string together comprehensible sentences.  So far I have seen reports on:

The opening of the Olympic swim venue in London.  Hey, cool, let’s talk about something nobody in the USA was realistically allowed to buy tickets for! Also, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is one of my favorite politicians.  Probably because I don’t have to live with him.  It’s like they decided the best course of action was to just go ahead and elect the village idiot mayor.  It’s nice to know that in Britain they allow the functionally retarded to hold regular jobs.  Go look him up on YouTube if you don’t believe me.

Is the Norway Shooter insane? Ummm, no.  He calmly planned his attack. Meticulously.  He’s evil.  One might like to think he’s insane, but that’s the easy way out.

The debt ceiling.  It turns out that there are people in the world worse at math than I am.  They’re called “Republicans”.  I refuse to find this satisfying.

After half an hour I gave up surfing the internet on my iPhone to ask the receptionist how much longer it would be. She gave me a hard look, then turned to the computer. “Let’s see, well it shouldn’t be too long, you’re up next,” came her unenthusiastic reply. No acknowledgement of the fact that I’ve been sitting there for 40 minutes, much less an apology. Bitch.

At which point I turn my attention to the sign announcing that the dermatologist is having a special: I can get my armpits and bikini area lasered to remove hair for a total cost of $1100.  Somewhere in my rumination of how many cans of shaving cream and razor blades that would buy (a lot), I finally get called back.  To wait another 15 minutes.

Safely ensconced back at home with a beer and a stinging face, I can report that the procedure only took 15 min, instead of the hour they originally quoted.  I did not realize that included 45 minutes of project buffer.  If you understood that reference, I pity you.

I’m self-medicating with homebrewed Dortmunder Export.  Oh, it’s not the medical procedure; that felt like having a full-face tattoo, but it’s not bad.  It’s the sheer annoyance of the fact that doctors’ offices do this crap all the time.  It’s like they’re doing you a favor to see you.  Any other business would collapse with such poor customer service.

Here’s a thought: you know what time I checked in and what time I checked out … figure out how long an average appointment is and schedule them *gasp* that far apart.  You’re welcome.

Now I’m going to go have another beer and appreciate the fact that my children were not gunned down by a Knight Templar wannabe and try not to think about the idiots in Congress and their ridiculous pissing match.