Max's shop of horrors

Warning: imagination testing site. Enter at own risk

Month: September, 2015

Stealth Progress

Your garden variety snail has a top speed of about 1.67cm per minute. Hardly a speed demon, unless you’re comparing it to Internet Explorer, or treacle flowing uphill on a Friday afternoon. When you watch one cruising along, they seem like they’re hardly going anywhere. Give the little critter a month and a half though, and at that speed they can travel more than a kilometre. Not bad for someone carrying their house on their back. (You might think they’d go faster without it, but in fact that would only make them more Sluggish)

I don’t know about you, but I often feel like I’m the snail going nowhere, moving so slowly in terms of social development and conquering my anxieties that I’ll never make any meaningful progress. Then I remember that it only seems like I’m not improving because I’m only comparing myself to how I was yesterday, or last week, or six months ago.

When I look back further, the difference is astounding. When I was 18 I could barely leave the house. When I was 20 I was scared of cigarette butts and couldn’t go within two meters of a rubbish bin. None of these things even bother me anymore.

Progress can slip by without us realizing. It’s like how the small hand on a clock doesn’t seem to be moving when you look at it, but in twelve hours it travels all the way around.

So next time you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, try thinking back five years, or ten. You’ve probably come a lot further than you realize.

Disclosure when Dating

Whether or not to inform your employer that you’re on the spectrum is a hot topic among autistic adults, with many fearing that if they do, their chances will go up in flames faster than Sauron’s optometrist.

A related topic I’ve encountered which isn’t talked about as openly, however, is disclosing one’s autism to a romantic partner or potential romantic partner. Once again, there’s often considerable fear that it will be seen as red flag. Like, fire-engine-in-mating-plumage red. An instant deal breaker.

While this fear may be understandable, I don’t think it’s justified. People can be more understanding and less judgemental than you might expect, and even if they show trepidation at first, this could simply be due to misconceptions about autism, which you can alleviate by explaining the reality to them.

Also, it’s important to remember that while it’s easy to assume that autism was the deal breaker, that may not have been the case. People decide not to pursue relationships for all sorts of reasons. Not everyone is going to be compatible with you, and that’s okay. Learning to accept rejection is vital, not just when it comes to dating, but also life in general. Things won’t always work out the way you want, and if you dwell on the things that didn’t, you’ll be missing out on new opportunities.

But when should you tell them? First date? Third date? At the altar?

Rather than sticking to some formulaic rule, I think it’s best to just play it by ear and bring it up whenever it becomes relevant. (For instance, if you’re uncomfortable with a noisy setting) And when you do, don’t say it like you’re confessing to being a sex offender; try disclosing it the same way you’d inform them that you’re vegetarian or don’t drink. If you don’t make a big deal out of it, they probably won’t either. Remember, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I realize this may sound hypocritical after I’ve just written a whole blog entry on the subject, but ultimately, I think the most important thing is to not worry about it so much. I realize that’s easier said than done. But I truly believe, based on not only my own experiences, but also those of the dozens of people on the spectrum I know, that autism is not the romance-torpedoing red flag that a lot of us seem to fear it is.

The Koala Effect

You’re out camping in the Australian bush. It’s night time. You leave the tent to take a leak. Suddenly from the inky darkness comes a bladder-loosening, guttural roar. Convinced you’re about to be eaten alive by an escaped circus lion, you fumble with the torch, turn it on, and see this fellow:

koala-bear

Yes, they really do have terrifying growls, look it up on YouTube if you don’t believe me!

What’s the point, you ask? We’re getting there, just Bear with me.

One of the most common misconceptions about writers I’ve encountered is that if we pen something dark, nihilistic, or downbeat, we must be a miserable, depressed person. For example, prior to my latest novel, my works were mostly sombre affairs that dealt with violence, addiction, death, etc. Yet if you know me, I hope you’ll agree I’m about as grim and gloomy as a visit to Legoland while under the influence of codeine. (Okay, maybe I’m overselling myself a bit here, but I’d like to think I’m at least marginally cheerier than the tale of a totalitarian stone age society being torn apart by substance abuse from the inside and mammalian dragons from the outside)

People tend to assume that the tone of our stories reflect our lives and our mental state, but by that logic, every actor who has ever played a villain must be an evil person.

I like to call this phenomenon the Koala Effect; we may express ourselves in a scary way, but that doesn’t mean we’re not harmless, happy, and cuddly in person. 😉

From the vaults: my first publication

Since I was about 5 years old, my dream has been to be a published novelist. While this goal has yet to come true, I have been lucky enough to have had a number of smaller pieces published over the years. The first of these was a short story called Day of the Storm, which I penned back in 2000, at the age of 11. My Grade 5 teacher, an awesome fellow by the name of Mr Hooper, encouraged and assisted me in sending it to numerous magazines and anthologies, and finally it was picked up by a now defunct American publication called Lighthouse, which specialized in the work of young writers.

Digging it out of dusty retirement after 15 years, I cringe a bit reading it now, and resisting the urge to heavily rewrite it was like trying to hold a fart in while on a date, but in the spirit of preserving my child self’s voice, I have left it intact, flaws and all.

So, without further ado, I present my first piece of writing I ever had published:

 

The Day of the Storm

Gentle, swirling currents of fresh air wafted over the meadow, carrying rich odours of pollen which put me in a dreamy state.

Soon the storm would break with fury. The rage of the darkening sky was about to be unleashed. A wave of thunder rumbled high above the farm. Then a line of clouds appeared on the distant horizon like a range of black mountains. Dark clouds raced over the sky with the promise of a storm. Thick, gloomy cumulonimbus clouds overpowered the sun, a brilliant, incandescent orb, and I felt the air turn moist and tense.

A bolt of lightning lit up the heavens with a harsh flash of black and white contrasts. It was followed by a great, rolling clap of thunder that left me deafened. It reminded me of a fiery whip bridging the gulf between earth and sky. CRASH! Another thunder peal exploded with wild force.

My gumboots sloshed in the sloppy mixture of mud and cow dung as I sprinted passed the old windmill. A furious wind whipped up and the windmill fell. I threw myself facedown in the grass to avoid being pulverised into a gooey smear on the slimy muck, and I staggered upright as a whirl of razor sharp blades hurtled in my direction!

Adrenaline flooded through my veins and I bolted, the windborne, spiky rotor close behind me. Without warning I tripped on a loose rock and fell roughly, winded by the sudden impact. The windmill blade lunged towards me. I tried to get out of the damage path, but I couldn’t. I closed my eyes and waited to be sliced into pieces.

Visions of my life passed before my mind’s eye. Thoughts and images took shape in my mind. Our farmhouse. My first bicycle. Dad pushing me on the swing when I was little. My 6th Birthday cake. What would my parents do without me? I was their only child. I didn’t want to die like this, cut in half by a wild, vicious windmill blade. I am only 12. I’m too young to die. But I had no choice. I would never live to find out what it was like to grow up, or to have children of my own.

Then it struck me. Why am I not dead? I opened my eyes and saw a change in the wind had caused the rotor to miss me and collide with a barbed wire fence where it ground to a halt with a piercing scream of tortured metal.

I was saved.

I got up and stretched out my arms, feeling the wind blow and wrap around my body with its cool embrace. Gusts of wet air rustled the trees in the orchard with a whistling rhythm – the wind that had saved my life.

“I LOVE THE WIND!” I called into the storm. Then I listened as my voice echoed in the skies, mysteriously in harmony with the sound of the rain and thunder, and of course the wind. And it seemed to me that I heard a voice of calm and serenity answer from the heart of the clouds, “Thank you, friend.”

Apologetics Anonymous

Do you ever just… kind of apologize for no reason? Like, there’ll be a lull in conversation, and you find yourself automatically saying sorry ? Does it add itself to the end of your sentences like some kind of compulsive punctuation, or just pop out of nowhere like you’re being haunted by the ghost of an extremely contrite ventriloquist?

Then of course there’s the timeless classic: “Stop saying sorry so much!” “Sorry…”

I’m trying to unlearn this habit at the moment, and it’s like trying to throw away a boomerang.

Reasoning that understanding it might help defeat it, I decided to trace it back to its origins. What I found was that it was rooted very deeply in my childhood.

Growing up on the autism spectrum, I was constantly breaking social protocol without meaning to, or even realizing I was doing it. As a result, adults were always telling me off for reasons I didn’t understand. I ended up being on edge 24/7, because it seemed like at any moment someone would start yelling at me, no matter how hard I tried to follow the unwritten rules of society. (I suspect this plays a significant role in the anxiety issues that plague me to this day)

After years of this, I started to just automatically assume that I being annoying and rude whenever I said or did anything, and that the safest thing to do was to apologize after every sentence or action, just in case. This habit became so strongly ingrained that even now, at 26 years old, I’m having great difficulty un-graining it.

Those of you who know me in person will probably have noticed this tendency of mine to spout “sorry” like it’s the f-word in a Tarantino movie. Well, now you know why, and I’d like to ask a favour: when I do it, please pull me up on it. I need your help to kick this bloody thing.