I am interested in too many things. Starting projects might be one of my greatest talents. Finishing them… well. My dad bought me a shirt that says ‘I never finish anyth’ and it is without a doubt my best self-defining shirt.
Oh goodness. I’m that writer. I say I’m going to do something, and then trail away. Fortunately the internet lives on without me. If it didn’t, we’d all be screwed.
This has been a wild time for my household. Jon and I are married now – not that we don’t already have the old-married couple routine down pat, but it’s official. It’s all legalized and stamped. Now I’ve got a million thank-you letters to write because the people we love are the most awesome people ever and deserve to be showered in all the happy.
Today, I want to write about Asperger’s Syndrome. I don’t know how well I’ll be able to collect all of my thoughts, but Asperger’s is something I’ve been reading about and researching a lot in the past few weeks. It’s something I do; it’s something I’ve always done. Special interest. It means you become… obsessed or… entranced. I like the word entranced better. I’ve been madly entranced with psychology on and off since I was fifteen. I’ve done as much reading on anxiety and mood disorders as any undergraduate psych major, at least. And this from a lady who could not handle the four-year university track despite being uber smart and an incredible test-taker. I just could not do it; I wish I had let myself realize that in high school, before I pushed myself in a direction that only caused me misery and doubt. (But it lead me to where I am today, and for that I am thankful. This husband of mine would not be mine if I hadn’t gone through all the misery and doubt, this life of mine would not be mine… so… yeah.)
Also something I’ve done with these special interests is attempt, a million times over, to self-diagnose myself, under the unbearable weight of a feeling that’s plagued me for as long as I can’t remember. I’m different and there is something wrong with me. So when I read about depression, I decided I must have that. When I read about manic-depression, I saw my reflection staring back at me. Obsessive-compulsion disorder, attention deficit disorder, gender identity issues, sexual orientation confusion, anything to make sense of who I am and the mistakes I have made and the weird thoughts that jumble about in my brain.
And I’m still doing it. I read blogs by people with Asperger’s Syndrome and think to myself, yes, of course! I’ve done the same with all of the other “problems” so many times, that at this point I feel lost. If none of these things describe me, then who am I? Because there’s always just something that doesn’t fit. I can see parts of myself reflected in the diagnosis criteria, in the blogs of those who are diagnosed, in the stories and in the very voices of those who speak.
Jon calls it my hypochondriac streak, and will humor my rambling because he knows I need it to cope. But he encourages me not to put too much of myself into seeking a diagnosable label and to put more energy into simply being the most Wendy version of Wendy I can be. Only I really want to find a reflection of myself out there somewhere and I can’t not do this. I try to curb the way I draw connections between what I read and what I think and feel about myself, but it’s impossible. When I read about depression, I became depressed, because at least that meant I could belong to somebody – a group. Only the most debilitating of my so-called “symptoms” are, actually, under my control, if and when I decide to work on them. When I saw that being depressed had actually turned me into a horrid person, I successfully turned it off. I may still get depressed sometimes, but I do the things I need to do and it’s perfectly possible to put my life into perspective and find the energy to do those things. I was never chronically depressed. I just needed to feel like I was to cope.
Cope with what? Perhaps if I knew the answer to that question, this blog post wouldn’t even be a thing.
Anyway, I am still drawn to my study of Asperger’s Syndrome because I see my reflection there so clearly. (Narcissus might be proud, if he’d ever look away from his own reflection.) It is soothing to read stories about just not getting it when it comes to social situations and having the urge to walk around on tip-toe or twirl or jump over things or flap your hands in excitement. But there are other things I don’t quite grasp – the whole “theory of mind” bit, where supposedly people on the spectrum have a very difficult time understanding other peoples’ point of view. That’s not a … huge … problem for me. So the label does not fit like a glove. It’s more like a really beautiful corset that’s just a few inches too big, even at its smallest.
And asking for a diagnosis of any sort seems… wrong. Like I’m avoiding trying to actually work on the behaviors I need to work on in order to be the person I want to be in favor of finding an excuse for all of the reasons I can’t be that person. On the other hand, I feel like if I could just have a label, a label that other people share based on traits and behaviors they also share, then I will be able to find that group of people who can help me, instead of the group of people who, well-intentioned and affectionate as they are and as much as they love me, simply make fun of me for being absent-minded, socially inept, overly anxious, and downright weird.
How can I be so weird? What did I do that made me so odd and spacey, when really I want to be bright and friendly and on-the-ball?
So. Anyway. I have to go cut my hair, and try not to blanch at how offensive this post may have come off.
So my mom and sister drove down to see Jon and me yesterday and take us out to lunch. We had lovely discussions and I realized that, though my mom can be oddly judgmental a lot, she really doesn’t mean any harm by it. So that was a nice little ‘it’s time to grow up, Dee!’ moment. But, of course, today’s blog is not about complicated mother-daughter relationships. It’s about baking. So why’d I start by writing about my mom and sister’s visit?
Simple. Yesterday was the first time they saw our new, teeny apartment. I showed mom the French bread and the pumpkin Challah bread we made, and she asked if I’d really actually been baking in this kitchen. This kitchen being only slightly larger than a moderately comfortable bathroom. Proudly, I said, “Yes!” and she chuckled and nodded and said, “Cool!”
You see, baking in such a tiny kitchen, and pretty much all cooking in general, is difficult. We have about eight inches of counter space on either side of our sink, a bookshelf on top of which we keep our slow cooker, a short black table, and the stove. I mention the short part of the black table because that’s the only surface we can really cut our vegetables on – one side of the sink has the coffee maker, and that’s about the only thing that can fit there, and the other side has our make-shift dish rack (and by this I mean a towel). And in order to cut vegetables on this table, you have to hunker your shoulders and lean forward. It’s mildly uncomfortable.
But we make do. A couple times a week, if we can afford it, one of the three of us housemates likes to make dinner or cookies or (this week) a loaf of bread or two. It requires a juggling of kitchen tools and food that’s difficult to conjure into words – I’m hoping the use of the word ‘juggling’ gives a vivid enough image that you get the idea. And the thing is, it would be so easy to be lazy about cooking and baking with a kitchen as small as ours. As often as we can, though, we find comfort, solace, and a sense of purpose in the kitchen. We feed ourselves and each other, sharing our stresses and finding reasons to laugh.
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp vanilla extract
I have not seen The Hobbit yet.
In December of 2001, my life changed forever. I’ll admit that there wasn’t much in the way of a life to change – at eleven years old, I was more or less guaranteed at least a few life-altering events in my future. I just don’t think I expected one of those life-changing events to be the release of a movie, the first in a trilogy that would come to shape how I saw myself as a person. Fantasy became more than just a genre for bad puns (Piers Anthony) and teenage wizards (do I really need to specify?). It also became, for the first time in my life, a foundation on which to make friends, instead of merely an escape from the world in which I had none.
In short, because I watched Fellowship of the Ring and subsequently read the trilogy, I became friends with a girl named Krista Haman, and not just friends, but best friends. We changed each others’ lives irrevocably. We’ve had the kind of friendship that is the reason songs like For Good become cliche.
A couple weeks ago I visited my parents in the town where we both went to high school, where she still lives, and we saw each other briefly. She mentioned that she’s been attempting to write out the story of our friendship. I did not know what to say. How do you tackle so many years between two girls who simultaneously built each other up and tore each other down? How do you write that, when all of the memories are tangled in nostalgia and happiness, anger and guilt? How do you even begin to fathom where to start?
It would take hours, days, weeks or longer to sort out where the strongest veins of truth lay, what were the moments that defined us, that brought us together, and that, ultimately, tore us apart and turned us into two girls who barely know how to talk to each other. And that would be before I even attempted to summon the courage to write a single sentence of it down.
I wouldn’t even know where to begin.
But I carry with me this sense of having no idea who I am sometimes and I feel like it’s not having Krista as a sounding board that leaves me floundering for any kind of sense in my own thoughts. It’s not understanding how to be a person without her, when for so long, she gave me a sense of meaning, she provided a foundation upon which I could be assured in myself. I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t always a healthy friendship, but for at least six years, she defined me. That part of the relationship has more or less been over for quite some time now, but I still feel like I just can’t quite figure out who I am without her there. It’s not that she ever told me who to be or that I didn’t have the self-confidence to be myself – not entirely, anyway. It might just be as simple as the fact that when I told her my thoughts and feelings, she found a way to repeat what I had said in a way that made me feel just a little bit better about myself.
It feels like this kind of friendship either happens to everyone, or no one. If it happens to everyone, they’ve learned all of the lessons; where I am blind, they see. Where I flounder for answers, they smile knowingly and nod; they say, ‘You just have to figure it out for yourself,’ as if there is some kind of secret, some kind of answer that, upon being smart enough to figure out, sends you to an exclusive club for People Who Know Better. And I don’t want to admit how much I crave access to this club and I don’t want to reveal that I’m not a part of it.
If friendships like this don’t really happen, if people haven’t been hurt by someone they love, if people haven’t committed atrocious acts of cruelty and viciousness against those very same people, if no one has ever found themselves floundering to figure out who they are after the petering out of a long and intense relationship, then, frankly, I’m pretty sure my entire understanding of the world is incorrect.
I have not seen The Hobbit yet, and for me, this is loaded. The idea that it’s out. That it’s been 11 years since that fateful December afternoon when I was introduced to Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, and that, throughout all of this, the woman who connected my love of stories with the sense that I could actually have friends who loved them too is a couple hundred miles away, and might as well be several thousand, for all the good it would do to call her up and ask her how she’s been.
These past four months have been some of the most intense, hectic, stressful, and occasionally boring months of my life, up to this point. Short bursts of intense activity centered around keeping our heads above water, feeding ourselves, getting to class, and paying the bills, followed by long periods of hunkering down with minimal resources and an increasing set of demands – it’s enough to drive anybody a little bit crazy. It’s also enough to give even the most weak-willed, spoiled person a sense of perspective and help them tap into reserves of inner strength they might never have known they had.
I have learned a lot this semester, not the least of which is the information and skills of my new major. In baking, not only am I learning about gluten development, the life and times of yeastly critters, or how to vary the same eight to ten ingredients enough ways to create an unlimited number of delicious baked goods, but I’m learning how to work in a group. I’m learning when to take charge and when to step back, accept somebody else’s superior skills and knowledge, and do the butt work for an hour or so.
But some of the most important lessons, the moments that shine the brightest or throw me into what can feel like the darkest of abysses (that seems like a word which should never be plural), are not about school, although it is through having stepped up my game and making school my absolute first priority in life that has led me to them. Here is some of what I have learned, in list form, because transitions suck:
1. I’m not perfect, but that doesn’t mean that everyone I ever meet is judging me harshly and deeming me unworthy.
It is possible to step outside of your own brain and attempt to interpret what other people think of you, but more often than not, they’re not thinking of you. They’re thinking of the stressful day they’ve had, or the dream they had last night, or the hours they’re not getting at work. They’re thinking about what they’re going to do when they get a moment to themselves, or about how silly or awesome they feel, or the dentist appointment they have next Tuesday.
You’re the one thinking about yourself, and if your thoughts are centered around the idea that other people are thinking awful thoughts about you, that means you’re thinking awful thoughts about you. It’s important to be kind to yourself, not only because it decreases your stress and makes you happier, but because when you’re kind to yourself, it shows. Other people might not be thinking about you, but they are affected by your moods and your attitude.
In a similar vein, doing something that you think is awesome makes you awesome because you recognize it. When somebody else doesn’t see that or praise you for it, that doesn’t mean they’re blind and incapable of seeing how nifty you are. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t as awesome as you thought and it doesn’t mean they’re judging you. Be as pleased with yourself as you like, but don’t expect other people to worship the ground you walk on. It can be hard to admit to being so self-centered as all of this, but it’s true, and the people who are most at peace with their self-centered emotions tend to be most at peace with other peoples’ self-centered emotions, and end up being incredibly loving and peaceful people.
At least, that’s the theory I’m going with these days.
2. No matter how screwed you feel, you still have room to be happy and relax.
I finally got a job late in November. Up until this week, I’ve had between 4 and 8 hours a week (thanks to covering a sick co-workers shift, I got twelve hours this week, and am officially scheduled for 18 hours next week, so things are definitely looking up). My roommate, Metcalf, is in about the same boat, and Jon still can’t find a place that will give him an interview, much less hire him. We’re lucky in that we’re friends with a woman who owns a farm and has irregular work for him to do. Still. We’re behind on bills. We’re behind on rent. It seems like every time we get a little bit of money, it comes in one hand and goes right out the other, and despite the fact that we don’t see it long enough to recognize it’s there and it goes straight to necessities, we’re still in debt. We’re still behind. It’s still not enough.
People around us are unhappy, depressed, and making stupid life decisions left and right. People we care about are behaving self-destructively, and a lot of the time, there is nothing we can do to help them. One of our friends was about to make an incredibly healthy decision to go out of state for help with her mental illness – it was a move we were so proud of her for making. And her insurance ended up not working out at the last minute, and now she’s taken what seems to be a nosedive into destructive decision-making. It’s hard to be angry at and worried about somebody at the same time. It’s hard to be angry on their behalf and at them at the same time. Digression aside, the point here is that…
I am very stressed. Jon is very stressed. Metcalf is very stressed. Hera is stressed because the apartment’s not big enough for her energy. We let her outside as often as possible, but it’s still not enough and it’s not what we want for her. If you can’t tell, I’m stressing myself out right now writing about how stressed we are.
It could, of course, be worse. And counting my blessings is certainly a method I use to relax. But there are other things, too.
We still find time and ways to laugh and joke around, to enjoy each others’ company and enjoy the company of our friends. In high school, when I was stressed, I was stressed. I was obsessed with being stressed, and would find the littlest of reasons to sink into weeks-long bouts of unhappiness and moodiness. At the slightest provocation, my life became a tragedy of the most epic proportions. In short, I wasn’t very pleasant. But it took me an embarrassingly long time to see that, to get my head out of my ass, to even realize that’s where my head was to begin with.
I guess I really like the comfort of my own internal waste system, because I still find my head in my ass quite often. This life, though, has made it a lot easier to recognize the smell of excrement. Despite my brain soaking in a hot-tub of cortisol, I am one happy camper. I am in love. I have incredible friends, an incredible major, and an incredible family. Nothing helps you see that more clearly than some time in the pit of poverty.
3. Being in love and effectively loving somebody are two entirely different things.
I have been in love a couple of times. In high school, I loved Tristan Butcher with that aching intensity that makes you think, what with your head being up your own ass and all, that you’re the only person ever who has truly loved anyone. Then, I loved Krista Haman. I learned the taste of unrequited love and became so enamored of it that, quite frankly, I lost sight of my best friend and drove a wedge between us that is still there to this day. Later, I loved Devin Webb. I bought him everything. I spent so much money on him I could have fed a family of four for a year and a half with his gifts. After that, I loved Jon.
I was with him for a year and a half, though, before, with wide-eyed naivete, I began to think to myself, Oh, I love this man. Maybe I should go to extra mile every once in awhile to think about his point of view and try to figure out what makes him happy.
So, yeah. Sometimes I think about what might have happened if I’d never come to understand the difference between being in love and actually expressing love effectively. My inability to understand this concept for so long has distanced me from numerous family members and friends. In trying to make up for it, I am sometimes boggled by the immensity of the task before me. The damage I might have caused had I not opened my eyes, the damage I might still cause just because habits are so hard to break… it’s mind-boggling.
And it only takes a simple thing to make you learn the lesson. We’re dead broke, but Jon’s childlike happiness and ability for immense joy in his hobbies and activities led me to genuinely, truly, always want to see him happy. All it really took was that special gleam in his eyes, and my whole world-view changed. (Actually, that lesson was sparked just a year ago, but the ramifications are still reverberating throughout every area of my life today, and have been especially important these past few months.)
4. Every decision you make will cause you doubt. There is no path you can take with 100% certainty – definitely not when you’re a person like me.
I used to think that if I searched hard enough for the right passion, that if I tried enough things, that I would someday, eventually, find the pursuit that would be my true and lasting joy. I still don’t think this is a bad idea – but to me, the way I believed I would know the accurateness of the path would be the absence of doubt.
I’d take up a new hobby, switch my major, wobble back and forth over whether or not I was with the right person or had the right friends, over whether I was going to the right school or eating the right way or dressing the right way or… whatever, and I’d believe that someday I’d come upon the perfect combination of activities and methods of life and I would stop doubting anything, ever again. (At this point, I ask everyone to take a moment of silence for anyone who has ever loved me – these people are brave and amazing in so many ways. That they have put up with me for so long, while I’ve been so blind and childish, fills me with warmth and the desire to give them everything. There are no words to express how incredibly patient and tolerant these people must be. xD)
Of course, this isn’t true. Especially when my ‘doubts’ come at just about every moment I don’t do something 100% perfectly. I gave up writing for a long time after somebody told me something my English teachers never had – that I had a shit ton of room to grow. I was used to being told I was the best in the class. So the first voice of reason stopped me in my tracks, and I threw away writing like it was a grenade in my hand. I doubt myself in baking when I have to throw out the creme anglaise and start again – creme anglaise having an incredible precise temperature range. I doubt myself when Jon and I have a fight, and our lack of perfection as a couple punches me in the face. I doubt myself when I’m not 100% sure about somebody’s tone.
In short, I’m one of the most highly sensitive people you will ever meet.
I can’t change how sensitive I am. However, I can work on being able to tolerate doubt, and move forward in spite of it. I doubt, often, that I am going to get out of Ohio, or that I am going to find any semblance of a life in which I am happy. But the thing is, I’m happy now, and if I can be happy when I’m under this much stress, I believe I am capable of learning how to be happy in any situation. Maybe that’s a big claim considering life could be a lot worse, but I do believe it. And when I have doubts… well, I can tolerate a little bit of doubt.
It just comes down to making a decision and sticking with it.
So that’s a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about this semester. I’m not great at sharing details and stories from my life, but this semester has had such an incredible impact on me, I thought I’d at least try. So, I guess the main thing to carry away here is…
Try not to live with your head up your ass. It gets lonely up there.
Edit: Oh jeebus effing Christ on a stick. I tried to post this, and it was GONE. I spent about five minutes wibbling at the screen, then another three researching to see if there was anything I could do to save it. Thanks to WordPress’s WONDERFUL ‘Screen Options’, I was able to find previous drafts that had been autosaved and save the post. So, thank you WordPress, for not putting one hell of a damper on my afternoon. : )
I know I said in an earlier post that I was determined to finish NaNo this year. The truth is, I gave up with that story about the 7th of November. Very early. I exchanged NaNo in exchange for my own personal project.
Every morning, since October 29th, I have woken up and followed this routine:
I crawl over Jon, still asleep, in bed, and get dressed. As I am waking up, Hera bounces around the room, all wide-eyed, energetic husky, whoa-bearing (it’s the term we give to her throwing up her paws past her ears and slamming them into the ground – the most adorable thing I have ever seen a dog do) up a storm. I move with deliberate calmness, because it drives her crazy.
Opening the door, she bolts down the stairs with the energy of a seven-year-old on Christmas morning. I am a few minutes behind her, as I have morning-bathroom type stuffs to take care. After I’m brushed and smell a little bit better, I follow Hera down stairs where she’s waiting at the back door. She’ll stand tall and scratch along the door knob, as this is the way we’ve trained her to tell us she needs to go outside. I tell her to chill. She sits, wagging her tail, staring impatiently at the portal between her and her favorite place in the world. I open the door and rarely manage to avoid being knocked in the legs as she bounds outside.
So I set about making coffee while she enjoys herself in the yard. When the coffee is done, I pour myself a mug and whistle for Hera to come back inside. Then I head back upstairs, open Microsoft word, and write for as long as I am able to pay attention to the screen.
Some mornings I only write, ‘God I can’t think of anything to write!’ Some mornings I complain about the previous day, about being poor, or, originally enough, not having anything to write. There are lists of gratitude and lists of dreams, and even the occasional poem or piece of flash fiction.
This is the most consistently I have ever written. And somehow, in the midst of all of that, letting go of NaNo, which often has me completely sick of writing by December 1, doesn’t feel like a failure. I simply don’t care. I have established my own patterns. For the sake of framing my accomplishment under the terms of NaNo, the figure above is the amount that I wrote between November 1st and November 30th. But that’s 23 thousand words with no artificial deadline. It’s 23 thousand words I wrote with my own will-power, and through my own intention to become, truly, a writer.
I plan to continue this pattern until December 31st, at which point, I will commence with a two to three month activity called the floating half-hour, in which I pick a random half-hour period every day and write during that period. It sounds much more difficult than my morning routine, but after building the muscles that this routine has been working out, I believe I will be capable of challenging my muse, of practicing creativity, and of actively coming closer every day to my true and ultimate goal.
(To be a writer… obviously. xD)
That’s all for today.