Becoming: Autism Style

I am a reader. At three years old I surprised my parents by reading full sentences out of nowhere, and the rest was history. These days, ebooks from the library fuel my need to read. The only downside to library books is that new or popular books can take months to come in.

I waited fifteen weeks for Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming. It took me a while to get through (thank you midterms), but I was really happy about a couple of things. One, although she spells it differently than me, her nickname is Meesh/Miche too. Guys, I’ve got a FLOTUS nickname! Secondly, there’s always the worry when you learn a lot about someone that it will ruin them for you, but I can confidently state that I still want to be Michelle Obama when I grow up.

Towards the end of the book, she was talking about Barack, and she said: “being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.”

I immediately recognized that this doesn’t only apply to presidents. My brain went straight to “diagnosis doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.” And that makes sense, right? I know that when I was diagnosed with Autism, it didn’t turn me into an entirely different Meesh. It didn’t even alter the Meesh that I was. It just showed parts of who I was in a new light.

And I think that this was a fantastic thing. Because I could have looked at some of my personality traits that I now knew to be autistic, and suppressed them. I could have taken that attitude of ‘well, I might not have a choice in having autism, but I have a choice what people see of me.’ I could have. I think it might have killed me.

Instead, I celebrated. I am how I am for a reason. And I am not alone, there are others like me. I put my money behind the fact that the people who cared about me would keep caring about me. I never expected that strangers on the internet might accept me and care about me too.

This is not to say that I don’t get upset or frustrated. Hell, I get frustrated every day. Some days the world seems impossibly unfair, and it seems like everyone else can do things more easily than me. It seems like I’ll never achieve my goals. Some days I’m not sure what my truth is, and that hurts.

In one of the last chapters of Becoming, Michelle writes

“So many of us go through life with our stories hidden, feeling ashamed or afraid when our whole truth doesn’t live up to some established ideal. We grow up with messages that tell us that there’s only one way to be American—that if our skin is dark or our hips are wide, if we don’t experience love in a particular way, if we speak another language or come from another country, then we don’t belong. That is, until someone dares to start telling that story differently.”

I don’t particularly care how American I am, but what struck me here was that even if I feel like people can’t see the real me, or that I’m not living up to expectations (usually ones that I’ve set for myself), it’s ok, because there’s one thing that I know I want.

I want to tell the story differently. I want to show people that there are many ways to be autistic, and that none of them are tragic. Autism doesn’t mean life is over, it means life is different. And no matter what anyone says, we all still belong.

Top 10 Books I’ve Read This Year

So I know that the year isn’t over yet, but something else is- I hit my reading goal for the year! I started out this year doing the 52 in 52 challenge, which is where you set a goal to read 52 books (one a week) in 52 weeks. Now, I hit 52 books in June, and I upped my goal to 78 books, which comes out to about 1.5 books a week, and this week I finished book #78! Now of course this doesn’t mean I’m going to stop reading, but it’s a nice feeling to have hit a concrete goal.

My favorite books from this year have been all over the place, genre wise. I am usually drawn to science fiction and fantasy, but to make this challenge more interesting, I pushed myself to read books that I might not have necessarily picked otherwise. Genres like Biography, and Classics, and Literary Fiction. And it worked great! I’ve already started thinking about what new categories I can add to next years challenge.

So, here are my faves from this year. I reviewed and gave most of them 5 stars on Goodreads, which is a good indications of how much I liked them, given that I tend to get stressed out when writing reviews. In general I only review books I really loved, or really hated.

So I’m going to try and do something that’s really hard for me- I’m not going to be long winded. So, if any of these descriptions go over 4 sentences, feel free to publicly shame me in the comments.

  1. A Man Called Ove: A theme that ran through this years book choices for me was grief, and A Man Called Ove managed to treat the subject with tenderness or with humor. Ove is a grumpy old man who’s recently lost his job and his wife, and all the wants is for everyone to leave him alone so he can kill himself in peace. Did I laugh- yeah, did I cry- oh yeah, have I now read almost everything that Fredrik Backman has ever written- absolutely, and that’s one of the highest praises I know of.
  2. The Song of Achilles: Did you have read Greek Mythology in school? And if you did, did it come off as being super gay? If so, then The Song of Achilles is the right LGBT+ coming of age novel for you! This is yet another grief themed book that treats love gently and beautifully, and tells an interesting side of the Helen of Troy story.
  3. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet: I loved this book, mostly because it talked about non sci-fi in a sci-fi setting. I mean c’mon, what science fiction story discusses pronouns, and AI romance, and space autism? I’ve found in my life that sci-fi page turners are rare, but this was a fast and fun read, while will having excitement and emotion. It’s always a good sign when I don’t want a book to end, but I’m also impatient to get to the sequel.
  4. East of Eden: So here’s the deal- I read Steinbeck in school (Of Mice and Men, and The Pearl, if I remember correctly) and I was never a fan. But I made myself a goal to read more “classics” this year, and I swear the internet has a hard on for East of Eden, so I figured why not. It took more than a hundred pages to get into the story, and even when though I liked the story, I only rated it 4 stars on Goodreads. And then I thought about it constantly, for a whole week, so I finally gave in, went back, and rated it 5 stars, so my advice for you is to stick it out, love Lee, and just accept that it’ll take awhile to sink in.
  5. A Monster Calls: Once upon a time, there a boy whose mother was dying, and one day a monster came out of the woods and told the boy that he knew the boy’s greatest wish, and if the boy could figure out what his desire was, then the monster would grant it. A Monster Calls is a beautiful story about love and grief, something I’ve been struggling with for the last few years, and when I finished this book, I felt a weight lifted. This book is short, and may look like a kids book, but it definitely is not. If you can, read the illustrated version, it’s worth it.
  6. The Rosie Project: This book was a huge surprise for me, all I knew that it was a “funny love story”, and I think that I know why- it’s because neurotypical people were the ones writing the reviews. Nowhere in the synopsis or the reviews was autism mentioned, but within the first few chapters I knew that the protagonist and I had a lot in common. I never get to read about people like me, and never in the tender way that the author writes about Don. When I finished, I made my wife read the book, so I could ask her if she sees me in the loving way that the book shows, and she said yes!
  7. The Hate U Give: I think that I’ve mention that I’m from St. Louis, which after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, MO (which is in North St. Louis) became an important location for the Black Lives Matter movement. I wasn’t a teenager at the time, but I was (am?) a Biracial person living in a city with an embarrassing amount of police corruption and violence. When I finished this book, I declared that it should be required for protesters coming into cities, because it makes you think about what can happen if you’re not responsible, if you jump to conclusions, or don’t respect the home communities. It made me think, in a good way- and I’m always happy about that
  8. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August: Imagine if, as a child, you learned that you have been reincarnated, but instead of coming back as something awesome like a narwhal or a corgi, instead, you came back as you- over and over and over. I enjoyed The First Fifteen Lives- it read with the ease of a thriller, the page-turned quality of a thriller, but I didn’t feel kind of empty at the end of it. At the beginning I thought that Harry living his love over and over again might get old, but the author skillfully manages to avoid that. Lastly, the antagonist is Moriarty-like in the best possible way, which is hard.
  9. I Contain Multitudes : This is my only non-fiction book that made it onto my Top 10 this year, which is kind of unusual, but luckily, I Contain Multitudes totally holds its own. Even if I wasn’t someone with a crappy digestive system (and I totally am, you might even say that it’s shitty) the author is able to take a subject like gut bacteria and manages to produce a book that’s fun and interesting and easy to read. I promise, you’ll never take your biome for granted again!
  10. The Fifth Season: This book is difficult to talk about, because almost anything I can say might be a spoiler. What I can say is this- The trilogy that this book is part of made history for being the first trilogy to have each book in it to win a Hugo Award, which is s big deal in the fantasy world. The Fifth Season, sort of like …Long Angry Planet finds a way to talk about important real life things in a fantasy setting. Towards the end of the book I was literally getting goosebumps, that’s how awesome this book is.

So here they are, my favorites from this year! My to-read list is out of control (911 books and counting), but I’d still love to hear any favorites that you have! Also, if you’re a Goodreads user, you can find me here, if you want to connect!

10 of my Favorite Things

So here’s the deal, my friends, I can’t lift more than a coffee cup, I haven’t showered in a week, and I’m still kind of high on painkillers.

So. I’m going to cheat just a bit and make this List Wednesday about some of my recent favorite things. I hope you’ll understand, and possibly even find a new favorite things

1. Chocolate Bundt Cake: It can be hard sometimes to find a recipe that converts well to gluten free, but you’d never guess that this cake wasn’t written that way. We use Cup4Cup gluten free flour blend, and it comes out moist and fluffy and everything you’d ever want in a Bundt cake!

2. Shel the Unicorn: I’ve had a few surgeries over the years, and they all have two things in common: afterwards I get pancakes and a stuffed animal. Shel the Unicorn (and her relative Dax the Sloth) come from the Manhattan Toy Company, and are about the softest stuffies I’ve ever had. There is nothing better than having a new friend to snuggle after you have an operation.

3. 3DS Kingdom Hearts: The original Kingdom Hearts for ps2 was my first RPG, and it holds a very special place in my heard. About 15 years after Kingdoms Hearts came out, we’re finally going to get Kingdom Hearts 3. It’s been one hell of a wait. But while we’re waiting, Nintendo put out a new 3DS version that I’m having so much fun with. New worlds and old favorite characters are making the wait much more bearable.

4. Overdrive App: I have been a library addict since I could read, and the only thing that makes free books and other media better is not having to go to the library at all! The Overdrive App lets you check out eBooks and audiobooks out from your local library without ever leaving the house. Plus they sync with kindles, tablets and smart phones so you can read and listen wherever you want!

5. The Golden Compass Audiobook: The His Dark Materials trilogy has been one of my favorites since childhood, and oftentimes the problems with loving a book so much is that the audiobook is never as good as it is in your head. This one is an exception. The author, Phillip Pullman is the narrator, and it has a full cast that sound very close to what I expected. We listened to this on the way to and from Kansas City and it was perfect road trip material!

6. Simple Gel Cream: I thought when I made it to adulthood without acne, I was in the clear. That was a lie. Here I am at 30, with my face bleeding every time I touch it. Washing my face is sensory hell, as is lotion, but I’ve been trying to find things that I can tolerate, and this moisturizer is it. It isn’t a weird texture, it sinks in quickly, and there’s minimal smell. If only all skin care was this easy.

7. Queer Eye on Netflix: Whenever I watch an episode of Queer Eye, by the end I’ll inevitably end up with dust in my eye, because I’m definitely not crying. I’m old enough that I watched the original Queer Eye in high school, but this reboot is miles ahead of it. Yes, there’s still a wardrobe changes and new recipes and a big reveal, but the reboot takes more of a holistic approach, helping the Guy live as his best self. The original focused on Straight Guys, but the new seasons so far have has a woman, a gay guy, and even a trans guy!

8. Hardback Game App: I think I may have mentioned my love of board games here before, and the only thing better than board games is board games on the go. A lot of board game producers are starting to make app versions, which is great, because they’re way cheaper and much more portable, and let you play online or against someone sitting next to you. Hardback is like Scrabble on steroids, and for less than 5 bucks, it’s my favorite new game.

9. Speed cube: I learned how to solve a Rubik’s Cube almost 10 years ago, and since then have been using it as me “fun facts about me” fact. It also makes a great stim toy. I used to buy Rubik’s brand cubes and take them apart and sand them down, and then lube them up with silicone, in order to make them faster and smoother. But no more! Paying the extra couple of bucks for a speed cube makes so much difference, I can’t stop playing with it, and it glides like butter.

10. Angel: My cats have had to live in the office while I’ve been recovering, but Angel is gentle enough that he’s een allowed supervised visits. It’s lifted my spirits to have him snuggle up against me and purr like a motor.

So. These are a few of my favorite things. As always, I’d love to hear about yours- it’ll give me something to check out while I’m couch-bound!

6 Word Story pt. 25

So I didn’t do a 6 Word Story roundup last week. In my defense, most of the stories would have gone something like ‘ouch, pain, naptime, where’s my ice?’, and that’s not exciting for anyone. What is exciting (at least for me!) is that I’m feeling a lot better. On Thursday, I didn’t use my cane for a whole day, which is a big deal considering I’ve been using it for almost 7 months. Fingers crossed, but it looks like this is one medical problem that will resolve itself!

No more surgeries as far as I know, so stay tuned for business as usual!

 

  • Post surgery tradition is a stuffie.
  • Self, platonic, and romantic are all love.
  • Nothing distracts me from the pain.
  • Nap like you don’t even care.
  • Rain rain go away. No. Seriously.
  • Smelling books is a sensory experience.
  • Today I walked without my cane!!!

 

6 Word Stories pt.22

This week has been wracked with anxiety, and I’m trying to weather the storm. It’s made writing more difficult, as I’ve lost every bit of confidence that I have, so even if I can start something, I find myself deleting it immediately because to me, it all reads like crap. I’m trying to change up my strategy a bit, writing more from that heart, about experiences I’m having as they come. We’ll see how that goes. Other news is that I had my first infusion using my port. The whole thing went pear shaped and I ended up having a meltdown at the infusion center, but I’m hoping things will get easier. On the bright side, my stitches have healed, and the port has stopped hurting, although it does itch like crazy. I’m thinking that will go away soon too.

 

  • Why am I in the kitchen?
  • Knit purl, knit purl, soothing stitches.
  • Important Announcement: New Special Interest Acquired!
  • Too many books- not a problem.
  • Dear strangers: please don’t touch me.
  • I’ve decided that bras aren’t necessary.
  • Can’t handle this friendship falling apart.

Hope everyone is having a good week, and I hope it’s as warm wherever you are as it is here!

6 Word Stories pt. 15

Happy belated Thanksgiving! I hope you all had happy social interactions and sensory friendly food. Since all of our family is back east (and because Jess works on Thanksgiving), it’s just the two of us. I love doing dinner this way, because we make all the foods that we love, and I don’t have to worry about not having food I like, and Jess doesn’t have to worry about accidentally getting gluten-ed. We had a great time over the long weekend, lots of good food, reading good books, and playing board games. We also took a nice walk around town for Small Business Saturday. Supporting local businesses by buying chocolate is definitely my sort of thing! I also got a lot of writing done, which is good, because while I’m not doing a word count for NaNoWriMo, I’m still making an effort to write as much as possible.

  • Hoping new toothbrush will help hygiene.
  • Binder helps dysphoria- is sensory hell.
  • Starting holiday shopping is so exciting!
  • Waited all year for Thanksgiving food.
  • Why leave when there’s online shopping?
  • Never thought writing would be therapeutic.
  • The library is my happy place.

Well, here’s been my week in 42 words! I hope you all have a nice week- maybe getting a chance to go to you happy place. If you don’t have one, I suggest trying the library. It’s quiet and there’s books!

7 Favorite Childhood Books

I have been an intense reader my whole life, starting when I surprised the pants off my parents by reading my favorite book to myself when I was three. Now, they weren’t as surprised as they could have been, because I’d started memorizing books a few months before that, and it took them a while to realizing that I was actually reading. And since toddlerhood, my love for books has only gotten stronger. When I was in elementary school, the library put a book limit on my card because I was determined to read the entire children’s section, and would take out dozens of books at a time. The past few years I haven’t had the brain power to do much reading, but this year, to my immense pleasure, I’m back on track! I’ve had a great book year, I even hit my book goal on Goodreads last week. So in sort a celebration of that, here are some of my favorite books from childhood, I can highly recommend all of them!

1. Matilda: I feel like Roald Dahl’s books are universally loved among children. Even if they haven’t read any of his books, name me a kid who hasn’t seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Matilda was my favorite because I hardcore identified with her. I wasn’t the sort of genius that Matilda was, but I had a 3rd grade superiority complex, and was constantly frustrated by everyone who was “stupider” than me. Thank goodness I’ve outgrown that. I also saw myself in Matilda when it came to families. In most books aimed at kids, parents are either Perfect, or Abusive and Evil. Most authors grossly underestimate a child’s ability to move beyond black and white thinking. But Matilda’s parents were 100% grey, it’s not that they were intentionally terribly; it was more that they were completely self-involved, and they simply didn’t care. I secretly wished for a happy ending like Matilda’s- to find an adult who care, one who would take care of me. Unfortunately, fiction is fiction, and life is life. It’s still a great book, I promise.

2. The Way Things Work: My Aunt and Uncle on my dad’s side always bought us educational gifts. It bugged my sister sometimes, but I never had a problem with it. I’ll read anything, cereal boxes, the backs of shampoo bottles, so for me, any book is great! When I was in 3rd grade I received a giant tome called How Things Work. It took a very engineering approach, and had what seemed like infinite pages of anything and everything you could possibly image, taken apart. I tried reading the whole thing through multiple times, but every time, I’d skip a page because I saw something cool, and I’d never get back on track. If I had been better at math, this book could have slid me into an engineering job, for sure.

3. Jacob’s Rescue: In my quest to read through the children’s section, I read some pretty boring books, but I also picked up some that would change me. I’ve written before about how my Holocaust Special Interest really affected my personality, and this book right here, is what started it all. I didn’t know how important it would be at the time, it was just the next book on my list. Let me tell you, I must have read this thing a dozen times the first time I took it out. And I kept taking it out. I’d never read anything like it before, and it started my need to know everything that happened during that time. 3rd grade me figured knowing everything was the closest I could get to helping, 55 years later.

4. The Monster at the End of this Book: This is mostly important because was one of the first books that I read regularly to myself. My sense of humor has always been a few degrees off everyone around me, but it wasn’t with this book. I don’t care how young or old you are, this book is funny. Grover is neurotic and silly at the same time, and he breaks the fourth wall, which when I was a tiny little thing, was hilarious!

5. The Phantom Tollbooth: Have you ever read a book after seeing the movie? Especially a movie that you love? For me, it really goes well. Movies give me a very visual interpretation of a story, and reading the book is a very different experience. This is one of the few exception to that. I got this movie out of the library week after week. Watching it is a really bizarre experience, it was made in the seventies, and is part live action, part animation, filled with slightly trippy musical numbers and Dali-esque scenery. The book has equally weird illustrations. I think I was ok with both interprestions because the idea of a land with words and numbers were considered important, and where the goal was Rhyme and Reason was so appealing to me that I was willing to accept any interpretation of it. This story is so important to me, that the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason are going to be my next tattoo!

6. A Little Princess: This is a classic, one that didn’t bore me at the time. If you’ve heard this story, you probably know why it was one of my favorites, just like Matilda. Adults who have no right to be taking care of children are eventually ousted by loving adults. On top of this, it’s a great riches to rags to riches story, with a strong female protagonist, and lots of adventure along the way! The book was made into a movie back in the 30s, and I loved it. And I was so excited when I found out that the movie was being remade! Unfortunately for little autistic me, there were several very loud and overwhelming battle scenes, and I eventually ended up running out of the theatre. I still haven’t seen the end of it.

7. Good Families Don’t: Let’s face it, farts are funny, and the author who wrote this book very skillfully makes sure everyone knows it. I loved it, and wanted to hear the story over and over, but for whatever reason, this wasn’t a book I ever really read to myself. I loved reading to myself, because I could go fast, and skip the boring parts and read my favorite parts over and over, but there’s something really nice about being read to. I don’t know if other early readers have had this experience, sometimes every though I could read to myself, I still liked being read to. So this book is special, mostly because it was something that I read with my parents. We’d spend time together doing something I liked and we’d laugh together. This book is good memories all around.

5 Favorite Books I Read This Year

5 Favorite Books I Read This Year

 

I am a bookworm. There’s no question there. When I was a kid, my library had to impose a limit on how many books I could take out at once (that limit was 12, by the way). I go up and down on how much I can read. My attention span is not always great. But when I do, I’m a huge library fiend (even though I make my wife check out my books because the mean librarian SHHHHHHed me once.) I also love the Goodreads app. It lets me maintain a To Read list, to see reviews from other readers, enter reading challenges to challenge me. I even won a book in a giveaway once! Books to me are more important than just entertainment. They let me connect with characters, who are often easier to understand than real people. They let me learn social skills by watching people do the right thing…or the wrong thing. I have also learned that while I love reading dialogue, I hate writing it. Anyway, not all of these books are going on my all-time favorites list (that’s for another week), but they all meant something to me.

Hawkeye 1-5: If the only thing you know about Clint Barton is that he’s an Avenger and he shoots arrows, then you are missing out. The Hawkeye comics right now are phenomenal, and are so relatable to me, as someone with multiple disabilities. Canonically, Hawkeye is deaf. It depends on the issue and the author HOW deaf he is, but he is written as Hard of Hearing at the least. And even better, his disability is written well. They include Lip Reading and ASL, in fact, there’s a whole book that almost entirely in Sign Language. Pro Tip, libraries often have collections of comics, so you don’t have to shell out the cash at your friendly local comic book store (unless you want to!)

Challenger Deep: This book started out…weird. You’re drawn into something, but you have no idea what it is. It’s like you’re invested before you know what you’re invested in. It slowly gets less confusing, and the dual stories start to intertwine, and to be honest, you’re still not sure where it’s going, but you know you’re going too. In only a minor spoiler, I’m going to say that this book has a unique way of exploring mental illness. I appreciated the honesty, and how relatable it was. I also really like that it was done by a father and his son who experiences mental illness. I may want to read this again, to see if understanding the beginning better will give me a different experience than the first time. As if I don’t have enough to read.

Little Brother: This is a young adult book and when I finished it, I immediately felt like if this book had been around when I was a teenager, it would have affected me in a way that could have changed me. It’s set maybe 5 years into our future, the only real difference between our world and theirs is that their technology is slightly more advanced. Which is where the trouble lies. After a terrorist attack on San Francisco, the government starts cracking down on the population, in a totally big brother sort of way. Secret prisons, electronic monitoring, a police state, and a bunch of high schoolers just trying to make the world better. This book is about 10 years old now, but with things like Net Neutrality going on, it incredibly relevant.

The Girl with All the Gifts: Ok. So. I am not really a zombie fan. Also, zombies tend to give my wife nightmares, so we mostly avoid them. The Girl with All the Gifts is not your average zombie story. In fact, you don’t learn about it for the first quarter of the book. Basically they made it so interesting to me that once I learned there were zombies, I was already too invested. They take a very scientific approach to this genre. I actually really like learning about the sorts of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that could possibly push the brain into a zombie state. The book was also made into a movie recently with Glenn Close. I haven’t seen it yet, but it got pretty decent reviews.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic: This is a graphic novel written by Alison Bechdel, a lesbian author whose last name you may recognize from the famous ‘Bechdel Test’ which examines feminism in media. The novel is biographical, following a young Alison from growing up in a home with distant parents, to discovering her sexuality in college, to dealing with the death of a parent. The whole thing was very straightforward, but when I finished it I felt connected to the author’s experiences. And that’s not really something that happens to me often, so here it is, on my list.

I have 10 books left to go in my reading challenge for this year, so if you have any recommendations, I’ll take them! The great think about living in a city with such a wide library system is that I can get my hands on just about anything!