The Life Autistic: How Three Odd Questions Made One Good Friend

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Friendships aren’t found; they’re built.

I’d just moved from Iceland to Jacksonville, Florida. Moving and resetting life was common, but as a pre-teen, I felt way more self-aware — awkwardness, shyness, oddness and all.

We met our next door neighbors. They were helpful. As parents of children do when sizing up up other parents of children, they told us about the other kids nearby.

“Oh, hopefully you guys meet Zach,” they said. “He’s around Hunter’s age, great kid. Babysits our son. Real nice guy.”

Zach.

Ok, I thought, hopefully we get to meet this guy.


 

This is where an interjection would be helpful.

There’s no guidebook on making fast friends on The Life Autistic.

It’s just “throw something out there and hope it sticks.”

As a boy, I found myself at a rare intersection of oblivious confidence and embarrassing awkwardness. 

So what you’re about to read: don’t try it at home. Or anywhere.

 


 

Two days later, my dad, my brothers, and I were out on the driveway when we spotted a teen steering his bike down our street.

It had to be him.

I stepped forward. He slowed down.

“Hey,” I shouted. Are you Zach?”

“Yes.” 

“Do you believe in God?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you wanna ride bikes?”

“Sure.”

“Ok, well, uh . . . I need to build mine first.”

Miraculously — after being accosted by this pasty, odd fellow teen who assessed one’s theism and badgered you into biking before his own ride was even built — Zach didn’t speed away from what surely qualified as “pedal away from kids like this.”

He stuck around. We rode bikes, hung out, did stuff, and ended up good friends.


 

My whole intro was preposterous. I’m quite doubtful I could make another friend that way.

The normal reaction to my abnormal interrogation would have been to just wave, peace out, and call it day.

On The Life Autistic, we are most often saved and shaped by the kindness of others: those who dare to stop, to listen, to wait for someone who needs to build their bike first before building a friendship.

 

 

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The Life Autistic: Finding Love ❤️

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I remember a low point in my teenage life, when I confessed that I wanted to take my own life. It was a hard thing to consider, entrenching myself in reasons buried in my own shortsightedness.

My counselor then framed his response in a way I’ve been unable to forget:

“Think of what loss that would bring to others, Hunter. Your parents, your siblings, your future wife.”

I scoffed at the thought. But the fact that someone else would even say that, like it could ever be thing for me — a hopelessly awkward, unattractive, humorless, acne-ridden, husky clumsy oaf — it gave me enough pause and remote hope that maybe he wasn’t wrong.

He wasn’t wrong.


 

Contrary to what most of you would believe, I’m happily married and have been for ten years this week (!).

That seems unfathomable.

I feel like it’s one of the more unlikely outcomes of the autistic experience. Sure, moving out of your parents’ house, keeping a job, establishing independence, and being “successful” in some weird niche — I mean, that was my most optimistic, foreseeable hope.

But shoot, finding someone to love, someone who would be tricked into end up loving me back? Someone with whom I’d spend the rest of my life with?

“Hunter,” you’d contest. “That’s perfectly normal!”

Have you not been reading this blog?


 

Andrea’s experience as Mrs. Hansen needs its own blog entry. I won’t even cheat it by hinting at it, because that’s her story to share, being as close to my autistic epicenter as she is.

I’m grateful.

This was not a future I foresaw, but one I hoped for.

I can imagine some of you wondering similar:

“Is my son going to find someone to love him?”

“Will my daughter find her person?”

“Is there a soul mate out there for someone as unique as [MY CHILD]?”

I saw myself as the least likely to be at the front of the aisle, ready to tie the knot. And for the longest while, it felt impossible.

But ten years on, here we are.

p.s., Andrea, thanks for enduring with me for an entire decade; you are indeed wonderful and brave, and I love you.

 

 

The Life Autistic: Different Wasn’t Always Cool

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“If everyone else likes *NSYNC and Blink-182, then what I like will make me unlike everyone else.”

I was such an odd kid.

Pre-Internet, your tribes were harder to find.

I wasn’t cool, nor a jock, or Gothically-uncool, so I just kind of existed as my group of one for a while.

And did I ever lean into that.

If I had to be lonely, then I could at least be unique.

I found my own self in ambient electronic music. Where I had no peers. No company. No equals in the well.

Where I could be the only kid in Iceland who absorbed Steve Roach, appreciated Thomas Köner, hunted down ephemera from Ashera, breathed in beatlessness from Robert Rich, Oöphoi, Mathias Grassow, Ma Ja Le, and entranced enchanted evenings with Vidna Obmana, Jorge Reyes, and Bill Laswell.

And I was.

And I took heat for that.

“You and your weird music.”

“What’s this, some five-hour ambient remix of Tibetan frog chants?”

“If I were a trans-dimensional cyborg, this sounds like what they’d play at my funeral — against my wishes.”

Weird. Abnormal. Weird. Different.

I’ve taken every jibe I can think of on my tastes. For being weird. Different. Unpopular.

Things are almost different now.

The chiding and teasing continues.

Here I remain, intractably different and almost unique.

People, to a degree, found out that being different is actually kind of OK.

I’ll hunt down things on Apple Music and find, wait, hey, these people listen to these guys too?

I remember Wil Wheaton linking to Steve Roach’s Bandcamp and being almost floored by that. Someone famous listens to Steve Roach too?

My tribe is not close, but they are afar — the little enclaves that still allow me to be alone, yet less alone.

Even after all these years, taking flack about listening to “the sounds of a refrigerator thinking it can play a drum machine,” being told to turn off my weird music for the grizillionth time:

I dared to stay uncool.

And now it’s almost cool.

 

 

The Life Autistic: GRIT is our Skill

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Tableau Conference 2018 was one of the highlights of my year.

All things considered, I shouldn’t have stood a chance in even getting there.


 

Autism rarely gives you fancy skills, talents, or superpowers. 

At the end of the day, I feel it’s instead given me a jaw-stiffening, forearm-tightening, fist-clenching, pupil-narrowing sense of GRIT. 

Unlike others on the spectrum, I can’t magically conjure maths, recite pi to a Brazilian digits, remember everything I’ve seen, or play piano pitch perfectly.

Rarely skill; mostly will.


 

Just last year, work offered a ticket to Tableau Conference for winning a dashboard design contest.

Only one problem:

I learned Tableau only six months ago. I was going up against a dozen experienced peers. I was overwhelmed in my existing role.

(Ok, that’s three problems.)

Already I knew I lacked the skill to win this.

But I had GRIT. 

I could work with that — the second, third, and fourth gears of AUTISTIC OBSESSION and focus that drive my work poorly, slowly, but effectively over time. So I hoped.

It took early days and late nights, walling off monolithic chunks of my calendar for deep focus, experimentation, doing clever things inefficiently, because I didn’t have the skill to do them efficiently.

When I told my boss about it, he was surprised.

“The fact that you’re dedicating time to do this — that’s . . .  I’m impressed.”

When it came time to present our products, I discovered only that three others (the best three, of course) even tried. 

And their comments:

“Yeah, I threw something together this morning.”

“I didn’t really make time for it, so I gave it a quick stab early this week.”

I couldn’t believe my dumb luck.

Among the people with actual skill, I’d contended by dint of force and just continuing to do, as maladroitly and stupidly as I could manage without stopping.

It’s been said that “Quantity has a quality all its own,” and that’s how I’d describe my contest entry: inelegant, but extensively crafted, sturdy, thoughtful, and iterated over time.

But it was a product of GRIT.

Even if the outcome wasn’t quite the diadem, the work was enough to win.

I could never have succeeded with the skills I didn’t have.

Because I don’t have a lot. It’s disappointing. It’s a near-constant discouragement.

Yet I’ve found a way through that.

My one true skill is gritting away where I lack true skill.