Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

While we had the official McFarland holiday feast of Thanks yesterday, today I have the blog post of thanks! I am officially thankful for the following!

  • Matthew McFarland, as he manages through his wizardry to let me have a semi-normal life with food and friends and gaming and kids and a house and dogs and family and love. 
  • His kiddos, Teagan and Cael, who very patiently stand in with me for my own kids sometimes, despite being awesome kids on their own. 
  • His mom, Suzanne, who is a pretty darn good mother-in-law and who is one of my primary sources of higher ed encouragement.
  • His ex, Heather, who is sane and smart and patient and good-humored. And a cake wizard.
  • My dogs, who remind me that as long as we have petting and food and water and a nice place to sleep, nothing is all that bad. 
  • Alisdair, my eldest son, who is 18 and trying to find his way in the world. 
  • William, my youngest son, who is 16 and cutting a swathe with his humor and dapper choices. 
  • My advisor, Chris Flint, who is supportive and communicative and generally awesome. 
  • My students this year, who've stayed engaged and are working their way through academic writing. 
  • My cohort, as we all see each other through this crazy journey of getting a doctorate. 
  • Knitting, for giving me a thing to do that helps center me. 
  • My dad, for getting better from pneumonia, even if it's taking longer than we'd like
  • My mom, for being smart and capable and basically doing all the things this year. 
  • My gaming group, because they're awesome and they show up each week and I love them all. :) 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Why I'm not excited about the new Deadpool movie, or Neurotypical Emulation Protocols (NEP)*

I was out with my husband last night shopping and doing errands and getting dinner when we started talking about the new Deadpool movie that will be coming out next year. He's excited about it -- likes the acknowledgement by the studios that the former appearance of Deadpool was just dumb, likes that they're being true to the comics with it. I have thus said that, although I can also appreciate these things, I will not be going to see it with him. He wondered why that was, and so I told him, and he suggested I post about it, which I am now.

*For the record, I do not yet have a diagnosis of autism. I have been referred to start the process of getting one, though, and my son is on the Spectrum, and my speech-language pathologist husband is convinced of it, so take that for whatever it's worth.

I have a large hole in my ability to get humor. I know that it's there, I know what triggers it, and I know what thus to avoid. I can tell when other people will find things funny, but I just look at it and try to make sense of it and completely do not feel whatever others feel when they see that. This isn't a case of "everyone's got a different sense of humor," although that is true. It's more about a side effect of coping with autism as an adult.

So, part of growing up and learning to adult as an autistic person is developing an ability to function in the world of other people despite not really understanding how it or they work. People on the Spectrum come to this in different ways at different times and some more than others, depending on what their particular symptoms are, how effective medication is at helping them, and how much they need and are capable of "passing," aka communicating with and reading other people enough to interact "normally" with them, or in other words, seeming non-autistic.

For me, I read. A lot. And I was naturally quiet and introverted, and I watched people and I listened to stories, and thus over the years I developed really good pattern recognition. I can't really tell what someone is thinking or feeling (unless I know them REALLY well, like with my husband and my children), though I have learned a bit about body language over the years, but I can take past behavior, stick it into my pattern recognition "program," and be able to say with a respectable accuracy rate what someone is likely going to do or why someone is doing what they're doing. It's not really reading someone or getting an emotional bead on them, but it's close enough. It does its work sufficiently well that I don't ping people as being on the spectrum unless they know me well and have seen the gaps in the protocol.

That said, it works on patterns. If too many unknowns get introduced, I'm completely lost. If I haven't predicted something happening and accounted for it, I'm completely at sea. And it doesn't account for my own reactions or ability to cope with things -- it's completely outward facing, if that makes any sense. I'm great at big picture as a result, and shit with detail oriented stuff -- unless it's something I can hyperfocus on, but then I lose sight of everything else. It isn't perfect. I'm not perfect -- far from it. It's just a coping tool, but one I've spent a lot of time refining in the name of survival.

So -- humor and Deadpool. So, keeping in mind the pattern recognition filter that I apply between myself and the rest of the world, the "hole" in my understanding of humor is randomness. I can't really abide it. It makes me anxious. Repetition of something that goes on long enough it becomes nonsensical, continuous non sequiturs, things out of order or stream of consciousness... random actions or words that don't seem to have a cause or appropriate response... gah. Even thinking about that makes gives me anxiety, much less being present for it. No pattern to read just makes all the things wibbly and brings out all my autistic brain, because it effectively shuts down that NEP filter and then I have to reboot things, and that takes time and a stable environment. Sometimes I can distance enough that I can maintain it even if I don't get the thing that's in front of me... usually that's when humor is going on that I don't get even while everyone around me is laughing hysterically. But this is why I don't go to chaotic places; I don't enjoy haunted houses, I don't like jump scares, I don't get a lot of non-representational art, and I don't like humor that depends on being random (the Three Stooges is sort of like this; I don't see the funny, I just see people randomly assaulting one another. No bueno). I couldn't watch 90s Cartoon Network, and I don't get a lot of postmodernist work for that same reason. Also certain memes, lots of animated gifs, 4chan, weird movies that play without sound in the background of busy noisy places, and surrealist stuff.

And this is why, when it comes to Deadpool, I'm going to give it a pass. The humor of it, from what I can gather, relies on him being rather random in associations and actions. I know from what past exposure I've had that I don't get it. I don't see an immersive movie of that being something worth buying a ticket for for me. I spend enough time sorting out my "threat evaluation" filter from just stuff that's going on. I don't need to give the poor overworked neurons any more to handle. So yeah.

Now, I'm not claiming that every autistic person does this. I know I've read things from a few that have filters and thinks of them the same way, but hardly enough to form an overwhelming sample. When I tell people that I want a diagnosis, though, and they say, "but you don't seem like you need it," that's because my NEP works. It does nothing to acknowledge my internal issues; nothing to show the stuff I go through, or how it gets in my way, or how it eventually undermines my relationships with people I like who don't know me well enough to understand how tiring it is to have that NEP filter running all the damn time when I'm out in the world, and how it robs me of energy to do other things that I'd like to do, but that need that filter even more. So if this sounds like you, know you're not alone. If it doesn't, but it sounds like someone else you know... a little acknowledgement of how hard they're working at normal goes a long way. Or at least, it does for me. Milage may vary. Caveat emptor.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

No guilt.

So everything happened yesterday. Earthquakes, floods, bombings, shootings, all over the world. Paris, Beirut, Kenya, Japan, Mexico. Probably some other things I've forgotten about as well, or else didn't hear of -- I was traveling all day, so my connectivity was spotty, and by that I mean perfectly reasonable. I try not to be online 24/7, and it's probably not a good thing for anyone to be online that much.

Facebook, in the wake of what seemed an unreal series of terrorist attacks in France, did the seemingly nice thing of doing check-ins for French users and a French flag overlay for profile pics to offer support. And really, it let a lot of people -- and by people, here, I largely mean American people --  have a way to vent their feelings and try to be supportive in some small way to the aftermath of the French bombings.  It was not long, however, before it was pointed out that no such care was given to the bombings at a funeral in Beirut, or to the ongoing issues in Syria, or to the mass killings at the university in Kenya. This is a perfectly valid observation; we have a real problem in the US media with only given attention to US and European concerns, and only then if most of the people involved are white. We don't get all the info because the information isn't made available to us to start with -- and even then, we don't respond to it all in the same way.

What then followed, though, were a number of shaming articles designed to guilt people over showing solidarity to France through these small symbols. I disagree with that, even as I agree with the larger point above, and now I will tell you why.

1) France and the US go way back, and there is still a fairly strong connection between these two countries culturally. Not as strong as with the UK, but it's up there. It's not wrong for people to feel strongly about something that happens in France when it's such an obvious link to 9/11 for Americans. It also doesn't mean they don't feel about other things too. See #2 and #3.

2) The news from yesterday, taken all at once, is overwhelming. Seriously. I still can't process it all. Expecting equal and simultaneous treatment of all the tragedies that happened yesterday is unrealistic; it's not how people's brains work. It's also not particularly helpful. We as humans can only process so much, only mourn so much all at once. Trying to handle more awfulness than we have bandwidth for leads to paralysis and despair. We have enough of that.

3) Getting onto people for showing support in one corner doesn't send the message that people should change their news sources or try to have a broader view. It just makes them feel bad for supporting anyone if they can't support them all. It stomps on an effort to express fellow feeling and kindness rather than redirecting it to a broader audience. People want to help and be nice; they are using the tool that was given to them. Give them different tools if you want a different response. Don't simply bash them for using the one they have.

4) Lift up that which you feel is important. Talk about Kenya. Talk about Daesh (and don't use the old name for them). Talk about Islamic leaders who fight against this message. Talk about Beirut. Talk about France. Talk about the larger global picture. Talk about Syria and refugees and (to get old school) Palestine and Gaza and Somalia and Israel and Iraq and Turkey and Hungary. Encourage a broader knowledge of the world and what's going on. Put up flags of solidarity. Use the black mourning ribbon above. Lead by example.

We've got enough bad to handle right now without turning on each other for trying to do some small good thing that, in the larger scale, is so very small. Can we all find a way to come together rather than tearing each other apart? I hope so. We need that right now so very badly.