Category Archives: ramble

Rambling about being an introvert

Hi. I’m an introvert, and I want to talk about that.

But before I start, I want to put in some major disclaimers. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about possible places where my introversion stems from, or maybe aspects of myself that lend themselves to introversion. I’m finding myself worried that if I talk about that, it will sound like it’s pathologizing introversion, which really isn’t what I want to do at all. I don’t think introversion is bad, I don’t think it’s wrong to be an introvert, I don’t think my being an introvert is anything I need to fix. I am quite sure that even if I did “fix” the things I’m going to talk about, I would still be an introvert. 

That said, I want to talk about some things that I think intersect with and possibly “enhance” my introverted tendencies.

First of all, I am autistic. I have sensory difficulties and I struggle with my social skills. For years now I’ve been of the opinion that this really impacts how tiring it is for me to be around people. People are just SO MUCH, you know? They can be so loud and so full of motion and communicate with hints and indirect phrases and expect me to communicate the same way so sometimes they hear things in my words that is so far off from the actual words I said that I can’t figure out how they got there, and they can’t explain it to me even if I ask, and it’s just a lot, ok? It’s like:

Me: I don’t like pie.

Person: I think they have cherry pie in that shop, want to go grab some?

Me: ??? I just said??? I don’t like pie???

Person: I thought you meant that you like cherry pie.

Me: Because I said that I don’t like pie?

Person: Yeah!

End result? Peopling is thoroughly tiring. I need to recharge by myself.

Recently I have been realizing that there may be another aspect to this exhaustion, though.

So there’s this thing called “hypervigilance.” This webpage defines it as “Hypervigilance is a state of increased alertness. If you’re in a state of hypervigilance, you’re extremely sensitive to your surroundings. It can make you feel like you’re alert to any hidden dangers, whether from other people or the environment.” 

When I first heard of it (ages ago) I didn’t at all think it described me. I mean, sure, I’m extremely aware of my surroundings and the people in it literally all the time unless I am somewhere safe and completely alone, and sure I’m constantly closely watching the behavior of the people around me and especially anyone I am interacting with and cataloguing all of their norms so that I’ll know if they do something outside of their norm, but that’s just normal, right?! Everyone does that! Ok, yes, people tend to remark about how thoughtful I am because I notice things about them and remember (THIS person always likes to have a red cup, THAT person likes to have a towel when they’re warm, etc), and apparently I’m remarkably observant, but that doesn’t really mean anything, right?

So… ok. Yes. Turns out I totally am hypervigilant. I don’t really want to get into why I’m hypervigilant in this post – suffice to say it’s crap from my childhood and we can leave it at that. 

The point is, this is definitely another thing that makes interacting with other humans SO EXHAUSTING for me. It takes a lot of energy to pay attention to everything. It also definitely contributes to why group interactions are so much harder for me. Not only are the social dynamics of group situations far more complex, but there’s so much more to watch! Each new person isn’t just one new point to observe, they’re a whole new factor. I can’t just watch the person and how they act, I must watch how they interact with each individual as well as how they interact with the group as a whole. Possibly also how they interact with sub-groups. It’s just so much.

This does leave me wondering a bit as to whether or not I would still be introverted if I weren’t autistic and hadn’t been exposed to things that lead to my being hypervigilant. And honestly? I really don’t know. There’s no way to know, because being autistic is a core aspect of who I am and the hypervigilance came about during very early formative years. All I know for sure is that apparently I was a VERY talkative baby and young child, but at some point in those childhood years (like, elementary school) I just… stopped talking. I became silent, and people definitely liked it better that way. 

All I know for sure is that:

  1. I’m an introvert now.
  2. My being an introvert is ok.

Regardless of where it does or doesn’t come from, it’s definitely a major part of who I am now. And one thing it is NOT is something wrong with me, no matter what any extrovert trying to “fix” me has to say about it (sorry, that’s another rant for another time). I’m the kind of introvert who prefers one-on-one interactions, and I am ok just the way I am.

Even if I do sometimes like exploring possible roots of my personality traits.

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What is society for?

Humans, nearly universally, live in societies. We get together and live cooperatively and interdependently. Humans are profoundly social animals; it’s our primary survival strategy. There are a number of benefits this confers such as skill specialization, resource sharing, and cooperative breeding, but I really want to focus on the disabled aspect of this. What is society for in terms of disabled people?

I think that people have two wildly differing ideas regarding what society is for, and that is where a lot of conflict comes in around how to care for disabled people (or, and this is terrible even to say, whether to care for disabled people at all). Personally, I call these ideas the goose model and the wolf model.

So ages and ages ago, I lived on a sheep farm for around a year. That sheep farm happened to have a flock of geese that lived there too. Those geese had pretty easy lives. Food and water was plentiful, shelter was close at hand, and the dogs made sure that they didn’t really have to contend with predators. Nonetheless, geese will always be geese. Geese are also social animals, preferring to hang out together in a flock (with the exception of breeding season, but anyway). However, they do not in any way take care of each other while they are in this flock. I got to witness one goose get sick (not terribly sick. Like a goose cold or something) and the rest of the flock turned out that goose absolutely viciously. They drove it out, wouldn’t let it get close, and closed ranks against it. That poor goose tried incredibly hard to be as close to the flock as they would let it get, and otherwise just tried to spend it’s time hiding since it was alone and didn’t have the safety of its flock.

To the geese, the group is about protection from predators and a hostile world. Even if the world they live in isn’t actually hostile, that’s still what the group is for. A weak member of the group drags everyone down, and thus is undesirable. This is what I call the “goose model.” This idea of society is fear-based, constantly worried about attack from outside threats, and considers it best to get rid of anything that might be seen as “weakness.” 

(Disclaimer: I don’t know if all geese act like that or just the breed that I was around, which I believe was a particularly vicious kind of goose. Regardless, it’s still where I got my metaphor for this part of my model)

Then there’s the wolf model. Wolves also live in groups, but their treatment of the sick or injured or weak is wildly different from what I saw in those geese. Wolves actually care for their weaker pack members. The weak, the injured, the sick, the elderly, the disabled – the rest of the pack takes care of them. I’ve seen this behavior in cats as well. Cats are not as aggressively social as wolves or humans are, but they still can form bonds with each other and I’m sure we’ve all seen stories about a cat taking care of an injured friend or refusing to leave an injured cat’s side. 

In this model, a society is for taking care of each other. The strength of the group comes from the assurance that the members will always take care of each other. There is no need to judge anyone’s individual contribution – we’re a family, and family takes care of family. 

It probably goes without saying that I am in the wolf model camp. Humans are cooperative and interdependent, and I strongly believe that our strength comes from taking care of each other. It’s about the entire group lifting each other up, and everyone being better off because of it. It’s about recognizing that everyone deserves to live and thrive regardless of what they may struggle with.

As far as I can tell, human societies have been all over the board in regards to how they treated the sick or disabled. Since I’m not actually trying to write a term paper here, I chose to not dive into that mire. I did, however, find some interesting articles about prehistoric societies. Apparently there is a growing body of evidence that prehistoric societies also took care of their sick, injured, etc. Here is an article going over a few cases of archaeological finds showing disabled individuals thousands of years ago, living far longer than they would have been able to on their own. They absolutely had to have been taken care of – meaning the people around them did exactly that. It seems that at least some ancient humans viewed the role of society as being for taking care of each other. 

Personally, I think that’s pretty cool.

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Sex Positivity and Autism

First things first – I am not an expert and I am not making any claim to be an authority in this area. I am simply an opinionated autistic trans man who has some thoughts on the topic. 

CONTENT NOTE: This post will be talking about sex and body parts. If you aren’t comfortable reading that, please take care of yourself first. Read on only if you are comfortable/ok doing so.

Continue reading

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Let’s talk about spectrums

Let’s talk spectrums (no, not the book I’m published in, yes I am shamelessly plugging myself here). Autism is commonly referred to as a spectrum. So are many other aspects of humanity – gender is a spectrum, various mental illnesses are spectrums, lots of things are spectrums.

Now, the point about the autism spectrum not being a line is nothing new – I’m just adding my voice to the chorus here. I only want to add that spectrums in general are not lines. Looking at spectrums as lines is limiting us and giving some people some very incorrect ideas about what “spectrum” means.

Story time! Once, someone tried to explain to me why the phrase “everyone is a little bit autistic” is actually totally correct. See, autism is a spectrum, right? And spectrums are lines, right? And the autism spectrum goes from “not at all autistic” on one end to “all the way autistic” on the other end, right? So really, EVERYONE is on that line, RIGHT?

NO. WRONG. HOLY MOLY ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Ok, for the purposes of this post I am going to be using the color spectrum as an analogy, because I think it really works well.

So when most people think “spectrum” they seem to think something like this:

Image from wikipedia

You know, a basic line of color. And sure, this is a spectrum, but it really could be so much more.

I’ve actually seen some people just stop here and try to not use “spectrum” to describe things, because of how many people think that a spectrum is just this linear thing. I sympathize with that perspective a great deal, but I am still on the side of pushing back against the idea and trying to widen the idea of what a spectrum really is.

Of course, even here that person’s line of thought that I mentioned above falls apart. Because the color spectrum doesn’t go from “a little bit of color” to “a lot of color.” It goes through the range of colors that we can see. The logic! It is flawed!

Anyway. Let’s go back to colors, shall we? The color spectrum does not actually have to be displayed as a line. There are, in fact, other ways to show it that give us a broader range than the simple line.

Image from Wikipedia

Here we see a 2d color space, including both color range and saturation range. It’s a spectrum! Being more than a line!

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.

We also have the RGB Colorspace Atlas books, co-designed by Daniel E. Kelm and Tauba Auerbach. They are 8x8x8 books going through the color spectrum, each page itself a small spectrum. The end result – a color cube. 3d color. A spectrum with depth.

Source

Now, color is amazing. Our eyes are amazing. But in the end, we’re talking about wavelengths of light interacting with our retinas. Yet we still need to move beyond the idea that a spectrum is a line in order to appreciate the range of color we experience.

How much more true is that when the spectrums we’re talking about describe PEOPLE? We deserve better than that – both as people who are on various spectrums and people who are thinking in terms of spectrums. Spectrums are incredible, just in general. The spectrum of human experience is vast and in no way linear. Spectrums in general are not linear. Seriously, let’s just ditch the idea of linear spectrums just in general and understand that when we see a spectrum in a linear way, we are seeing a drastically reduced version of it. One that loses all the richness and depth that could – and should – be there.

A side note about physics: Ok, I do understand that specifically in the science of physics, “spectrum” is a specific term that IS, in fact, linear. It is intended to be reductive in that it is also understood that a spectrum is showing the range of one specific thing. Important to note – there is no single scale or range to measure that defines autism – there are many facets and factors involved. We can either stop calling autism a spectrum entirely, or allow our concept of spectrums to grow. So too in color theory, where people refer to hue, lightness, and saturation – all of which could be shown on their own, individual, linear spectrum. Put them all together into the more colloquial idea of spectrum, and you get a colorcube. 

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Ramble on Stimming

This post might be a bit unfocused. We’ll see how this goes.

I’ve seen some disagreement in some of the autistic spaces I’m in around the idea of “stimming is communication.” Apparently some of us are really against that idea. It’s rather made me want to weigh in with my take on the matter.

And my take is – stimming is communication, in the same way that other forms of body language are communication. Some of the arguments against stimming being communication is that sometimes (or many times, or often) stimming is done without the intent to communicate. Apparently to some people, that means it’s not communication.

I disagree. Humans communicate all the time without necessarily putting intent behind it. Over on the neurotypical side, people generally agree that body language is communication. And sometimes NTs will put deliberate effort into their body language, so that it communicates something that they choose. However, many times body language just happens, without forethought explicit choices involved. And when that happens, it’s still communication. NTs like to talk about how up to 75% of communication is nonverbal – and they’re meaning that for themselves. Their own communication is dominated by nonverbal cues. Facial expressions, body language, tone, things like that.

I am firmly of the opinion that stimming is (among other things) body language. When an NT laughs, they are probably not thinking “I wish to communicate my amusement, so I am going to make this particular sound to convey it.” Laughing is simply a natural result of amusement. Same with stimming. Whether I’m flapping my hands because I’m excited or rocking because I’m overstimulated, they are natural results of my mental state. They are also expressions of my mental state, and, among the various things they do, they serve to communicate that to others.

When I say that stimming is communication, one of the things I mean is that NTs should learn to pay the same kind of attention to it that they do to other forms of body language. I am saying that all behavior is communication, and stimming counts too. I’m saying that stimming is another form of body language, and that is one of many many reasons why we should stop trying to stamp it out.

When I stim, I am generally not thinking about communication. I’m excited or happy or stressed or overstimulated or maybe just needing to rock. Frequently I’m alone, so communication doesn’t make any sense. However, I still say that stimming is communication, the same way that facial expressions are communication. I say this because intent or not, they can communicate information to others, if there are others around who know how to read it.

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Holiday spirit?

A Christmas Carol: Grim Reaper
The ghost of christmas yet to come is a holiday spirit I can understand

So it’s getting into Major Holiday time here in the US, and I’m seeing more and more talk about things like “holiday spirit” and “joyful holiday season” and I think I want to write about that stuff.

Mostly in terms of how I just don’t seem to get it – by which I mean, I honestly don’t understand; this is not in any way intended to denigrate people who are different from me. I don’t know what a holiday spirit is. I don’t know what it means or what it consists of. What I really don’t get it why there seems to be pressure at this time of year to have those things. To feel the “correct” way, to have the right sort of attitude or “spirit” or whatever it is we are supposed to have.

So this topic came to mind because some friends of mine have been talking about really struggling this year with their “holiday spirit” and such, and are feeling sad because they are not managed to do this thing that, apparently, they feel they are supposed to do. And when I write this, I really hope that I do not come across as belittling of that. I care about my friends, and while I struggle to wrap my mind around the concepts, I do understand that this is clearly something they care about so I feel sad for them in sympathy.

This is probably going to be a thoroughly incoherent post, which I do apologize for. I have so many thoughts on the subject (which may, someday, turn into their own individual posts) and I’m not sure how well I will pull them together.

For instance, the idea of there being a thing we are “supposed” to feel. I have spent my whole life having people tell me what I am supposed to be feeling, and being confused or worse because I felt something else. I was supposed to be excited about driving in my teen years, but I only ever felt stress and anxiety. I was supposed to find group interactions easier than one-on-one interactions, but for me it is the other way around. I was supposed to like short-notice plans to socialize, but they cause me stress and unhappiness. Nevermind the times when I feel happy or easy when other people feel stress or unease. It seems my life is full of not feeling what I am supposed to feel. This means I have both become really sensitive to people telling me what I “should” feel or like or want, while simultaneously being fairly comfortable in just being me, provided people accept that.

The other day I asked Nee if he has “holiday spirit” and what it does, or does not, mean to him. The conversation mostly went in very small circles, because we are equally baffled by the concept. Again, to be clear, not baffled in a “this is bad” way, but more in a “this does not seem to apply to us” way. Nor do either of us feel like we are missing out on anything else.

But as we continued thinking, we started to think that maybe “holiday spirit” is not just some monolith of feeling that only has one way to be. Nee asked me if there’s anything I get excited about this time of year, and there is. Specifically, the yule ritual my grove does (particularly this year, as I ran it), and the exchanging of gifts. I like seeing people happy over gifts I chose or bought or made, and not gonna lie, I like getting gifts too. So maybe in a way, that is my holiday spirit.

However, I don’t really think of it in those terms, nor do I pay much attention to whether or not I’m having “holiday spirit” at any given time. In a way, I think that might be beneficial to me.

Mostly because December has always been an incredibly rough time of year for me. Many things converge to make the end of the year particularly stressful and difficult, and while the meds are making it so much better than it used to be, I still feel stressed and pressured and wake up to the sound of my teeth grinding at night. There is the pressure to give everyone gifts, to find the RIGHT gifts (yes, I listed gift giving as a thing I like, but it is also a thing of stress that I try to get done in November), the lack of sun, the sudden press of scheduling ALL THE THINGS in a short period of time, the sudden increase in socializing (another mixed bag. I see people I like to see, but there is so much of it that it gets overwhelming), etc etc etc. If I spent any time at all worrying about what I “should” be feeling, it would just make everything worse. All the stresses would become affronts to this “holiday spirit” I am supposed to have, which would probably add a layer of resentment to the whole thing, which would just make me even more stressed, and that’s just not a good path for me to go down. I can only hope that for other people, it does not work like that.

Though to add in, does “holiday spirit” absolutely have to be upbeat and happy? For better or worse, the stress and anxiety that hits at the end of the year is very much a part of the holiday season for me, and maybe that’s just another aspect whatever version of a “holiday spirit” I possess. Of course, that just makes “holiday spirit” the same thing as “feelings I associate with winter holidays” but really, does it have to be any more than that? Maybe I can acknowledge and honor all the feelings I tend to get this time of year, regardless of how pleasant they are at any given moment.

On a side note, the morning after our conversation about holiday spirit, Nee actually found his. Apparently to him, magnets and camera flashes are associated with the solstice, and he often finds himself happily looking at fun magnet and light toys this time of year. That is, apparently, his version of a holiday spirit.

Do you have a “holiday spirit”? If you do, what does it mean to you? If not, is it something you think about? I’m curious

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It’s that time of year again…

Autism Awareness day/week/month/whatever.

Or is it Autism Acceptance?

Or another word that we think might be better that also starts with A, because apparently alliteration is super important in our catch phrases?

I normally just stay quiet around all this. There’s just too much bickering around what word to use and what organization to support and the parents vs. autistic adults thing seems to get thrown into even sharper relief and I’m just not really sure what we’re trying to accomplish. I guess asking for a consensus is a bit much, but mostly I just try to duck under something safe and stay away.

Thing is, though, I’m not actually against the idea in principal. As absurd as it seems, I actually recently learned that there are still people out there in the western world who have never heard of Asperger’s Syndrome. Even if we’re only working for awareness in North America and Eastern Europe, which is a pretty narrow focus right there, we’re not actually done.

Though then I wonder why autism is so special that it gets the awareness month when there are so many other, debilitating yet almost entirely unknown health issues out there that have people struggling for awareness in a very real way. Sometimes it feels like, as a society, we’ve really focused on autism, but it’s also possible that I have some confirmation bias here, since I rather surround myself with autism-related things. I also sometimes worry that we’re lumping ALL developmental delays or disabilities in with autism, and I’m not sure that’s a fantastic thing to be doing.

Point is, I always get weird mixed feelings this time of year. I’m not sure if I want to try to bring some poignant, heartfelt words to the table only to see them lost among all the other poignant, heartfelt words and the bickering and the “I’m always aware!” and everything else that happens, or if I just want to avoid it all.

So as I do, I’m writing about those mixed feelings. This is what I bring to the table – myself, my ambivalence, my thoughts, and my words. I do have a metaphorical horse in this metaphorical race, so maybe staying out of it entirely isn’t quite the right answer for me. So instead I participate in the odd, not-entirely-in-it way that I do.

Jumping a bit, this month also gets me thinking about autism tattoos. I do have tattoos and sometimes I think about getting an autism tattoo. Except I intensely dislike the whole puzzle thing and I refuse to get a tattoo that uses it. Which leaves me wondering – what else is there?

No really, do you know anything? Because I sure don’t.

Anyway. I rather doubt I’m going to be acknowledging autism awareness/acceptance/other word that starts with A month beyond this post. When it gets really loud I lose my ability to make my voice heard, and in the autism world this month sure is loud. Loud and messy and not very friendly to my brain. Which I guess is not that surprising, in a disjoint “community” that seems to bicker as much as it does anything else. Maybe someday, when we’ve managed to mend some of these rifts, it will be different.

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Who are we?

I rather want to talk about identity again. It seems to be one of those topics that I just love to keep on visiting. I am increasingly fascinated by concepts of identity, ways people self-identify, what aspects of a person might be an “identity” and what is kept separate.

Sometimes clothing choices get thrown in here too. Specifically, when I see people talking about clothing in terms of conformity or lack thereof, and always someone will sneer at all those non-conformists insisting on conforming to the prevailing standard of nonconformity, and I just keep thinking that’s missing the point. Clothing has a bunch of different uses. Of course, the primary two are protection from the elements and hiding body parts that are considered taboo. But beyond that, there are all sorts of stylistic choices people can make as to how they cover themselves. Those choices are largely informed not so much by personal style, but as a way to announce to the world what group you identify with. Whether you’re a metalhead or doing business casual, your clothing choices tell the world around you what you are choosing as an identity. Change the uniform, and you change your identity and how people will perceive you.

So yeah, subgroups and counter-cultures almost always come with a uniform – a look you will be expected to conform to in order to be part of the group. It’s a way of showing allegiance. It doesn’t just matter in counter-cultures either. It matters in the business world – it matters a lot. Wearing the right clothes, showing through the bits of fabric that you use to cover yourself that you belong in their world and deserve respect and attention and the right job. It may seem stupid, but it matters a whole lot.

Anyway, I don’t only want to talk about clothes. Identity is such a thing. It’s fascinating to me to see how so much of the autism community is about autism as an identity (and yeah, I’m in that camp too), and it’s fascinating to me when people reject the autism identity and want it to be something separate. I am very interested in how and why people make these choices – deciding which aspects of themselves are intrinsic and which are not. Why do I say that I am a crafter, rather than a person who does crafts? Or a cat person, rather than a person who has cats? Or a person with red hair, rather than a redhead? Some things are intrinsic to me, some are not.

I have actually occasionally pondered putting all call out, asking if anyone would be willing to make me a couple of lists of self-descriptions – one of things that you are, and another of things that you have. As with crafting and cats and hair, I imagine many (if not most) of the items could be put in either list depending on how you choose to phrase it. Which is, in fact, exactly the thing that I am interested in – which traits would you put in which list, and why? (by the way, if I did ask, and I could offer a way to do so anonymously, would you do it? I haven’t been brave enough to ask yet and I’m hoping for some encouragement here)

Increasingly I think that identity, and being able to carve about a space for oneself via identity, really matters. Being able to identify with a group matters. Choosing who you are, it matters. I’ve always been different, and over time I carved myself out an identity based around being different. When I went in for my assessment to see if I had Asperger’s, the psychologist was able to identify me as the possible aspie immediately. I was surprised, but she told me it was something she saw a lot of. The people who are different all their lives are the ones who frequently wind up turning it into an identity, so my pink hair, long skirt, and boy cut t-shirt with a cartoon on it showed me as that person.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, and I don’t think I have much of a point. These are just thoughts that have been rolling around in my head and I wanted to share them. Identity – it’s interesting.

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Orderliness

Lemme talk to you about my eyes. Or, well, not my eyes. The process of seeing, and a rare occurrence that happens when I don’t know what I’m looking at.

Not long ago I was in Wilmington, in a car on the way to the train station. There was a lot of traffic backed up on several streets, so we turned down one that wasn’t busy and suddenly saw a tall masted ship crossing the road! Or, well, it was going down the river right in front of us, and the bridges were all up to let it past, which is why traffic was backed up.

Also, I didn’t see a tall masted ship. The person I was with saw the tall masted ship, and pointed it out. I saw a jumble of colors and shapes going across in front of me. For several seconds that’s all I saw. Ok, that’s not quite right either. I saw everything else just fine, resolved into visual sense, but there in the middle was a bunch of shapes and colors where I was told there was a ship. After a brief but confusing few seconds, the ship suddenly went “pop!” and there it was! A tall masted ship crossing the street! Wow!

This is a thing that happens to me once in a while. If I don’t know what something is supposed to be, I might not be able to resolve the shapes and colors into anything that makes visual sense. At least, not at first. I have occasionally read of autistic people who are living permanently in a space of shapes and colors that never resolve into images, and I consider myself fortunate that it’s something that only happens to me once in a while, for short periods of time. The most consistent times it happens is in the lobbies of movie theaters, if they have one of those 3-D cardboard cutouts promoting a movie. Once I looked at one while leaving the theater and, once again, saw nothing but shapes and colors. I wanted to figure out what it was so I stayed and studied it for a minute or two. I had to carefully pick out individual pieces – here was a chain, there was a face, down here is a tire, now I see a foot, and eventually I managed to put it all together (it was a guy on a motorcycle wielding a chain).

I don’t know much about neurology, but I do occasionally get curious about how our brains do vision. Apparently it’s actually a fairly complicated process involving different parts of our brains doing different things to put pictures together, and one of the most fundamental parts is the part of our brain that handles shapes and colors and such. I’d actually love to be able to talk about this in terms of neurology but unless I can find a neurologist to interview, I’m going to have to make do with reading books by Oliver Sacks and such, and leave the educated brain stuff to the people who actually know what they’re talking about.

However, one thing I definitely have gathered from reading books like Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks is that the lenses in my eyes may project a picture onto my retina, but it’s my brain that turns that image into something I can make sense of, and this process is actually quite complicated with all sorts of parts of the brain doing different things.

(warning: ramble ahead) When I think about this I tend to get a little philosophical about order and categories and labels and the way we turn the world around us into something we can make sense of. Sometimes I see discussions about this or that animal that is defying our categories, refusing to be neatly placed within the lines we’ve drawn around all living things, and people often react with astonishment, at how weird that animal must be. Until eventually (and this does frequently happen, though not always) someone comes along and reminds us all that nature does not care about our categories. Our categories are ours – we made them up in an attempt to create order; to make sense of the world around us. However, the world is not bound by those categories and sometimes they will fall short.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but it’s something I like to remind myself of. That nothing in the world is as neatly placed as we are pretending it is. And this is coming from someone who really likes labels. I just think it’s really important to remember the limitations of labels. We can draw a line around something in an attempt to understand it, but ultimately that line will fall short. However, as with our brain making sense of what our eyes tell us, those categories are actually really important. I would not be able to functionally see if I was not able to take those shapes and colors and turn them into coherent images – seeing that this shape belongs with the tree but that shape belongs with the fence and so on and so forth.

Though I do sometimes think it would be cool if I could choose to not visually process so far, and only see the world as those shapes and colors all jumbled together, with no rhyme or reason involved. But only if I could choose to go back at any time. I may be artificially creating order, but it’s pretty darn useful to do.

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Processing

THIS IS TERRIFYING.

Story! I remember when I was young, I was very scared of escalators. In fact, I would refuse to step onto one unless one of my parents was holding my hand, and this persisted past the time my mom thought I should be over such needs.

Escalators seem to be one of those things that most people consider an easy alternative to going up or down stairs and I don’t think many people really think about them beyond that. I do, however, occasionally see people talking about escalators as difficult in terms of sensory processing, and that got me thinking.

In processing terms, there is kind of a lot going on with escalators. Just stepping on to one is this fraught process involving needing to know exactly where your feet are while tracking the motion of these constantly moving stairs and getting your feet in the right position at exactly the right time to get on, and then moving forward hopefully smoothly to transfer your weight onto your now-moving foot so that you can get your other foot on. Gods help you if you need to manage luggage or something at the same time.

And neurotypicals find this easy? Wow.

Needless to say, I prefer the stairs. Not because of fitness (though I suppose that helps) but because stairs are easier. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t always know where exactly her feet are, so stairs are actually kind of tricky too. Just less tricky than trying to get onto or off of an escalator.

All of which is to say, I don’t really process some things all that quickly. It isn’t universal. I can’t just say “I process slowly” and have that be it. I’ve been told that in some contexts (like maybe crafting) I can pull things together in my head at lightening speed. Which is cool. But sensory processing? Not so much. That can be downright slow. The same is true of social processing – seriously un-speedy. When you combine sensory processing and social processing – like, say, listening to someone talk – once in a while that is downright snail-like. Not always. I can turn it up when I know I’ll need to be using it, but if it’s unexpected then… well, yeah. Slow city.

I don’t think this post has much of a point. Honestly, I just wanted to tell the escalator story and talk about how scary and complicated they can be when you actually need to deliberately think through everything involved in using one of those contraptions. Real time sensory processing where TIMING IS EVERYTHING.

No thanks, I’ll just use the stairs.

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