Max's shop of horrors

Warning: imagination testing site. Enter at own risk

Month: October, 2015

Moving Out

Let’s face it, leaving home can feel like you’re Frodo leaving the Shire on a quest to Mordor.

It’s normal for change to seem frightening, particularly for those of us on the autism spectrum. I was petrified when I moved to the city to go to University, 5 hour’s drive from Hobbiton the small rural town I grew up in. But here’s the thing; when it actually happened, it wasn’t nearly as traumatic as I expected. I’d built it up so much in my head that I’d made it seem worse than it really was. (I find this is true of most fears actually; they’re like that little dog that snarls like a territorial lawnmower when it’s behind a fence, but turns into a wimp when there’s no such barrier)

One of the most helpful tools for easing the transition is a strong support network. If you’re moving out but still living relatively close to your family, you can visit them or have them visit you whenever things get overwhelming. While this wasn’t an option for me because of the distance involved, I found that daily phone conversations were a workable substitute.

Another trick that softened the blow for me was watching movies, reading books, or playing games that are familiar, to create a sense of continuity. If you have special interests, try focusing on those to ground yourself in something comforting.

And don’t be afraid to ask for help; almost everyone needs a little when moving out of home and learning to live independently. It’s okay to find things difficult at first. Don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes you a little while to get the hang of things.

When I was 16, I thought I would never be able to leave home. As of writing this, I’ve lived independently for 6 years. A lot of things seem impossible until we actually try them.


Critical Cringe

For as long as I can remember, I’ve taken criticism about as well as a dandelion takes a weed whacker. (For those who don’t know it by that name, it’s also called a string trimmer or a whipper snipper) Somehow, it always feels like a personal attack, and I feel inexplicably and irrationally hurt and guilty.

This is a gut reaction, but I’m self-aware enough to know that this is unhelpful to both myself and others, so for a long time I’ve been trying to get better at handling critique. After all, if I’m never told where I need improvement, how am I supposed to better myself?

As a writer especially, taking feedback on board is very important. Your stories are like your babies; when you invest so much of who you are in them, any criticism of them feels particularly personal. But this same connection can make us blind to their flaws, so an outsider’s perspective can be invaluable.

The biggest step, for me, is coming to terms with the fact that it’s okay to be wrong sometimes. I know that might sound simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Pride is a cruel mistress, and as someone who grew up being called “gifted” and identified as being smart from a young age, admitting I’m wrong is like swallowing a wasabi coated sea urchin.

The only way I figure I’ll get better is the same way I get better at most things; practice. So I go out of my way to ask for feedback, and specifically for things I could improve.

I don’t know if I’ll ever eliminate the visceral cringe I feel when me or my work is criticized, but I know I’d rather be working on it than just sitting back and letting it run my life.

Suffocating in bubble wrap

If I were to go back in time and ask my 18 year old self how best to solve his anxieties, I’m fairly sure the answer would be along the lines of installing Biosafety Level 4 protocols on the house; airlocks, disinfectant showers, UV sterilization chambers, and a hazmat suit to wear outside. (Then again, if I could go back in time, the first thing I’d do is arrange for whoever decided to make Bananas in Pyjamas and Blinky Bill into CGI to have an unfortunate accident involving an escaped orangutan driving an unregistered forklift)

Nowadays, of course, I understand the problem with this approach. (Besides exorbitant costs and attracting the attention of anti-terrorist agencies) Avoiding rather than facing one’s fears is like raising a child in a completely sterile environment; sure, in the short term they won’t get sick, but as soon as they venture into the outside world with its myriad of pathogens, they’ll end up like the Martians in War of the Worlds.

Ridding your life of all stressors is impossible.

You can waste your energy trying to encase the world in bubble wrap, or you can use that same energy to learn to confront and overcome said stressors.

The latter approach is less comfortable in the short term; you’ll have to deal with anxiety, fatigue, maybe even panic attacks. But in the long term, you’ll emerge a stronger, more resilient, and freer person.

Now, I’m not saying throw yourself straight in the deep end; I’ve found that tackling my fears in more gradual manner is more effective. But avoiding them will only postpone them, not eliminate them.

You can’t control the universe, but you can learn to control yourself. Our fears don’t exist in the outside world; they exist inside our own minds, and that is where they can be faced and defeated.

A Novel Idea

For the first time since last October, I’ve started writing a new book, and this time I’ve finally decided to do the obvious; write about a character with autism.

Not only is this the first time I’ve covered the subject of autism in my fictional works, it’s also my first novel that’s neither sci-fi nor fantasy. I’m used to being able to take huge liberties with the worlds I write about; to effectively make my own rules by explaining away unrealistic plot devices as magic or futuristic technology.

This time around, I won’t have this safety net. It will be quite a challenge to construct my narrative entirely within the bounds of believable reality, not to mention that I won’t be able to employ spectacle to cover for my difficulty with character development and dialogue. (Which will take centre stage this time around)

It’s kind of like a director of special effects blockbusters suddenly having to make a low key drama; I’ll have to learn a whole new set of skills. It’s a frightening prospect, but also an exciting one; after all, it is only by trying new things that we grow.

My biggest fear, as usual when I start a new project, is that I simply don’t have the ability to realize the idea’s full potential. That I should hand it off to someone who can do it justice. I’ve learned that the best way around this is to just ignore the feeling and plough on; when I look back at what I wrote yesterday or today it always looks like crap to me, but somehow when I look back months later, I tend to be less critical. If I re-read as I go, I just get frustrated and tied up in a feedback loop of rewrites.

Another trap I need to avoid is writing the main character as a mirror of myself. Indeed, he is a lot like me; mid-20s, male, Aspie. But I’m taking care to differentiate him from myself in crucial ways, (for example, he is much more socially challenged than I am) so that the whole story doesn’t degenerate into an exercise in projection.

At any rate, I’m thrilled to be back on the horse, and I hope this is the one that finally realizes my dream of being published.