Small towns have this very appealing veneer of wholesomeness, untouched by the darkness of a major city. Norman Rockwell captured this in a lot of his art, making us feel nostalgic for a time and place that never really existed, except in our own minds. But small towns are actually far more David Lynchian than Norman Rockwell, in part because of human nature – the good, the bad and the very ugly.
I grew up in a small town and still live here. I’ve always seen both its surface appeal and the dark nature that lay beneath. I love it for the same reasons I hate it – it’s small, I know almost everyone and life is fairly predictable.
How would I describe my town? On the surface, it’s very Mayberry – one could fully expect to see Andy Taylor and Barney Fife make their rounds, touching base with residents, tourists and shop owners alike. But once you’ve been here awhile (or grown up here), you start to get the sense that there’s something else lurking, something dark and unsettling, very like that fictional town of Twin Peaks.
When I was a kid, I used to think there were psychic vampires living in the sewers (this was years before that seminal Stephen King classic IT (1986) was published). Under the bright sun, I could see darkness and it was everywhere. It was in my classrooms, it was in the theaters I chose to participate in, it was even in my home. How do you fight that?
Unlike Twin Peaks, Washington or Derry, Maine, the darkness in my town is not supernaturally related, but very human.
…..and here’s how it manifests in me – it’s like navigating the world with a paint pallet, but with half the colors. This means I will miss some social cues and over-analyze every word and encounter until my head hurts. The knowledge that I’m (unofficially) an Asperger’s has been enlightening – finally, as I look back on my life, things started to make sense. My unofficial diagnosis occurred in 2009, when three separate counselors in two different cities within a six-week period asked me if I was Asperger’s. Never having heard of it before, the answer was naturally “No”. Being officially diagnosed is on my List of Things to Do, and it wasn’t until recently that I’ve been able to find sources that would help (one is in Los Angeles).
How did I survive all this time?
Well, as it turns out, theater probably saved me in a way nothing else could have. I got involved with theater at the age of three and eventually joined and several local theater troupes, as well as acting classes in college. This gave me a safe way to explore relationships within context and having a script is really helpful.  Theater is about trust and collaboration – if you didn’t trust your fellow thespians and techies, then there was a problem. In this scenario, I had to learn who I could trust so I could work with them. 
Outside of theater, I tended to be on my own. I liked being with my friends and doing stuff with them, but it also takes a LOT of energy to just be ‘normal’ enough to interact with people and social situations. I’m also an empath, so I can feel what everyone else is feeling at any given time. For example, while I might not be able to pick up on physical behaviors when someone is lying to me, I can definitely feel it when it happens.
What does it feel like to be lied to? That’s a really good question and I’m sure it’s different for everyone. For me, it’s like being sucker-punched so hard, that I’m knocked out of the situation for a few seconds. When that feeling passes, I’m no longer able to view things as they had been. Everything feels fragile – too bright, too dark, too uncertain. Unreal. I’m unable to know for certain that what I’d been experiencing before the lie was true or if it was also a lie. So I will go quiet and shrink back into myself and observe.
And I do that a lot – observing. I watch how people behave with each other and if an action is confusing to me, I’ll find a way to ask about it. This is helpful both as an actor and as a writer, which is another thing that helps me survive, analyze and negotiate this world. As it turns out, I seem to have a pretty good grasp on seeing what’s going on around me. Interpretation is no longer out of the question. Case in point – about two years ago, I watched two people meet for the first time. There was nothing unusual about their meeting, nothing I could point my finger at with any conviction and say, “This was the catalyst.” But something pinged in my mind as I watched them and I remember thinking, This will develop into something, they will be a couple before the month is out. Lo, and behold, they were and still are.
More than one person has expressed to me that perhaps therapy would be the best way to learn social cues, to which I say, “Bullshit.” What could a therapist teach me that real life social interactions couldn’t? You don’t learn how to ride a horse in the classroom – you go out to the barn, hire an instructor and get in the fucking saddle. Same thing with driving a car – sure, there are some classroom stuff that you need to learn, but for practical experience, the only way to learn how to drive a car is to get in the driver’s seat.
Same thing with learning about people and social interactions, which is where theater has been an enormous help. At some point, you have to go out into the real world and deal with real life situations. You find and surround yourself with people you like and feel comfortable with, so that you have a safe way to experience things in a group.
And then you just go and do. Observe people and their actions and behaviors. Ask questions if you find something puzzling. Be honest about who you are and how you process information, if you think it will help create understanding. For me, I’ve found that, in most cases, being honest about my Asperger’s does help to alleviate any potential awkwardness. I don’t even have to go into a lot of detail.
But don’t ever let someone make their discomfort your responsibility. It’s an unfair position to be put in and one from which you might not be able to defend yourself. In those situations, the best way to handle it is to walk away and let them hold the bag for their own poor judgment and behavior.
You owe them nothing.
 I’ve tried improv and I cannot do it to save my life, nor do I enjoy it. Improv is too off-the-cuff and on-your-feet thinking for me. Having a script gives me a sense of structure, which enables me to then build and expand.
 Trust is essential in any aspect of life. However, I’ve also learned who I couldn’t trust. And that’s a separate post.
The Autistic Brain – Temple Grandin
The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome – Tony Attwood
……and all I can say is that September must have been a lot busier than I remember. I looked for a place to live; I went to an orientation to help build my editing business; on the last Monday of that month, I got my book back with notes; and I’m pushing through some walls I’d built around myself.
Can that take up an entire month? Maybe, but it sure doesn’t seem like it was a lot.
At least, not to me.
October looks to be more of the same – looking for a place to live; working on the notes for my book; push through walls; possibly relocate altogether – but there are some other things to look forward to, as well.
The orientation is now a workshop, where I start taking steps to ensure the success of my editing business. I’ll learn how to execute a plan (I’ve always got a plan) that will help me to secure new and on-going clients; gain more training as an editor (like writing, it’s always an ongoing education); apply for a business license; and how to advertise my business (which definitely ties into the plan).
I’ve got my work cut out for me and I am more than okay with that. This is something I’m not only good at, but enjoy. The written word is still our main form of communication – from web content to fiction to advertising – and there will always be a need for someone who can help polish that to a shine and make it sparkle.
Need an editor? Hire me. Unsure of my qualifications or skill level? Give it a single 5 hour session and see if it works for you. Still not satisfied? I can refer you to another editor, if you feel we are not a good match.
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…….and the theory behind the repetition of events and actions is this – until you learn the lesson, you will continually find yourself inside it. This is speaking directly to one’s personal life, of course – relationships that don’t work out, jobs that don’t suit, etc. But until you identify and change one small thing, you will continue to find yourself in those very situations that you rail against and want to break free of.
And it’s not easy – it requires conscious decision making and discipline to carry it through. This applies to your own life as well as to the collective world at large. Change is hard, to begin with, but we are constantly changing from the time we are born. Surely, conscious change can not only be incorporated into one’s life, but embraced as a positive.
I am thinking of bigger issues than relationships, of course, but they are so huge, I’m not sure I could fit it into one blog post. It could take up several. And there so many issues to tackle, that I’m even less sure of where to begin. And change is frightening to a lot of people – so much so, that they’d rather stagnate than make any real positive efforts to experience something that is outside their comfort zone.
And there it is – comfort zones and change don’t mix. In order to get out of the comfort zone, you have to open up and change – a perspective, a piece of knowledge, a diet. Regardless of how concrete the action to change is, the end result is a relative unknown. The unknown can be acceptance or rejection, whether it’s an idea, a person or a philosophy. It’s not so much the end result that incites fear – it’s the unknown reaction to that result.
From personal decisions to global ones, the unknown result from an act of change (no matter how positive or good that change can be) is fear. Where do we belong? Do we belong? Am I not a part of this world? What can I do to be relevant to others? How can I be a better human being in this world? What can I bring to the table?
It’s questions like that which define us. It’s how we answer them that will either elevate or condemn us.
Something to think about.
“Some people think the future means the end of history. Well…We haven’t run out of history quite yet. Your father called the future…the undiscovered country. People can be very frightened of change.”
Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
……and it’s going. I’ve finally worked out the timeline of the novel from beginning to end and it comes out to about a week. While there’s a lot going on, the bulk of the action seems to be happening on the weekend, beginning on Friday and ending on Monday.
A lot always seems to happen on the weekend.
Had I thought about it a little more, I would have set up Novel Now Finished much in the same way that I had set up Secrets & Howls. In that book, I had designed it to take place over the course of a week. To clarify this point, I placed an independent page stating the day of the week, followed by the chapters that took place over the course of that day and then ended the day with a segment of a letter from 1852. Then it would start all over again, until the novel ended with the final fragment from 1852.
But it was also a different kind of story than Novel Now Finished, which had always felt more fluid with its time than structured. This is in part due to the fact that Secrets & Howls is told primarily in third person, with the ability to dip into the lives of various other characters and places without breaking the narrative. Novel Now Finished is told in first person and, with very few exceptions, remains that way throughout.
Still, in keeping a timeline for any novel, it helps to keep the story’s continuity flowing and if you’re really on top of it, you’ll catch errors before it goes into print. Whether it’s in third, first or second Point of View, it’s a helpful aid in keeping track of your characters and their actions within the story.
…..and it’s about nothing that I can put a finger on and say “Ha! I see this, it is making me angry and I will correct it and turn that feeling around to a more positive (if not happy) feeling!”
It’s more of a free-floating anger about life in general. It’s a thought that hovers just outside my conscious thinking, present, but not the focus. I’m not sure, really, why I’m feeling this anger, this hot brick of energy that sits squarely on my chest and in my mind. I just know that it’s there, it’s wanting my attention and that I am going to have to address it in order for it to go away.
Or, at least, to put myself in control of my feelings, rather than let it (or any other feeling) have control of me.
This is where I know my art and my writing will help. By putting my emotions on canvas, I’m acknowledging what’s going on inside my mind. By writing it out, by creating a story with fully realized characters, I’m giving those emotions a voice.
This feeling of anger is not there without reason. It’s not making itself present in my thoughts or my life just because it can. Something in my subconscious really needs to be addressed and I need to pay attention to it. Therapy can help, but I’m not in the mood for talking. By talking about it, I end up feeling like I’m poisoning the air around me.
I don’t want to do that. That’s exhausting for me. I’d rather focus on things that make me feel good and happy.
So, art and writing it is. Years ago, I wrote a thriller screenplay that was incredibly dark and creepy. I’ve been toying with turning it into a novel and printed it out. I’m making a bullet list of what I hope to accomplish within the story, how I want to format it.
That simple act is helpful for me.
This is something that I am doing for me. If, however, you feel in need of outside help, please, by all means, seek it out. There’s no shame in getting help, whether it’s to manage your feelings or your health or even improving your mindset.
We go through life making choices that present us with one or all three. It’s up to us to decide whether or not the outcome is worth it.
There’s a lot of fear that goes into making that choice and that’s okay. Fear of the unknown is what helps us be alert to red flags or, in extreme situations, keep us from harm. And fear is a good survival instinct. It lets us know that maybe there’s a situation out there that’s too much or too dangerous for us to handle.
But you can’t let fear be the ruling factor in your life. Stopping before you even start or because of thoughts of failing is fear. You can’t let the possible negative outcomes determine your choices.
If you have a dream to write a novel, go write it. Don’t let your real-life responsibilities slide, but do make the time to write every day, even if it’s 20 minutes. Set a time and just do it. Same thing goes for any other creative form. Or if you want to add to your skill set in your field, if it’s medicine or law or cooking. Add to those skills. Make the time.
You have a dream. Accept that there’s fear in making that first step and push through it. There will be failures and false starts and rejection and obstacles. Stick with it. The only thing you have to fear is fear itself.
……..but the temperature suggests that it’s actually the middle of summer. I’m not someone who enjoys hot weather – I can barely move when it hits 80. Don’t ask what it’s like when it hits triple digits.
Just know that it isn’t pretty.
I love cold weather and rainy weather, especially if I don’t have to go out in it. If there’s no reason for me to leave the house, then i’m more likely to go out for a walk and enjoy the rain as it patters on my umbrella.
I recently took a trip to Morro Bay and, while I knew it was going to rain, it ended up being more of a storm than I was expecting. I ended up staying an extra night – I don’t like driving in the rain to begin with and the storm that was coming was pretty bad.
Still, I loved it – watching the surf pound the breakers, the bay churning and the wind fighting with the birds about who had dominion.
……..and it got me thinking about how the word ‘march’ is not only a noun, but a verb. It’s not just the name for a month (or a person), but it’s also an action.
The month of March, therefore, can be interpreted as a month of action. I know what it is to be stuck, to not know what direction to go in. What’s difficult about it is that there are so many choices, that we often freeze. We feel paralyzed and panicked and end up staying in the same spot. We are so scared of making the wrong decision that we end up not deciding, which in itself is a decision.
The only true wrong decision is to not decide and remain stuck.
So make a decision and move forward. March forward.
If you realize the path is wrong, change direction. Just keep marching forward.
Eventually, you’ll find your way. You’ll find that the panicked and stuck feeling will fall away and you can breathe easier. You’ll feel lighter, more buoyant. Your energy will come back and you’ll find excitement at your favorite activities that only a few weeks ago, felt dull and routine, boring and stagnant.
Pick a direction, make a decision and go forward. March forth towards your goals and dreams.