October 13, 2004

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view of point

Tried to explain Aspergers to some friends today over Indian food at Porky’s. Only in a wierd little town like this can you buy curried dishes at a German deli. Anyways, i found it really difficult to try and explain myself. It’s like i’m taking a set of personal aspie perceptions and translating them into neurotypical english. In general, i’m coming to see that i’ve been performing a form of translation my whole life. (more…)

i’ve gotten so good at this constant translation that i often fool myself into thinking that i’m making sense. Most of the time, i can pull it off, but when i’m feeling stressed, or being reacted to in an aggressive fashion, things start to short-circuit. Everything that i percieve gets filed into little blocks in my mind; each block has a myiad network of connections to all the other blocks.
i’ve said things like, “It’s hard for me to understand the one thing that you’re trying to get at because i’m seeing all the possible points that you’re trying to get at.”, or “i can’t limit myself to one idea because i’m thinking about all of them.”. To many people i know, these statements sound very arrogant. Actually, it’s pretty much true, just the way i’ve said it. However, while i sometimes “get” connections that others miss, i usually miss the obvious. It’s like a connect-the-dots picture, where my brain is trying to connect every dot to every other dot, and the picture becomes a mass of overlapping lines instead of the kitten, clown, or whatever. i’m often left feeling that some answer is “so obvious”, when it’s not even related to the question.
i’ve been labelled as “gifted”, or variously having ADHD, OCD, or Bipolar Disorder. Friends and family have often concluded that i lacked important learned socialization skills, perhaps as a result of something in my upbringing, or early childhood stress. i’ve often been called just plain wierd.
Aspergers is the one diagnosis i’ve found that makes sense. Instead of saying that my behavior is the problem, it suggests that my behavior is the symptom of a brain that functions in a fundamentaly different fashion from that of a neurotypical person. The struggle for me now, as i research this, is to come to a place where i don’t blame the condition, or let it become an excuse for the way i come across interpersonaly. i’m still responsible for my actions, but it’s becoming important for me to identify when those actions, if found unacceptable, are the result of my very different set of perceptions.
All the information is being taken in, but i often place more or less emphasis on the wrong points, or no points at all. i’m a smart guy, and can usually muddle through, but some situations are beyond me. For instance:
i once accidentally pinched Kimber’s foot in the mechanism of a reclining chair when i leant over to hug her. The folding footrest caught her foot and really hurt her. She yelped, and i backed off, exclaiming, “What happened? i didn’t do anything!” (a typical aspie response). At first, i didn’t realize what had happened. i looked at her foot, and saw no real damage. Her toes seemed to be wiggling fine, despite the pain. i sat back down on the couch neardy, and watched her masage her foot.
Now, Kimber was (at least with me) a fairly aggressive person, while i am typicaly fairly passive. She got pretty angry at my apparent lack of concern, and the angrier she got, the more i withdrew, and that just angered her more, etc. i recall sitting there with this sense of foreboding, not knowing what to do. i hadn’t apologized. What i was perceiving was a short series of unforseeable events, which brought about a brief spasm of pain, but no real damage. The danger was gone, and there seemed no real harm done.
Compulsively honest, i couldn’t bring myself to apologise, at least not in a spontaneous human fashion. Since childhood, i’ve considered an apology something to be offered when i felt actual regret. In my mind there was no action to regret; just a chain of events. Kimber got madder and madder, and out of the information available to me, there was no “logical” solution, so i just froze. Of course, a simple and timely apology, and a more sympathetic response on my part, would have forestalled the entire outburts. But at the time, that just didn’t “fit” the conditions that i perceived. Ultimately, i felt far worse about my apparent inability to “do the right thing” than the injury that i had precipitated. Kimber wasn’t wrong, per se, in her reaction; she was just being herself. Consider this comment by Michael McCroskery:

“For example, most AS difficulties center around social competencies. A salient characteristic of young children is egocentrism—the inability to recognize that other people think and feel differently than oneself. Persons with Asperger’s Syndrome remain in this egocentric state, unable to interpret the thoughts and emotions of others, or to experience empathy. Another name given to this condition is “mind blindness”—the incapacity to visualize the mind states of others.”

Now, it’s very difficult trying to get people to understand that this isn’t just some rationalization for an inappropriate behaviour. Neither is it the product of a “flawed” brain. My IQ scores into the 130’s, and i consider myself to be a moral, sensitive person. There’s just a difference in the way i perceive and process stimuli.
Whereas a neurotypical person can “judge on the fly”, quickly summing information, my brain needs to order everything into a neat grid first, and pursue each thread between each idea. Sometimes this must occur to such an extent that the threads lead off the map, away from the situation at hand. People are sometimes confounded by unusual delays in my responses, while other times i make remarkably quick connections and beat everybody to the punch. i feel compelled to follow every line of reasoning to the end, even when not suitable to the situation. Just like right now, i must make frequent use age of analogy, both to explain things to others as well as to myself, just to order my thoughts into stricter cohesion. Verbally, i often find that i cannot speak at even a fraction of the speed of my thoughts, and my words and ideas overrun one another as i struggle to express them.
Sometimes this strange analytical process is helpful. For example, when learning to use a new piece of software, i will typically set myself to a task or operation that has me clicking on every menu and option, with no particular idea of what will happen next. However, at every turn, i’m able to store each cause-and-effect relationship, until i have a complete mental projection in place that describes to me the relationship of every command or function. I’m sometimes left with a great level of understanding, but no clear way to describe any exact function to someone else.
In interpersonal relationships, the same degree of input and sorting usually fails. People find me very off-putting at first meeting, but those who get to know me tend to like me, even if they can’t always take my company for extended periods of time. I’m often described as “very intense”. i’m seeing that my good friends are all very easy-going and compassionate. i don’t intuitively set or detect personal boundaries, but in my long-time friends, i’ve learned to recognize cataloged sets of behaviours that let me know when i’ve gone too far.
Unfortunately, there are many peple i’ve met (who i really like and love) who themselves do not have the skills and/or coping strategies to manage a relationship with me. Sometimes they have their own underlying bahavioral issues, depression, or emotional baggage, but sometimes they simply lack the patience required.
Overall, i’m seeing that my thinking is more biased towards the compartmentalization of many small pieces of (sometimes insignifigant) information, and the deep internal study of the threads between them. I have always thought that everybody thought like this, and that i was just a little more introspective, or more easily confused by the series of threads. Now i’m beginning to understand that more neurotypical thought is much more fluid and adaptable, especially on a social level.
i’ve begun applying this new knowledge, and comparing this viewpoint to that of one where i’m otherwise “normal enough, just… odd”. However, as one aspie quoted, trying to stop thinking in this fashion is like deciding to stop vomiting when you have the stomach flu; it just isn’t possible. For me, it’s not so much a realization of, “Oh, so this is how my mind works!”, because my brain has always worked this way, and it’s all i’m familiar with. It’s more a realization of the difference between my brain function and that of others, and how these subtle differences impact me and those around me.

beam reach

i distinctly remember the moment i fell in love with sailing. It was on a beam reach. But let’s start at the begining…
At th’time, i had been living in a cabin on a mountainside above Vancouver for a winter. If i trekked out to the lodge and up to the upper hut, i could catch a broad view of the Straight Of Georgia. It was my second attempt at living “at the coast”, and i’d gotten no closer to sailing in two years there than the previous twenty up north.
Still, i’d read my Hervey Garrett Smith, Herreshoff, Robin Lee Graham, and th’rest. i’d left tattered all the library back-issues of WoodenBoat from countless afternoons of flipping pages and memorizing details. i’d ordered in technical stability manuals and hydrodynamics texts from the university libraries (behold the power of a library card!). i studied relentlessly for almost 3 years, absorbing everything i could about sailing and the sea. Aside from a few jaunts on a friend’s Hobie 14 when i was 12 or so, i’d never been sailing, and had lived away from water my whole life.
Still, i could name and describe any style of sailboat or any detail of hull or rigging, and discuss in detail the handling of lines or theory of sailing, all before i actually went to work at sea. One of my early sailing mentors once described me as one of the most knowledgable persons she’d met in the field. Truth is, rather than reassured by this, i felt uneasy. i was moving in a small circle of folks who had sailed around the world on traditional craft, and who had earned their own knowledge and skills at sea. i knew everything that there was to learn from books, but little else.
i finally got on the water by curious chance. A fluke turn of conversation had led to my meeting Tom, a sailor himself, working on the mountain that winter while going to school ashore for his captain’s ticket. A month or so after meeting him, we got together for beers and slides, and there, projected on his livingroom wall, i saw images that i’d never seen in the books: the sailors, drunk and sober, high and low, the old men, the green hands, and the simple hard work of the sea. i saw places, before only reached by airplanes and money, now available by salt sweat and tarred labour. A week or so after that night, i got a call at work from Tommy.
“Are y’ready?” he cajoled, “I’ve volunteered ya to a boat on th’Island. They need y’there yesterday.” And so i went.
The boat was Duen, a right and proper 75-yr-old Norwegian gaff ketch, built like a brick shithouse, a survivor of service in WWII, a multiple circumnavigator, and a fine place for a green hand like me. I volunteered ashore for some weeks (quitting my job on the hill), lending a hand during their annual spring refit. The owners came to appreciate my carpentry, and hired me on to rebuild the skylights and rework many of the systems aboard. I was later to serve variously as cook, bosun, and mate, sometimes for pay, sometimes not. Hobbis was a kind man, but a stern taskmaster; in some ways, he’s spoiled me for other masters by making me into too much the perfectionist. It was under his tutelage that i transformed much of my book-learnin’ into hard skills.
But for the love… well, back to that one reach. It was a glorious spring day, wind to 15 on the starboard beam, the windwaves rising to slap the topsides and tumble spay onto th’student crew. We were setting the main, mizzen, stays’l, jib, an’ jibtop. As the wind gusted to 20, Hobbis sent me for’ard, out to the end of the 14′ fir ‘sprit, to claw down the jibtop. Down i took it, and brailed it up nice along the whisker-stay. i took a moment to stand up ‘pon the ‘sprit cap, leg braced against the taut jibstay, hands tight to the thrumming wire of the main topmast stay.
The sky a wild blue. The sea a foaming green. The jib an’ stays’l behind me crisp and unshaken. The water below me, one second naught but a foot away, then reeling so far below. I rested m’temple against the topmast stay. i felt, rather than heard, the motion and power of the sails, the mast, and the rig, transmitted through that narrow wire. 60 tons of Scandinavian Pitchpine, Douglas Fir, and Yellow Cedar shoved me through the atmosphere by the balls of my feet. i fell in love. That was the best sail of a season too-oft filled with motoring to meet a schedule, and too me, the first moment of real sailing i’d ever felt. Later that spring, there were a few other moments, but all too brief, and with none of that same energy.
Since then, still so early in m’seagoing career, i’ve served as bosun or mate aboard baltic traders, marconi ketches, schooners, and one nice little brig. I’ve manned rail, winch, and wheel alike on plastic raceboats and catamarans. i’ve deliverd yachts across the Leewards and dingies across the lake. i still have all that book-knowledge, but what fascinates me more is all the skills i have yet to learn, and all the boats i have yet to sail. And, more than anything, i look forward to falling in love with the sea, again and again and again.

Tonight’s pick is The Sounds. i’ve been listening to a mix of The Sounds and The Cars all night (shuffle, repeat, shuffle, repeat). After trying to decribe Interpol in a previous post (and failing miserably), i was holding off on discussing The Sounds until i could adequately describe them.
It just now came to me, so i’ll try… Think of The Cardigan’s more swingy backbeat-driven tunes, but with a nicely coarser euro-rock edge to the guitars and vocals. Groovy Swedish rock. i like, and maybe you’ll like too.

lost thoughts

So, okay, i just wrote this fabulous little essay, complete with a fine hook of an ending, and after hitting “publish post”, i watched it disappear into the ether. Crap.
I’m sure that it’s happened to you at some time or another as well. It gets me to thinking about all the lost thoughts out there. Do they end up with the odd socks and misplaced pens? What is the sum of the collective knowledge of all the accidentally-deleted and otherwise computer-victimized words of the world?
I’ve mourned for words i lost myself, and occasionally, for lost words written by others, never to be read. I suppose the same compulsion that leads me to investigate every corner, to read every word that i see, also leads me to try, vainly, to read the words that are just out of my grasp, out there.
If i might take this a little further… i was discussing logic and knowledge with Slacks, Serious, and Professica last week. i found myself trying to articulate an idea of mine regarding thinking about that which cannot be known, in much the same way as mathematicians deal in “unreal numbers”, which can be expressed in mathamatic terms, but never actually defined.
Then again, that might just be the Aspie in me speaking; a thought interrupted or lost, once i’ve begun to describe it, is seemingly lost to me. i find it extremely difficult to re-collect my thoughts and begin again, being bound to have to repeat myself verbatim.
But, ah, this post is starting to wander… time to try and recapture the lost thoughts of my previous essay attempt.

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