Friday, May 2, 2014

Intense connections at First Friday in Portland

Oh man where do I start? Where do I even start? That was such a marathon of a day and a marathon of awesomeness but it certainly didn't start that way. And I'm so exhausted now. But I need to find a way to process. Should I start with the French speaking, geeky, funny in such a me-way gay rights activist I met on Exchange Street while walking to the gelato place, and the approximately half an hour awesome conversation we had, named Tyler? Or the nice friendly comfortable conversations I had with all the awesome people who work at the gelato place, which now has their outside seating open (Warm weather has been greatly delayed this season), which just feels so summery. Or maybe the people I ran into at the Jewish museum, which I decided to go to for First Friday (who I am kidding, I would have gone no matter what the activity was and they know that, lol). Or the girl from the open mic who I ran into at the Jewish museum (I am pretty sure that is one of very few people under 40 I have met or ran into there) who I got to be all conversational with, and I usually don't get to do that with anyone my age. Or the guy about my age with some sort of genetic disorder that made him appear pretty much like an autistic non-verbal person but wasn't. Or the conversation I had with the artist about the guy with the disorder (who he personally knew) afterwards. Or the conversation I had about summer camps with the guy there. And how many nice connections I got to have without even talking to A much, which somewhat stunned me as they were more than usual.

But if I did that, I wouldn't have even gotten anywhere close to the good (or really good) part. I wouldn't have gotten to the part about going to Playback Theatre in the Community Television building at 730 for First Friday, taking a risk because I had not eaten anything and I knew I was running on empty, knew my emotional regulation abilities go to hell when I don't eat (but hadn't enough food to take anything with me), and didn't really want to leave N and T at the museum, but decided to do it anyway because it was an opportunity I knew I couldn't pass up.

The theme for the stories that people were supposed to tell was "Honesty" tonight. They take people's stories from the audience on a theme and play them back to them. There were a LOT of people this time. The one other time I had been there had been maybe 10 or 15 people at most. This time I counted somewhere between 60 and 70. The energy was so WONDERFUL AND VIBRANT. Just walking there was an exercise in amazement. Warm weather first fridays and winter first fridays are SO DIFFERENT. Musical performances everywhere, every block of Congress practically. I must have passed half a dozen people playing the guitar in the two blocks of Congress from Monument Square up! My mouth was open. People everywhere. So amazing.

Then the energy at CTV was so great. And the theme, honesty, which I have spent so much of the last week thinking about and even today posted before I left how frustrated I was that people couldn't be honest- what a sweet opportunity to explore further.

Omg, I am feeling myself fall asleep and I can't do that! I can't do that before I tell you about how I spoke about what could be summarized as learning about the social lies that people tell each other (because the theme was honesty) and how people clapped and laughed and reacted so genuinely and wonderfully.... how it was such an amazing experience.... and how when I sat down, after a lot of comments about how beautiful the story was and people telling me good job and thank you, which always makes my heart sing and today was no exception, the next person got up to go. She comes up to the mic and says "Hi, my name is Dana, and I just want to say hello to Kate first. We went to high school together." I'm like, Um WHAT??? lol In all the 12 years since high school I have ran into people from high school VERY seldomly and before last weekend, I had never had a single meaningful spontaneous conversation with someone randomly from high school in the 12 years since (last weekend's interaction was close but still wouldn't qualify).

So.... at the very same time as I come up with a coherent, powerful theory and story in this public setting about the isolation of my life and then the search for meaning and honesty in my interactions with people in this new stage of my life , someone pops in and says "Hey! We went to high school together." And it felt like it was to some degree so powerful because it was like things came full circle. Here there was, a witness. A witness to the extreme pain in my life, someone who had been there, someone who could both hold my past experience AND hold my present and future experience, and relate to me as the competent person I had become. I was almost shaking with emotion but so .... well just stunned actually, I was sitting there just stunned for most of that night. That thing is way too short, 90 minutes is too short for an event that powerful.

They were so good....They did my story so well.... They were like a chorus that was articulating the thoughts that might go through the head of someone who was trying to learn how to play the social game and felt like they were kind of from another planet. I laughed with recognition at the familiarity and the bizarre feeling of seeing myself represented in someone else.

I think there were some other good ones but I don't have my notes by me and I don't remember. Someone recognized me from the Conversations that Matter series at the Jewish Museum as soon as I set foot in there, I think his name was Arthur. He also told a story there. That would become a theme tonight, the number of people I ran into with connections to the Jewish Museum! So very awesome. There was the woman I talked to afterwards, so wonderful, caring and articulate, who it turns out had been one of the artists that exhibited at the museum a few months ago. Eva someone. Or the improv guy I talked to afterwards, so intense and amazing, who it turned out was the presenter at the very first Conversation series at the museum.. David LaGraffe. That's a lot of connections to the museum in one night, ha.

I kept my eye trained on Dana when she sat down so I could talk to her after. Oh, there were so many people I wanted to talk to and could have, would have, but I knew I couldn't pass up that opportunity. She seemed to want to talk to me as well. How amazing... when I walked up to her she started to do the standard "How are you" act that people have upon meeting strangers or new people, and then CAUGHT HERSELF, realized she was acting, dropped the act and related to me authentically. And all this happened nonverbally in a way I was able to realize and name and it made me feel so much closer to her.

She was one year behind me in high school, I found out. I asked her what she remembered of me. She replied that she remembered me from Inkwell, which I had forgotten. It was a literary magazine that I vaguely remember doing. She told me she was impressed by the comments I made about pieces when we were deciding which pieces to use or not. (In all the years since high school I didn't even once remember or think of being on the editorial board, I was too isolated to have actually remembered it in a social way. When prompted, I remember DOING it, but I don't remember talking to anybody.) I replied, well that's very nice but tell me how I really was. In the face of her compliments and, I thought, flattery, I thought she was just trying to make me feel better. But it would become apparent that that was how she truly experienced me. "Very smart, very shy" she said. Well, that would seem to sum it up. "You were so nice to people, saying hi to everyone, very open and generous with your time and wanting to help others," (or something along those lines) she said. She hadn't been in school much and didn't remember that much but what she did remember (and that she remembered at all since she said she didn't remember many people and hadn't been in school much of the time) was telling.

What I want to do more than anything else right now is find a way to rethink myself. I am beginning to realize that all the feedback I had "assumed" was valid from my peers, family, etc was probably misinterpreted in some way, or over-exaggerated in my head in others. No one's fault  but the way it was. I need to replace it with others. I have had thirty years of self hatred and now I just want to start liking myself.

I want to take all the feelings of "different, invalid, less then, disabled, a burden, not able to do what matters" that weighs me down so heavily each and every day when I so much as glance at another person, and replace it with "Intelligent, caring, articulate" and....  WHAT ELSE? Strong, insightful, joyful, loving? Herein lies the rub, most people in my life seem to think that my desire for validation is tantamount to playing the victim or lying in my wounds without moving on. But it couldn't be further from the truth. If I can understand how my buttons got installed, I can un-install them. That requires focusing on them for a while to re-interpret all of my seminal, founding experiences that created my concept of myself. I need other people to tell me how they experience me so I can start to figure out what good, positive descriptors I can put in there instead. The positive words I used are iffy, cautious, with very little backing. The negative words I used I could repeat in my sleep and have such emotional backing to them, their energy could power a million generators. It will be a battle to change them but it is a battle I need to fight.

Before I left today, I was sitting at the window and couldn't help but see the people playing on the tennis court across the street (yes, there is a tennis court across the street). In my weakened, emotionally vulnerable state this morning, I fell prey to the familiar emotional traps in my brain. The simple sight of a girl my age playing tennis across the street... was enough to make me depressed. It was enough to start the tapes of self hatred, the tapes of "what I should be". The older people that played after her did not trigger it, but it was a sober reminder of how much I have arranged my life to avoid interactions with people my age not in the disability community, and how much self-hatred and self comparison those experiences can still trigger. I want to uninstall that. I don't want to spend the rest of my life hating myself, especially for no reason, or based on invalid information.

It has not escaped my attention that of all the social events I go to, most of which are at the Jewish museum but not all - Margie's meetup, or the deaf film festival, or so on - in all these events I almost never meet or talk to anyone my age. I can stand in a room full of people over 40 and am so completely comfortable with them, I don't even notice most of the time that there is no one my age there. There was at the film festival but I mostly only talked to the older people, quite unconsciously. Tonight when I was walking by the eastern prom when I got home, furiously trying to process my intense thoughts, the universe decided I needed yet more lessons on top of all the other lessons today. I was sitting on a bench thinking... and observing that the eastern prom seemed to be alive with people around my age talking and gathering and BEING HONEST and authentic. It was Friday night around 10 and the first night warm enough to go without a coat all season... the place was alive. But not with scary people. With real people. I even caught the end of a conversation among 3 or 4 young people that went something like this. Well, I don't remember the words, but. They were talking about a mutual friend who was very smart but allowing himself to be trapped by the words of an insane girlfriend. "He's so smart... almost autism...but that woman... is like a disease." (It's amazing or maybe not the level of casual profanity peppering their conversations. It did not feel like they used it gratuitously though. It had so much emotion to it and was used to convey so much emotion, as a really important/meaningful adjective, that it felt almost a privilege to listen.) The way they talked was fascinating! The words they used, the tone, the way they used the words, they way they expressed .... so different and so much more raw and present and prescient then the conversations I am used to. All of the young people's conversations sounded like that. I was not able to listen as much as I would have liked without it being weird, but there was a raw honesty I have long seeked being expressed there.

So there I sat, considering all the intense connections I had had that day and trying to figure out how to change my perception of myself, when the very group of people I had felt so seperate from walks by me and happens to have a casual conversation about a friend of theirs who is basically "so smart... almost autism [smart]." They used autism as a synonym for smart. Seriously. They did. I'm sitting there thinking oh my god.... How do I even find these conversations??? The universe brings such amazing things to me when I am open to it.

I did not know... that people would do that, would use autism as a synonym for smart. I could tell... that that is what they were doing. I could tell.... I stood there after they left, saying out loud to myself "They care. They care. They care! They care! They care!" the words tasting so funny in my mouth, so rusty yet so stubborn. I could for the first time have a little bit of an idea how the typical peers I so envied might view me. The easy going , partying, rough, scary peers, the ones so aggressive in their normality I was scared to the other side of the room or city, clearly were admiring of their not typical peer - admiring, and protective, and caring and not disliking or demeaning at all. Admiring - that's the feel I got from the audience when I was telling my story in front of them for Playback Theatre tonight. Admiring and almost awe - Almost awe. So many people telling me what courage I had afterwards. I have spent my life believing the worst of what I thought people thought of me - could I possibly dare to believe that other people actually admired me, actually were in awe of me, actually enjoyed me? And why is that so much more difficult than believing that they see me as different, less than, and a burden? Especially when at least in the last few years I have gotten so much more of the first feedback? Food for thought, to say the least.

There was the woman whose questions about my experiences after the Playback Theatre were so welcome, so gentle, so lovely... who tried as best as she could to explain to me the answers to my deep, probing questions. The furthest she got was to say that we all have basically an implicit agreement and understanding that everyone is lying when they talk socially.... But where do you go from that and how do you take that knowledge and turn into a way to connect with others? Still exploring that question and wanting to find answers to it. I said to her after, "There's no way you could have that level of sensitivity and thoughtfulness and not work in the healing professions. What do you do?" I expected her to say she was a therapist, close enough. She's an energy healer. Can I spot them or what? And she was an artist who had presented at the museum, so I need to remember to ask about her. Eva someone.

There was the conversation with Dana, who was visiting this weekend from Boston, and her parents who also remembered me from high school, somehow. Then there was, just as everyone had left, the conversation with David, who does the improv classes. I told him I wanted to do improv, and what ensued was a long conversation about what improv is, what its value is, what its value for people with disabilities is, and a test improv conversation at which if I don't mind saying myself I excelled at. I love improv and always have, but have never gotten to do it formally. It embodies so many of the principles of the floortime theory of autism... circles of communication, perspective taking, meeting someone where they're at. So it looks like I now have an improv class to take as long as I can tolerate the building which I will try... in South Portland, starting May 15, 8 weeks, Thursday nights, $15/class. I think it will be amazing, if it works. I liked him a lot.

People were stunned by me. I have thought and said enough negative interpretations of people that I think I have the right to say that. I could tell. People were stunned and impressed by me. And that felt good. But rather than forgetting it 2 hrs after it happens... I want it to stay with me this time. I want the positive feedback to stay with me, for myself to realize that I may be different, I may experience the world far more intensely and may not follow the operating instructions or manual that most of the rest of the humans come with, but that doesn't make me worse or not worth knowing... Just means I come with different operating instructions. I can still do amazing things. I just need to do them differently. Seeing someone do things the typical way should not be cause for self hate.

I got a ride back with the improv guy... was so full of myself in a good way that I was able to totally be in myself when I asked this girl to hold the door to the building, and another girl what street I was on. And I could tell from the way they related to me that there was a subtle but profound difference in the way they related to me - they related to me as themselves. Maybe it is.... if I keep approaching interactions with one foot in and one foot out and keep doing the dance all about, others don't know if they're in or out either. If  I approach confidently... then they can approach confidently, and we can connect. It is all about building a positive, strong, stable sense of self, but that is something I can't build with words or affirmations alone. It is something I need to EXPERIENCE in the community and then realize belatedly that I have done. That is another reason why validation and validating relationships or experiences are so important.

I didn't even mention the guy who works at the gelato place who came in and said "Oh, the humidity is so disgusting" and I'm like "What did you just say?" He repeated, I told him That makes me so happy, He said Why?? I said Because I have been saying that for days but thought I was the only one.

I actually found someone else willing to complain about a sunny 65 degree day after six months of winter because it was (only a little and only in comparison to winter but still, a little muggy, a little humid). After ironically I had complained about that before I left, feeling the familiar sting of self hatred because I knew I was the only one who would complain about that after 6 months of winter when it was 65 out... but I was wrong. That came up not once but TWICE today. TWICE, the second time being with the improv guy, people mentioning how they hated the air. !!!!! Finding yourself in others is so crucial, I need to find a way to spend the rest of my life exploring these relationships. The feeling when you finally connect is unlike any other on earth.

I need sleep. !!!! Emotional connections over physical discomfort ,I need to remind myself and try to live this and everything else as much as I can and patience I hope.

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