Neurosis, math, grammar, empathy, and the transformative power of love

Falling in love can change a person in so many ways.

I’m not just talking about how you become a different person when you’re falling in love and your levels of bonding hormones are all over the charts. That’s a whole issue of its own, with its own set of relationship problems. (Ever think, “He’s not the man I fell in love with anymore,” or “We got married and then he changed everything about himself”? Maybe he just changed back into the person he was before he fell in love… and for that matter, so did you. Oxytocin and the other mating hormones that run rampant at the beginning of a romance are powerful mind-altering chemicals; the mind you fell in love with was probably under the influence.)

No, what I’m talking about is the change that happens over the course of a long, happy relationship. It can be slow, or fast, changing speed and intensity over time, but it’s always there, the way two trees growing close together change their shapes to adapt to one another’s presence.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

More freaky coincidences, and the meaning of art

Either I’m the master of dumb luck, or my subconscious is a much more thoughtful artist than I am.

Maybe someday my subconscious will be revered as a great painter. Perhaps, years from now, the seemingly nonsensical system that decides which paintings are “great” will somehow latch onto my acrylic-on-canvas dabblings and the meanings that my subconscious inserted so insidiously into them.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

I am not the archetypal author: Why “in character” has no meaning

I realized that, if I had written about this experience and included it as a scene in one of my works of fiction, many readers would accuse me of “inconsistency” and “not staying in character.”

As a real, non-fictional person, of course, I don’t have the concept of “in character.” I’m not any of the fictional archetypes– not even the more complex archetypes, since none of them are as complex as a human being. Whatever rules I come up with to describe my behavior, there are always exceptions, and even I can’t always define where and what those exceptions are going to be.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

I Was a Child Sexual Harasser

(Edited on 12/18 to make my own viewpoint clearer.)

So, there’s a lot of talk about this little boy who kissed a girl’s hand without her permission, and got suspended for sexual harassment. People seem to be outraged about it, for various reasons, and given my own experience with discipline as a child, I’m a bit baffled.

Is it an outrage because the kid did nothing wrong? No, he did something wrong– he kissed a girl without permission. Someone has to tell him that’s not okay.

Is it an outrage because he’ll have a record of sexual harassment for the rest of his life? No he won’t– as far as I can tell from the articles, no legal charges were brought against him, that was just the language used when punishing him. It will be on his grade-school disciplinary record, but that is not going to follow him into adulthood.

Is it an outrage because suspension is a harsh punishment for a child who didn’t know he was doing anything wrong? Maybe, but according to news stories, this boy had harassed this girl multiple times before, and whatever the teachers had done to try and discourage him, it wasn’t working. They may have seen suspension as a last resort. (Of course, maybe I’m influenced by the fact that suspension never seemed like a big deal when I was a kid… I got suspended a LOT, and my childhood self always felt that it couldn’t be a very severe offense if it was punishable by getting a day off school.)

Let me tell you something about my childhood. I was a socially awkward, often disruptive and badly behaved kid. I’ve talked about it in my book and in speeches. Because I lacked impulse control and understanding of social rules, I did the same sort of thing this kid did. I hurt, offended, and yes, sometimes kissed other students without their permission.

Often, I got suspended for it.

Often, the words “sexual harassment” were used when suspending me.

And I survived. I am now a law-abiding, kind, thoughtful, empathetic, and relatively successful adult.

Punishing children for sexual harassment is not a new thing. I was a kid in the ’80s and ’90s.

It is not unfairly singling out boys. I was a girl, and the kids I kissed were often male.

It does not label you for life as a sex offender. I had a disciplinary record in school, but no one looks at your elementary school record when deciding anything in your adult life.

And it does not ruin your life. In the best cases, it can make kids realize they’re doing something wrong, and turn their behavior around.

Yes, kids don’t necessarily understand what they’re doing. But that is what discipline is for.

Not all disciplinary actions are helpful, of course. But telling a child it’s wrong to steal kisses, and using a suspension to drive the point home, is perfectly reasonable.

Breathing in a Balloon: The economy when you’re thinking in pictures

When I visualize the economy, I think of a big air-filled balloon we all live in. We float around, breathing in, breathing out, the air flowing from place to place. It’s possible to imagine a world where we could get by without air, but here in the world of this balloon, we all need air to live.

We’re all part plant and part animal in this balloon, because after we breathe air out, anyone else can breathe it in and get the same benefits we got from it. The air passes from person to person, circulating. The whole thing should be a self-sustaining system.

Lately, though… there have been lots of people building additions onto the outside of this balloon, little extra bubbles. Air savings accounts. Now this is fine in moderation, if you have a nice small bubble, just big enough for you. It sets aside a bit of extra air in case you need it later. But some people are taking it to an extreme, making big bloaty bubbles sprout on the outside of our balloon, which begins to look like an inflated rubber glove with hundreds of big fat fingers.

These air-hoarders don’t actually use most of the air they set aside in their bubbles. From time to time, one of them might start a business that pumps a little bit of air back into the main balloon, but for every little bit it pumps in, it pumps more back into that air-hoarder’s bubble. And the bubble gets bigger and bigger, just sitting there not being breathed.

As time went on, the hundreds of people who had huge bubbles on the outside of the balloon gathered so much air into them that there wasn’t enough air left in the main balloon. It got small and soft, like a balloon that’s been leaking air for days, while the air-hoarders’ bubbles stayed fat and shiny. Things got tough for the millions of people who lived and breathed inside the main balloon. Some people went around feeling faint all the time. Some actually suffocated to death.

When they complained, sometimes the only answer they got was, “You’re just not trying hard enough to get air. Anyone can have enough air if they try hard enough.” But the less air there was in the balloon, the harder it was to round up enough for yourself, especially when there were hundreds of millions trying just as hard as you, and only enough air for maybe two-thirds of them to breathe comfortably.

It got to a point where people were panicking about the lack of air. Finally most people agreed that there was a crisis.

The government did some things that didn’t help at all, like pumping a bunch of their air in to fill up some of the air-hoarders’ bubbles that had started to leak air back out into the balloon.

The government also did some things that kind of helped a little, like using a magic machine that could create air out of thin nothingness. They made this air and let it loose into the sagging main balloon. Some people said, “That’s crazy. If you make air out of nothing and add it to what’s already in the balloon, there will be too much inflation, and it’ll ruin our whole system.”

And logically that should have been true, but this wasn’t a logical situation. In this crazy illogical situation, it didn’t hurt to add air to what was already there, because a lot of the air that was already there didn’t count, because it was locked away in the air-hoarders’ bubbles, and couldn’t be affected by anything out in the main balloon.

This doesn’t mean that the choice to make air out of nothing was a great choice. It wasn’t the best thing they could have done, but the fact that it didn’t ruin things just goes to show how crazy the whole scenario was.

And so the crisis got a little less terrible. People weren’t panicking as much anymore. The air-hoarders didn’t learn the lesson that their hoarding was ruining the balloon. After the worst of the crisis passed, they just kept sucking more air out into their bubbles as if nothing had happened, as if they couldn’t even see how the air in the main balloon was getting thin again as they continued.

People went on feeling faint, and people went on suffocating. When they complained, sometimes the only answer they got was, “If you don’t have enough air to breathe, then don’t breathe so much! You can survive on less than you’re breathing.” But those same people didn’t say the same thing to the air-hoarders, who were the ones who were really taking a lot more air than they needed.

This really is the imagery I get when I think about the economy. I think in pictures, especially when I’m trying to understand a complex system. And to visualize this system, the soft sagging balloon with growing, swelling bubbles on the outside is the picture my mind makes.

Seeing this picture in my head, it’s incredibly hard not to conclude that the logical solution is for the bubbles on the outside to release their air back in. It’s simple physics. I can’t imagine anything that would work better.

When somebody says, “But the big businesses are creating jobs and putting money into the economy!” I don’t know how I can make others see what I see. As the businesses get more profitable, my mind’s eye can see the bubbles swelling, and I can see the relative amount they’re pumping back in, and it is not enough to help.

When someone says, “Poor people are a drain on the economy because they’re accepting welfare when they don’t need it!” I am baffled, because I can see the tiny, tiny puffs of air that welfare is directing at the poor people in the balloon, and it is practically nothing compared to the big fat rubber-glove-fingers that belong to the air-hoarders.

When someone says “Anyone can become rich if they try hard enough,” I try to picture every person in the main balloon getting really industrious and working hard to build a big fat bubble-account. I try to picture it, but the math doesn’t work– there are too many of them, and not enough air left in the main balloon, and they each end up with just a teeny tiny soda-pop bubble that would barely last them a day.

Am I seeing it wrong? Is everyone else visualizing a different picture? Or are most people not thinking in pictures at all?

Overcompensating Aspie: now I take everything figuratively.

A beautifully framed proverb was displayed on a bookshelf in the room where we had the autism meet last night.

“When the flame is on, the glass doors are to be left open.”

It took me about five minutes to realize this was right next to a fireplace, and it wasn’t a metaphor.