relentlessly unpredictable

Not all the features of atypical human operating systems are bugs. By autistic standards, the “normal” brain is easily distractible, is obsessively social, and suffers from a deficit of attention to detail and routine. Thus people on the spectrum experience the neurotypical world as relentlessly unpredictable and chaotic, perpetually turned up too loud, and full of people who have little respect for personal space.
~ Steve Silberman
(NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism & The Future of Neurodiversity)

A major source of anxiety for me is any sudden change of plans. Over the years I’ve learned from observation that other people don’t see these as the catastrophes I experience and have at times concluded that there is something terribly wrong with me. Or then I think something is wrong with others, that they’re rude not to stick to a plan. I’ve spent countless hours giving myself pep talks about learning to be flexible and learning to go with the flow. When a change of plans pops into my day I have a hard time telling if it is a reasonable response to an unanticipated development or if it is just someone else’s whim. It doesn’t matter. Either way, I force myself to accept the change and exhaust myself repressing the panic I feel, trying to be “normal.”

[Lewis] Carroll’s transitions from chapter to chapter are abrupt and unexpected. Alice is rushed from one scene to the next without any opportunity to stop and process what she has just experienced, or to prepare herself mentally for what’s to come. This kind of abrupt time change, without transition, is similar to how a day at school feels to a child with AS. There is no flashback, no foreshadowing: since there is only the immediate moment, shifts in time and place are disconcerting and stressful. Carroll captures this feeling of urgency and panic very well.
~ Julie Brown
(Writers on the Spectrum: How Autism & Asperger’s Syndrome Have Influenced Literary Writing)

“Alice Meets the White Rabbit” by Margaret Winifred Tarrant

I have a very poor sense of time and an “unreasonable” fear of being late. When I know I have an appointment I rush around checking the clock all day, much like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, and cannot manage to do anything else. It seems like such a waste of time, but I cannot help it. Inevitably I leave the house too early. I watch in wonder and awe as others effortlessly multi-task and juggle appointments and chores in the course of a day. But to me it’s too overwhelming and confusing!

When surprised by the doorbell or the phone ringing I experience an adrenaline rush. I’ve worked hard over the years to not startle or gasp when that happens. Similarly, it is difficult to keep myself together when hearing a horn or a siren while out driving. On the other hand, I love the soothing sounds of foghorns and buoy bells, one of the comforts of living by the sea.

It’s interesting to me that I accept other sorts of change with far more grace, the change of seasons, the stages of life, evolution, or lifestyle changes. Knowing that nothing stays the same or lasts forever makes it easy for me to do things like let go of clutter or keepsakes and accept that children grow up and move away. Perhaps because these changes are more predictable and expected.

self-determination

“Lovers” by Pablo Picasso

How can twins with identical genetics and environment become so different and tolerate these differences so well? J. David Smith suggests that conjoined twins demonstrate an important aspect of human differentiation: intentionality. He notes that the role of self-determination has been lost in the “nature-nurture” debate about whether heredity or environment rules our lives. These two perspectives may appear to be complete opposites, but they share a common deterministic outlook. Even a compromise position still ignores how self-direction shapes our destinies. When we ignore the role of free will and active participation in our own lives, we damage and discourage ourselves.
~ David Schnarch
(Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love & Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships)

It was perhaps fifteen years ago when I read an excellent book, Passionate Marriage, quoted above, back when I was very interested in the balance between autonomy and intimacy in marriage and other relationships. And the gist of the above paragraph was etched into my mind as I embraced the idea of self-determination playing as much of a role in the course of our lives as heredity or environment.

Ever since I started this blog I have wanted to find the quote to add to my collection here. But memory is a funny thing. About the same period of time I had read another excellent book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon. I was certain I had read that paragraph in this book! Self-determination can definitely apply to will in the fight against depression, a very cruel disease. Who knows how many times I thumbed through The Noonday Demon, looking in vain for the desired paragraph? Eventually I abandoned the search.

A couple of weeks ago I happened to be rearranging my daughter’s bookshelves when I came across my old copy of Passionate Marriage. I started leafing through it, looking to see what ideas I had underlined all those years ago, before passing the book on to her. Voila! There it was. I was dumbfounded.

Tim and I often joke about our ever-changing memories. I’ve taken to saying that the more certain I am of something I remember, the more likely it is that I am totally mistaken! This was certainly a case in point. 🙂

middle summer

“The Flowers of Middle Summer” by Henri Fantin-Latour

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.
~ Natalie Babbitt
(Tuck Everlasting)

wind, sun, water ~ gifts

georgiaokeeffe-a-sunflower-from-maggie
“A Sunflower from Maggie” by Georgia O’Keeffe

The earth gives away for free the power of wind and sun and water, but instead we break open the earth to take fossil fuels. Had we taken only that which is given to us, had we reciprocated the gift, we would not have to fear our own atmosphere today.
~ Robin Wall Kimmerer
(Braiding Sweetgrass:
Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge & The Teachings of Plants
)

deep in the woods

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum

On Saturday afternoon my sister and I did some hiking in the uncultivated part of the Connecticut College Arboretum. It was like being in the woods we played in and rambled through as children. We encountered a doe along our path, she stopped short when she spotted us and then darted off sideways into the woods.

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum

Nature — sometimes sears a Sapling —
Sometimes — scalps a Tree —
Her Green People recollect it
When they do not die —
~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #457)

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ gypsy moth caterpillar, an invasive forest pest from Europe

When I was at the doctor for a check-up last week he said it seemed like he was treating nothing but rashes from these little villains. Why do people even touch them, I wondered? But they can dangle from invisible threads and I was startled when I walked right into one. No rash, so far…

Death is like the insect
Menacing the tree
Competent to kill it,
But decoyed may be.

Bait it with the balsam
Seek it with the saw,
Baffle, it cost you
Everything you are.

Then, if it have burrowed
Out of reach of skill —
Wring the tree and leave it.
‘Tis the vermin’s will.

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #1783)

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum

For some reason I am drawn to trees that seem dead, but sculptural, and yet still have a few green leaves up near the crown. Sometimes dying is a very gradual process.

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ this feels like a carefully composed still life to me

And this, our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
~ William Shakespeare
(As You Like It)

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ roots

One will see roots while looking down (photo above), of course, but also when looking up (photo below). The tree below decided it could grow sticking out of a rock face, high above the ground. There must have been just enough soil between the layers of rock for it to sustain itself. Maybe it is strong enough to move the rock some to give the roots more space.

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ tree growing out from between two layers of rock

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
~ William Wordsworth
(The Tables Turned)

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ ferns and mosses on the rock face

Ferns (above) with visible roots growing on the rock face. Plenty of moss to soften the surface, too.

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum

A tree (above) seems to have been blown over in a storm and left with a large cavity between its roots and the rock below. Stones and boulders, dumped by receding glaciers eons ago, are so ubiquitous in Connecticut and it seems the trees have no choice but to grow above, below, around and between them.

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ two more of Emily’s “scalped” trees
6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ a stone benchmark?

I wondered if someone might have set this stone deliberately pointing up as a benchmark for future hiking adventures. It’s amazing to contemplate that these stone walls deep in the woods once surrounded fields and pastures in colonial days. Farmers used the stones cluttering their land to build the walls but in the end, growing crops was difficult. Many eventually abandoned their homes and headed west for better farmland. The woods slowly came back and claimed the landscape once again.

rapture in the lonely shore

5.25.15.8624
5.25.15 ~ Eidfjord, Hordaland, Norway

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is rapture in the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet can not all conceal.
~ George Gordon Byron
(The Complete Works of Lord Byron)

living by voices we shall never hear

5.19.15.6701
5.19.15 ~ Neu-Anspach, Germany

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.
~ Henry Beston
(The Outermost House)

impaired executive function

Most people on the spectrum have some level of executive function impairment, but how that impairment impacts our lives can vary greatly from person to person.
~ Cynthia Kim
(Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate)

The most fascinating aspect of autism that I have encountered so far is the idea of impaired executive function. It’s not something that usually gets listed with other features of autism and I had no idea what “executive functioning” could possibly mean.

Executive function is a broad term that refers to the cognitive processes that help us regulate, control, and manage our thoughts and actions. It includes planning, working memory, attention, problem solving, verbal reasoning, inhibition, cognitive flexibility, initiation of actions, and monitoring of actions.
~ Cynthia Kim
(Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate)

I have trouble with all these things! I’ve long considered myself to be inept, clumsy, absent-minded and inflexible — to think how long I’ve desperately tried to force myself to be flexible and easy-going. Even my children tried not to spring things on me, not wanting mom to get hopelessly flustered.

It’s difficult for me to finish a chore if it has too many steps. Sometimes I have to write down each and every step if I want to have any hope of getting the job done. Lists are my friends, I think.

Driving is overwhelming because there are too many things going on to pay attention to. I use my left foot for the brake because the right foot is for the gas pedal. One foot can’t seem to handle two different assignments. When I finally got my driver’s license at the age of 21 the person who tested me decided to pass me if I promised to work on using the one foot for both pedals. He said if I used both feet I would get mixed up and push the wrong pedal sometimes. Now I am glad I didn’t listen to him because I have never gotten the pedals mixed up doing it my way. Now I know why — my brain works a little differently.

I also have many difficulties with problem solving. Often it just doesn’t occur to me that doing something a bit differently would be faster or more effective. And very often I don’t even recognize a problem until someone points it out to me. (I do appreciate the helpful hints, by the way, humble being that I am.) And sometimes when trying to do something familiar in a new setting or at a different time or with different people I simply freeze. In fact freeze is my automatic response when faced with the anxiety of a fight-flight-freeze situation.

When I was a child we often went to visit my widowed aunt who needed my parents’ help with home maintenance and yard work. She always had a stack of gift catalogs — like Harriet Carter, Lillian Vernon, Carol Wright, Miles Kimball — but I called them problem-solving catalogs. My parents never had these fascinating resources! While Auntie was cooking a Sunday dinner I used to study them carefully, amazed at all the clever gadgets people invented to solve problems I never imagined existed!

Something more recent now… I have two tall bookcases with glass doors that I need to move to finish painting the living/dining room. I wanted someone to help me by standing on the floor while I stood on a chair and emptied the top shelf, handing them the items to put on the table. I wanted to do it this way because I didn’t want to have to keep getting up on and down off the chair. That’s pretty much how I always tackled the problem but when I was younger there was always a child available to help me out.

Then one night about a week ago I was sitting on the couch looking at them and it suddenly occurred to me that I could take things off a lower shelf and then move the things off the top shelf onto the lower shelf while still standing on the chair. I was amazed at my sudden and unfamiliar brilliance! Why didn’t I think of this years ago?

What is unusual here is that I figured this one out by myself. To do things my way is usually tedious at best. Most of the shortcuts I’ve learned over the years for doing housework have come from how-to books or from friends and relatives pointing things out to me. I still remember how enlightened I felt when my aunt told me about felt circles I could stick to the bottom of the kitchen chairs to muffle the loud noise they made when moved across the floor. Who knew?

Frustratingly, an executive function deficit is not something you can fix by simply trying harder. Often, other people will look at the symptoms of impaired executive function and assume the autistic person is lazy, spaced out, or disorganized. If only they would make more effort, everything could be fixed. In fact, I think most autistic people — including me — think this of themselves at times.
~ Cynthia Kim
(Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate)