Max's shop of horrors

Warning: imagination testing site. Enter at own risk

Month: April, 2016

Third personing

Like a psychotic parrot tethered round my neck, self-doubt is a bit of a constant companion of mine; noisy, foul-mouthed, and taking every opportunity to crap on me. One of the sharper barbs in the feathery bastard’s arsenal is the suggestion that, due to my difficulty in understanding the emotions and thought processes of others, I would never really be able to write convincing characters.

As a fiction writer, this would obviously be a major drawback, and it’s something I’ve worried about for a long time now, so much so that I almost wrote a blog entry on the subject. Writing is my greatest passion, and publication my lifelong dream, so if something as basic as characterization was beyond my grasp, I’d feel about as useful as a glass cricket bat.

In my day-to-day life I find it hard enough just figuring out what other people are feeling and why; trying to convincingly recreate the behaviour of a person unlike myself on paper is kind of like how people in the 19th century tried to piece together what dinosaurs looked like with only incomplete skeletons and modern reptiles as a guide.

This past week, however, I received some feedback from an editor I’d sent one of my manuscripts to. Besides referring to me as a “great writer”, which made me blush like a love-shy fire engine, she specifically stated that my characters felt “genuine and believable”.

Those words sent me over the moon. Just like that, one of my most deeply rooted self-doubts was ripped out as if it were nothing more than a noxious weed, leaving the garden of my mind free from its insidious encroachment.

Once again, it seems I underestimated myself. I should really stop doing that.

Mount Highschool and the Emerald Valley

If I was to draw a line graph of my life where the peaks are the tough times, my years in the secondary school system would look like Mt Everest… if Mt Everest were an active volcano and I was a scarecrow doused in lighter fluid.

I know I’m not alone here either. I mean, coping with puberty, algebra, (which I still haven’t used once in the 8 years since I finished high school) and the ever-present threat of bullying all at once is a tall order for anybody.

It can be particularly difficult for kids on the spectrum, where difficulties with socializing can add an extra layer of confusion. It can almost feel like you’re studying at a school in a foreign country where you don’t fully understand the language or the culture. Throw in the pressure of study and the increased attention from bullies that comes from being different, and it’s like trying to learn trigonometry in Norwegian while fighting off a pack of tiger sharks with a Styrofoam pool noodle.

But here’s the thing; moving passed this peak in the graph, there are certainly more mountains, but none quite as harsh. And the last few years in particular have been a broad valley of lush greenery.

In my work with high school aged teens on the spectrum, this is one thing I always try to emphasize; things might be tough now, but it gets better.

I know that when you’re climbing the volcano, it’s hard to imagine that things could ever improve; when I was in high school, I thought my future looked bleak indeed. But my life now is better than I ever dared to imagine back then.

High school can be a trying time for young people on the spectrum. But high school doesn’t last forever.

The kids will be okay

At the ripe old age of 27, (I know, I should really start looking in to nursing homes) I am starting to see a generation gap begin to form between me and today’s under-18s, kind of like an iceberg breaking away from the Antarctic shelf.

Sometimes I catch myself thinking; far out, kids these days are way too dependent on technology. They can’t seem to go anywhere or do anything without being glued to their phones or tablets, they play video games instead of LEGO, they text each other instead of socializing face to face… what will happen to society when this lot grow up and take over?

But then I stop and think; hang on, didn’t they say pretty much the same thing about my generation? That life would pass us by cos we were too busy being hypnotized by our Gameboys and our Tamagotchis? That violent video games would turn us into a generation of murderers and sociopaths? (About that; homicide rates both here in Australia and in the US have been in decline for the last twenty years*)

When my Mum was growing up in the 1960s and 70s, it was television; that diabolical glowing box that would rot children’s brains and turn them into mindless desensitized zombies. Not to mention all that satanic rock and roll music. Surely they’d all grow up to be delinquents and civilization as we know it would implode.

Point is, every generation since the dawn of time has looked upon those that follow with concern and often disdain. New technology has always been viewed with suspicion. People fear change. This isn’t a new thing, it’s always been the case.

I for one refuse to part of this cycle. My generation turned out okay, as did my Mum’s, in spite of all the predictions of our doom. I have faith that the generations that follow us will find their own way as well.




You know how when you set a microphone to maximum sensitivity, to the point where you can practically hear the dust mites on your desk farting, then you accidentally bump it, and it’s like the dust mite defense corps are testing hydrogen bombs inside your ear canal?

Imagine for a moment, that both your ears are microphones like that. Imagine that all your other senses -sight, smell, touch, taste- are similarly super-sensitive. Now consider how this might complicate even the simplest of daily tasks.

Take going down the street; you might slouch and look down because bright sunlight reflecting off glass or metal is maddening. Every car that travels passed feels like it’s snarling at you, the sound of its engine clawing at your eardrums. As each car passes, its oily fumes drench the inside of your nose, throat, and lungs, and you feel like vomiting right there in the street. (One interesting example that I don’t experience myself but have seen multiple times is people on the spectrum who find dogs frightening; not because they worry about being bitten, but because they associate dogs with the sensory agony of loud barking)

The world scrapes over and around you like so much sandpaper, wearing you down.

This is what it can be like for some people on the spectrum. Simply coping with the constant assault of overwhelming sensory stimuli can be exhausting. To an external observer, it might seem like that person is just lazy or breaks down over nothing, but to that person, it’s like their whole body is an exposed nerve. Everything is raw, unfiltered. The whole world just pours into them.

This can be challenging to say the least. But on the flipside, it can also be an advantage. This same sensitivity can allow people who experience the world this way to pick up on tiny details or patterns that others may not notice, or perhaps appreciate them in a different way. Speaking for myself, sounds like a car horn or a whistle feel like an ice pick being stabbed through my eardrum, but this same strong reaction to sounds means that I find the sound of rain, clinking glass, or rustling paper very relaxing and enjoyable.

As ever of course, I can only speak for myself, but while I certainly think that the difficulties of sensory processing challenges should be more widely known and appreciated, I find that like most things in life, heightened sensory sensitivity has positive as well as negative aspects to it.

A very sensitive microphone might not respond well to being bumped or shouted into, but if you want to record a whisper, this same sensitivity becomes an invaluable asset.