The Life Autistic: What the Heck is a Facts Curator?

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I was disappointed in my first online IQ test.

Not because it confirmed that I was ‘good with the words, dumb with the maths.’

No, it was in the disappointing “career recommendation.”

Apparently, this test assessed the strengths and weaknesses of my answers and offered me the kind of job I’d be good at.

‘Facts Curator’

Facts Curator? What the even is that?

I read further: a Facts Curator would be the type of person who knew a lot about a lot of things — dates, places, people, events.

The type of person who’d find themselves in a museum, or guiding tours, or whatever other paying job out there requires someone to act as a human wellspring of knowledge arcane and profane.

I didn’t like that.

I’ve no disrespect for those who’d choose the occupation of facts curation.

I very nearly went that route (!) in choosing a history major myself.

But the way they phrased it…

“Facts Curators can be useful.”

Some people enjoy learning interesting tidbits from a human encyclopedia”

“Not everyone wants to Google information.”

Needless to say, I fought my way into a different and fulfilling career, one that doesn’t play to what people think my strengths are, but what they came to be.

The Life Autistic might be naturally suited for roles, jobs, and careers that fit our different skill sets.

And that’s great.

But I didn’t let my autistic traits define my career.

That choice didn’t belong to my autism.

It belonged to me. 

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The Life Autistic: The One Thing I Do Not Fear

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Uncle Ed was a kind man and a good Catholic.

He wasn’t my uncle, and I don’t think he was technically the uncle of the neighborhood family he lived with — it didn’t matter. He was Uncle Ed to everyone, I guess.

My mom got to talking with Uncle Ed one fall day, and while I didn’t manage to eavesdrop on the conversation, she passed along something he said. About me.

“He said you’re not afraid of work.”

Me being the well-adjusted, neurotypical self that I was, I immediately picked up on the figure of speech.

Oh, wait, that’s not me at all, so no I didn’t get it.

“What do you mean, not afraid of work?”

That was the first time I’d heard that in that way.

I’d signed up to rake Uncle Ed’s family’s lawn for twenty bucks. In 1999 dollars, that was about, uh, $20.

But this wasn’t any lawn. The lawns on NAS Jacksonville were like football fields. And the leaves must have flown in from out of state, such was the autumnal blanket: thick, imposing, infinite.

I was an idiot to sign up for a raking venture like this.

But at least I’m a stubborn idiot who keeps his word.

The whole process took a week. 6 days straight. 8am to dark.

I was homeschooled, so I did my schoolwork before breakfast. Then it was rake, rake, bag, rake, sweat, rake, drink from a hose or something, and rake again.

It’s a boring story for boring work.

But as I look back and look ahead, I’ve found that big boring work intimidates people, both normal and abnormal.

I was upset at times. I didn’t like my hands blistering. I knew that $20 for an entire week seemed less than worth it. I felt more miserable than happy.

But.

Amidst all my fears, anxieties, things that twang the dread-wound strings of my autistic self, I found in leaves the one thing I did not fear.

Work.

The Life Autistic: When the Emotion Should be There

Visiting Grandma and Grandpa was a rare thing growing up. We lived in Iceland, so the trans-Atlantic flight from there to Virginia was an event, the highlight of the year.

After one of those annual trips, my folks called my grandparents and put me on the line. I’m no good on the phone now, and I wasn’t much better then.

I forget who asked or how it came up, but I recall saying something clunky:

“Well, I don’t miss you, but I do remember you.”

My parents laughed it off or something, as I remember them smoothing it over — they all knew I was an odd, hyperfactual duck.

I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it typifies all too well one of those fissures in The Life Autistic:

We don’t always feel the emotions that should be there.

It’s not that we don’t “get it” — we do, but we don’t, y’know, “get it.” Not like everyone else.

I’m not always sad when bad things happen to others. I relate, I’ve practiced the words, and I know I should feel more sorrow.

I rejoice with those who rejoice, but it’s not always as deep-seated in me to be indwelled with the same for people and situations.

I’m not some cold, robotic soul who has eroded all traces of human pathos from his system—no, I and many others know we don’t always possess the emotion where it should be. 

We see the gaps, and we adapt.

In time and in some cases, we do begin to feel. It’s growth, understanding, learning what is meant to fill the space. Nothing remains empty forever.

I do think back to those trips.

The long drives through the trees, how foreign they were compared to tundra.

The way the smoke clung to the wood and brick of their old house.

The ironclad hugs from Grandpa.

The two best weeks of the year.

I remember them less and miss them more.

The Life Autistic: Communication – Step Up or Dumb Down?

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I think it was when the word ‘physical’ popped up in my mind.

And then the mental dialogue began and ended in an instant:

“No, try corporeal it’s so much richer, and it gets at the essence of the topic.”

So I weaved that into my answer, capping off what was probably a short (75-second) but pontifically mellifluent dialogue. It felt good to say, felt good to speak, and I ended knowing and feeling like I’d contributed something meaningful.

Until I got a note.

“They said they can’t understand you.”

Ah, to be me.

I said nothing for the remainder of the class.

I do wonder: at what point do we compromise?

First, let me propose a musical genre. Opera.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an opera fan. Maybe I should be. For some it’s more of an acquired taste.

But people acquire the taste for opera.

They work up to the refinements, the nuance, the subtleties, the appreciation of a finer art.

Where would we be if we insisted that every form of expression “above us” should be made more accessible?

Sometimes it should.

It’s not always about dumbing down, but making clearer.

But what of aspiration? That challenge to yourself that says, “I need to get better at understanding and appreciating this?”

Alas, that is not our burden.

It is hard to make it easy. 

The Life Autistic: Only I Could Have Gotten This One Word in a Performance Review

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When I saw the word, I laughed. Out loud. In the middle of my review.

“I’m sorry,” I told my boss. “I said I wouldn’t read ahead to the feedback. But this — it’s too true.”

I’m fortunate to get a performance review every year, which assesses my work and includes feedback from my peers, co-workers, and clients.

I say fortunate, because I’m optimistic; these past few years have been a bit tougher on me.

I made a career switch to something that would test me differently, leaving behind a decent run in middle management, where most everyone seemed to appreciate me, people respected my work, and leadership threw me a ton of money.

I gave that up because I needed a different challenge.

And it has been a challenge — a humbling one at that.

I pivoted to an area where I started from scratch, needing to build my skills, connections, and clout all over again.

Expertise and experience take work. My reviews from years back were like annual coronations of that effort, while now they’ve been more building blocks and stepping stones in my current career.

This year, though, amidst half-decent feedback and kind commentary, one phrase stood out:

“Hunter tends to be a bit obtuse in his analogies…”

OBTUSE!

Unlike the Warden in Shawshank, I got the connotation straight away. I wasn’t mad – that’s a brilliant word! That takes English dexterity, a connoisseur’s word, one that I appreciated.

Obtuse wasn’t just deliberate. It’s just me.

The rest of the comment was positive, but ‘obtuse’ rang as an unassailable attribute, something that typifies me as much as redheadedness.

It was my worst review in years, relatively speaking. It’s a newer gig to me.

But that’s ok.

I’m going to try harder things. I’m going to get good enough to have a chance to be bad at something even more difficult.

Though my stories, analogies, and communication might have obtuse angles, there’s one angle I hang onto that helps most of all:

Positive.

The Life Autistic: What We Do When You Don’t Talk to Us

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If you’re neurotypical, what words does this scene evoke? Lonely. Isolated. Ignored. Alone.

If you’re living The Life Autistic? Normal.

Sometimes that’s fine. Sometimes it’s discouraging, even disconcerting. Sometimes we’re just off in our own thoughts. Sometimes it’s our way of saying “come talk to me.”

But it’s always productive.

When you’re in a spot like this as often as I am, you learn some coping tricks, some of them clever.

I’ve made an art of treating it like a multi-input listening exercise, the aural equivalent of a panopticon.

In college, I didn’t come to conversations with seat mates easily, but I learned an awful lot about them, picking out details, concerns, insights.

At work, same story — I’m a reliable tag along, even if I just end up listening to everyone else talk and putting their stories in my back pocket.

The real trick is when I bring it back, to everyone’s surprise.

“How did you know that?”

“Did I . . . tell you about this?”

“Wow, I’m surprised you remembered that.”

I’m no good at breaking the ice. At least not right away. When no one talks to me, I just listen. And remember. And recall.

And that all makes one heck of an icebreaker.

Fast forwarding to a recent endeavor:

I’ve started getting back into the Sunday School habit, since it’s a smaller group, more of my age cohort, etc.

There I sat, as each of the couples there found their own little pockets, surrounded in discussion, finding other normal people to talk to.

At first, it discouraged me, since I’d thrown myself in the mix to try being more social.

But I know who I am at this point. It isn’t going to change. Neither are others.

So I listened.

Picking up what others say, things they share. What they’re about.

Maybe later down the road I’ll be looped into a conversation.

It’ll be a while, but it’ll pay off.

“So you’re Hunter, and — wait, well, how did you know—”

It’s . . . what I do when you don’t talk to me. 🙂

 

 

 

The Life Autistic: Not a Klutz (Anymore)

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Growing up, I hated the fact that I wasn’t “well coordinated,” or “athletically gifted,” or otherwise all too dextrous.

Turns out, the starting stats for The Life Autistic cheat us in physical skills.

They just do. We’re not naturals at this.

So I decided to cheat back.

After college, I lived in my grandmother’s attic, where the muggy winter temps of Virginia took their toll. To keep warm and, well, “not bored,” I tried juggling my folded socks.

They were just the right size, they didn’t bounce, and after picking up dropped socks for a half-hour, I’d gotten a good cardio workout and slightly better at juggling each time.

It never occurred to me that my autistic traits might hinder natural athleticism, but they might accelerate what I needed to pick it up.

Discipline. Habit. Focus. Practice. Repeating and trying something I wasn’t good at. Hour after hour. Day after day. Week after week.

I’m not a natural. I’m still not. 

But I can be an unnatural. 

After months of dropping balls, hours of YouTube videos, and days of practice, I became a passable juggler. Enough to where it impresses kids, some adults, and can put on half a show and keep people entertained.

What I didn’t realize was that juggling helped erase a lot of my clumsiness.

The only real anecdote I have to show for it: I’ve owned iPhones for 10 years now. I’ve gone from a 3G, to a 4S, to a 5S, 6S, and now an iPhone X – a beautiful glass block.

I’ve never put any of them in a case, because I don’t drop things much anymore. And if I do, I can catch falling objects with (more) ease, and that’s saved me hundreds of $ in broken iPhone glass.

Yeah, I still run like a duck with giraffe legs, and I can’t throw darts/baseballs/cornhole bags with much accuracy at all.

I’m still quite autistic, but thanks to its benefits, I’ve erased one of its deficits.