Categories of Autistic Experience

Lost love in the supermarket, and Regina Spektor.

Well, the new day has dawned cool but humid, and I haven’t developed gills yet, so I figured I’d better write before my hands turn into fins.

Ever since I came out of the closet autism wise I’ve had people saying things to me like “Well you can’t have it that badly”, which is good I suppose – it means my efforts to blend in are reasonably effective. It’s probably also down to the fact that, well, I’m smart. That’s not just rampant egotism *g*, the shrink I got my diagnosis from suggested that my above-average intelligence compensated for some of the effects of the condition. I don’t for instance go walking up to people on the train and telling them my life story, or start rocking back and forth and screaming when environmental stimuli get too overwhelming (although at times I can tell you it’s damn tempting ;).

But just to demonstrate what it’s like being an Aspie, I thought I’d relate a story from my recent past, and you can all judge just how normal or not I am 😀

OK, well across from where I work there’s a small independently owned supermarket. It’s where we go to get snacks, drinks and often lunches (they make pretty nice rolls) during the working day. Every morning (and I mean every morning, we autistics are creatures of strict habit) I drop in there and buy a can of sugar free Red Bull and a big bottle of water to see me through the day. It’s a pretty good little store, and the Chinese owners are nice sorts – they often give me a discount on my water (since I buy so much of it) and one time complimented me on my Crisis/Never Firefly shirt (which they could read the Chinese on). And until recently a girl – who I shall call Rachel – worked there behind the till.

Rachel. Rachel was nice. She was a student studying ecology down at UWA and always made a point of saying hi to me every morning – even if she was in another part of the store. We’d have a quick chat while she checked out my water and Red Bull. Or at least she’d ask me questions and I’d answer them – off the cuff give-and-take conversation being something my autistic brain has serious problems with.

Now there’s every possibility that she was just being friendly. She was a friendly girl who talked to a lot of other customers. But it always seemed like she put a bit more into her conversations with me (or at least I didn’t hear her telling any other customers how she spent the weekend collecting kangaroo droppings for her course work :). So it’s also possible that she was flirting her heart out. The problem is that without the ability to interpret – or even notice – body language that non-autistics take for granted, I had absolutely no way of telling. All I could tell was that she seemed to like talking to me, possibly more so than with the other customers.

So what were my options? I could assume she was flirting, and flirt back – except that I have absolutely no idea how to flirt whatsoever (it’s not a package that comes installed with the autistic brain), and would have a hard time figuring out her reaction to it anyway. I could be bold and do something like asking if she was interested in getting a coffee after work some time – which if she was just being friendly to a customer would be at best rather gauche and at worst horribly inappropriate. Or I could continue on smiling and answering her questions, which is of course what I did.

And now she’s gone. First she stopped working the till in the morning, and I’d only see her if I ducked across the road mid morning for a snack or some paperclips or something, and now she’s not working there at all any more.

So, life goes on. I miss our quick chats, and without the prospect of having a pretty girl smile at me each morning, work is that little bit less bearable. But hey, what can I do about it?

So that’s a little example of what it’s like to be autistic. Or at least to be autistic and be me. It’s strange, frustrating and confusing, but them’s the cards I’ve been dealt.

But on to happier subjects. I’m in love with Regina Spektor. Well, actually I’m not of course, don’t be ridiculous, I’ve never met the girl, but I am in love with her voice and music. Or at least with her album Begin to Hope which I finally got around to purchasing on Friday. She has the most amazing voice, and the remarkable thing is that she doesn’t just sing with it, she plays it, like an instrument. Take Hotel Song for instance – for much of the song she’s not actually singing words, she’s producing sonic noises that just happen to line up into words when you listen to them that way. And it’s wonderful to listen to.

And her songwriting is great just for it’s unconventionality – take Apres Moi for instance which switches between English, French, Russian and Noveboracan without warning. My favourite is still Better though. It sounds like a They Might be Giants song, but with the same non-verbal word singing stuff going on. It’s great listening, and plenty of fun to try and sing along with (try being the operative word 🙂

You know I’m sure there was other stuff I was going to write about, but it has fled my mind. I’d better cease my witterings and go and see if that burning smell is something to worry about, or just smoke from the bushfires ringing the city. If there’s never another entry on the Wyrmlog I’ve probably been incinerated 🙂

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