Friday, 27 March 2015

Things I Don't Understand - Number Eight - Stupidity

I don't understand stupidity. I would like to make it clear that I'm not referring here to being intellectually disabled.  In fact I've sometimes found those who are, more aware and clued up than the supposedly 'normal'. I also don't mean those who don't have any higher education - university or polytech is not everyone's cup of tea. Plus many who have been, seem to turn off their brain the moment the ink is dry on their degree. Rather, I mean those who have a perfectly functional at-least-average intelligence, but choose not to use it.

There are, I feel, two types of stupidity. Those who practise the first are boring but usually harmless enough. They're the people who simply who go through life without any particular thought or plan, who seem to live by rote, just 'doing what everyone else does'. For their entire lives. If they think at all - and I'm not certain it counts as 'thinking' - it seems to be a kind of rote thinking, or rather not thinking, a mere repeating of conventional ideas, "what everybody thinks", or "what everybody knows".

You've probably met this sort - the ones who talk almost entirely in cliches, "well I never, it'll be all right in the morning, what goes round comes round, time heals all wounds, etc, etc"; and who seem to have never had an original thought in their lives. If asked their opinion on some issue of the day, they usually say something like "Well I never really thought about it", or "I don't really have an opinion on that" - and seem surprised you even ask. Their minds seem closed, their lives limited, and they never question authority or seek to challenge themselves in any fashion.

I first remember encountering this in a teenage friend, in a girl I'd known since primary school. I was truly shocked one day when, after I expressed an opinion on some issue, she responded with what I recognised as a parrotting of her parent's highly reactionary opinion, and seemed to feel no need to revisit that, or form her own views.

I find it hard to connect with such people (even more so than most, I mean), but they do form a sort of unquestioning mass, who simply get on with the day to day necessary things of life. I suppose we need them. But stupidity isn't just about being on a sort of mental autopilot, and the second type are a very different story. They think all right - but only in certain narrow ways, or by grabbing hold of some wisp of an idea, building it up into a 'castle in the air', and then seeing only those things that bolster their views, avoiding or ignoring anything that challenges them.

The result is they hold beliefs I can only describe as nonsensical. I'm thinking here, for instance, of a woman I knew in my twenties. She once told me, very solemnly, that Maori and Sanskrit were related because their words for dog - "kuri" and "cur" respectively - were similar. I was studying Historical Linguistics at the time, and nearly laughed in her face, knowing there was no relation between them, as would anyone with a small knowledge of history or the two languages. This was a woman who'd travelled widely, had a variety of interesting experiences, and completed a university degree, yet she could harbour this completely ridiculous belief. And don't even get me started on those who believe in things like UFOs and conspiracy theories or Elvis being still alive. I'm no genius, but I don't think you have to be to see through some of the BS trotted out by those who should know better.

When such opinions are held privately by individuals, they're harmless enough, if a little silly. But when people in power hold stupid beliefs, often ones based in blind prejudice (one of the worst kinds of stupidity - but a convenient one for leaders of course, on the old 'divide and rule and keep 'em distracted' principle), then it becomes something far more blood-curdling. Hitler was a prime example of this - a stupid fanatic who led average Germans (many of them practising the first kind of stupidity), and in the end most of Europe, into the chaos and horror of war and the Holocaust. 

And it isn't only the leaders of countries who can be stupid - leaders of social movements, religions, government departments and even the media, in some countries, can be really, really stupid. The lives of gays in Russia, for example, are becoming more and more precarious - beatings and even killings of gays are becoming more and more common, because many Russians believe that being gay automatically means also being a paedophile. This confused belief is obviously shared or even propogated by its leader - who wanted to arrest any gay athletes going to the Olympics there. And when people who hold narrow, prejudiced views about autism are in control of how autistics get treated, we suffer for it.

A prime example is the vaccines-cause-autism crowd. Despite the exposure of Wakefield's original 'research' as a fraud, after years of studies by whole teams of respected scientists who could not replicate his results, despite science showing that a) mercury poisoning symptoms are radically different to autism, b) autism is genetic anyway, c) the amount of mercury in the original vaccines is less than what we are exposed to on a daily basis in our environment, and d) the relevant additive was removed from vaccines long before the current rise of autism diagnosis rates among children born since then - and that's just the tip of the iceberg of the scientific evidence against this nonsense - still, they shrill, and yell, and agitate, and jump up and down, and rave about Big Pharma 'damaging' their children... Meanwhile, rates of preventable (and far more damaging than autism) diseases such as measles, once on the wane, are rising. Sigh.

And then there's the current fad for anti-autism bleach "treatments". The parents of the kids subjected to this often post pictures online of supposed 'parasites' they found in their child's faeces after the bleach - pictures that are actually of segments of the child's intestinal wall coming away. That's right, they're burning their kid's insides out. But if you dare try and point that out, question them, oh boy. They will not budge, no matter how much common sense and science you present them with.

One reason I can't understand such people is that I can't imagine not constantly using my mind. My mind is always busy or focussed on something, I'm never thinking about nothing, even in meditation. My mind has always been busy, since as far back as I can remember into my childhood. I got labelled a "daydreamer" and "away with the fairies" as a result, but my distraction only meant that what was happening inside my head was usually far more interesting than my humdrum day-to-day "outer" world.

And this thinking doesn't stop once an opinion has been formed, or a philosophy adopted. I keep questioning, rooting out the contradictions, the little nonsenses, the intricacies. I'm a questing being by nature. And one who believes in balancing head and heart - in my twenties, I noticed that many people tended to extremes of one or the other, and the results weren't good. Either you were cold, detached, intellectual, 'ivory-tower'-ish, scorning the wisdom of the heart (and yes, it does have some); or you were overly emotional and prone to believing silliness like the above. I decided that the best way was to meld the two, have each influence and temper the other. That way, I figured, I would come to a calm, sensible, rational place, with the wisdom of both. It didn't solve all my problems of course, but it is a stance that's served me well over the years.


So I don't understand not constantly using your mind. I don't understand why anyone would just accept crap and not question it. I don't hate stupid people or anything (though I sometimes get frustrated with them), but I so don't understand stupidity.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Notes Towards an Aspie Spiritual Code

Some time ago, I came to realise that much of the spiritual writings I read are actually not that useful to me. They are, I realised, geared to the needs of NTs, not aspies. Well, no surprise there really. But what, I wondered, would an aspie-centered spiritual code look like?

This is my attempt at it, based on my own experience, and those of a few other spiritually-minded aspies I've talked to or seen the writings of online. Note that I'm not trying to start any arguments here, rather I'm thinking of those autistics who are already spiritually-minded, but aren't sure how to approach their spirituality from an autistic standpoint.

The Divine Power is logical. The Divine Power is many things - Cosmic Intelligence, the silently beating Heart of the Universe, the Force that created, shapes and connects all of the Universe and is immanent in it, the Ultimate Enigma, and much more. What it isn't, is some irritable old man (or old woman) sitting on a throne on a cloud, throwing thunderbolts at anyone who transgresses moral codes a saint couldn't keep to. That defies logic and common sense. We need a logical God.

The true nature of the Divine Power is Love, a love so powerful it is beyond comprehension, totally unconditional, and way, way beyond all the restrictive petty things that often masquerade under the name of "love". We don't have to 'earn' that love, and we won't lose it if we're 'bad' in the eyes of the rest of the world. Of course it's better to behave in certain ways, for our own sake as well as others, but, like a Perfect Parent, the Divine continues to love us no matter what. Even if no-one else does, you are loved by Spirit.

All are Children of the Divine. We are all sons and daughters of the Life-Force. Many aspies have little difficulty with regarding all as inherently equal, due to our lack of ability to see the social distinctions that others insist on. My feeling is we need to build on that, make it a central focus of our spirituality, allowing no prejudice against any other, no matter who or what they are, to enter our hearts and minds.

The Divine doesn't play favourites. It has no bias on the basis of gender, race, sexuality, nationality, religion, sect, etc, etc; and therefore, it follows on, It has no bias on the basis of neurology or able-bodiedness either. The Divine didn't create us as we are, only to judge us and reject us for being exactly that. That also defies logic.

All of us can experience the Divine. No matter what our beliefs, regardless of whether we belong to a formal religion or not, or what name we call the Divine Power, we need to experience It for ourselves. We tend to 'learn by doing', and so mere dogma out of a book, no matter how holy, will almost certainly not suffice. We can build a solid relationship with the Divine through prayer and meditation. In my experience Divine support tends to be either fairly indirect, or not quite in the shape I might expect or think I want, but it does happen.

We need to keep our spirituality simple. Convoluted theological abstractions tend to tie our brain in knots. Especially if we're the visual type of autistic, as we almost certainly can't understand what we can't create a picture of inside our heads. That doesn't mean that we can't develop a moral code, as we can easily imagine concrete examples of behaving morally, and understand and follow rules. Nor does it mean we lack intelligence, just that it's better that we keep our spirituality not too complicated.

Don't hate the world. It's hugely screwed-up, yes, and functions by rules and values that are often not ours. Plus, we're often treated badly by it. But Hate only damages you in turn, and separates you from the Divine. So many in this world are deeply damaged, and have lost their way, and lash out at others as a result. The world is a troubled place, and it needs compassion, but if you can't manage that then work on pity. Or at least indifference.

Don't hate the Divine either, for what people do. Yes, the Divine is immanent in everything and everyone, so we all have a core of Spirit within, whatever we call it - 'Higher Self', 'Christ Consciousness', etc - but some drift a long, long way from that Spirit within, or they deny or suppress it. We all have free will, and unfortunately some people use it to do bad things. If we are a victim of these people, that doesn't mean we've been forgotten by the Divine.

The Divine wants us to protect ourselves. Being spiritual doesn't mean we have to be patsies. Whether we can feel compassion for the world and the screwed-up people in it or not, we do nonetheless have the right to protect ourselves from those who would harm us. Just as we might feel sorry for the tiger in its cage at the zoo, but we wouldn't jump in the cage and try to pat it, "there, there, poor kitty," we have the right to distance ourselves from or eject from our lives any toxic, abusive or unwelcome people. This is an act of self-love, self-respect, and self-nurturing, which the Divine wants for us.

And perhaps most important of all... The Divine Power is Eternal and Unchanging. You know how we aspies dislike change. Even people that love us and that we love can die, or leave us, or fail us in some way. The Divine will not. Ever. Even when we think It has, It's working for us behind the scenes. Remember that tale of the footprints in the sand? It's there for us, forever and ever, amen. I think that's pretty cool.


So there you go. Maybe this works for you, maybe it doesn't. I'd like to know, either way. And maybe you can improve on this, write something better. I hope so. I would never think that I have the last word on anything, so I'm open to new ideas.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The World As A Puzzle

When I was young, I thought of the world as being like a giant jigsaw puzzle - the sort with about ten thousand pieces, which seems like just a jumble of fragments at first, hundreds of bits of blue, and lots of blurry brown and grey, and where on earth does that red bit go? But then you find this bit links up and then that bit, and then suddenly a whole part of the puzzle becomes clear, and you go, Oh! I see what it is now! I thought the world was like that, and if I could figure out enough of the 'pieces', suddenly I would understand the world, it would make sense at long last. Because it certainly didn't make sense to me at the time, in fact it seemed like a vast, swirling, chaotic mess, with rules that I could never figure out, and which I was constantly tripping over. I was terrified someone would realise how ignorant I was, and how much I was 'faking it', and so I thought if I could just figure the world out, I wouldn't have to anymore, I'd 'just know' all the things everyone else did.

It never did make sense, the puzzle remained a puzzle. These days, though I know a lot more about the world, and have put some small parts of the 'puzzle' together, the world still overall seems, well, puzzling. Only now I've realised it's actually a ginormous three-dimensional puzzle, crossed with a vicious game of snakes-and-ladders and a really, really, really complicated Rubik's cube. And the thing about the Rubik's cube, is that if you think you've nearly got it, you've in fact got it all wrong. Plus, the whole thing completely switches itself around every now and again, and introduces new pieces. Just to confuse you even more! Or so it seems anyway.

So in short, I've given up trying to figure it out. And I've realised that NTs don't necessarily understand the world as a whole better than I do. Once when I said to my mother something about "figuring out the world", she asked in astonishment, "can anyone figure it out?!" Even to her, it seemed, with her long experience of life and far greater understanding of people, it could still seem a very confusing place. And I wonder if that's so to other NTs as well - they know their 'pieces' of the world, their little corner or corners, but how much do they really understand of the bigger picture? They've probably never thought about it much, never had the urge I did, to try and make sense of it all.

The difference being, I suppose, that they do understand their corner of it, its social rules and so on, and have a general understanding of the rest, and of people in general, and that's enough for them to get along in the world. We aspies don't. We don't really have any corner that we understand, any milieu where we know the rules and so can relax; or for that matter much of an understanding of the broader social world. The result being that we stumble and bumble our way through life, trying to make sense of what doesn't actually make sense, not knowing or understanding what others consider so basic as to be not worth mentioning. And so perhaps we have a greater need or impetus to figure it out. I suspect that it's why so many aspies (the ones that aren't science/maths/tech geeks that is) go into the social sciences, to figure out both themselves and the strange creatures that share the planet with them.

How do you view the world?

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The Perfect Mother For An Aspie

Those of you who know me through Facebook will know that my mother passed away recently. It's been a great loss to me and my family, she was our gentle matriarch, our anchor, our centre and guiding light. But much of our grieving is a private thing, and it's not that I want to talk about, but rather about how she was as the mother of an aspie.

When I was a child, my mother, in an era when autism was barely heard of and Aspergers never heard of at all, seemed to recognise that I needed a little extra help with life, and it was just instinctive to her to give it. She guided, helped and supported me right all through my life, long before either of us knew about my Aspergers. Right up till the end, for instance, even after spending decades learning how to read people, I would still often turn to her to check on my perceptions, asking her things like "Did So-and-so seem __ to you?", and she'd say "no, I don't think so", or "Oh, yes, was she ever!", and so on. I'd ask her how to go about things, and she'd give me advice, in the calm, thoughtful manner that was typical of her.

In fact Mum was always very even-tempered, I rarely heard her raise her voice, except perhaps to call to someone in another room. She did get angry now and again - her lips would press tight and her eyes flash, signals even as a child I was able to recognise! But I don't think I ever saw her totally lose her cool. This composure helped me in turn, when I got agitated about 'little' things. Throughout my life, she was able to calm me down and prevent an incipient meltdown simply with a few quietly reassuring words and a pat on the shoulder or back, etc. She never assaulted my ears by yelling, and was always willing to adjust things to my sensory needs whenever reasonably possible.

My mum was intelligent but never intellectual, she operated from the heart far more than the head. This was a much-needed counterweight to my tendency to go off too much into my head - and though I never thought about it consciously at the time, I'm sure she influenced my realisation, in my late 20s, that the best path for me was a balance of heart and head.

She helped me in practical ways too. When I first learnt to drive, for instance, I was very nervous of driving at higher speeds, and when we went on long trips together she'd wait till we got somewhere less busy and then get me to drive, giving me patient advice like "it's best if you keep an even speed", or "turn the wheel more gently". I remember one day she reached over and patted my hand, and said "relax your hands, Pen, you don't need to grip so hard," and I realised I was clutching the steering wheel like it was a life raft and I was drowning! Like many aspies, I have my difficulties with driving, but I definitely became less tense and more skilled as a driver, thanks to her quiet help.

She was also a role model for me in many ways. While, like many on the spectrum, I've always had trouble expressing (NOT feeling!) qualities such as empathy, a lot of what I have learnt to do is through following my mother's example. Her entire life was centered around caring for people and helping them, particularly family, but also anyone else in need she encountered. She would always lend a compassionate ear to other's woes, as long as she felt they were genuine. Her generosity was legendary, and I was a frequent recipient of it. Her paid work was always in one helping profession or another and she was involved in a long list of charities over the years. She never made a big deal out of it, or indeed about any of her values and beliefs, rather she simply lived them. I absorbed much of this, at first without consciously realising it. Like her, I believe in helping others, and in doing my bit to make the world a slightly better place, even if the way I do it is different.

She also modelled courage and determination. After years of enduring an increasingly unhappy marriage to my father, in her middle years she divorced him, a thing almost unheard of for women of her generation and background, and launched into a new career as a social worker, making new friends, travelling the world (my mother saw much more of the world than I have!) and having all sorts of adventures. She even went paragliding - at eighty!! Many a time I've thought "well, if my mother can do 'x' at her age, I can do such-and-such at mine!"

Mum was always willing to try something new, find out new things. I know that if she and I were fifty years younger today, or if the diagnoses and information that's there now was around when I was a child, that she would have been researching and reading everything she could on autism and Aspergers. As it was, if she saw a magazine article or TV program about autism, she would always point out them out to me, and ask what I thought of them. She read my blog whenever I showed it to her (the Internet was always something of a mystery to her, tech-savvy she was not!), and was really supportive and interested in the column about disability issues I recently started in the local paper. She sometimes asked me how I perceived something, or why I had difficulty with something. Though she sometimes had difficulty understanding me, she always tried to, she always kept an open mind.

Despite all this, in her final illness, Mum said to me that she'd sometimes felt "helpless", to know how best to help me with my AS. I said to her that she didn't need to have done anything, that simply being herself was enough. We were interrupted then, and I never got back to the subject, but I would have gone on to tell her just how grateful I was for her total acceptance of me as I am. She told me once that when I was a child, yes, I had my "funny little ways", but "that was just you, it was just how you were, all my children had different personalities, I never thought twice about it." So much so in fact that when I first told her I suspected I had AS, she pooh-poohed it, even laughed. But then, ever open to new ideas and listening to people, she stopped and asked me why I felt that way. So I explained, and she listened, and finally said, "well, it doesn't matter, you're still my daughter and I still love you." And gave me a huge hug! I wish that I'd been able to tell her just how much that meant to me.

My being "different" never seemed to bother her. She teased me sometimes, true, but it was always done with affection, and that total acceptance. One of the final things she said to us was "no judgement, don't judge people". I never saw her judging people because of race, gender, sexuality, religion, disability or whatever. Family meant everything to Mum, and she also gave me the gift of a loving, extended family, always fostering my connections to them, drawing me into the circle, even when my social skills were pretty minimal.

Perhaps most importantly of all, I felt safe with my mother. When I was a child, she provided clear structures and routines, with fairly simple rules and expectations, yet all of it practised with love and patience. And throughout my life, I knew that I'd always have a place to stay with her if I needed one. I will miss many, many things about my mother, from the companionable dinners eating fried rice in front of the TV (often followed by 'naughty' chocolate!) to her wicked sense of humour, from her gentle wisdom to the trips we took together, and much more, but I think possibly I will miss that feeling of safety most of all. I don't know that I'll ever have that again.

For an aspie of my generation - indeed, any generation - she was the best mum ever. I wish that all autistics could have a mother like mine.


Monday, 15 December 2014

Things I Detest - A Totally Random List

Muzak. You can't call it music.

CHRISTMAS muzak. As if the regular sort isn't bad enough.

Phone salespeople - I hang up on them now.

Religious doorknockers. I sometimes feel like saying to them, "how about we make an agreement - I don't come to your door, pushing my views on you, and you don't come to mine, pushing yours on me. Deal?"

TV shows such as Survivor, The Block or Big Brother, because I don't get the emotional games played, I think it's all BS anyway, and don't give a rodent's posterior who wins. (I must confess to sometimes watching a bit of Masterchef, because the food looks delicious!)

Sitcoms, especially American ones, as they're based on people making idiots of themselves, and I've had way too much of that in my own life.

Cricket. One notch above watching paint dry. Make that half a notch.

Asparagus. Blech.

Stuffed marrow. Ditto. My mother used to cook it for us when I was a kid - until the day I said it looked like cooked snot. Funny, none of the rest of the family wanted to eat it either after that...

Things that are fiddly to open - whether it's a jar of peanut butter or a new packet of tissues or whatever. Not being especially co-ordinated or strong, I just get so damn annoyed with them, I could throw them across a room.

The Briscoes lady. She irritates me, she and all her white, middle-class, oh-so-healthy-looking sisters in ads, who somehow manage to produce big, white-toothed smiles and talk at the same time. They look like ventriloquists' dummies.

How it's always the most irritating songs that stick in your head. Why can't it be one of the nice ones?

Doing dishes. The most boring job on earth.

Music being played - LOUDLY - on people's cellphones in the street. I've blogged about this before, but it still irritates the crap out of me. Get some earphones, people.

Harvey Norman ads - they're always YELLING AT ME ABOUT ALL THE WONDERFUL SAVINGS I'M GOING TO MAKE IF I SHOP AT THEIR STORE HURRY NOW!!! I don't give several rodents' behinds what your specials are, Mr Norman. Just turn down the volume on your ads, because I'm less than impressed.


...and I will probably add to this list at some point. In fact, it's inevitable. Sigh.

Friday, 28 November 2014

A website for aspies

I don't normally plug other people's websites - there are far too many out there for me to read and/or recommend - however this site is related to a group I'm in on Facebook, and the moderator asked me to check it out. It looks pretty good to me, so here's a link to it, which is also in my 'websites of interest' list, down the right side of my blog.
www.alwaysaspergers.com

Life Is Like A Game Of Solitaire

I realised something recently about the computer game Solitaire, which I play quite often, how it's in many ways a reflection of life, or my life to be exact, as I've lived it to date.

For instance, there are the 'games' I just couldn't win, and was foolish even to try. I was always doomed to fail them. But I didn't know that to start with, and so I crashed over and over again, until I learnt, painfully, the hard way - because I had no-one to guide me, no-one to point out that I couldn't possibly win them - which games to never even start.

Then there are the games I thought, even after learning about the first sort, that I could still win at, they seemed hopeful, until by about halfway through the game, I realised that they were just as unwinnable as the first, at which point I had a choice to either go on to certain defeat, or to cut my losses and walk away. "This counts as another loss in your statistics..."

Oh yes, the little message that pops up when you've lost a game - "do you want to start a new game? ...To redo this game? ...To continue playing this game? ...This counts as a loss in your statistics", etc. Whatever your choice, the message is clear - "Loser, loser!" The world has told me that too, in a complex variety of ways, over and over again. I don't need reminding.

There are also games I think I'm finally winning, yes, yes, nearly there, I've got it, my God I've actually got it... and then... BANG. I haven't. Chalk up yet another loss, and walk away. Try again with a new game, a new day, a new life...

 Sometimes, I think I know what I did wrong, and I'm all "oh, if only I'd done this, or that, chosen this or that 'card' instead of the other", going over and over the 'game', but I never know for sure, except by going back and repeating everything, and that's a loser choice in itself, and often not possible anyway. And sometimes I couldn't spot my mistakes at all. Sometimes, it only seemed like the harder I tried, the worse things got, and the more I lost. And I felt stupid, for 'doing it all wrong', for not being able to see the 'right' choices to make, like 'everybody else' did automatically, or so it seemed to me.

 Often, I would eventually stop caring, and then it didn't hurt so much, only I would then find I was just going through the motions, and not really engaged with the game at all, and my 'win rate' went down even lower.

And sometimes, finally, eventually, after much time and effort and concentration, I even win a game - only to realise, after a temporary exultation or relief, that I've been so caught up in the damn thing, trying to 'get it right', that I've actually ended up wasting huge chunks of my time and energy on something that wasn't really worth it, and that I would have been far better off employing said energy etc to some more beneficial goal.

With Solitaire, my losses rank far higher than my winning games - I'm slightly embarrassed to admit I only win about 6%, which is probably about my winning average in life as well. Sometimes life just sucks, or is it me...

Someone once said to me that 'theoretically' it's possible to win every game of Solitaire. I immediately forgot the 'theoretical' part, and took this as meaning that somehow "everybody else" "just knew" the rules, and how to win at the 'game', and only I was too stupid to figure it out. Once again, too like my life for comfort. I now realise that wasn't what was meant, but still, it's hard to shake off. It's hard to be positive about life, oops I meant Solitaire.

I think I need to try a new game.