3 Writers

John Jerimiah Sullivan

As a writer of creative nonfiction, Sullivan is possibly the writer for whom I have the most envy.  The collection Pulphead has about everything you could want from an essayist:  engaging, almost unbelievable stories from the author’s own past which also do some work in shedding light on why he became a writer in the first place, comprehensive profiles, and staggering research projects that show both the author’s exhaustive research process and obsession with his subject material.  Sullivan’s language is accessible and startling, with apt references/allusions and images summoned quickly and slow to fade.  I often teach “Feet in Smoke” to illustrate how it’s possible to seamlessly blend summary, scene, and reflection to create something layered, meaningful, and impossible to put down.  The emotions rendered in the piece are raw and complex and it sits right at the absurd intersection of humor and tragedy.  His profile of Guns n’ Roses singer Axl Rose, while far from objective, is honest and complete.  His lengthy study on the anthropological history of North America’s forgotten caves is beyond thorough and like any good research essay, had me jealous for such a perfect occasion for an essay.

When I sit down to write an essay, one goal of mine is always to keep that wide eyed fascination and obsession that makes Sullivan’s work.

Lia Purpura

The relationship between essays and poetry is something I’m constantly turning over, and Purpura is in my mind, a prime study and worthy inspiration.  I first read her in an anthology prescribed for a craft class in graduate school, which contained the essay “Autopsy Report.”  What draws me most to Purpura’s essay writing, and what I hope to be influenced by, is the clear influence of poetry on her craft.  Poetry was my first love in the writing world, and while writing essays has been my focus for years now, I am determined to let my background in poetry inform my projects. “Autopsy Report” remains the essay of hers that I keep coming back to for inspiration. It begins with artful repetition which somehow pays tribute, in gorgeous, at times horrifying prose, to the lives behind the bodies she encounters in her study, and confesses her intention to know, to touch, to explore their lives, their deaths, and the fascination which brought her there.  The essay is surprising and personal at every turn, with descriptions that showcase a poet’s talent for connections that in anyone else’s hands would remain obscure at best, but in hers feel inevitable.  The tension between expectation and experience is what drives this work, and by the end, there isn’t what I would call closure, but a working combination of change in perspective and a deepened sense of familiarity.  Purpura’s It Shouldn’t Have Been Beautiful, one of several collections of poems, is almost rigid in the brevity of its lines, but masterful in its turns and essay-like in its exploration of the poem’s various subjects.


Wendell Berry

I got to know Wendell Berry when I was about twenty, and he has been one of my most crucial teachers.  A poet, essayist, tobacco farmer, and activist in his own right, Berry as a person would be a sufficient inspiration.  But his ability to build an argument with air-tight reasoning, an unabashed personal connection, an arsenal of invaluable support, and a seasoned orator’s delivery is what made Berry indispensable to my work.  Berry’s logic is often right out in front, but it doesn’t bash the reader over the head.  It directly informs his structure, but it doesn’t steal the show or bore. His language is accessible, but his vocabulary is immense and well-wielded. With titles like “Getting along with Nature”, and work ranging in topics from common sense arguments against nuclear power facilities to mankind’s connection (or loss thereof) to nature illustrated by the profound confusion of feeling like an outsider in the woods, a main focus of Berry’s work has always been environmental issues.

Berry’s writing showcases a deep connection to place and stresses deeply personal investment in problems and solutions affecting all of us. Berry has been a mainstay of most curricula I develop and, I hope, a steady influence on my own work. Most essentially, Berry reminds me, as Dylan did for the Beatles, to write about what matters.

I Was a Fifth Grade Dystopian

In fifth grade, during one of those structured periods of down time in the computer room, I started writing a story called “Evolution” in which the primates evolve to surpass human intelligence and overtake our society (I was not popular). Probably this was on the heels of a lesson on Darwin and common ancestors.  Or maybe that was around when we went on a field trip to Binghamton’s Ross Park Zoo. But my latest obsession was with the concept of natural selection, which to me then took the form of a fascination with those animals most closely related to us. There was the implacably human quality of a gorilla’s expression, the chimp’s playfulness and the same time its calculated interactions, the contemplative affect of an orangutan. What was it about them exactly that made them seem human – a there-ness, a curiosity? – and maybe something else. A resentment, a resignation.  They asked back the question of our stares.

If living things incubating in the millennia had changed that drastically – if we had come from the same family tree as this gorilla, who at the Buffalo Zoo I watched twist open his orange-aid, close his lips around it, tilt his improbable noggin back and sip it down in three smooth contractions – how long before this particular manifestation of nature got tired of people killing it for its hands or  sticking it in a room with two strangers to be taunted by what looked like its upright, hairless children, always out of reach beyond barriers it wasn’t allowed to understand?


It was during that time Hoyts Cinema on Front Street was the shit – 12 theaters, a second floor dedicated to first person shooter arcade games like Time Crisis or LA Machine Guns, huger overpriced slushy drinks and for some reason, Pizzaria Uno personal pizzas. On the way out, with my mind still stuck onto the residue of some film’s reality, I’d seen hanging up on the theater’s wall an obscene three-eyed smiley face with the word Evolution. The film, which I never saw, turned out to be a creature-feature starring X-Files superstar and probable android David Duchovny.  “Hunt down the mutating alien threat” type deal. Not exactly where I was going in my story. But the implications, along with those of the iconic X-Files and Twilight Zone episodes, as well as several not-so-iconic shape-shifter sci-fi specials, was of man having put himself in a precarious position, in tangible opposition to a personification, representative and representation of the very evolutionary forces that had forged him, an unwillingness to relinquish his position at the top of the heap, as “fittest” to survive.

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I brought my story home with the enthusiasm of the kid certain of the irreplaceable nature of the quarz-and-pyrite-strewn rock he’s yanked up. And then my mom explained Planet of the Apes. After the anguish of reconciling how handily I’d been beaten (it was a dirty trick, a pre-emptive strike, making the movie two decades before my birth) the fact that the idea already existed in the world as a full series grew my head a little bit, and also forced me to consider whatever truths were at work behind these myths.

Several months later, the 2001 remake of Planet came out, and I watched both. An Animal Farm-like dystopian allegory, the story, like my own failed one, has as an engine in human arrogance.  The future-us, who had advanced to the point of deep-space travel, had failed to recognize whatever laws of the universe allowed their party to travel far enough to end up on earth hundreds of years into the future without the slightest idea when or where they were (Not to mention the whole losing civilization to apes thing).

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As with the pigs in Orwell’s novel, the abominable qualities in the evolved apes are human uglinesses allowed to fester to society-infecting strength.  For instance, Dr. Zaius extinguishing the protagonist’s paper airplane, and with it any evidence backing up the astronauts’ story of having crash-landed on the ape world, is hardly an unexpected course of action, but a predictable and fitting response to a story that could challenge the legitimacy of the Apes’ naturally bogus origin story. It is also a gut-icing echo of the suppression by politicians and legislators of irrefutable evidence of human-driven climate change, and the teaching of Darwinian evolution as mandated, standard, universal.  These topics are not avoided, but actively opposed by influential lobbying groups because of their intended damage to the narrative that unmitigated  industrial progress and the spreading of Christian values will be the savior of all we claim to hold dear (obviously racist policing and legal systems and the need to do something about policies allowing murderous whackjobs – technical term I’m sure – to legally stockpile guns are only a couple that also belong on that list). Planet of the Apes confuses the wagging finger of culpability by reminding us that warfare goes far, far back down into the family tree (troops of chimpanzees, for instance are known to carry out coordinated  raids and ambushes on their territorial rivals in wars that span multiple generations)even playing off of the unfortunate myth that people came from apes.  No, the unseemly traits witnessed in the apes on the screen and in the evening news are older than modern humans or chimps. So the sociological concerns underneath POTA include not simply a fear of human nature’s shortcomings, but a fear that progress and evolution themselves include a self-limiting mechanism, which is to  wire whichever beings enjoying their benefits to eventually become so selfish and arrogant as to self-sabotage in epic fashion.

Which is sort of where I came to the keyboard in fifth grade.  My non-story and POTA (and come to think of it, Terminator and The Matrix) are based in the worry that an Icarian oversight will corrupt our ambitions, allowing some humbler “citizens” of our world (always products and victims of human civilization’s hierarchical structure) to take the reins, that it might be too late for the human spirit to redeem itself in the traditional way – by remembering/recognizing that compassion and humility are requisites for a happy and connected society.

Facts, Faith, and Education in Post-Truth America

Consider for a moment that we’re now actually living in the post-fact era.  The signs are right in front of us.  President-elect Donald Trump has recently shrugged off a CIA report confirming Russian involvement in influencing the elections via cyber-attack, denouncing it as a scheme cooked up by Democrats to deny him the presidency.  Though Trump has chosen to ignore the seriousness of this conundrum, the stakes of which are clear and baffling to seemingly everyone else (in politics and otherwise), he encouraged and praised Comey’s fruitless and suspiciously-timed re-opening of the tired Clinton email controversy, which arguably cost her the election.  Though he hinted numerous times that he’d refuse to concede had the election turned in favor of Hillary (who he insists without any evidence, won the popular vote due to massive fraudulent democratic voting) and though he’s just as often called the electoral system corrupt and unreliable, he’s denounced all efforts towards a recount in the key states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.  He has also famously sat out on more than 80% of the intelligence briefings he’s been offered, while asserting that his knowledge and strategy regarding ISIS “trump” those currently in the driver’s seat. Leave out for now that Trump’s narcissistic, sociopathic behavior has alarmed  a number of respected professionals, and that his titanic ego, which is damaged by just about any sort of criticism, may very well prevent him from actually catching up on the lifetime of world events and political theory he’s missing and which would allow him to carry out the role of the presidency with some degree of success.  For those of us who are alarmed by these facts, now more than ever is the time to arm ourselves – with logic, compassion, and an unwillingness to accept mediocrity.


But in order to arrive at a solution, we have to consider the implications of reality as we know it. Trump is only the top of the pimple. Trump did not invent a society that values capital over education and bigoted, chest-beating machismo over critical thinking; he is a product of it.  While we should all be offended and scared when the President-elect refuses intelligence briefings because he is “smart”, or implies that the Russia-damning CIA report is bunk because he doesn’t “believe” Russian hackers meddled with the election, we must do the painful work of using such statements as a mirror, for the work of ego-less self assessment and critical thought is exactly that which prevents the perpetuation of harmful ideas. And unfortunately, these harmful ideas(whose effects could mean the downfall of our species or planet) surround us. As a friend of mine pointed out on Facebook the other day,more Americans believe in angels than in human-caused climate change.  Though a belief in angels and a recognition of the real changes happening to our planet are not mutually exclusive, the statistic implies a culture-wide readiness to accept beliefs simply due to tradition and a tendency to shy away from commonly accepted and repeatedly proven facts, figures, and theories.



Before we incredulously ask how this sort of thing happens, or whatever happened to a Confucian love of learning, mustn’t we admit that we ourselves have at least occasionally allowed our beliefs to interfere with our perceptions of reality? A Media Literacy professor of mine once gave the example of a famous photo she had received of George W. Bush reading a children’s book upside down.  She forwarded the photo to a number of people before realizing that the picture was in fact photoshopped and that her own bias had blinded her to the fact.  Unchecked faith can be a bad thing, as it was for me when in my senior year of college I was in a failing relationship and despite my girlfriend at the time telling me as much, despite the fact of my chronic unhappiness and of the relationship’s dysfunctionality, I convinced her to push on for another few long months.


It should be no surprise that ego can get in the way of the truth.  I remember when I first read something that convinced me hell didn’t in fact exist.  The feelings of shame and immense relief that followed the acceptance of this revelation were preceded by a flash of rage and near child-like denial.  If what I had been taught was wrong, then I was wrong.  If I was wrong, might that mean that I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was? Might it mean that more of what I believed wasn’t true?



You won’t catch me saying that faith is a bad thing. For instance, we are able to go about our days in public with relative comfort because of our faith that most people are basically good (or else, too lazy to be a real threat).  Indeed, at their best, faith and spirituality can instill an invaluable sense of compassion for our fellow man, as well as the much needed impulse to attempt to see things from another’s perspective, or from the perspective of humanity or even life itself : “He who perceives all beings as the self…never shrinks away from anything, because through his higher consciousness he feels united with all of life,”(Isa Upanishad VII).


But unchecked, faith can lead to harmful, expensive, and nonsensical policy.  And this is where we find ourselves. Take for example, laws passed in Indiana and now Texas which require the burial or cremation of fetuses following a miscarriage or abortion.  There has of late been a historic wave of anti-LGBT legislation tied as always to “Religious Freedom”.   This proposed Florida law that would allow child care agencies to refuse service to individuals based on religious beliefs.And this Tennessee law  “would allow those with religious objections to undermine professional standards that apply equally to everyone. For instance, a high school guidance counselor could refuse to counsel a gay teenager, citing their sincerely held religious beliefs”.


It isn’t simply religious-and-faith-based policy that are doing serious damage.  Legislation around the country implies that while faith in the military is running strong while faith in education is plummeting. We are living in a country that spends on education only a fraction of what it spends on the military. Teachers are demonized as ineffective benefit-hoarders, school budgets regularly come under fire and schools are in a general trend spending less per student – all while national defense spending enjoys steady growth and bipartisan support. Not that defending our country isn’t important – but in discussing education, we’ve arrived at the crux of the issue.  Not only is overall funding for education falling, but education in the humanities is increasingly discouraged, with business-minded politicians and  lawmakers seeing liberal arts education as “an expendable, sometimes frivolous luxury.”  While it’s true we need more skilled laborers as well as an increase in effective science and math education, the arts and humanities are crucial in teaching youth to assess the deepening political situation as well as how being humans living in the world directly ties them to it.  Educators themselves are very often trained in the arts and humanities, and if so if we won’t fund these areas of study, we are saying we don’t value educators, and in turn education.


The election has turned a lot of things on their heads and as an educator, I’m terrified.  Loudly bragging about being right has been effectively proven just as good as actually being right. What sort of message this is sending to students we are only beginning to look at. Valuing education may be the first step in returning from our post-fact-society status, towards a society in which electing a misogynistic, egotistical bigot with  at best half of an idea of what’s really going on, is not only unconscionable but unimaginable. As Dan McAdams points out, our President-to-be has a “less than cordial relationship with the truth”.  Do we truly want the person who represents and leads our country to be one who thinks he knows enough already? It may very well be too late for all of that.  But we at least must teach our children to think critically and to challenge what they think they know and what they think is right.


America: a Continuation

After Allen Ginsberg


America I’m calling you out of your four poster bed.
Peel back the curtain:
The weasels are closing in, red and white hats.
America in middle school Bush was president and I listened to Satanic music.
I thought nothing can ruffle me. Now nine more mornings until my late twenties.
America I’m scared about November ninth.                                                                                             I read the news every day knowing I shouldn’t. It calls to me from my pocket while I ride the train.
America don’t pull me over you work for me. I’m not going to put down my hands
until you drive off.

America answer me this: you became America after a few hundred years of white gods and treaties, so does religious freedom include freedom from religion?                                               ‘Cause when we were kids we were worried about the devil and now we’re afraid of priests. I’m afraid of McDonald’s or rather I’m afraid of all-day-McGriddles, or rather I’m afraid of my own appetite.
And shouldn’t you, too?
America fast rental cars in school zones. America premium underwear, discount tires.

America climb through my window tomorrow morning to let me know
you exist.


My cats this morning hadn’t heard the news – they carried
on like normal people which I guess is what we should all be doing
be normal people like cats eat our breakfasts and cuddle up next to each other.

America you scared off half of my class.  We can’t sleep
and we can’t sleep in.
On my newsfeed, someone said
I’m going to bed, we all have work to do in the morning. A fellow
teacher wouldn’t leave his class until no one felt
hopeless I wonder how long he will be there someone
should send taco bowls.

America how could you?  Are you America? Asking for a friend.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         On mountaintops older gods are awake, blowing their horns.
America I’m scanning to make sure the floor is still there.


America you say you love me but your tongue is like sandpaper.
What kind of love should we have? Couch sleeping love screaming love?
Siblingly I don’t have to like you love? Candleburning I’m sorry love?
We’re told we don’t read enough but I’m buried alive in my newsfeed.

America what if the world sees you as the crazy uncle locked in the attic and we can’t have love? no never mind it’s the Russians again and the Chinese and them Mexicans, them bad Mexicans.

America let me be I want to remember my dreams.


America, about that spot on your hairline. I’m not sure, starts with a D.
Well First Nations are a might cross, said they stood
outside for months waiting for you to pick up the phone. Something about the water.
Something about you not getting the messages
until white people crowded the airport in Bismarck, until two thousand great-great-grandchildren of the soldiers who herded their greater grandparents away said

I was in the Gulf and spent the last twenty-odd years buried in my head
what’s that a hose sure Statey come rinse me off.

America I posted a video about your leaky black veins, my own caption too, carbon dioxide, tenth grade earth science.  Did you see it?
A friend of mine did, one of the ones with the hats. He sent me a photo
suggesting I protest by turning my heat off for the winter.

America you’re due for surgery next month we’re not sure how deep
it’ll go – some tanning, a wig, partial lobotomy
so a few of us  we’ll be your mirror, no we insist, your external hard drive.
Gonna be lots of pain and better we thought
to write flashcards than autopsies.

The Turkey that Almost Wasn’t – Autism, Food Anxiety, and the Holidays



“Most men make themselves as useful around the kitchen as ill-trained Labrador retrievers,” writes David Barry in the Thanksgiving-themed “Turkeys in the Kitchen.”  Barry believes he’s speaking for a lot of us. While eager to reap the benefits of the turkey-day cook-a-thon, he “would no more enter the kitchen than I would attempt to park a nuclear aircraft carrier.”

I can relate, although it’s not so much my gender as my sensory dysfunction that weighs me down in the kitchen.  On Thanksgiving day, surrounded by bushels of haphazardly shaped things to peel and chop and boil and bake, and other things that, when combined with the contents of several brightly colored boxes and cans will somehow become pies, all while the turkey breasts in the oven are trying their damndest not to be ready on time, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.  To add to all that, imagine that your stomach is a life-ruling diva with an impeccable watch and who regularly demands thousand calorie breakfast sandwiches. Also imagine that despite trying to impress your girlfriend on her first Thanksgiving with your family, you have to yield any peeling responsibilities to her as just about any fine motor task you set out to accomplish is hindered by a clumsiness relatively equivalent to soaking your fingers in ice water and wrapping them in gardening gloves.


“Dylan, you were a tough nut to crack,” Mom quips, referring to my childhood cooking apprenticeship “but we cracked ya!”

She’s been peeling and slicing potatoes with what can only be called mechanical efficiency while I chop the already-peeled(thanks, hon) yams with surgical care. The topic of conversation is Christmas cookie creation, past and future.  As Mom is always preoccupied with keeping the cookies organized and unburnt, and because my own tendency is to  proudly smear a half inch frosting layer on an unsuspecting Santa, it’s left to Laura to paint and accessorize hers down to the individual sugary whiskers.

“Yeah, your attention span was not the greatest,” Laura laughs.

Celeste looks up at me from a carrot and smiles. “Well, I like decorating.”

“Oh, good! Then I can frost my five cookies and get out of th- I mean, politely keep you company and definitely not eat all the frosting.”


Barry and I come from different generations. Having been raised in a single-parent household by a teacher also finishing her graduate degree, incompetence in the kitchen was not really an option for Laura or me, autism or not. Now,  as the ingredients cook and conglomerate and become a vegetable tray, candied yams, squash, and four pies, it’s impossible not to feel the pride “turkeys” like Barry are missing. After years of kitchen meltdowns and mishaps, of dumped pots of pasta and burnt forearm flesh, of overdone burgers and exploded enchiladas, I can perfectly replicate my mom’s apple crisp and my dad’s risotto, her garlic mashed potatoes and his chili. Laura can do all of this as well as bake her way out of anything.

But autism isn’t something you outgrow, and I’m not without my challenges. It isn’t so much the physical aspect of cooking that bothers me anymore.  It’s, the scheduling, the logistics.  My sense of timing has always been painfully literal. Having no concept of common human tardiness or the saying “fashionably late,” I was always the one who showed up early for school dances, who got anxiety when the teacher didn’t let us out in time to be in the lunch line exactly as scheduled, who for some reason continually takes as gospel a friend’s assertion that they’re “10 mins away.”  So a stubborn pan of eggplant (or a willful potroast) is my arch nemesis.

Thanksgiving dinner isn’t out of the woods, yet. As the side dishes near completion, the obstinate birds are a good fifteen degrees away from the magical 165 degree marker that lets us all after a good five hours, eat. The cheesy, three egg monstrosity from breakfast has quit on me, and the hunger needles are back. 3:30 has come and gone and Dad and Tony (Laura’s boyfriend) have arrived and we’re seemingly no closer to eating.

When the logic sometimes employed at restaurants fails and in returning from the bathroom the birds are still in there doing god-knows-what except cook, I pass from comic, self-aware irritation to something like despair.

“They’re never going to be done.  The rest of the food will be cold ,and they’re just gonna be taking their sweet damn time. We’re never going to eat.”

It’s been said that when one person in a family has autism, everyone has autism.  And in this case as always, everyone rises to the occasion.  Celeste puts her arms around me and laughs the laugh that takes me out of my spiral. Laura giggles and jokes empathetically.  Mom suggests rather insistently that I have half a biscuit.  Dad’s rendition of our classic “why-don’t-you-eat-a-powerbar, no-I-don’t-want-a-stupid-power-bar” argument complete with stomping and red-face, steers the room away from my abyss and towards that proverbial lighter note.


And of course, the dinner is a success and the world doesn’t end.  We go around the table with the things we’re thankful for.  I’m thankful as always for the support, for a family and a partner who live with the eccentricities that come with my Asperger’s, who don’t leave me out when it comes to teasing or fun-making, but never make me feel odd or incapable.  I’m thankful they understand me and my disability the way they understand themselves and their own struggles. I’m grateful to have a partner who takes me out to get soul food for my birthday, but isn’t afraid to challenge my excessive tendencies. I’m thankful those in my life take my appetite and its consequences seriously as it takes itself.

(I’m grateful they understand I will never ever again deal with the sensory perdition that is Black Friday shopping.)

Far from being kitchen fowl, I’m grateful I was made to push though my difficulties, but allowed to participate in my own way. I’m grateful that the Lauras and Celestes of the world will be crafting their masterpieces while people like me sneak the tenth finger full of frosting and sigh at all of the as of yet unfrosted cookies.


10 Misconceptions About Having Autism

Ten Positively Untrue Misconceptions about Having Autism


  1. People who have autism live in a world limited by a severely narrow range in interests, finding it difficult or uncomfortable to explore other areas, even for the sake of socialization.


Sure, it sounds true. As a kid I used to believe it.. Adults constantly tried to convince me to listen when people spoke and to share conversation time the same way you’d share crayons, or Twinkies, or whatever.  And at first  it worked.  I mean diving headlong into the entire Goosebumps series and the life of  the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson at the start of each conversation is a fine passage of life in third grade, but in fifth grade, the body starts to mutate, and all of a sudden you wake up and it matters a ton what girls, or boys, think. You see someone standing at her locker and suddenly for the first time in your life, leading with a list of little known facts about the Terminator movies doesn’t seem like such an air-tight strategy. So you start listening to all of these previously ignored, odious and terminally bland conversational details  – Eminem, American Idol, alcohol  yatta yatta – in hopes of finding  in this sea of lusterless normal hoopla, one relatable thread with which to maintain her interest and reign the conversation in, back to one of your more well-rehearsed topics.  So I strung along that way learning the art of minimalism and obsessive pre-screening of my comments.


There is, however one major flaw in the above strategy, which is a conclusion I arrived at after years of attempting to relate to people based on the weather, or the color of the menu board, or the mind-bucklingly irrelevant antics of some far-away teenage fame-bot who subsists on attention and strawberry vodka, which is this:

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Assume, for a second, I was right before. What if, in reality, no one else knows how to hold conversations about things that matter?  What if your potential new “friend” is just incapable of knowing the importance of Tesla’s life history?  Sure, there are a few social strictures to keep in mind and which I may never get used to.  For instance, I still have to pretend to find something really interesting about the speaker’s eyeballs for the duration of my encounters. And if I want company for longer than two minutes, I have to be “present.” Also, I’ve learned that whenever the sun rips a hole in the clouds for longer than an hour, there’s this unspoken rule that no public errand can get done, no iced coffee order completed until our yellow deity has been properly acknowledged.


But don’t let anyone tell you that you need to “branch out”.  Let them be wrong about what’s interesting.  Watching all of the major documentaries about Japanese macaques is a perfectly fulfilling use of time as far as anyone else is concerned.



  1. Lots of people with Asperger’s have, like, mental super powers, don’t they?  Does the autistic guy in your life stare into space a lot?  He’s probably figuring out an equation for the exact shape of your head or something.

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We are so misunderstood.  Just because everyone has seen Rain Man and that one Sean Penn movie, everyone’s an expert on the link between savant abilities and individuals with higher-functioning autism. During a routine hospital visit, I once had a physician ask me what my “special talent” was.  I shrugged and told her I remember the shoe sizes of all of my classmates stretching back to first grade.   Or that’s what I felt like saying.  I think I just made some generic comment about doing well in school.  Sure, were it not for my Asperger’s, I wouldn’t have the same fascination with languages that allows me to remain fluent in Spanish although I haven’t taken a formal class or had daily practice in seven years. And ok, I wouldn’t have the knack for imitation that lets me vocally impersonate a pantheon of television and movie characters. I certainly wouldn’t have been writing free verse poems about the emotional quality of rain at age four.


But why should this random doctor have to know? We’re not all like that.  That’s the lesson here, damn it.  Weigh me, check me for asthma, and let me get back to being awkward and mysterious.



  1. People with Autism Spectrum Disorder tend to be very routine oriented and become upset, potentially losing their ability to function when confronted with obstacles to or changes in this routine.


Is it reasonable to assume I won’t be able to get through the rest of my morning if I can’t have my two double-bagged cups of green tea in front of the local news at exactly nine in the morning?  Or that I can’t make it through the train ride to a job interview without running the  full gamut of curse words when it becomes clear I won’t arrive with the requisite 25 minutes to spare? Hmm.  Mightn’t it be more plausible that I’ve just always had an advanced sense of time or that only I understood the structural fragility of any given day’s schedule?


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Oh wait fuck, this one’s kind of true.



  1. Not sure if I should be worried about that guy sitting by himself in the food court with the Gameboy talking to himself…


Does what the gentleman is saying sound rehearsed or pre-recorded?  Does the conversation have its own logic and syntax and include maniacal laughter? Are unwarranted smiles involved – perhaps some clapping?


These are tell-tale signs of a malignant neuro-viral eruption during which tiny Asperger’s microbes are emitted through the pores, screams and occasionally farts, of the infected and over-stimulated Aspie.  The Autism virus is highly contagious.  Cover your children at all costs. Abandon your belongings if need be.  Symptoms of the Autism virus include immediate onset of social-pariahitis, an inability to relate to anything except maybe 80s sci-fi series, and the tendency to maliciously attack shirt tags and nylon windbreakers.



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  1. People on the spectrum are kinda vain.


It’s my argument here that mirrors are just insistent upon themselves.  So are toasters. And car windows.  And outdoor mirrors that turn out to be restaurant windows with six-year-olds effortlessly mimicking your flaunts and grimaces.


Though if we come across as vain, we can hardly be blamed.  It’s too true that some of us don’t have a fashion sense that goes beyond New Balance sneakers and 100% cotton undershirts and maybe an outdated Blink 182 wristband, and that we share the ability to turn any borderline-manageable public interaction into a cringe-fest of epic proportions.  So considering our abilities stand out, might any perceived vanity be seen as a necessary abutment, some sense of protection for our towering and lanky abilities against the vast ghetto of our deficits?


  1. People with autism can’t empathize.


This is one that particularly offends me.  Watch me shoot this down, ok?


1)If I had such a deficit in feeling empathy, how would I have figured out in a few short weeks that my cats’ favorite game isn’t “run from the vacuum?”


2) How would I have discerned, with near mind-reader-like ability, that showing up two hours early, stuffing down the entirety of the cheese platter and guzzling three liters of rootbeer  before the big game had mildly irritated my friend?


3)How would I have learned, after only six years school years, that staring at girls but not speaking to them made them feel uneasy and maybe a touch of trepidation?


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4) I am clearly a master feeler of feelings and considerer of considerations.


5) Ok so I had to work at this one a bit. But Aspies aren’t androids, and on a serious note, because so many of us have worked for so long on exactly this empathy, there’s a good chance that the Aspie in your life is more empathetic than you.



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  1. Autistic People are off in their own worlds.


Also not true.  The inner worlds “specific” to people with autism spectrum disorders have a certain “gravitational pull” if you will, that leaves others with no choice other than to grab their nose and take the plunge.  Growing up,  I dragged my sister into a Batman/Kung Fu universe for several hours a day.


I mean, just look at Tim and Eric Awesome Show, or Adventure Time, Mr. Pickles, or even Monty Python.  These bizarre universes clearly originated as highly self-referential inner autistic realms complete with their own sets of mis-wired connections and associations.  The general theory goes that none of these shows would make any sense outside of the mind of a highly Aspergian or Autistic mind.  Researchers are still unsure as to the nature of the mechanisms by which the inner world has grown, but are nonetheless convinced that a phenomenon is occurring whereby otherwise neuro-normative individuals are being subsumed into an autistic space. So yeah, avoid Adult Swim at all costs.



  1. People with Asperger’s aren’t cuddly.


Many have referred to a certain rigidity with which those of us on the spectrum carry ourselves: wandering consistently into others’ personal space bubbles without so much as a flinch, lurching into bookshelves with all of the unharnessed force of an intoxicated moose calf, chillin’ at the lunch table with three milks, two sandwiches, four napkins, and a bolt-upright posture.  Herein, I believe, lies the misconception that people with autism aren’t good cuddlers.  I mean, it could also have something to do with the 10,000 yard stare with which Kevin greets the rest of his classroom. I get it.  When you think of snuggly, you picture someone sexy on an overbleached pillowtop mattress wrestling playfully with a herd of appropriately tranquilized bunnies.  You don’t, I’m guessing, think of computer club girl with the baggy pants and the choke collars and the yeah. Why not?


The coldness often sensed from people from the Asperger’s planet is most often not the affected, Eastern-European, don’t-fuck-with-me-there-are-witches-in-my-family variety, but the coldness of space.  Being a disorder characterized by the stilted social interactions and fruitless contemplation of socializing, the distance driven between people on the spectrum and those on the outside peering in is steadily deepening.  One has only to try and transcend that space to behold that cuddliness in all of its rigid glory.

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I remember in fifth grade, a girl ran up to me, threw her arms around me and squeezed.  After weeks of tentative interaction, this had come pretty solidly out of nowhere. And yet here we both were, her arms clasped around my back, mine still fumbling painfully with the hems of my shorts, before she peeled off into the sheltering anonymity of the classroom.  The theory that a hug might be better when returned was slow-surfacing.


It was the last unreturned hug for me, but plenty out there enjoy their hugs like a punching bag in an orangutan-squeeze.


And besides, our tendency as a group to choose Game of Thrones themed picnics or stay at home and memorize the seventh Harry Potter book in front of a platter of high calorie and sensory-friendly food, makes us quite the crowd of potential cuddle-bugs indeed.





  1. People with HFA/Asperger’s love school.


False.  We do well in school. Sometimes.  We hate it as much as anyone else.  If we can stay awake through the same chemistry and North American History material we read four years ago on our smartphones out of boredom while everyone else was finishing their algebra test, there’s all that other awkward bit that happens when you take off your earphones to pay the lunch lady and you want to be appropriate so you congratulate a friend on her new shoe-laces only to notice they’re new sneakers entirely and her friends were around and how could you ever live down this error?


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  1. People with autism don’t understand sarcasm.

No, what we don’t understand is why the majority of the population, in order simply to make it through the day without imploding under the weight of their supposedly hilarious dissatisfaction, has to litter the world with bitter, disingenuous quips.  That these too often get past security and are processed by literal brain is inevitable.  Even so, some of us have studied sarcasm long enough to recognize it (probably too late to avoid embarrassment, but we recognize it).  Sometimes it just takes a moment to process and we stand there appearing to malfunction but really we’re filing it away along with all the others so that we can someday take revenge in the form of a chronological and lengthy, sarcasm-dripping blog post. #howdoesitfeel