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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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Asperger’s

So, I’m working aspects of my Asperger’s into my novel……

…….because it is a huge part of who I am and how I perceive the world.  And since Novel Now Finished is about a woman who ‘sees’ the world differently and is told from her Point of View, it seemed like the ideal place to incorporate this part of my personality.

Some see a graveyard, where the dead sleep.
I see the past, waiting to be heard.

Is the Narrator herself on the spectrum?  No, I didn’t write her to be Asperger’s, or even autistic, both of which were the furthest thing from my mind when I originally conceived the character and her story.  However, like me, she sees things that others don’t – I can see patterns and energy within events and people and make connections.  The Narrator works in a cemetery and sees and interacts with ghosts (which I think is far more fascinating than patterns and energy, but that’s just me).

It was only lately, in the last year or so, that I decided to make Asperger’s an unofficial part of the Narrator’s personality.  To do this, I try to find similarities between my abilities and the Narrator’s and what aspect of my Asperger’s might fit within that scope.  So far it’s been an interesting experiment and one that I hope to utilize more effectively in revision.

Which brings us to the question – how do I see the world?

Differently than the norm, would be one way to put it.

As described in other blog posts, I have had difficulty in reading body language and social cues or I have a tendency to be a little too open.  The best analogy I’ve been able to come up with that others can understand is that it’s like having a paint pallet, but only half or even a quarter of the colors available.  Sometimes it’s like walking around in an unfamiliar room in the pitch dark, with no idea of how to navigate around items that may or may not be there.

Like the Narrator, I’m also empathic – I’ll know by people’s energy if I want to be around them (if it’s a bad vibe, it’s like getting a stomach ache).  I can ‘feel’ if someone’s lying to me, which is like getting sucker-punched; I can ‘feel’ other emotions that people try to mask with behaviors that contradict what I’m sensing, which is extremely confusing.  When that happens, I have to sit back and observe for context.  Often, however, I get overwhelmed by other people’s energy and I’ll end up spending days at home, just to recuperate and recharge.

Because of this, I tend to sit back and observe people and my surroundings.  The details I pick up without even trying would astound you.  I don’t think twice about it.

The most interesting challenge about incorporating my Asperger’s into the Narrator isn’t so much giving her those traits.  The challenge is being able to observe my Asperger’s in such a way that I can identify what will work and what won’t.  In other words, I have to be far more analytical than I already am.

On myself.

As the Great Dane Scooby Doo would say, “Ruh, roh!”

Recommended Reading:
The Autistic Brain – Temple Grandin
Thinking In Pictures – Temple Grandin

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So, part of being an Aspie (Asperger’s)…..

………is that there is a tendency to overshare.  I’m very aware of it in myself.

This is what it feels like – having the gas pedal pushed and clamped down into permanent ‘Go’.
The harder I try to stop the flow of words, the worse it gets.  That feeling I described above gets harder to overcome – it becomes a physical pain.  Everything around me is thrown in sharp, distorted, almost fun-house relief.  I become stressed, anxious and panicked.

How do I handle it?

By going with the flow and finding a way to re-direct it. Once I relax into it, I find I can regain control.  That gas pedal feeling goes away.  I can breathe.  Any anxiety or panic starts to dissipate. The world re-sets itself and I am fine.

It’s helpful when I’m with a group of people who know me and understand that I have this disability.  That feeling of being among friends, with whom I feel safe and accepted regardless of location, has helped a lot.

So, I’m working on edits for my Novel Now Finished…..

…..and have knocked out more than thirteen chapters (and leaving approximately thirty more to go).  Things are changing, words are being cut (sometimes whole paragraphs) and so far, I’ve removed more than 5000 words (which is about 22 or 23 pages).  I don’t delete these random sentences or passages – I keep them.  I put them on a separate Word document, in case there’s a gem of an idea for a scene, either in this story or the next one.

You just never know.

Sometimes the notes from my editor are simple enough for me to make the necessary changes without a lot of thought.  I dive in, make changes that not only clean up the scenes, but bring in a richer feel, as well.  Other times, it’s like pulling teeth and I’m staring at the computer screen, with my eyes glazing over.

You know. Like this:

This is the face of a writer in edits.

One of the things I’m hoping to incorporate into the Narrator are the aspects of someone who is on the autism spectrum, specifically, Asperger’s Syndrome.  This was a personal decision, one I had posed to my editor.  I’m an Aspie, myself, and I’ve never been shy about explaining this to the people around me. [1]  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, being frank about it helps me to navigate the world.

As for my story, I’d been considering writing about an Aspie character and in many ways, the Narrator in Novel Now Finished fits the bill perfectly.

Am I comfortable cannibalizing elements of my life for a story?  Of course I am.  There are things from my life that I’ve put into my stories that demanded to be there.  The more I resisted adding personal bits, the more they wound themselves into it.  So, in they went.

And as I go through Novel Now Finished, I’ll be looking for places to accentuate her Asperger’s characteristics, whether it’s her speech or her focused attention on a particular goal.  I’m also going to look at my own particular habits and peculiarities, in order to flesh the Narrator out a little more, ground her in reality.

It should be interesting.

Writing usually is.

[1] I make sure to identify my Aspie-ness in a moment that seems ideal, usually, when the conversation has gone from superficial politeness to an actual conversation, where the other person and I are getting to know each other a little better.  Most of the time, this engenders an acceptance from the other person.  Most of the time.

So, I’m on the autism spectrum (Asperger’s)…..

…..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. [1]  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. [2]

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.

Theater is a great place to observe and learn.

[1] 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.

[2] Trust is essential in any aspect of life.  However, I’ve also learned who I couldn’t trust.  And that’s a separate post.

Recommended Reading:

The Autistic Brain – Temple Grandin
The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome – Tony Attwood

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