Saturday, May 31, 2014

Wandering in Portland on a Spring Day

Some fun things happened when I was wandering in Portland tonight... a Saturday night at the end of May, when the tourists are just starting to arrive. I posted the following things on Facebook and want to put them here as well. 

Portland is absolutely amazing, oh , so amazing. I went out just for a few hours, a little after 6 and got back around 9. No aim other than realizing if I were to walk around the Old Port I'd probably find something that interested me. At first in Monument Square, it seemed so dead I was worried. Oh, but not for long, not for long at all. 

Out of all the very interesting things that happened, this was by far the most interesting and put a huge smile on my face. Down by RiRa's on Commercial, which I totally had not been planning on walking that far but did.... I walked past a guy, might have smiled at him, might not have, not sure, and paused for a minute to read a sign on their wall. The guy started talking to me. "Hey! I saw you and your friends at whole foods about a month ago, and you looked like you were having so much fun."

Me... "Really?"

"Yeah! I was impressed by the nature of your conversation, what you guys were talking about!"

Me "Really?" lol.

"What are you up to tonight?

Me... "Just wandering around, soaking up the vibe of people."

He seemed happy and said "That's what we're doing. Hey, that's what we're doing!" seemingly impressed with my answer. I mentioned the French family I had seen, the new every sort of jerky that exists store, and the strange brand of evangelist I saw, and he said, "That's what I liked about you. You have such a keen sense of observation!" He said that's what he liked about our conversation, that we were just "riffing off" of each other's observations of people. Granted, that is usually what we do, it's all we do, we seldom find other topics of discussion. But to know that someone else actually valued that? Thought it was cool, fun? To even think of it as "riffing off" someone? Wow, that is so very cool. So very, very very cool. I expressed my appreciation for him stopping to tell me that, and left. He wasn't the type of guy I normally would have approached... but something drew me to him.


Portland's reputation as a foodie town is well deserved. Just today, I saw a new shop on lower Exchange. "The Old Port House of Jerky."

I'm walking down Exchange as I normally do and see a big sign screaming out at me "SALMON BUFFALO VENISON KANGAROO ALLIGATOR" and some others and then MAINE JERKY SHOP or something of the like. And I'm just standing there like, Does this sign REALLY say kangaroo? Alligator? Am I seriously seeing this? Omg, so cool, so very cool, and I'm saying this as someone who would never touch jerky with a ten foot pole, lol. It's in the place the coffee shop used to be in for such a long time but then closed.

So now, in a one mile radius, you can get kangaroo jerky, donuts made out of potatos, popcorn in 30 different flavors (the last three all on the same street, actually), chocolates imported from all over the world including Australia, 20 different types of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, have two types of gelato, half a dozen I am sure ice cream places, candy, cupcakes, and I'm sure I'm forgetting something. The only thing that the Old Port no longer has is an honest to goodness chocolate shop...I think it used to, but I can't really remember. There is Dean's Sweets but it's a little bit out of the Old Port area and I don't remember it being very large.

Do you see why I love Portland so much?? lol

I found it ironic that at Le Roux Kitchen they sell strawberry balsamic vinegar and at the Gelato Fiasco half a mile away you can get strawberry balsamic sorbetto. Yes, we ARE a foodie town, lol. It's fun even when you don't eat the stuff. It's just fun to look!

and even

I love the joy of all the kids on the playground. Oh my . Kids running around, toddlers toddling and tentatively exploring their world. It does the heart good. And it's only 2 blocks away 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

On Emotional Triggers

Random sentence that touched me in the following essay

"It was a difficult question, but not one he’d intentionally

Woah. This was very thought provoking for me. Hence the following ramblings on Facebook that I transferred to here because, well, I felt like it. I thought too I should save it in a place I would be more easily able to reflect back on later. 

What a way to think of interactions with people! What a far better way to conceptualize interactions where I am feeling triggered by something someone says (otherwise known as more than I would like to count). To think, yes, I am feeling pissed off by what this person is saying. Yes, I feel the need to respond, to defend myself. But then to take a moment to stop and think, "Did they load this gun intentionally or were they just trying to be heard?" Everyone needs to be heard, and no one preaches that more than I do. Figuring out a way for me to really hear others without first becoming triggered by something in what they say sometimes gets in the way, as I think it does for many people. In fact, I think most of the relational disconnects I have, especially the most personal ones, could be traced back to that concept. We expect sometimes... that those who are closest to us, those who we have the most intimate love for, are going to love us in a way that feels unconditional and matches our ideas of a perfect love. But to realize, maybe, that while they may have this aim too, their ability to love sometimes gets lost... in a minefield of triggers. It is just so hard to really "hear" someone when you have so many of your own triggers.

So often people cannot realize what their own triggers are, and how they affect their relationships, both intimate and less so. I am at the point where I am starting to realize what mine are, which is both helpful and immensely frustrating. I am at the point where I can say, out loud even, "I am triggered by that," but not at the point where I can control the tidal wave of emotion that comes over me and influences my behavior when they happen. It is however helpful for the post-apocalypse analysis.

But to realize the triggers in other people? That would be another level, another thing, entirely. On an abstract level I am beginning to realize what my beloved Oregon roommate had said to me once about not putting people on a pedestal. I am beginning on an abstract level to realize that other people have triggers too, and I keep wanting people not to judge me by my behavior when I am feeling triggered, I have to be willing to do the same for other people. My emotions are truly uncontrollable when I am triggered. Maybe it is the same for them. Maybe I have been judging myself based on behavior that occurred when the other person was in a state of being triggered, ie, not really them. That wouldn't be a fair judgement, a fair comparison, for either one of us. But how was I to know?

Maybe that is part of being an adult, to finally come to a state where you can actually separate the two.

Maybe in pondering this I can search for the forgiveness of others I am trying to find. Maybe they regret it. Maybe they don't. But they can't change who they they are any more than I can change who I am. When two people are stuck, one person has to move and flow past the other in order to keep the exchange alive. Two stuck people can remain stuck and unmoving for a very long time, and that would describe some of my relationships. The first step, it would seem, is finding an awareness that the other person did not intentionally load the gun. This would not seem to be something that could come overnight or just in the space of writing this essay, but perhaps small pieces of it will be parsed to me over time until I can live the experience. I can only hope.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

I'm only Jewish for the Lox

I'm Only Jewish for the Lox - Reflections on a Jewish Childhood in Maine

"We have a lot of diversity in our class," my high school history teacher once said to my class. "Kate is Jewish!" That attitude  pretty much summed up how most people in my small, nearly all white suburban hometown thought of Judaism - as something rare and exotic. That is when they thought of it at all, and I am pretty sure most of the time they didn't. My younger brother and I used to complain to each other how around Christmas, all the teachers and other kids would happily be wishing us a Merry Christmas, but not a single person would ever say Happy Hanukkah. Other than my brothers, I think I was aware of maybe one other Jewish person in my grade. This was life growing up in Cumberland, Maine in the 1990s.

Despite the fact that other Jewish people pretty much didn't exist in my life growing up, I never felt that left out. My family didn't really observe Jewish customs very much, so I wasn't really aware of what I was missing most of the time. When I did learn about what other Jewish families were doing, such as bar mitzvahs and fasting for the high holidays, I mostly felt a sense of relief that my family didn't have to go through that. It seemed like so much work. Still, as an adult, I sometimes wish I had a stronger sense of Jewish identity. My family lit the candles on the menorah for Hanukkah, and we did seders for Passover. That was the extent of our participation in Jewish life. That, and the lox. My dad always made sure our refrigerator was stocked with lox, and I grew to share his love of the salty, melt in your mouth delicacy. I remember being a kid, sitting on the floor by the open refrigerator, discovering it in the crisper and guiltily stuffing it in my mouth. I was in awe of the taste and feeling of it as it hit my tongue, and I couldn't get enough of it. My dad, being the foodie he was, would often order lox from Balducci's or Zabar's in New York City mail order. Most of the time, we had Ducktrap though, a brand of Maine smoked salmon.

When we visited my grandparents in western Massachussets, I would always be shocked by how much more evident Jewish life was there. There was matzo and macaroons being sold at the grocery store! There were Hanukkah candles and dreidels at the gift shop! There was a Jewish community center and reminders of Jewish holidays in the newspaper. I enjoyed these little reminders that I existed, somewhere. As an adult, whenever I would run into another Jewish person, I would get extremely excited. They would be looking at me like "Why is she so excited? You'd think she'd never seen a Jewish person before." Well.. outside of my family, not really.

When I started volunteering at the Maine Jewish Museum three months ago, I did not do it out of a sense of wanting to connect with my roots or understand my heritage. I did it because I needed to get out of the house, I had a family connection there, and it was something to do. I have enjoyed it, but not because of any religious reasons. I have enjoyed it because all the people who come into that building remind myself of me or my family. They make me feel safe, and part of a community. There are services on Monday evenings that usually attract a handful of older men. I am often still there, finishing up on some work on the computer. Some of the men come over to greet me, and playfully tease me or use some of their well-worn jokes on me. It never failes to make me smile. These men remind me so much of my grandfathers, both of them. They even tell the same jokes my grandfathers do. It has made me realize there is something about Jewish culture that is transmitted through behavior, not religion. Being around them is evocative of the Passover seders my family used to have when I was a kid. Passover was the only time in my life where Judaism was front and center, where the religion or culture had any chance to seep into my brain. Apparently, it worked. When I hear Hebrew, even though I had no instruction in it and never attended a single service at a synagogue in my life that I can remember, it feels familiar and makes me feel, to some degree, safe. It's fascinating to me try to figure out why.

Passover Seders

From the ages of probably around 7 to 15, my family would go to my great-aunt Rosalie's house in Longmeadow, Massachussets for the Passover seder. We were taken out of school and it was a very big deal. My mom would even make me wear a dress - probably the only pictures of my life that I have in formal attire. My grandparents lived in the same town, and we would stay with them for several days. There were about twenty people at this seder, all relatives that I only saw once a year at this time. My mom's cousins, many of whom lived in other parts of Massachussets but some of whom traveled further, were all there. I had younger cousins and distant family who, although I only saw them once a year, always greeted me enthusiastically and were very warm and friendly to me. Then there was my great-grandmother, who died when I was 13. She lived to the ripe old age of 99 and nine months before she passed away. She was always at the head of the table, and my great uncle Kenny was at the other end.

These seders would last about three hours, two nights in a row. We would go around the table, taking turns reading paragraphs from the Haggaddah. The few people at the table who knew Hebrew (not my brothers or I, that's for sure) would read the Hebrew parts, and the rest would read in English. We'd break midway through to eat. I was a picky eater, so I didn't eat a lot of foods there, but I remember loving the hard boiled eggs. I think I ate eight of them one year. My great-uncle would read a lot of the Hebrew, and we kids would wait inpatiently to hear something we knew again.

My favorite part of the seder was when we got to the songs. I loved singing the songs! The whole table of around twenty people would burst out in song. It was such a joyful, beautiful shared experience. For some reason, we added the words "Bumming bumming bumming bum" onto one of the choruses of a traditional song, so everyone would have fun with that. My great-uncle would call out "Girls only!" or "Guys only" and then we'd do just the kids, or just people over 90... which would be my great-grandmother, who we called Grammie, singing alone. Everyone would laugh. We'd sing Had Gadya and other songs that I can't recall now. Elijah would come for his cup of wine in the middle, and then everyone would eat chicken soup and mill around chatting after. I remember how many books there were in my great-uncle's library, and how many people were in the crowded hallway of the house. I remember being uncomfortable in my dress, and wandering into the kitchen and shyly talking to the women my great-aunt had hired to help her cook.

When I was a small child, I hated these seders. I hated sitting still for that long. What we were reading didn't have any meaning for me. But as the years passed, I started to like them. I started to enjoy the routine. I loved how genuinely everyone greeted me, and how happy they seemed to see me. They would ask me how I was doing and really seem to care about the answer. The passages in the Haggaddah began to seem familiar, and I would participate with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, just as I was really starting to enjoy them, my great-grandmother passed away and my family stopped doing seders a few years after that.

I accidentally went to a very Jewish college (I say accidentally because I had no idea of its Jewish population until I attended, as I chose it for other reasons) so ended up hanging out in the Kosher Dining Hall a lot. I liked chicken soup, so I'd go there on Friday nights for that. I didn't have much ease with people my own age, so the other kids would mostly be intimidating to me. The director of the Hillel there invited me to her house for Passover two years in a row, though, and it felt just like my family seders had. Since college, I have not gotten to go to a single seder, and would like to change that. The routines just make me feel connected.

Talking about Jewish Culture

The men at the Monday evening services remind me of my family. One of the artists who exhibited there was the splitting image of my uncle, and even had a similar personality. The level of passion seems higher. Everyone I have interacted with seems somehow more prone to the kind of conversation I am used to, or interacts on a level that feels more familiar to me. I struggle, however, to put words to this experience. Since I am a writer, I like to be able to put words to everything. Socrates once famously said, "The unexamined life is not worth living," and I seem to have without consciously realizing it modeled my life after this. Blaise Pascal said, "I'm only making this letter long because I lack the time to make it short," which is another quote I can relate to quite a bit.

I have asked a few assorted people what they think defines Jewish culture, but have never really gotten much of a response. I would love to figure out why being around these people makes me feel so good when I was raised in a very non-religious, non-observant house in one of the least Jewish states in the country. The answer seems to lie in discovering what makes up Jewish culture.

The friend I talked today had the best response yet when she said it was something about the cadence and rhythm of voice being familiar. That may be part of it, but I imagine it also has to do with the values we have (education, studying, analysis, being more prone to think deeply about certain things), shared history and background (our ancestors had to overcome a lot of obstacles and so the values of persistence and triumph over obstacles may be embedded more deeply into our psyche than the average person), our sense of humor, our cultural traditions, our choice of food, our sense of communal responsibility, and so on. Our background of having been perpetual outsiders probably creates an atmosphere of self-deprecating humor and resilience that is familiar to everyone who is Jewish, whether or not they are religious. While exploring Jewish culture online last night, I found a statistic that said 0.2% of the world's population is Jewish, but 22% of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish. Clearly, there is something in the Jewish culture that makes those of this heritage more likely to think outside the box or to prize learning and academics at a higher rate than those who are not Jewish. What is it? Why do Jews seem so familiar to each other even when you take God completely out of the equation? These are questions I would very much like to explore more.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Taking an Improv Class

Tonight, I made good on my long-held goal to try to take an improv class. This refers, to anyone who does not know, to a method of improvisational acting that can actually be quite fun whether or not you like acting. I had experienced improv a little bit in summer camps I had been in as a kid and always loved it, craved it even, but it was so short. I always wanted to do it again but never had the chance.

I met someone who runs very affordable improv classes in the Portland area during an event on First Friday in Portland, and decided to go for it. My chemical sensitivities, as those who know me know, have made it difficult if not impossible for me to go into most buildings for the last seven years, but I made a promise to myself to try to start challenging it and finding a way to be part of the world again after seven years of isolation. I finally moved into Portland and had the transportation to be able to get there. The rest I figured I would just try to figure out.

Dealing with the Sensory Challenges of the Class

The class is located near the Mill Creek area of South Portland. I took the SMCC bus at 615 and discovered it was quite a bit further from Mill Creek than I realized, but no matter. I found the building easily enough but had a difficult time figuring out how to get in. Once in, I was confronted with a very large and unwieldy building and no idea where to go. I tried to center myself, but got quickly overwhelmed, especially when the carpeted part of one area smelled more than the linoleum and I was afraid after so much effort, I wouldn't be able to stay. Three or four senior citizens who I asked directions of later (I got good asking directions from all the cities I moved to, ha) I finally found the elevator and the right room.

I could do nothing but sit on the floor and try to center myself for several minutes when I first got there. I was so overwhelmed and not sure if it was something I could tolerate or not. I tried to lose myself in the songs on the radio for a few minutes and calm down. The guy who ran the class was very understanding, which helped, and told me I could join when I felt able. I felt calmer after a few minutes and sat down in time for the introductions.

The lighting is a bit of a problem. Unfortunately, I am having to deal with the fact and discovery that sensory processing disorder is not limited to just one sense. After seven years of centering my life around avoiding fragrances and chemicals, I am now finding that there are other things I have to contend with that are unfortunately just as bad. For example, having too many people in too small of a space can be just as overwhelming from an auditory/noise point of view, to the point where I just shut down and feel a primal need to escape that eclipses all other feelings (At Salt today during the intermission, at the Jewish museum after the services during the oneg in that small room with like 50 people, and to a lesser but still intense extent when I tried to go into the Flatbread restaurant when someone I knew was playing music there - I'm now beginning to recognize when I'm at the tipping point and just leaving without trying to push myself into meltdown mode or judging myself, which is frustrating but good.) One other trigger apparently is fluorescent lights. You don't really run into fluorescent lights that much when the only places you ever go are natural food stores or other hippie type places, but yeah apparently they're a thing. A thing that overwhelms. I had heard of fluorescent lights as being a common Aspie sensory trigger, of course, but I never really had the opportunity to find out for myself until recently how bad they are for me. I think the onset of the stress from college and of my chemical sensitivities must have made all my other senses about 10x more acute, because I can think of no explanation for how else I survived college with sensitivities this intense.

So, the room had fluorescent lights. I figured I could tolerate it for as long as it took to do introductions, and we turned one of them off afterwards. I relaxed instantly , to a degree, when it was off, it's amazing how fast and how much it makes my body feel like it's under attack. We still had one on, which was still some strain but tolerable as long as I was not under it and stayed in the side of the room without it. People were very understanding, which was nice. Several of the older woman echoed my opinion about the lights.

So, the fragrance/chemical level was "there's definitely something here but I think I can tolerate it if properly engaged with something outside of myself" and the lights were iffy but I did my best to try and ended up succeeding.

The Improv Class Itself

This is probably the only activity I have done lately that has had an equal number of young and older people. All of my activities have been pretty much all older people or in the case of the open mic mostly but not all younger people. I found it very amusing how people, probably without realizing it, segregated themselves according to age. There were 10 or so people, and the four or so young people were sitting on the left hand side of the room together. The four or so older people, probably in their 50s or 60s, were next. The one person who might have seemed like he was in between those two age groups was after that. Fascinating how people do that.

After introductions, there were several activities in a circle in the room. I was okay as long as I was on the right side of the room. They were mostly done with partners. One involved mirroring the other's body movements to some degree, which I was not good at as I seem to have trouble imitating movements in others. The next involved using numbers to stand in for words to express emotions. One person would say "1," the other would say 2, the other would say three, and so on. Following that were activities where you actually got to use words, which was far more enjoyable.

I had not that much idea what to expect, but what I found fascinating was this. In his introduction about improv and in his instructions about the exercises we were doing, the teacher in essence provided the beginnings of a road map to answer all of the existential and very real angst I have experienced and described in the last two months (I have experienced it all my life but only began to really ask the right questions in the last 2 months).

From the very beginning, he instructed us to express emotions in our exchanges. He instructed us to express and exchange emotions with others. Even when we had no words, we were to do this. That was where we started. Seriously. Expressing emotions to others. I'm standing there thinking to myself "I've spent the last week intensely writing about trying to figure out the process of expressing and receiving emotions from others and then I happen upon an improv class that's TEACHING it? Omg!"
What's this about the universe leading you to where you need to be?

I need to bring more paper next time... but here is one quote I wrote down that I wanted to reflect on. "If you try to figure out the best possible thing to say, if you're in your head evaluating all the options for maximum effectiveness instead of in the moment, you miss out on it [ the moment]. If you trust yourself, and say whatever comes to mind, a connection will be possible." (Paraphrased).
How relevant that is to me, since a large part of the reason I feel like I can't connect with anyone is that I am so much in my mind with my anxiety about what to say and I am not able to pick up on the moment. People often don't believe me when I say this because I talk a lot. I am told I do not come across as unconfident. But I only talk a lot because I have too much anxiety to be quiet. Well , and because I have a lot on my mind and an intense desire to connect.  But the sense of anxiety keeps me from truly connecting. Trusting myself and being as Margie puts it in my center would probably enable me to feel the connection, if I could find a way to do that.

He said something about how sometimes when people don't know what to do, they retreat, which is something I'd like to touch on more and explore more.

Apparently, the tagline for improv is "Yes, and." In other words, you first validate and support what your improv partner is trying to do and then you build upon it. So, you validate and add a sentence. Conversations or scenes are built in this way.

I can think of no better way to describe what I have been so desperately trying to get other people in my life to do other than to describe it as "Yes, and." Marshall Rosenberg in his book Nonviolent Communication describes a way of communication that centers around validating and then adding to what was said as well. But "Yes, and" is such a succinct way to put it. People in my life usually forget the "Yes" part and either don't add on or add on something that feels completely invalidating or rejecting of what I have said. "Yes, and" is a wonderful lesson.

Improv as he explained it is not just an "acting" exercise. It could be and is an instruction manual for how to communicate in life. Why it is relegating to an "acting" class I have no idea. What a backwards society we are in - we have all these rules for how to "act" in our daily life, and when I finally find an environment where it's socially sanctioned to act silly or say whatever is on your mind, it's called "an acting class." Hello??? What is ACTING about saying what is on your mind? What is real about acting and pretending to not say what is on your mind? Humans are messed up.

I was not the only one to make this observation, apparently. One of the other woman asked something like "Is this marriage counseling or improv?" with a laugh.

Blocking and Conflict in my Life

There was something about the concept of blocking which I have not the energy to go into in depth. Something about saying something invalidating or difficult to your improv partner so as to block their ability to finish the scene. So if you have two people with a very good flow, back and forth, and one says something to block the flow, that is considered blocking. I asked, how would you define it? What are you supposed to do with it? And why bother learning about it? The answer, that a good improv person can work around all blocks. As to why, he left that unclear. But I realized after we did an exercise about it that 95% of all my interactions with other people, especially those I am closest with, in my daily life are blocked. In other words, the method we were being instructed to use was one I had intimate experience with. It was a little triggering, but interesting. It gave me a word or concept to understand a little why I feel so shut out from people in all my interactions. When I talk, people never follow me to where I am going. They just don't. My ideal interaction would be a mutual flow of energy and conversation back and forth, but it never happens. Instead I am relegated to asking questions at the end of lectures which are invariably praised, but do not provide opportunity for meaningful discussion... throwing monologues of sort at people not knowing any other way to connect... being usually met with silence, or passive criticism. It drives me insane. I don't care what the topic is. I just want to find a way to exchange energy back and forth with people. I care not the method as long as my sensory needs are being met. This is very difficult to find a way to do or to express the need of to people. That is frustrating to say the least.

I realized, however, that due to all of my sensitivities, the people in my life may have unconsciously felt like they were being "blocked", as when someone complains "I can't do XXXXX because of XXXXX" enough times, it probably makes you feel frustrated and less likely to have empathy for their situation. Perhaps the people in my life and I have just gotten so stuck in our roles that resulted from this primary experience that we are unable to get out of them. If I can find a way to be competent in the world, to be functional in the world, truly competent in my own way but with whatever accommodations I may need (and find a way to ask for them and receive them without shame), and I can do this without the help of those who have long since become weary of my asking, then I may have a far safer basis from which to communicate with them. I may find that their flow of ideas and energy open up a lot more when they're not feeling attacked by my needs. Finding that space in the middle may be impossible, but it is worth trying. Or as Courtney said, the best way sometimes to get someone to talk is to leave the space (silence) for them to do so. Not true all the time, but I need also to find a way to be more concise or leave more space if I expect others to contribute to the conversation.

All the people were quite nice and friendly. I loved the exercises where we were given a premise and then instructed to build a conversation (or scene) around it. One was "Talk about a trip you were just on" and one was "You met a really strange guy named Murray. Discuss." Basically what I end up spending all my time doing, wandering around Portland trying to start conversations with people, was being sanctioned as an exercise. Very cool. In improv, there is no "doing it wrong." It is fully sanctioned to be silly, feel silly, and say whatever is on your mind. Our conversation about the trip involved going to the moon and eating cheese, which was my idea and quite fun. I was embarrassed at first after. I said to my partner, embarrassed "I don't know where all those ideas came from." She said "No, that's what you're supposed to do! That was good." An activity where my intensity, weirdness and creativity is actually sanctioned? My, my.

The "strange guy named Murray" was particularly interesting. My partner was a guy who seemed about my age. We probably had the only Deadhead Murray. I was quite surprised that this guy my age was able to follow my lead and could come up with Dead songs that this imaginary guy liked to play on his guitar. He said he knew it from the radio, but the radio plays like exactly one Dead song. I heard it on WFNK earlier, Touch of Grey. We must both have hippie parents. Very cool.

The activity he ended on where a question was asked (how, why) and three people gave one word of an answer had me laughing hysterically and I only wished it could have lasted far longer. It's like... being part of something. A shared experience. A shared, creative, collaborative experience that builds on itself and uses humor to connect. I could have asked for nothing better, no better way to connect. It did not last very long and I really wanted to do it for more than just 5 minutes but it was really cool.

So... How to sum this up? This improv acting class ended up being a class where people could practice what it means to be human. I can think of no better application of Greenspan's circles of communication autism therapy than this. But its applications are not limited to autism, they affect everyone who is human. I am nervous about my ability to tolerate the building and the lights, but I am definitely going to try again, because what choice do I have? I need emotional connection - defined here as simply being emotionally present with another person and having some sort of exchange of energy - more than I need anything else in the world, and this promises to offer it.

Stay tuned... Oh, and the girl that gave me a ride back was awesome and that was really cool too.
I sat on a bench on the Eastern Prom for 90 minutes thinking afterwards, as is elucidated in my other blog entry from tonight.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Baltimore, Improv, and Emotional Regulation

I survived the 54 dewpoint which was probably a good intermediate dewpoint to get used to before it gets worse! I just kept reminding myself of Baltimore. I think Baltimore is going to prove to be a very apt analogy for me, for overcoming difficulty and for tolerating short periods of intense discomfort. Well, more for the latter. So when I was in college, of course, there was Baltimore and there was humidity and the two did not get along very well with me. I wasn't even there in the summer, thank God, but the first few weeks and last few weeks of the academic year were just horrendous. Humidity makes it hard for me to breathe. It makes me incredibly irritable and my brain just stops functioning. I lose the ability to think clearly, even if I'm only in it for a minute, even sometimes if I'm inside. There is nothing on earth I hate more and I am working really hard to try to think of a way to be calm about the upcoming summer and the Maine level of humidity. The only way I've managed to make myself at all calm is to remind myself of how I handled Baltimore and I can do it again. Maine, that is.

Today, we had a 54 dewpoint, which is definitely not miserable but definitely not comfortable, either. I coped with it by flashing back to college and Baltimore. One very clear memory of college I have is this. During the humid weather, I would go from the Pearlstone cafe, which was a cafe at the center of our college campus, and walk to the library, which was maybe an eight minute walk, and I would be dying. The discomfort was intense. I'd have my music on, and I'd try to listen to it and focus on it, or sing to it, my usual coping mechanism of drowning out all my uncomfortable overwhelming feelings, and totally not be able to. I didn't have enough to air to sing or to think. I wanted so bad to connect to the music but the humidity was robbing my brain of its ability to think and my lungs of their ability to sing.

So I would just figuratively grit my teeth and tell myself to hang on, that I would be okay when I got inside. I would focus on my walking and just count the steps until I got there. Sometimes I'd play a game where I'd choose some point in the distance and guess how many steps it would take to walk there. When I got to that point, I'd choose another point. Counting my steps took my mind off my thoughts and kept me from having a meltdown that would prevent me from getting there at all (I used this technique for all sorts of situations, not just humidity.)

When I finally got to the library, or wherever I was going, I'd take refuge in the basement or wherever was far away enough from people to relax, and try to calm down. I'd go somewhere and sing my heart out, after I had recovered enough to do so. Connecting to the emotions in music was the only thing that saved me. The one good thing about Baltimore was that it had excellent country stations, and they alone enabled me to survive. I can still remember the call letters of all seven country stations I could get from the Baltimore suburb of Towson.

 Of course, though, I couldn't do this right away. I remember being in this little study room in the basement, thinking to myself "Man, I FEEL LIKE SHIT" and trying to find a way to recover. I remember yelling into the phone to someone, probably in my family, about how bad I felt. I remember feeling kind of shocked about how bad I felt and trying to figure out how to deal with it. I did recover, though, after I had been out of the humidity for long enough, and if I found some emotional source to connect with outside of myself. I recovered, and then the radio embraced me, and I sang to songs, and I felt like myself again. Someday, I will have people that help me recover instead of just songs (I am working towards that), but for now it is really just the radio that feels dependable to me.

Using the Radio to Build a Construct of Emotional Stability

As I write this, my memory flashes to the enormous posterboards of colorful Post-It notes I used to have. I always wish I had managed to save these after college, because they meant so much to me. I was, and am, an intensely emotional person with very few if any outlets for my emotion. I was constantly at sea with my emotions with nothing to grab on to and very few if any people who I felt understood my emotions or me. Country music was the one thing that made me feel understood, moored and connected. I could relate to the strong and obvious emotions in country music. As a result, I would become euphoric when a song I liked came on the radio. I built a whole construct out of the radio. The structure of it - waking up to the Morning Note on the oldies station at 610am when I was a kid, or listening to the national anthem at noon even though I wasn't particularly patriotic, looking forward to the new music program on WPOC at 430pm or the Country Clash on WAYZ at 720 pm, leaving the library at exactly midnight but not until I heard the opening notes of the syndicated overnight program After Midnight - boxed me in and provided a structure and boundaries to contain my emotions. I can think of no better way to say it than that.

 When I heard a song that particularly spoke to me - if not with its choice of words than with the intense emotion used to convey the words - I felt like it was talking directly to me. The feeling of being connected and understood, which I was not getting anywhere else in my life, made me euphoric, and I wanted to remember these moments. So, every time I heard a particularly meaningful song on the radio, I would take a yellow sticky note and some colorful markers, and write down the station at the top, the song and artist and the time, and make it decorative. I soon had a whole posterboard full of recorded moments of happiness and connection that I could look at and use to build in my mind a mental map of connection. Since my emotions tended to be so extreme that I would forget that the concept of feeling okay or good even existed when I was upset, having something tangible to remind me of this was very important.

Using Baltimore as a Way to Build a Construct of Competence with Difficult Emotions

So, the lesson here is this. I have an enormous difficulty with overwhelming emotions that swallow me up, and I lose all sight of anything else existing other than strong emotions that are usually in response to physical pain or discomfort. Tonight after attempting to take a bus to an Improv acting class in a building I had never been to, something very difficult for me after my seven years of chemical sensitivities and mostly total avoidance of the outside world, I was struggling very much. Although I loved the lessons of the class, the activities of the class, the people in the class and the ideas behind the class, it was a very difficult physical environment for me. I get very scared now in difficult physical environments. It wasn't so bad that I would have decided not to go, but it left me feeling exhausted and having difficulty regulating my feelings of panic about the physical symptoms it caused in me.

I am trying to push myself to do things I never would have before, but I am also trying to be aware of where the line is for myself. I don't want to push myself so far that I become traumatized and lose all the progress I've made going into buildings again. It's so difficult to know where that line is. So I walked around the Eastern Prom for a while, or really just paced back and forth on one small stretch of it, when I got home. I sat and thought, for nearly 90 minutes. I tried to come up with a way to hold in my head and my heart the enormous physical discomfort of my life and the intensely difficult, overwhelming emotions that for me go hand in hand with this discomfort, along with the feeling that this Improv class is full of people who are being taught and learning how to express emotional energy with each other and how that is the culmination of everything I have been desperate to do for as long as I can remember and how much I wanted to be there . I just went round and round in circles in my head, the radio soothing me enough to allow it to be possible. (I've heard Luke Bryant's Play it Again about 5 times today , as I do nearly every day. I guess they're playing it Cop Car by Keith Urban is frequent, unfortunately "Invisible" is still pretty infrequent, although I heard the last verse in Monument Square today).

So in the end the only conclusion I could draw was this. I related it to my experience of Baltimore during the humid times. I reminded myself of how I would go through intensely difficult but time-limited moments and how I would just have to be patient and wait for them to pass, and they would, and I would be returned to myself. I had to have faith, in other words. This analogy has not only literal meaning for the upcoming summer season in Maine but figurative meaning for all the emotional storms I weather when experiencing physical discomfort of other kinds. If I can just remember this analogy from Baltimore, maybe I will have a frame of reference for which to deal with it.

Finding a Way to Experience Comfort from Others

It also occurred to me that I really need to expand the number of people that I can call when I need encouragement. We live in an awful culture with ass-backwards social norms, in my opinion. Everyone is expected to be so strong. The norm is not to give other people help and encouragement when they are going through something difficult. No, the norm is to expect everyone to fight their own battle and do everything on their own. "Oh, I didn't want to intrude!" people will say if you ask why they didn't speak up when they witnessed your struggle. "I didn't want to sound presumptious!" or "I knew there was something going on, but I didn't know what to say." or even all the way down to the downright cruel "You're just playing the victim" invalidating your entire experience, trying to take away your right even to be upset, much less receive encouragement.

The Yankee work ethic that we have, or the Puritan ideals, or whatever they are seem to say that people are not allowed to acknowledge how hard their lives are! That simply does not make sense. People are hard wired for human connection, and part of that human connection is perspective taking about someone else's struggle and helping them through it. Part of the problem with this, though, when you have autism or a sensory processing disorder, is that your experience is so different from other people's that they are not able to have empathy towards you or take your perspective, because it is so different from their own. This might make them upset or frustrated that they are not able to do so, so they do the only thing available to them - they shut you down. Because if they can somehow make it YOUR fault you are having these emotions or problems, then it doesn't have to be theirs. They don't see that there is a third option - recognizing your struggle.

The incredible power of a simple statement like "Are you okay? Can I help in any way?" is so insanely powerful and insanely helpful and insanely healing, but I could count literally on one hand the number of people I have come across in my life who are able to utter this to someone in distress. I will give you that I am learning that sometimes people do it with nonverbal language - offers of help, or touch, or some way in which those of us with an autism spectrum disorder often do not recognize as help or as acknowledgement of emotions. But "Are you okay? Can I help?" is a sentence everyone should become comfortable with and add to their immediate vocabulary. I need to make it a goal to surround myself with people who are comfortable with giving encouragement to those who need it. I need to get comfortable with receiving it and not feeling ashamed to need it. Because really, if a few lines of encouragement can make the difference between me going out in the world and actually trying to do stuff and have a life, and becoming so overwhelmed with my emotions, life and body that I sit at home and do nothing but cry in despair, wouldn't you go for the few lines of encouragement, too?

There have actually been people close to me who try to shame me for looking for encouragement online. They think somehow receiving encouragement from people I know online is "enabling" me to "wallow" in feelings of self-pity, or some such thing. I can think of no way to express to them how much this statement hurts me, how deeply it stings me. I can think of no way to understand their opposition to having someone who can relate to your experience of being human.

I realize that sometimes we have to accept the fact that we will never truly understand those closest to us. Or at least, I am being told that. I suppose I still feel that if I could only find a different way to express myself, that my loved ones would understand. It hasn't happened yet. The attitude in my family was always not to provide encouragement but instead to have an attitude of expecting people to do difficult things. As if other people expecting it was all you needed to have the courage to do the difficult things. I lost count of the number of times I would talk about how difficult something was for me to do and verbally ask for encouragement, and a certain family member would say to me "Of course you did it. I would have expected nothing less." Oh, the strain I feel just writing this! Why couldn't he see that plants can't grow without sunlight or water?

Just expecting someone to do difficult things without building them up by sharing with them what traits they had that enabled them to do said thing, or praising them when they did it, or acknowledging the difficulty of it.... doesn't work. If they manage to do it, they weathered an awful lot of pain and suffering to do so and they are just looking for a refuge in the storm before they go out in it again. By saying "of course you did," you are implying to them that their suffering is not valid, and even worse, you are implying to them that other people don't have this kind of suffering when they do those things. By not talking to them about it any further, you are allowing them to grow and firmly attach a layer of shame to their already difficult emotions about how difficult the thing (ANY thing, any experience, it could apply to so many things) was.

Now the thought process becomes "No one else has these problems, no one else feels difficulty, I am the only one struggling, there is something wrong with me for struggling with this task. I clearly can't do it. Others can clearly do it better than I can, because they're not struggling. I hate myself. Why do I struggle so much?" All it would have taken was a "I am so impressed with your ability to do xxxx! I know how hard that was for you! You really tried! You put a lot of effort into that and you did a great job" or some variation and the thought process would instead have become "Man, that was hard but it was worth it. I feel good about myself for having achieved this. I feel good about myself for having tried. My family loves me for having tried, and so I have reason to love myself (because self-love has to start *somewhere*). My struggling must be a valid response to this difficulty, but I feel safe in my relationship with xxxxx and so I think I will try again."  Is it really that hard to build somebody up instead of tear them down?

So my two take aways from my 90 minutes of pondering on the Eastern Prom were 1) Use Baltimore as a metaphor to try to weather intense but relatively short lived difficulty, and 2) Try to find a better support network that more closely matches my needs. I am building this online, of course, every day I am building this online, and I am thankful for it. My experience of it off the computer still lags greatly behind my online experience, however, and so I continue to try to think of ways to change that.

As for the actual improv class? That was amazing. Full of so many insights, but that will have to be another blog entry!

Finding My Way - Discovering Asexuality

I forgot I hadn't posted this here - at least I don't think I did. I wrote this years ago. I rescued it recently from the depths of my computer after doing an archeological dig on my computer I still haven't finished. This gives me shivers and makes me shudder every time I read it, but it needs to be said. 

Finding My Way

The prom is in five hours. I’m drowning in my emotions. I hover around the desk of a teacher, hoping to find some way to express how I’m feeling to her. Why does everyone else want to go to the prom but me? Why am I not interested in sex? Why don’t I want a boyfriend? Why am I so different? I can’t stand not knowing. Everyone I know is going, of course, and they have been talking about it for months. My twin brother is going with my best friend. I feel so left out. I walk home lost in my thoughts. That night, I sit on my bed and cry for hours. I can’t stand the isolation of not knowing. I can’t stand the loneliness of being different. I feel like I want to die.

The date is December 23, 2002. I know this because it is a date that is forever imprinted into my brain. That night, during a random late night Internet surfing session, I happened to type the word “asexual” into a search engine and found AVEN. The Asexual Visibility and Education Network. It is right after the first semester of my freshman year of college and I have become more desperate than usual to figure out who I am. Suddenly, a miracle happens: the bold, black letters on the front page of AVEN proclaiming, “Asexual: a person who doesn’t experience sexual attraction.” I stare at the letters, dumbfounded. I don’t comprehend what I’m reading. I’m so excited I can hardly breathe. As if in a dream I start clicking around the site and reading posts. Message after message of people writing “I thought I was the only person” appear on my screen. I stay glued to my seat reading through old messages for several hours and stumble to bed around 6 AM. I think of the site during every spare moment the next day. I’m not the only one? I’m not a freak after all? I can hardly let myself believe it.

I’m watching Boy Meets World one afternoon after school with my brothers, like we always do. I’ve always loved this show because the characters are so loveable and funny. It’s the one show my brothers and I can agree on. The characters always make me laugh, and I can relate to them. Well, almost. Topanqau and Corey, the show’s two leads, are constantly in the middle of an intense, on again, off again relationship. It is a frequent theme of the show. The show very often portrays their long, passionate kisses or the other problems that arise in the love lives of the show’s main characters. Since I relate so much to the characters, it really bothers me that I’m not like them in this one respect. I sit there day after day watching this show and wondering why I don’t want to passionately kiss every boy I see. Some days the isolation, the fear, the loneliness of this difference which I can talk to no one about threatens to overtake me completely. I feel like a freak of nature. The knives in the nearby kitchen beckon to me and I cry out and try to push the thoughts away.

I wake up in the middle of the night in a strange bed in a strange room, with people I have only met the night before. All of my clothing and belongings are in a suitcase sitting in Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Connecticut, and I have to get up at 8 am the next morning to retrieve them. However, I am elated. I am sharing the house with six other members of AVEN, who have flown in from all over the United States and Canada to be here. I am meeting other asexual people for the first time in my life. Together, we will be filmed for a documentary on asexuality that will appear on the Canadian Discovery Channel.
The next day I meet them all: Xendara, who is the closest in age to me, a student at SUNY in Albany, New York. Todd, from St. Paul, Minnesota and Dave from Washington DC; both middle aged. Maria, originally from Poland, a sweet, shy girl in her mid-20s now living in New Jersey. An outgoing young man by the name of Gorax – he insisted that we call him Gorax – with dirty blonde dreadlocks from New Brunswick, Canada. Josh, a student at nearby University of Connecticut, and of course David Jay, a junior at Wesleyan and the reason that we are all here.
I remember vividly sitting in the room I was sharing with Xendara and making conversation with her, thinking I’m sitting in this room with another girl my age who’s not interested in sex, having this thought run through my mind over and over. I remember riding in a car with the whole group, making excited conversation, feeling like a part of a group I could relate to for the first time. Listening to other people tell their stories, which were so similar to mine. Being a part of a group who I had something in common with, and not being alone for once.

I enter the Barnes and Nobles and head straight to the gay interest section. I’ve been attracted to these books like a magnet lately, desperate to read the words of anything that remotely resembles my situation. I’m not straight, I’m not gay, I don’t know what I am. But at least the people in these books on coming out stories and gay youth and gay rights history have one thing in common with me. They know what it’s like to be different. They know what it’s like to be out of the sexual mainstream, to not be straight in an increasingly heteronormative culture. They know what it’s like to feel like the odd one out for so long. I go through a phase where I think I might actually be gay. If I’m attracted to boys, then I must be to girls, right? I buy all the requisite rainbow stickers and spend my time reading gay rights publications. In the end, though, it doesn’t pan out. I’m not gay. I’m just me. But who is that?

It is October of my junior year of college. I am visiting my grandparents’ apartment in Philadelphia. It is also the weekend that the New Scientist article is supposed to come out. New Scientist is a well known popular science magazine that is widely distributed in England and other European countries, along with having a small readership in the United States. They have done an article on asexuality and interviewed many people from AVEN, including myself. I get my grandfather to take me to the bookstore and I don’t tell him why. My heart is pounding as I walk to the magazine shelves and look for it. I pick it up and for a moment the room spins around me. Time feels frozen as I look at the front page headline on the bottom of the cover: “Asexual Revolution,” it proclaims. I turn to the article and lose all awareness of my surroundings as I read it. Six glorious pages of pictures, quotes, interviews and even studies of us. I love the layout, I love the headlines, I love everything about it. I am quoted in it about halfway through and I read this quote over and over again, not being able to quite believe that I am seeing my name in this publication. I exist, I think. I am real.
That night, as I read the responses of my fellow AVEN members online, I find that the New Scientist article has been picked up by at least a dozen other international newspapers. I’m even quoted in Spanish. Five, six different countries, a dozen different spins on the same article, a dozen different ways to say We are not interested in sex and yes, we do exist! I print off every last article that I can find, spreading them over the large fold-up guest bed in my grandparents’ spare room, holding them like candy, still not quite believing that I am finally seeing who I am in print. Still not quite believing that the rest of the world is ready to acknowledge that we exist. I never want to let go of the papers in my hands. I want to keep reading them over and over again, until I have committed every last word to memory.

It is sixth grade and my school is having a dance. I am twelve years old, and I could care less about dances. I don’t even really know what one is supposed to do at a dance; the whole thing seems kind of funny to me. While waiting for my mom to pick me up, I wander into the gym where the dance is being held. There are about a dozen people standing around, and music is playing in the background. I see snacks in one corner and a few stray balloons off to another corner. I wonder what people could possibly do in a setting like this. I go up to one girl and ask her, “Hey, what are you guys doing?” She gives me an odd look and says, “Dancing.” I leave, shaking my head. I don’t understand it but I don’t really want to either. There are some things that I cannot talk with my peers about, and this will remain one of them.

It is my senior year of college. I am sitting on the lawn in front of an academic building, talking to a student. She tells me that she gets nonsexual crushes on people sometimes, and I bring up asexuality, asking her to imagine what a nonsexual relationship or marriage would look like. It is the kind of philosophical discussion that we have every day on AVEN, but I have never been able to converse so easily or so freely about it with someone not from the site on this topic. Every other time I have dared to mention asexuality to someone offline, it has been in a very defensive way or I’ve done it only while citing some article I’ve been in as proof of my validity. This is different. This feels like having a normal conversation with one of my peers about asexuality. This is something I have never done before. I feel free, and get a little closer still to acceptance of myself.

I am in Connecticut meeting my friends from AVEN. A friend of David’s comes in and tells us that a gay student on campus has been brutally assaulted. We gather at the campus center with chalk in hand and begin to write messages on the pavement to express our outrage. “What kind of world do you want to be part of?” we ask, and “How many more lives will you ruin with your hate?” It is an intensely powerful experience for me. It also connects frighteningly well with what our group has come to campus to do: speak up about who we are. Here, on the very same night, we are forced to encounter a situation in which one of our peers is not allowed to be who he is. As I grip the dusty chalk and kneel on the cold, hard pavement, intent on condemning what will never be right, I know that I can never again be silent about who I am.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Communicating without Body Language

I am talking with a friend and we just came to this very meaningful realization. My friend said that it is frustrating trying to have a conversation with someone on IM because you can't understand them as well. I said, what do you mean, I find using words to be far easier. She said "Well, but you miss out on the body language..." Then she said - this was a great insight on her part - "I wonder if the trouble I have understanding you on IM without the body language is similar to what you feel on a daily basis having Asperger's and trying to communicate with people without being able to read their body language." And I was just like... Bingo. That is so it. That is such a great analogy. She says "Lacking the cues I normally rely on such as your tone of voice, it feels so much more uncertain." Uncertain - is the perfect word to describe how pretty much every single interaction every single one every single word feels every single day. It is exhausting to deal with so much uncertainty and to plow through it despite the anxiety of it every day. But I do it because the alternative -isolation- is to me unthinkable.

With her permission I am pasting the relevant parts of the conversation here. I would love to know if other people can relate to what we are talking about or have experienced it in their lives, whether NT or AS. 

It goes without saying, for any people who may be reading this without much knowledge of AS, that people with AS have trouble reading body language or nonverbal signals in others and tend to over-rely on words. That is why they can often sound overly pedantic and a little fixated on words .


Yes I thought of that as soon as I typed it. I rely on body language but you may not.  No I guess it's not true that I understand" completely" but I see my daughter struggle with language and communication. A better response would have been" I have sympathy or empathy for that struggle".

Ugh us NT's are confusing! Lol I'm totally seeing my awkward wording and wish I could communicate via type better. It must be so frustrating to feel that verbally with people. Or to understand all their assumptions and nuances.


Ah yes that is a better way to put it thank you . Yes, I think you have gotten it there. Because you rely on body language and because I was barely aware it existed until recently, it is very likely that what you were feeling just now trying to communicate with me with just words is what I feel every waking minute of my life trying to communicate with others. THAT could actually be a FASCINATING analogy to use to get other people to understand how isolating it is! Do you think?


Yes I think it fits perfectly! I very much became aware of how it must feel.  Lacking the cues I normally rely on such as your tone of voice, it feels so much more uncertain.

Kate Goldfield

Yes, uncertain. Communications are so uncertain for me that I always have anxiety in them. I think most Aspies do. I can have a million good thoughts in my head but as soon as it's time to talk I'm stuttering, stammering, unable to look someone in the face and having "um" every other word because I just have no idea of what I'm "supposed" to be doing and therefore no confidence in what I'm saying. Not all the time, but more often than I'd like. Certainly, tonight at the bookstore.

But situations in which the social rules are clearly defined, I am fine. That is why I am far more comfortable giving a presentation in front of 50 or 100 people then talking one on one with most people, because the rules are clear for the presentation. The rules for the one on one ? CONSTANTLY changing. Enough to drive a person INSANE.

I can't look at them often because there is so much INFORMATION in their face but I can't decode any of it, and it is frustrating and distracting. I don't want to be left out, so I try anyway. I think of what I wanted to say and say it. But because I am not decoding all of their information, it rarely sounds natural. It rarely flows with what they  are saying and thinking. It comes out as forced and intense and unnatural and they will still reply usually - not always - but I am ALWAYS aware of how unnatural what I say sounds compared to the way others do it and if I let it, it would drive me mad.

Certainly, that realization was responsible for 90% of the reason I spent hours after nearly every college class sobbing on the nearest couch. That isolation is intense. That feeling of being shut out is intense.

It's still there... I just try to fight it more and have gotten slightly better at fighting it by finding people more receptive to my communication style who are more able to make me feel heard and quell the loneliness and isolation. But still not as much as I need. It's so hard. To even make people understand there is a gap. They are so not aware of it and it is a really hard thing to put into words, but it is so obvious to me. I am thankful for the people I know... but I wish ... there was less of a gap. I have to be careful not to let my mind go there too much, but it still deserves to be said.

Yes I can see that when I think about it. Each person with their own unique body language,  expressions and tone of voice. How do you know what means what? Like being around someone who's unstable all the time. Unpredictable.My God yes I would be sobbing on a couch too. Incredibly draining. Yes surround yourself with the people who understand your communication style. But yes that fact will always be a hard one. You need to find ways to not dwell on it. OR let it bring down your self esteem.

Ugh look at my awkward wording!! Lol it pales next to your eloquence

Kate Goldfield
No you're fine don't worry about it!  I appreciate your effort. Hmmmm. I don't know. The few times I've mentioned to (P erson) how awkward I feel I sound she seems to be genuinely shocked that I would say that. She doesn't seem to feel that way. But I watch her with (Other person) or with everyone else. How do I not feel bad that their conversation style is so easy and flowing full of shared information, shared emotion, which I want more than anything in the world? My heart hurts just thinking about it, even right now.

Kate Goldfield
I might have technical eloquence, but you have emotional presence, and that is far more important.

Do you think you don't have emotional prescence?

It's why Aspies get so obsessed with words and like puns a lot often I think. We depend on words to express how we feel.
It depends on how you define emotional presence..
That is a tricky one.

Yes cause I would say you most definitely do.

Kate Goldfield
I do feel that I am good at describing something but not good at feeling something WITH someone.
You've never met me or talked to me in person though and I would say that the kind of emotional presence I am talking about can only be felt in person.


Right that's true. But there's definitely a part of one's prescience on the internet. A vibe so to speak.
Good night!
Let's try to continue if you'd like.
Another day.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Snapshots of Sunny and 75 (Joe Nichols song come to life)

Today was, as the Joe Nichols song goes, Sunny and 75. And thankfully not humid like yesterday. AMAZING. Some snapshots of the day. 

Someone I know from the museum honked at me on my street as I was trying to get the bus, which was cool and made me smile. SO MANY AWESOME PEOPLE HAVING FUN from small babies running naked on the beach to elderly couples with canes and every kind of person in between, of every color and ethnicity (in Portland, no less, which I have never experienced to be that diverse before) were running around, strolling, rolling down hills, playing basketball, swimming, reading, sitting, chatting, pushing kids on swings, every activity imaginable by every kind of person imaginable on the Eastern Prom today. It was like 75 with no humidity. It was pretty incredible. People in shorts and tank tops when just a few days ago we were still wearing winter coats. Man, what a lesson that things can change like that - both for the worse AND for the good.

So... I came back to the apt for shorts after half an hour. I didn't want to but I knew I had to push myself to go out of my comfort zone a little to properly enjoy this day.  So I found the shorts, dropped off my bags, and went to the beach. I didn't want to because of the hill, but I made myself. The hill did suck, and actually I realized beaches are not very sensory friendly places to me, at least certain ones, but I tried. The boat launch proved to be a more sensory friendly, enjoyable place. I took off my shoes and put my feet in the water. Ouch - I need flip flops. But I tried. So many people so happy! I sat by the boat launch a while though - that part was good. It felt SO good to have shorts and no shoes on - bare feet and legs in the beautiful sun. I listened to and sung to songs on the radio for half an hour watching the sun sparkle on the water by the boat launch before I left. Most people were either with other people or engaged in solitary pursuits so I saw not a single one who seemed to be open to conversation on the actual Prom or beach itself. 

I did however run into an older guy a little further down on a bench at the outer edge of the Prom when I finally walked back up it. He had a dog at his feet and a blissfully open energy about him, so I started a conversation with him. It started with the weather, and his dog, and then led to discussions of nuclear energy (his occupation), Pennsylvania (where he was from), Baltimore (we both had lived in or near it), and the pet oxygen mask that I had heard about in the community connections radio program Dave Winsor so artfully did on the radio last night/ this morning (I had no idea I would have the opportunity to use it in conversation today! So cool. I was struck by how good of an interviewer he is, and inspired by the passion of the guy who is trying to get all Maine towns to own pet oxygen masks.) 

I then ran into Rob...Seriously. I just ran into him walking back to my apartment. That's never happened before, ever, in seven years, but I had left my phone behind and apparently he had the same idea of the beach as I did. So, he went to dinner, I shopped for groceries at whole foods, and then we spent an hour together having far more meaningful conversation than we have in a long time, perhaps because we were both far more relaxed than we'd been in a while. 

While shopping, let's see, how many people did I run into. Martin who I know from the museum and Laura, her wonderful husband and daughter who I hadn't seen in ages. "You're glowing," she said to me. Such a difference one's environment makes, at least for me. Knock on wood, I have room and space and ability to be me in all my glory here, instead of just suffocating behind wall after wall of barriers to ever even feeling okay like I was before. May it last as long as humanly possible, because for me, it usually doesn't. But I will enjoy it while it does. Pretty meaningful day. If I can keep my body from falling apart any further I might just get a meaningful life... 

Asexuality/Sexual Minority Oppression Open Mic Experience

There will be no small talk on my blog, lol

 Even though my energy is low tonight I had to type this up so I didn't lose it. I wrote it on pieces of scrap paper at the public market last Thursday, shortly before I performed it. You may want to take advantage of one of the few times I have posted something concise enough for you to read all the way through =)

Approximation of performance of spoken word essay on asexuality and oppression related to being in a sexual minority for open mic perfomance at Turnstyle Thursday on Thurs May 8, 2014 at approx 910 pm (Video should hopefully be posted in a few weeks and I want to remember when I was on) --

I ad libbed the introduction, which was good as it was more real and spontaneous. Something about watching the video of myself online of previous weeks and being both embarased and intrigued at the same time. Talk about the weather etc to warm up.

Then - Okay this part is not what I said, this is just writing about it but it's close enough -

About a month ago, Someone accused me of calling them an ant-gay slur. I calmly at first told them that they had the wrong person, as I would certainly never do anything like that, but they persisted and told me "it was on the video." (I checked the video. Nope, no anti-gay slurs there.) "It's okay," he continued. "You probably didn't even realize what you were saying. Don't worry about it." "No," I told him, growing more and more agitated. "You don't understand. I have spent my life working against and protesting against discrimination like this. I would never have done something like this." He continued to tell me it was okay and I felt very patronized. I left the building sobbing... and continued so for the 10 minute walk to a nearby place where I was able to talk to a friend and come to terms with what had happened.

Shaken, I tried to figure out why this had made me have such a strong emotional reaction. (Other than the obvious fact that no one had ever accused me of anything like this in my entire life.)
I realized I had been over-empathizing with the person. I had been responding as if I was the one who had been on the receiving end of the anti-gay slur. (I probably would have had an easier time dealing with it if I was, come to think of it. Strange.) Because of my own experiences, I was over-empathizing.

Part that was closer to what I said --

If I manage to do one thing before I die I want to wipe out the experience of shame for both other people and myself. Shame is such a toxic emotion, and one so many people experience for so many different reasons. But nowhere is the experience of shame more rampant than in the gay, lesbian and queer communities.

I'd like to share a few words about my own experiences. I'm not gay, but for a time I thought I was, because society gave me no other options.

I now identify as asexual. This means I experience no sexual attraction to others. That's an extremely hard experience to have in a culture that seemingly prizes the experience of sexual attraction above all others.  Nearly all of our TV shows, especially the ones geared towards adolescents, all of our books, advertisements, movies and conversations revolve around the experience of sexual attraction. If you're bi or trans, with quite a bit of effort, you can find a culture of people that tell your story. But almost nowhere are people telling the story of a lack of sexual attraction.

When I was a teenager, I would watch TV shows like Boy Meets World, and wonder why I didn't want to hug or kiss anyone like the main characters. I would listen to my peers talk about who they found hot, and wonder why I didn't share their feelings. It was isolating and depressing. I had no friends, and no one ever talked to me about my differences or told me it was okay to be different.

Shame was my constant companion, and still is, although I am getting a little better about it. I'd feel so upset about being different and having no label for it, that on several occasions I was nearly suicidal.

What saved me?

At one point, I decided I must be gay, since I knew I didn't like guys. Except I wasn't. I went to a gay youth center in my hometown, and one of the counselors there mentioned to me that I could be asexual. This scared the hell out of me, and I repressed the thought for the next nine months. This scared me because she didn't say anything other than the word, and all I heard was "You're going to be alone for the rest of your life," which was a thought I simply couldn't handle. I want and need emotional connections with others - I just don't want sex. I then threw myself into gay culture as much as I could because I desperately needed to fit somewhere.

On December 23, 2002, one night when I was home for winter break from my freshman year of college, I was on the computer late at night. The word "asexual" came into my mind and on impulse, I typed it into Google. AVEN, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, came up. At the top of the words were the words "Asexual - A person who does not experience sexual attraction" in bold, beautiful letters. My mouth dropped open and I spent the rest of the night reading every word on the site. We had 163 members when I joined in 2002. We now have more than 57,000 members. That's quite a jump in twelve years. I have had the opportunity to meet others in person and have been interviewed in a number of publications ranging from the New York Times to New Scientist, all several years ago. I found others like me and  I found the courage to like myself. I haven't thought about it all that much for the last few years, though, as I focused my energy on other things.

But when I was accused of denigrating someone else's sexuality, it brought all of this back. The girl I used to be - lost, afraid and alone - all came back as I unconsciously put myself in this other person's position, and the tears fell.

Shame is a toxic thing and the only way I know of to get rid of it is for myself to tell my own story openly and honestly. Next month is Pride month, so the timing seemed right to tell this story.

Someone today told me "If you have the intention of harming someone else, that is the only time you should ever feel shame. Other than that, everything you do is just fine if it works for you." I like that.

Tonight, I want to take the first step of saying no to my shame by telling my story. I hope you will all join me in saying no to your own shame. Thank you.

The response was overwhelmingly positive after I read this, and it was such a freeing feeling. I had many people come up to me and tell me how courageous I had been to read this and how inspiring it had been to them. I had people tell me that I probably opened people's minds and allowed them to think about things in a whole new way. I even had two, count them two, people come up to me and tell me they felt the same way a lot of the time. It was *so* rewarding and validating, so freeing, and such a feeling of connection. I hope to get other opportunities to continue telling my story in such a rewarding and meaningful fashion.

On Emotions and Connection to Others

I have some thoughts on emotional highs and lows, personal independence and competence, what creates both, and how they help or hurt you in connecting to others to process. Spurred by a sentence I just read in a book.

I just read something about withstanding emotional lows in order to experience new emotional highs... and how some people can live life by shutting off their emotions to a degree and not having as many rocky bottoming out emotional lows, but they also don't get the experience of new emotional highs either. I 've lived life in several ways... I've never been not emotional, of course, but I've had the REALLY intense cycling back and forth between despair and euphoria several times a day of college and I've had periods of my life after college where nothing was THAT wrong but nothing was that right either - emptiness, boredom, a despair born out of no emotions worth having rather than too many emotions. I've had periods (okay, most of them) where the experience of anxiety was so great that it blocked out the experience of nearly all positive emotions, but the negative ones were intense.

And then I've had the experience of re-discovering joy and rediscovering what it's like to feel happy to be you (at least at some points in the day!) and rediscovering what it feels like to connect to the world as you.

The joy of connection, both to music or people or parts of the world, the feeling of joy over feelings of competence, which is still rare for me but oh so sweet when it comes, and the joy of the feeling of independence. The feeling of starting to feel a little more confident is amazing in itself... The realization I had one day now about 6 weeks or so ago of all of a sudden feeling like I could go with the flow more.

Realizing that day that that all of these things that were going on around me that would have sent me into a tailspin or made me insane  before, I could now seem to handle.
 While I felt vaguely uncomfortable, I felt like I could probably handle them if I had to. That was HUGE.

 Somehow this process has to include a way for me to recover feelings of competence about myself. My biggest emotional highs in my life have occurred while doing really simple basic things that were mired in independence and personal competence... The biggest emotional high of my life was probably simply walking back from the Super Fresh grocery store a half mile or so from my college in Towson, Maryland, with groceries, the radio on my Walkman and a smoothie in my hand. The feeling of utter competence and independence, of ability, of self determination... coupled with the natural (for me) emotional high of the songs on the radio, the sugar high of the smoothie (a la Smoothie King, which I mourned the closing of for so long when it closed in Portland years ago), and even the natural relaxing rhythm of walking and the feeling, at least when it wasn't humid as it so often was in Baltimore, of the air on my face.... All combined to create an ecstacy unlike anything else. I got it not all the time but almost every time I walked across that four lane highway/road that seperated the Super Fresh shopping plaza from the road leading to our school (hell, crossing that road after grocery shopping was an art form in itself). I sometimes would wonder why such a simple thing would make me so happy, but I didn't analyze it too closely... I was too busy enjoying it. I did realize that the smoothie and radio along with the independence were all connected, though. I still think of the steps leading up to the Sheraton that we would cross to get back to school every time I hear "Mississippi Girl" by Faith Hill on the radio because the memory and sensory experiences of the high of life when I was standing on those steps listening to it on the 430 Future File on WPOC Baltimore was... and is... forever etched into my head, in the best possible way. The songs on the radio carry all my memories, good and bad but mostly good, and they constantly bolster me and support me whenever I feel weak. The emotional language of my life is ingrained in them.

I would get similar feelings walking from Hannaford to my apartment when I lived in South Portland in 2007, before all the trauma in my life started. Unfortunately, since 2007, I haven't had a lot of opportunities to feel competent or independent in pretty much any way. I've had a lot of crises... one crisis after another, that called upon all my coping skills and didn't leave any or little room left for positive emotion. Since my crises were of a nature that it was hard for others to understand my difficulty, there wasn't much in the way of positive feedback about my effort to cope. In fact, I was called crazy most of the time and left to survive however I could in the way I knew I had to. I persisted, and I'm proud of it, but it wasn't easy. I often would complain that I wished I had normal problems so someone could at least relate.

I somehow managed to lose nearly of all my physical strength somewhere in the time between Liberty and Eugene... See, this is how fragmented my life is, I can describe things in my life based in what city I was living in at the time. Oh well. The point is it was not intentional, it was gradual, but when I went to leave Oregon I realized I could no longer lift my laptop. And I had no idea why. Nor do any doctors I have talked to since. So then I've had 5 or so years of having to ask for help with most physical tasks, which is intensely embarassing and many people do not believe me when I say it hurts too much to do something simple. So there went the opportunity to feel good about anything physical, and so much of life is indeed physical. No carrying back groceries for me and feeling good about that anymore.

It seems to be the times that we least expect it when feelings of joy or satisfaction, even, hit. I have in the last three weeks since moving to Portland and getting the chance to at least move around the city independently had moments, not nearly as intense as previous times or pre-2007 but moments where I am struck by the joy of what I am doing. Struck by the joy of being able to move around the city unencumbered. They have been tempered by all of my physical problems, which really wear on a person emotionally, but are still sweet when they come. Usually some combination of a good song on the radio, fresh, crisp air (of which I will soon have to mourn due to the approaching humidity of summer) and/or a good interaction with someone.

There have been, of course, many emotional low points, both in the past year and past few weeks. The more I start to understand how much I've missed out on emotionally, the more I sometimes am prone to feel overwhelmed by the length and size of the gap I need to bridge. But those moments when I feel connected to people are so sweet , so amazing, so powerful they make me smile for so long after. The physical sensations in my life are very often so overwhelming I can think of or feel nothing else, and the emotional isolation this brings is greater than anything else. But I am starting to realize, people are connected to others, they feel others' emotions, they trust others, they trust or have a stable sense of people caring about them even when they are not in interaction with others. Object permanence. This feeling of stability helps them to deal with unpleasant or traumatic sensations in their lives. So, if you couple my greatly heightened sensitivity to physical stimuli with my almost completely absent ability to understand on a consistent basis that others care for me and are connected to me at all times, my often complete isolation and despair becomes , I hope, a lot more understandable.

The concept, though, of WANTING new emotional highs enough that you can and will willingly suffer thru the emotional lows - of knowing even while in the emotionl lows that it is WORTH it for the emotional highs - is somewhat new to me. I can usually not think of anything other than the low when in it, and I have never had consistent or stable enough emotional highs to feel the presence of them when in the lows.

But I am hoping by moving into a city where I have some connections and some ability to be more independent, that I can create enough meaningful emotional experiences that they will start to blot out the lows all the time, consistently, giving me a capacity I hope for emotional regulation I've never had before. I've had some signs of it but it's a one step forward, two steps back process that it is often frustrating to me.

Last Monday, I was feeling particularly vulnerable after having felt somewhat unmoored all weekend. I was not able to find the emotional grounding and connection that I usually had been able to find in the situation I was in, and my distress kept building upon itself despite my best efforts to soothe myself with music or self-talk. I just needed to be heard by somebody, but I was aware of how much effort it took to connect with me and so let my desire not to be a burden supercede my need to connect. Maybe it's what I should have done, I still don't know. I just know I have to find ways to connect with people that are not so time consuming and difficult for the other person, because the ways I have are not maintainable, not self-sustaining, whatever. The level of connection I require to feel heard is nice when you can get it but not realistic for most people to have. I have to somehow find shortcuts. I have to learn how people connect with others, because most people seem to use verbal shortcuts, or maybe nonverbal language or physical intimacy of some kind to fill their need for this kind of connection, and I'm only able to do it with long, intense, rambling discourse. There is a time and a place for that but how do I develop ways to feel connected with others even when not in the midst of these discussions? How do I develop object permanance? These are the questions rambling around my brain tonight.

Someone today told me that if I am feeling calmer in myself I will be more able to take others in and feel their emotions - not feel so unmoored as a usual state of being. I agree. I had reached the same conclusion. But being calm for me is in large part a function of my physical environment. I can't feel calm if  my senses are under attack by loud music, smells, humidity, the feeling of my clothes on my body and so on. Most people do not understand these sensory issues and think they are a "preference." They do not seem to understand that my brain literally will not work right if subjected to them. They tell me to suck it up and be considerate of other people's needs. They give me the message that my needs are not worth accomodating. There is shame involved. All of this is not very conducive to being open to people's messages of caring, love or support. Yes, I realize that people can't always accomodate me, and I don't expect them to. But when it wouldn't put them out much to accomodate me, then it would be nice. Even if they could acknowledge as valid my difficult experience of whatever experience we are sharing, it would help silence the shame I always feel for experiencing it differently. People tell me constantly that my experience is different and imply "Well, this is how most people do it, so you better comply and start feeling it that way, or else just deal with it." Not going to happen. So then I get overloaded with not only the physical stimulus but the shame of being the only one to feel it that way, and it's usually the second one that makes me involuntarily start to cry. Crying is not a very good way to increase connection with others, I'll tell you that much. But it's one most people don't seem to understand I have no control over. Most people do not know how to offer support to someone who is crying, this much I will tell you for sure.

 My world is regulated largely through the consistency of music on the radio, since it's the only form of consistent emotional relatedness I can expect. I've just realized this recently. But I would love to have a human being that felt as dependable to me and as safe and supportive to me as the songs on the radio do. I hope to get there some day, hopefully sooner rather than later. I'd love to be able to trust people, to communicate with people without the barely disguised feeling that they are going to --unintentionally yes but still -- hurt me if I'm not  on guard. The first step to this is acknowledging it and trying to figure out how it came about. The second is probably putting yourself in situations that can challenge these beliefs. Maybe a healthy dose of patience? I don't know. But again... spur of the moment thoughts rattling around my head at 346am when I really should be asleep. Goodnight.