Writing My Way To Happiness

Writing My Way To Happiness

Why do I derive such pleasure from writing? It ties in with my special interest in words. It provides a means for me to communicate without speech. But it’s more than that – there’s the joy I get from the creative act of crafting a written work and the release I feel when I am able to express how I feel through this medium.

My first writing, naturally, was at school – “What I Did On Holiday” and the like. I was taught spelling and grammar from the outset and this has stood me in good stead – knowing the rules and conventions allows me to decide when to bend or break them for effect. But it’s not just my scholastic education that has influenced how I write – I’ve also picked up elements of style and structure from works that I’ve read over the years.

I’ve never had much trouble recounting events but imaginative writing has always been a problem – I find it impossible to invent characters and settings and have to fall back on stereotypes – so I avoid writing fiction when I have any choice in the matter. The last time I remember writing a fictional account I was at school – it was a diary entry from the perspective of Rev. Parris while we were studying The Crucible. I chose to concentrate on events from a segment of the play rather than attempting to ascribe feelings to the character, and found the most interesting aspect to be my attempt at recreating the language of the period – special interest strikes again!

I enjoy writing poetry in various forms – the range of constraints within the form offers an interesting challenge – but I worry that I’m not very good at it. It can be a challenging technique to become truly proficient in – I’ve always had difficulty maintaining the rhythm of the prosody because I have trouble determining the appropriate stress and intonation of words in speech. I have a somewhat monotonous tone and rhythm when I speak – I’ve got better at it over the years but it doesn’t come naturally. (My wife sometimes asks me to read to her at night to help her fall asleep.)

None of my essays are what I would describe as long – one English teacher wrote on a school report, “concise but errs on the side of brevity” and I had several similar comments across various subjects over the years. I believe it’s linked to my AS and my lack of small-talk in conversation. I have an innate inability to waffle – I consider this to be a positive trait because I find listening to such talk causes my attention to wander, and I just want to tell the speaker to get to the point!

So, how do I write? I get an idea in mind for a subject – often about myself or something that evokes strong feelings – and just start writing. Sometimes I’m inspired by an article I’ve read; sometimes it’s a way of dealing with my emotional state. Sometimes I drift off topic but I do try to maintain focus. Since I enjoy writing much more than editing, I worry about the end result being a bit rough around the edges – I never spend much time reviewing and polishing. I start at the beginning with no idea how it’s going to end, and keep writing until I’ve included pretty much everything I wanted to cover. I read it through, maybe tweak a couple of words here, a phrase there, and somehow it seems to turn out all right. I can’t really explain my writing process any better than this: I know what I want to convey and the words simply come out.

In some respects it does come easily to me – I can turn my thoughts into words with little effort. But only when writing. And this fluency is another reason I gain pleasure from it, when I contrast it with the hesitancy and mental blocking that afflicts my speech. I find the written word to be a more natural means of communication.

Social Intercourse 101

Social Intercourse 101

Got the title. I can almost imagine the students flocking to my door. Now all I need to do is figure out the content for an introductory course in Social Intercourse – interacting with people in social settings… I think I’ve spotted the flaw in my plan here – I don’t know much about the subject. Still, on the grounds that ignorance is the first stage on the path to knowledge, I won’t let that little fact stop me. On we go!

Module 1: Choosing Your Setting
I guess a good place to start would be finding some subjects – sorry, I mean people – to interact with. What we need is some place we can just walk into where there will be other people who are not busy doing something already. (This teaching business is harder than it looks – I think I’ll leave finding the place as an exercise for the reader.)

OK. You’ve found some place with other people (well done! – you’ll have to let me know how you did it.). What’s next? Oh yes, that would be…

Module 2: Making Contact
You’re in your chosen place. Take a look at the people around you. You need to pick one to approach. It’s probably best to go for somebody who’s on their own and not involved in talking to other people – I’ll leave that scenario for the advanced class. Right. You’ve chosen your victim – sorry again, I mean subject. No I don’t – I mean person. Or do I? This is supposed to be academic – I think I’ll stick to “subject”. You walk up to your chosen subject, and…

..that’s where it starts to get complicated. I’ve got a person here in front of me that I want to talk to and I don’t know what to do next. I mean you don’t know what to do next. I am supposed to be teaching you. Don’t look so sceptical. Of course I know what to do – how can I teach you if I don’t know what I’m talking about? And what do you mean it never stopped your other teachers? Bloomin’ cheek! Pay attention class, back to business.

Does anybody know what you do next after you’ve walked up to somebody? Anybody? Please? No? OK, I’ll tell you. You talk to them. What do you mean, “what about?” How do you expect to learn anything if you’re forever asking questions? I’m just getting to that – be patient.

Module 3: Starting Conversation
Say “Hello” (or “Hi” – that might be easier; it’s only the one syllable). This is harder than it looks. You’ve got to get the volume, pitch and emphasis right. Something between a whisper and a shout is good, and it’s got to sound “friendly” rather than “aggressive”. Best to concentrate on that – it’ll help take your mind off feeling nervous.

Sorry – didn’t mean to mention “nervous”. It’s normal – everybody feels nervous when they’re standing in front of a stranger. How do you deal with your nerves? Well, that would be another class – you want “Handling Social Phobia 101”. No, I don’t teach that one. If you must know I flunked it. OK, happy now? Let’s continue…

Ignoring how you feel about it, say “Hi” to the person in front of you in a normal voice. Oh wait – I forgot – look them in the eye first. Don’t stare – that’ll make them as uncomfortable as you. No I don’t know when a look becomes a stare – do I look like an expert on “looking”? You want “Body Language 101”. (Better sign myself up on that one while I remember.)

Where had we got to? I’ll recap: you’ve walked into this place, gone up to somebody who’s not in the middle of doing something – remember not to stand too close! You’ve looked them in the eye – without staring – and said “Hi” without whispering or shouting: in a normal tone of voice.

That’s a lot for anybody to take on board. I know I’m worn out and I guess you are too. We’ll take a recess now – any questions? I’ll see you all back here for “Social Intercourse 201” – how to keep this stimulating conversation going.

But Seriously…
I’ve tried to present this in a light-hearted way, but there are serious obstacles I – and other people on the autistic spectrum – face in social situations. Approaching people and starting a conversation is hard. If I can get past the anxiety, I have to consciously think about all the “body language” things like proximity, eye contact, posture, limb position, facial expression. Once all that’s sorted I need to modulate my voice appropriately and, finally, remember what it was I wanted to say in the first place. Sometimes I’ve not got enough motivation to even start! I find that as my anxiety levels decrease it takes less concentration to handle the rest of it.

But as well as concentrating on myself I’ve also got to concentrate on the other person to try to pick up non-verbal signals. Sometimes I lose focus on what they’re saying because I find it hard to separate voices from background. It takes additional effort to fill in the blanks. On top of that there is the distraction of figurative speech and choosing between the obvious literal meaning and the learned definitions.

So much processing takes place at a conscious level that I often can’t start to consider my response until the other person has stopped talking. I find it’s manageable one-on-one, but in a group with a dynamic mode of interaction (not turn-taking like in a structured debate) there’s just too much going on for me to focus on. That’s why, in a group of people, it usually ends up with me sitting quietly, picking up fragments of different conversations going on between subsets of the group without being able to join in because I can’t handle the volume of information. Maybe somebody out there really does have a “Social Intercourse 101” for people like me. With diagrams and worked examples!

All in my Mind

All in my Mind

Talking to somebody the other day about Aspergers, they said “It’s all in your mind.” Well… yes. That’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Idiot!

People like this anger and frustrate me. It’s partly that they believe I could choose not to be this way, and partly that they believe it’s not a “real” disorder. (They’re often the same people who are dismissive of depression, equating it to feeling sad.)

One thing that particularly hurt in this case was that it was a person I’d thought was reasonably understanding and that I had classed as a friend. They don’t know they hurt me – I’m not going to say anything because then I’ll be getting into uncomfortable emotive territory – but I’ve been more wary when speaking to them since.

I know that there are people I mix with who are understanding and even actively supportive – that’s why I mix with them: friends. There are others with whom I feel comfortable enough to speak but there’s no involvement: acquaintances. It takes me a long time to start considering a person who has been an acquaintance to be a friend. But it doesn’t take nearly as long for one to lose that status in my eyes.

(But that’s not where I was intending to go with this. I’m rambling again. Note to self: at least look like you’re trying to stay on topic.)

I try to communicate what it is like to be me but some people just don’t get it. I’m sure it’s partly my fault: I don’t express myself nearly as eloquently in speech as when I write. When I’m speaking I hesitate – “um…, er…” – while I assemble the next thought. I sometimes lose the word I want – I know what I want to say, I know that I know the word, I can define the word, but can I remember it? And I start to focus on that instead of carrying on speaking.

I have a tendency to ramble – to stray off the subject – unless I actively concentrate on the direction of my thoughts, which requires planning an outline in advance. Obviously no good in general conversation! I also have a habit of expanding on minor subjects around the main topic – it almost becomes a lecture – and my audience start ignoring me, talking amongst themselves and so on – to the extent that even I realise I’ve lost their interest – and I just stop speaking regardless of whether or not I’ve finished what I was trying to say.

I should just carry a pen and paper and write what I want to put across.