Mentors

I was helping host a Facebook cover reveal party, and it got me thinking about mentors and all the people who have supported me over the years. I’ve been really fortunate in that regard, and I wanted to write about a few of them.

Mrs. Truehardt was my first real mentor. She was our gifted & talented teacher, and we were in a pilot program where she followed us through several grades. (They call it “looping” now, and maybe they did then and I just never knew it.) She really encouraged us to develop our skills and interests, and she knew my strengths were in reading and writing. I remember once I forgot to write a paper, so I wrote a poem and handed that in instead. She loved it! We were all so sad when she retired after our fourth-grade year.

In high school I had Mrs. Bason, the journalism teacher, and Mr. Crivello, who taught honors and AP English Lit. Mrs. Bason was a fellow Trekkie, and we even once went to a Star Trek convention together. When I graduated, she gave me a book of poems inscribed with: “I know you’re going to be a great author someday.” Mr. C (as we called him) also encouraged my writing. He gave me a cassette tape of Jackson Browne music, too, which I still have, even though I’ve long since bought the albums in digital format. He’s the reason I got the highest possible score on the AP exam, too.

As an undergrad I was lucky enough to study with Dr. Douglass S. Parker (“Doc Parker”), the man who coined the term “parageography.” He had two offices on campus—one in the HRC and one in Waggener. Both were so crammed with stuff he couldn’t hold office hours in either. So he would send a note around to me and tell me to put on my one good suit—the one my parents had bought me for job interviews—and meet him at the faculty lounge. And he’d sneak me in and we’d have lunch and talk about his days in the war and in Memphis… He played in a band, if I remember right. Trombone? Doc Parker said I reminded him of his ex-daughter-in-law and wished I’d learned enough Greek to help him with his translations. He wrote the recommendation letter that got me into grad school, and he emailed me regularly to check on my writing and whether my world (AElit, which I had developed in his parageography course) was published yet. One of my biggest regrets is that he didn’t live to see my work in print. He was a wonderful champion.

And in grad school, one of my thesis advisors, Lisa Diercks, was the one to get me my first job by recommending me for an internship that eventually got me hired. I showed zero aptitude for book design, but she saw something in me anyway, for which I’m very grateful!

There are many more people in my life who have guided and supported me, but I can’t name everyone, else this list would be eternal. But I like to take moments now and then to remember that I didn’t get where I am all on my own—I’m not that good, nor quite as independent as I like to think. Good teachers make big differences in the lives of their students, and for that I’m forever thankful.

30-Day Writing Challenge: Day 8

8. A book you love and one you didn’t

I love Watership Down. I mean, I love a lot of books, but when someone asks me to name a book I love, Watership Down is usually the first to spring to mind. I love it enough that I’ve dropped mentions of it into my own writing fairly regularly.

I read Watership Down in sixth grade, and the kids in my very small private school asked me what it was about. So I spent a recess sitting on top of a picnic table telling the story. Pretty soon I’d earned the nickname “Hazel” (sometimes even “Hazel-Rah”), and my friends had all adopted other names from the novel. Games of Watership Down ensued. The boys in our class were, of course, the Efrafans. They would raid our warren, we’d fight back, on and on. Good times.

A book I didn’t love? There are probably as many or more of those than ones I do, but nothing immediately comes to mind. I actually have to think about it. That’s probably a good thing—they’ve shown that it’s healthier to focus on the good than the bad, so when I don’t immediately have a negative response, it means I’m more focused on the good. I’m looking around my office, but naturally I’ve surrounded myself with books I enjoy, so . . . I’ll have to think back to school days. Ah! Les Misérables. Oh my God, I hated that book. We had to read the unabridged version in ninth grade and I thought I would die. I’m also not a huge fan of Dickens. We read Great Expectations around the same time and . . . I thought I would die. Seriously. Ugh. Though I do wonder if I’d like Dickens more now, if maybe I’d better appreciate his work or something. Still, there are too many other things I’d rather read, or re-read (Austen!), that I probably won’t ever bother to pick up Dickens again.

Question of the Day

I’ve mentioned before that I have a 5-year journal that asks one question a day with spaces for five years’ worth of answers. So I can see how my answers change over time, if they change. Today’s question is:

What do you wish you could forget?

A: My junior year of high school.

That answer hasn’t changed. Of all things, that is what I would most like to forget. It was a very difficult time (September 1992–May 1993). In fact, as a budding astrologer, I became curious to look at my chart for that period in my life. Now, I can’t realistically look at every single day. So I chose my solar return for 1992, which would have set the tone for a lot of what was going on that year.

Right away I saw a potential problem: my SR Sun was in a tight (less than 1 degree) square with my SR Moon. Yikes. No wonder my emotions were all over the place! That + being a teenager = whoa. Also, my natal Venus was squaring my SR Venus and my SR Pluto was tightly squaring my SR Chiron. Heartache was the theme of that year, and these aspects highlight that.

The other chart I opted to look at was the birthday of the person causing me such grief, which was in April 1993 and at the height of my pain. Transiting Chiron was square my natal Venus. Chiron is a planet of wounds and healing, meaning old wounds open so they can heal properly if they haven’t before (or yet). And we all know Venus is the planet of love. Also, my natal Venus was in a tight square with my progressed Moon, upping the emotions and making them raw. My transiting Venus was square my natal Mercury, which hobbled my ability to express myself, in particular all those deep, churning feelings. Sigh.

There are a lot of other aspects in these charts, of course, and not all of them are bad; I was only hunting for clues as to what influenced my difficult situation. Besides the bad love thing, it was a year in which I had a very hard time with a particular teacher, something that had never happened to me before. But looking at these charts, I see my Saturn (natal, progressed, and transiting) is square and opposing all the things. Saturn is the disciplinarian; he rules work and efforts of that kind. Clearly I was meeting a lot of obstacles along those lines.

But enough about me. What about you? What would you like to forget?

This Is Me (Part XIX: Stalkers)

For whatever reason, I seem to draw primarily two types of men.

1. Protectors who want to take care of me
2. Weirdos who want to stalk me

I guess I should be flattered that I inspire devotion of one kind or another. I’m pretty independent by nature, but I’ll admit I really do need someone to look after me. I’ve lived alone, and I don’t mind being alone (in fact, I kind of like it), but I’m useless at day-to-day living. Things like managing bills and making sure there is food in the house . . . For someone so smart, I sure can be stupid.

It’s good, then, that there have been guys willing to take me in like some kind of stray. I’m forever grateful to those who’ve cared for me in that way. But then there are the other types . . .

There were two in elementary school: Andrew and Ryan. Each thoroughly dedicated to me for no reason whatsoever except that I was nice enough to answer them when they spoke to me. I’ve since learned to mostly not talk to people, but it took a few decades. I want to be nice because I do want people to like me. I just don’t want them to like me so much they follow me around all the time. Because that’s weird.

It didn’t get scary until high school. A kid named James was infatuated with me and used to linger around corners and watch me. Then he started turning up outside my house. Since he didn’t live anywhere near me—in fact, he lived on the other side of town—it was more than a little creepy. Added to that was the fact James was a goth type and into vampires, so he always gave me the feeling he was waiting for an opportunity to bite me.

There was also a kid named Scott, but I have to give him a pass because he was seriously mental. He’d find whatever class I was in and burst in and start giving random weather reports on the board and or start a game of Wheel of Fortune . . . without a wheel. He’d write, I dunno, I guess it was fan fiction (All In the Family and Transformers are the ones I most recall) and bring it to me so I could “copyright” it for him (I did this by putting a little “c” inside a circle at the bottoms of the pages). Scott was seriously messed up, and I felt sorry for him. Though when he learned I worked at the public library, he would go there looking for me and I’d have to hide and have Mike shoo him away.

The boyfriends didn’t help. I seemed to land the obsessive/possessive types that called constantly and wanted to know what I was doing every minute of every day.

I went away to uni and had another strange one—Michael—start following me around. He’d hang around outside my [all girls] dorm, linger after classes we had together (we had the same major) in the hopes of catching me. He started taking all his meals in our dorm cafeteria (which was open to all with a meal card) so I felt like I could never eat there unless I had a crowd of friends around me as a buffer.

“He likes you,” my friends would say about James, about Michael, and later about Cecil and Steve. Yes, okay. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with information like that—information that is, btw, patently obvious even to someone as oblivious as I am. Why does he like me? And what am I supposed to do about it exactly?

I must be losing my touch, my allure, though because aside from the occasional Internet stalker I’ve managed to avoid any unwanted hangers on over the past few years. Of course, I stay in a lot these days. Probably just as well.

My Favorite Year

My son is in second grade and today he asked me what my favorite year [in school] had been. It was an interesting question; I’d never really thought about it. When I did try to answer, I found it easier to pick out the bad years than the good.

Seventh and eighth grades (ages 12 to 14) I recall as being difficult. Not in terms of curriculum; I always found school itself remarkably easy. But those were emotionally problematic years. We had moved and I had trouble settling into my new surroundings. School was school was school but the other students were different from what I was used to, and they mostly all knew each other, and it didn’t help that those were awkward years involving things like braces on my teeth.

Somewhere between eighth grade and moving on to high school, though, I found my place. Maybe because our high school consisted of two middle school populations, and so at that point everyone was dealing with new faces. I did all right until my junior year. To this day, that counts as the worst, most painful year of my life: September 1992 through the summer of 1993. The lingering effects were felt as my senior year began, but by the time we got through to graduation I had cleared away the worst of it and was looking forward to going away to university.

(And I have my high school reunion coming up in June . . .)

“But did you like college?” my son asked, and I told him I did. “I was good at it,” I said, which is true. University life afforded a freedom and independence that I craved, and I enjoyed starting fresh and learning to be myself without the constructs of my classmates or even my immediate family defining me. There was no one to say who I should be or how I should act, no one around in the sea of faces who had preconceived notions about me. As an only child I already knew how to be comfortable alone with myself, but at university I learned how to be comfortable being myself around others. I made some of my best friends during my undergraduate years. (Not so much as a grad student, but that’s a very different dynamic and my schools were very different as well, the first being a massive university with a beautiful, sprawling campus, the second a college bound by a dense and compact city. It was good, perhaps, to have both kinds of experiences.)

My son wants to skip some grades and go to college early, is trying to decide between Stanford and Cal Tech. (For the record, he’s eight years old.) He’s certainly smart enough, but he’ll need to focus a bit more. Or get a fencing scholarship. Which means he really needs to practice fencing more. It’s that careful balance that parents must maintain: encouraging their children while still managing their expectations. Which is why when my son asked me which were my best school years, the diplomatic answer was, “Some are always better than others. In school and in life. You just enjoy when you can and get through the less fun stuff as quickly as possible. Because there will always be another good year coming.”

This Is Me (Part XVII: The Shakespeare Thing)

I borrowed my love of Shakespeare from Lynn, my best friend’s mother. She was (is) like a second mother to me, always encouraging my creativity. And when I was still really young—eight or nine—she made me a calligraphy sign with a matte she had hand cut flowers into: “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

It’s from Hamlet, crazy Ophelia carrying on, but the words inspired me, and the fact that Lynn had thought to give them to me made me feel loved.

Much later I would perform Hamlet a few different times, then teach it to 9–12 year olds. Who loved it. So many people get tripped up by the language, but get the kids (and adults) past all that and the stories are fantastic. Stuff of soap operas.

In high school we were required to read the four major tragedies, one per year: Romeo and Juliet our freshman year, Julius Caesar our sophomore year, Macbeth our junior year, and finally Hamlet our senior year. Somewhere in there we also read Twelfth Night.

Because I was in honors English Lit, we did a bit more than the other classes. Our freshman year we rewrote Romeo and Juliet—I and one other writerly student were the writing team—into a New York mob/gangster story. (Yes, before Baz did it!) I then played Lord Capulet with a ponytail, sunglasses, a Hawaiian shirt, and a thick Brooklyn accent. Our teacher videotaped it. For the next three years, freshman would come to me and say, “You’re Lord Capulet!”

For Julius Caesar I was Cassius. For Macbeth, the Third Witch. And for Hamlet I was at one point Ophelia, then asked to switch to Hamlet. For Twelfth Night, I was Viola. (I was also Thoreau in The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail.)

When I went off to uni, I took some drama/acting classes to fulfill a requirement and had my teacher suggest I make theatre my major; only majors could take the higher-level courses, you see. But even as a non-major, I was able to participate in showcases. I did stuff from Sexual Perversity in Chicago (something about a naked la-la is all I recall), Holiday, Picnic . . . And when I did a scene from Crimes of the Heart with a thick Southern accent then came off stage and spoke in my normal voice, I got yelps of surprise—it seems everyone had assumed the accent was my normal voice. (I’m a natural mimic, which is why my kids love me to read to them; I do all the voices.)

My Winedale Class
My Winedale Class
Oh, but Shakespeare. Still and always my favorite. I once saw William Shatner interview Patrick Stewart, and Stewart said something about how Shakespeare came naturally to him, he never had any trouble with the language. It made sense to him. And that’s how it was for me, too. I read and understood. The language barrier simply didn’t exist for me. But then, that was true for poetry as well. I am programmed for these things.

So then I found out about Winedale. And signed right up. And we did Hamlet! But the First Quarto, which is somewhat different from the known text.

The class was actually titled “Shakespeare Through Performance,” and a lot of kids had signed up thinking they would be watching a bunch of Lawrence Olivier movies or something. But a few of us had friends who’d done the course, so we knew the truth. And we were stoked. Once a big group had dropped the class, a core group of us were left. For months we would live together on weekends, practice almost every night . . . It was such a camaraderie.

The auditions were a bit strange. Everyone would participate in the show, and everyone would have two parts: one for the first night, a different one for the second. We were given Kenneth Patchen poems to memorize for the auditions so that Doc Ayers and Madge could decide what our roles would be. My poem began: “Because to really ponder/one needs wonder” . . . I was cast as Corambis, which was the name of the character most people now know as Polonius. (For the second night I was the Murderer in the play and a mere herald, the idea being I shouldn’t be given too many more things to memorize.)

When I perform, I can’t ever remember it afterward. But I suppose I did well since I had people coming up after the show to thank me. I knew that, because the audience was laughing when they were supposed to, it must have been all right. And I was able to cover when Hamlet almost forgot to join me on stage for our discussion of cloud shapes.

Later, having moved to Massachusetts, I was asked to teach Shakespeare at a summer camp. It was surprisingly a very big hit. “My kid won’t stop talking about Shakespeare!” parents kept telling the camp director. And, “I wish we’d learned it that way. I might have liked it more.” I taught Hamlet the first summer, Romeo and Juliet the second, Taming of the Shrew the third, and Macbeth the fourth. Then we moved.

My Hamlet and Macbeth students opted to rewrite and play with the stories. My R&J and TotS students wanted to do the pieces as written. I always gave the class the choice. First rule: Don’t shove it down their throats. If you do, they’ll only gag on it and spit it all up.

I found that discussing the plays opened the door to discussing much bigger issues: suicide, abuse (cuz Petruchio isn’t really very nice to Kate). In every instance it was the kids who broached the topic. But my natural counselor instincts kicked in, and it made for interesting conversation. Later, the girls would ask me for advice about this or that boy, and one of my male students wanted to talk in private about a friend who cut herself, while another wanted to relieve himself of the story of a friend’s brother’s suicide. I like when my students trust me and are comfortable with me.

I don’t have students any more, and I haven’t done any Shakespeare in a long while, but I still enjoy him whenever I get the opportunity. Joss Whedon’s Much Ado was a real treat. And I do believe it’s better to either watch or perform Shakespeare than to read his plays. (Sonnets, you ask . . . Well, I’ve read them . . . But it’s the plays I really like.) Not sure what the educational system hopes to accomplish by having kids read a play, any play, really. Maybe to introduce them to the form? What it looks like on a page? But then, too, plays published for reading versus those published for performance often look different.

I always reminded my students that Shakespeare wasn’t writing to be lofty. He was trying to crank out the next blockbuster play (since there was no film in his day). We treat the work with such reverence, but that’s a bit silly. Better to come at it with a sense of fun. We wouldn’t treat a copy of a Michael Bay script as something to be venerated. No more should we Shakespeare’s plays. To put things on a pedestal automatically makes them distant and untouchable. Shakespeare should be something you get into, like a pit of mud. Wallow in it, splash around. You’ll enjoy it a lot more that way.

This Is Me (Part XVI: High School)

So in sixth grade I was at a private school but was asked to leave after the conclusion of that year because I was something of a disruption to the faith-based education. And then seventh and eighth grades were spent in middle school and nothing very interesting happened. And then, of course, I went on to high school, and that wasn’t all that interesting either.

High school was, for me, something to be got through so I could get on with life. I kept my head down and did my work. I suppose I had friends, or there were at least people who would say they were my friend, or at least admit they knew me . . . It’s strange. I understand people from a distance. I can make perfect sense of their interactions with one another. And I’m very self-aware, too, and know myself really well. But somehow when the equation includes others + me, I can never solve it. I have no clear idea of how my peers perceive me. And really, it’s never much mattered to me either way. With a handful of exceptions—that is, people I could not, or at least would rather not live without—I can take or leave them, so it doesn’t much matter whether they take or leave me. (Notice I said “peers.” My strongest bonds are with people older or younger than me.)

I was a good student. Won school medals in biology and journalism. I don’t even like biology, but it was easy for me. Well, and I did like genetics. DNA and the matrices of alleles were very interesting to me. I was good at chemistry, too, and often had fellow classmates come looking for me to help them understand it. Physics . . . I think I learned most of that from MacGyver, actually. What can I say? Science comes naturally to me.

I did a bit of debate and was told I should become a district attorney. I’m terrible when I get something in my jaws, and that’s why I gave it up; I didn’t like the feeling, the anger. So I stuck with journalism, with writing for the school paper and being editor of the yearbook. My journalism teacher was one of my great encouragers, and we even went to Star Trek conventions together. She gave me a book of inspirational quotes when I graduated and wrote that she knew I’d be a great writer one day.

A couple other teachers also had impact on me. Mr. Harvey, my geometry teacher. He was also the chess club sponsor. I’d sometimes hang back after class just to chat with him about his extensive travels. He’d lived in New Zealand. Mr. Harvey used to ask, after explaining something in class, “Clear as mud?” And I was the only one who ever laughed. I use that phrase now with my kids, but they totally don’t get it. Ever logical, my oldest son always says, “But mud isn’t clear.”

Then there was Dr. Robertson, the world history teacher. Spoke something like five languages. The only person to ever get my last name right on the first go. He lived around the corner from us, too, and I’d see him on weekends, sitting outside and sipping tea. Doc Robertson was not easy to get close to, but you couldn’t help but respect him. And I was very good at world history; it’s a subject that honestly interests me. So we had a sort of mutual respect, and that was nice.

And of course there was Mr. C. Had him two years running for English Lit and still sometimes get an occasional e-mail from him.

I would get to school one of two ways: If I was willing to get up early enough, my mother would drop me off. If I was feeling lazy, I had to walk. I didn’t mind except when it was hot and I’d end up sweaty. I remember one day I was walking in the rain and my classmate Topher pulled up in his truck and asked if I wanted a ride. I was so stunned, I could only shake my head. I don’t know why I said no; Topher was a great guy, though we seldom had any contact. I feel bad now because I can see that he must have felt rejected. In my senior yearbook he wrote something like, “And now you even talk to me sometimes.” Sorry, Topher, if my painful shyness came across as my being a bitch.

When I would go into school really early, I would sit in the cafeteria and one by one others would come and sit with me. Each would open up and tell me all these things that were wrong in their lives, and I would just listen, like some kind of therapist. “I hate my mom because . . .” or “My girlfriend is making me crazy with . . .” They all seemed to know and trust I wouldn’t tell anyone else. Every now and then I’d ask a question or offer a suggestion. One person would finish, get up and go get breakfast, and then someone else would shuffle into the vacant chair. I was Lucy Van Pelt! Only nicer, I hope. They almost always bought me doughnuts as payment.

One good friend was an artist, and he was having a difficult time because he came from a very driven Asian family that insisted he should become an engineer. He once made me a beautifully illustrated collection of famous quotes about love, though to this day I don’t know if it meant anything or if he was trying to make me feel good. And I’ll never be able to ask him because he committed suicide a few years after we graduated. That really bothers me. I feel like I failed him somehow.

At least half of my friends were gay, but being that we lived in Texas (and not in the liberal Austin area), none of them were advertising. This worked out for all of us because people could assume I was one or the other’s girlfriend, and the guys knew I was never going to pressure them. And I got the biggest homecoming mum ever, so that was cool.

The guys I did actually date came mostly from the ranks of my church youth group; these were the boys of which my parents approved, and they were also the only ones brave enough to make moves. Charles I had to drop because he was too clingy. Greg—a college man! studying to become a pastor (Mom always did expect me to be a pastor’s wife)—I had no feelings for one way or another, and when he began to sense my apathy he gently “let me down.” Except I didn’t care because I was about to go away to college myself. And I knew I wouldn’t be carrying anything with me. The plan was to start fresh.

Song of the Day: “Everywhere I Go” by Jackson Browne

Perhaps I should explain my love of Jackson Browne; my high school English Lit teacher had a poster of him in the classroom and would talk to it whenever he thought we were no longer listening. Mr. C then encouraged me to enter a writing contest sponsored by Browne . . . I wish I had a copy of the poem/song I wrote (just words, no music; I can’t read music, I sing by ear, natural mimic) . . . But anyway, Mr. C also made me a cassette of Late for the Sky and Running on Empty and I listened to it over and over again, falling in love with Browne’s use of words. For me, music is as much about the lyrics as the beat. Maybe because I sing, and it’s important to me to know what I’m saying, and to feel it when I sing.

So here is one of my favorites by Jackson Browne; I think it’s on I’m Alive, an album I found uneven, though I do adore the title track. And this one:

I hear your heart beating everywhere
When we’re apart I can hear you there
I hear your heart beating everywhere
Everywhere I go

People say that I must be in love
The way I forget what we’re speaking of
The way I stand there smiling straight ahead
And walk away without hearing a word they said

I hear your heart beating everywhere
When we’re apart I can close my eyes and hear you there
I hear your heart beating everywhere
Everywhere I go

In the middle of the football game
At the beach in the pouring rain
Standing on a hillside staring at the sun
People hurry by the unfortunate one
With the faraway eyes and the mystery smile
Moving my body in a ragamuffin style
I can’t sit down when I hear it start
I hear your heart everywhere I go

People say that I must be a fool
Cause when I’m near you I cannot be cool
I don’t quite make sense when I talk to you
And when you smile I forget everything I knew

I hear your heart beating everywhere
When we’re apart I can close my eyes and hear you there
I hear your heart beating everywhere
Everywhere I go

Standing in the market where I buy my bread
With a hunger in my belly and a rhythm in my head
Looking all around for something good to eat
Between the butter and the beans and the mops and the meat
Coffee from the mountain, honey from the bee
Nothing tastes as good as you taste to me
Rocking in the aisle to my inside song
People staring at me think I got a walkman on

I hear your heart beating everywhere
I hear your heart
I hear your heart beating everywhere
I hear your heart
Beating everywhere I go

Play it and Sting’s “Love is the Seventh Wave” back to back and you can’t go wrong.

This Is Me: (Part XII: Asperger’s)

It’s been suggested that I use my ability to articulate to explain or describe Asperger’s. And that’s really not possible because of course everyone with Asperger’s is an individual; we’re all different and we do things differently and feel things differently, even if we do have things in common. One might just as easily ask a single human being to speak to the experience of being a human being—how could they? One can only speak for oneself. Anything else is generalization.

But I’ll do my best to guide you through my life as someone with Asperger’s. And perhaps some of what I say will resonate for others who have it.

Of course, I didn’t know I had Asperger’s when I was a kid. Back then, it wasn’t something people looked out for, parents or medical professionals. So then people always ask me, “But you knew you were different, right?” Well . . . Not really. I mean, it wasn’t something I thought about. I was so absorbed in the things that interested me—the books, the TV shows I liked, the movies I watched over and over—that I sort of had blinders on in terms of the wider world. I believe it’s not uncommon for people on “The Spectrum” to develop these kinds of obsessive interests. We just need things we can focus on. That’s how we’re built.

As to being different, there were definite moments when the fact I was different was tossed in front of me so that I had to face it. Often this was because someone literally said things like, “You’re weird.” (Even my mother was known to say this; she was honestly worried about me, why I wasn’t more social, etc.) These comments were like darts in me; they hurt and I would want to cry. But later, in private, I would often pull that dart from whence it pierced me and examine it. Why was I weird? In what way(s)? And did it matter enough to me to change?

The truth is, I liked the things I liked, and I didn’t want to stop liking them, nor did I know how to hide my enthusiasm for them. And here I became very lucky, or blessed—however you like to think of these things. Because I had two good friends who were willing to go along with the weird stuff I liked. And I had a father who was willing to listen and discuss these things, too. (And later I would use my power of words to get others to like things like Watership Down.)

Still, the amount of energy and intensity I devoted to my interests . . . I think it exhausted my friends a bit. And that intensity sometimes spilled over to include them, making them part of my obsession, and that was almost certainly a bit frightening for them, too. But somewhere, somehow I learned how to pull back. Compose myself. I think this is because I found approval so important. Not from my friends or peers, but from the adults around me: my parents, my teachers, my best friend’s mom. I don’t know why this was (or is), but the desire for approval motivated me to, well, behave.

I knew what was expected of me. Adults made it pretty clear: sit, be quiet, do your work. Maybe that’s why I liked them more than my unpredictable peers who never would say exactly what they wanted or required of me in order for me to be “liked.” Adults had rules, and those I could learn and follow. My classmates had rules, too, I think, but they were not clear cut. They made no sense to me, and I could not be bothered to expend the energy to try and learn and understand them.

In this way I became a model student and the pet of various teachers. Which probably didn’t help me much in the eyes of my fellow students, but I had my blinders on and didn’t care. Except on the occasions someone was outright mean to me, I was oblivious. And when other kids were nice to me, I was bewildered. I did not know how to respond to kindness from a peer, and I think that probably made me seem even more strange and cold and aloof and maybe even just plain bitchy.

This is the bottom line for someone like me: we need things to be concrete, logical. We want very much to win your love and approval, but if there are no definite ways to do that, we are at a loss. And then, when people do profess to like or love us, we can’t figure out why or how we did it. The whole world for us is a strange social experiment.

And yet we aren’t without feeling. We just don’t know how to show it appropriately. My mother used to say I was “tenderhearted.” And I am. I can cry for days about something on the news if I let myself think about it too much. If I put myself in someone else’s shoes, someone hurting, a victim, I am devastated. I had to teach myself to not think about these things. Like a psychic teaching himself to turn off his ability to read others’ minds.

When I was in school, part of the pilot program I was in was designed to determine our strengths. Mine were words/communication and “perception.” A sort of ability to see into people. So many articles say people with Asperger’s can’t read people, so either I’m different or we can but we do it differently than is typical. Or we learn, like with the empathy, to turn it off. Or maybe we’re just so damn focused on those other interests that we don’t bother with the people around us. My guess is that happens a lot.

But really, it’s the rules again. It’s Sherlock Holmes-ing your way through. I predicted Amy Poehler and Will Arnett’s breakup months before it happened. How? By watching the way they stood next to one another. Their body language was very clear. There are rules that apply almost universally, and people with Asperger’s are very good with things like that. If they can be bothered.

It’s why the teachers had me pegged to be either a district attorney or a criminal profiler. It’s what made me a great peer counselor in high school. Funny, isn’t it? That the girl who used to teasingly be referred to as “Data” (from ST:TNG) was the one the kids would come see early in the morning, creeping to her table, their heads ducked. They would sit and tell me all about the troubles at home, problems with teachers, etc. And I would nod and listen and only if/when I perceived they wanted a response or advice would I give it. And then they’d go buy me a cinnamon sugar doughnut as compensation for my time.

I began taking psychology classes my freshman year at university. Part of the curriculum was for students to go be tested themselves in various studies. I was used to having my IQ checked every couple years, so that bit was a breeze. But then one day a professor called me in and said, “We think you have Asperger’s.”

I didn’t know what that was. He said it was on the autism spectrum. At that time, the general view of autism was that people who had it sat in the corner and drooled, so of course I said, “No I don’t!” But then they explained it to me . . . And I said, “Well, then my dad must have it too.” And they said that was possible, maybe even likely.

And then I said, “So?”

Because having a name for it doesn’t change anything. I am who I am. I could hold up Asperger’s as some kind of excuse for acting the way I do, but I don’t want to. Maybe it’s nice to be able to say, “Oh, there’s a reason for all this.” But even if there wasn’t . . . The end result is the same. Me. Being me. Different and weird and focused and intense. Supremely logical but also terribly sensitive. Withdrawn because pain is unbearable and even a slight criticism cuts deeply. With a need for personal space and regular time alone. And with a sense of humor few others understand.

This is only a slice of what it means to have Asperger’s. And this, again, is only my personal experience. Sometimes, after having known a person a while, I’ll mention that I have it. They always say, “Really?! I never would have known.” And that’s because a person is a person is a person. We’re all quirky. No matter what name you give those quirks.

This Is Me (Part X: 1989)

I could write about entering the American public school system, this time without benefit of a pilot program to catch me, but there isn’t much to say. I’m a highly adaptable person, so while change can make me anxious on the inside, I seldom fight it. I more or less suck it up and say, Well, nothing I can do about it, so here goes . . .

But 1989 holds a kind of special glow in my memory, mostly due to the media of that year. Two albums and one movie from that year had a huge impact on me: Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever, Don Henley’s The End of the Innocence, and of course Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

I spent the summer of 1989 back in Georgetown, staying two weeks with my friend Emily and then another two weeks with my best friend Tara, and in each of those weeks we went to see Last Crusade, making a grand total of four times for me—to that date, the most I’d ever gone to see any one film at the cinema. Considering my limited resources (that is, my weekly allowance), that I would spend it repeatedly on seeing this movie was quite a statement. What’s funny, though, is that I also associate seeing Last Crusade with eating dill pickles and hot dogs . . . I think we must have eaten a lot of cinema food while watching the film. That’s the only reason I can imagine for this particular connection.

The music was thanks to the influence of Tara’s mother Lynn (I’ve written about her before, how she also got me started on Shakespeare). Years before, she’d also turned me on to Genesis, and later I’d have her to thank for introducing me to Collective Soul, so . . . Yeah.

Really, though, 1989 did feel like the end of something. The decade, certainly, and that fall I entered eighth grade as well, which felt like a tangible shift in my world. I’m not sure why, since I’d spent seventh grade at the same school (Delay Middle School). But in eighth grade, at least, I knew how things worked going in. In seventh grade, coming from a private school, I hadn’t had that luxury.

Eighth grade involved teachers noticing me, in good ways: Mrs. Atkins encouraged my creative writing, Coach Roberts (who was also the Earth Science teacher) actually called my parents to congratulate them on raising such a fine young lady. My phys ed coach, too, used to let me duck class and go up with a friend to play ping pong rather than having to do whatever the rest of the class was doing. I don’t know why. Maybe because I was so hopeless at pretty much anything (except soccer and, later, weight lifting of all things)—one of the boys in phys ed used to have to stand behind me and help me swing the bat when we played softball. Was I faking just to get the boy’s attention? No. But did I like it anyway? Oh yes. The joy of having a boy that close way outweighed any embarrassment at my lack of skill. And that’s probably exactly why I was then sent off to play ping pong with my friend Marnissa instead. Huh. I only just figured that out.

Marnissa had a crush on me, and I think it’s really funny (by which I mean interesting as opposed to humorous) that girls used to crush on me and were always willing to admit it. In grade school a girl named Jamie fessed up to it, and then it was Mars (as I called her and—totally unrelated—she used to braid my hair in these amazing, elaborate ways), and in college a girl named Gabrielle . . . I’ve been hit on by more women than men, I think. I don’t mind. I’m not picky, at least not in terms of gender. Just a bit oblivious unless someone stands right in front of me and says something, and maybe women are more wont to do that than men, or maybe I’m just more attractive to women for whatever reason. I don’t know.

In any case, 1989 was certainly a tipping point. At having become a teenager, I felt prompted suddenly to “grow up,” only I wasn’t sure how to do that. It was confusing. Things were the same, but changing. Friends I had only just made moved away that year, leaving me exposed and alone on the brink of high school. But just as with moving from private to public school, I simply took a deep breath and then the plunge.