Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Old Lady, New Diagnosis?

I don’t even remember how it started, but somehow the answer finally came to me: Autism. I must be autistic. My social awkwardness, my inability to sail through the simplest tasks, my ineptness at mom-stuff. If I’m autistic I can stop feeling so incompetent and guilty, right? Right?

So, like any good addict, I started researching autism and learning about it and then obsessing about it. Wait a minute -- that sounds like addiction and autism.

Of course, when you're 62, people don't take you very seriously if you come up with something goofy like this. But I persisted and found a doctor in Rochester who specializes in treating adults and teens on the spectrum. (Thank you, Caroline Magyar, Ph.D.)

The process was intense. I admitted things I've never told anyone. I did my very, very best to be honest, even though I knew it would doom me to a diagnosis of garden-variety alcoholic fuck-up. 

After three sessions, I got my diagnosis. Sure enough, there is nothing wrong with me. I am perfectly normal. And I am autistic.


I’ve spent most of my life exhausted and trying to figure out why. I’ve been formally assessed for vitamin deficiencies, chronic fatigue syndrome, cardiac disease, sleep apnea (twice!), hypothyroidism, and more. I even went on disability for a couple months. I thought it was a nervous breakdown. Turns out I just have a different operating system.

In my search for answers I've gotten some really valuable information. I was diagnosed with depression and, thankfully, the meds have taken the edge off of that. And I got clean and sober. And I got treated for an eating disorder. All very, very important, and life saving. 

But none of it has fixed the exhaustion. None of it has made it easier to get up in the morning and navigate a normal day: Calling the electric company about a bill. Refilling a prescription. Taking a shower. 

There’s an analogy I saw on a VidCon neurodiversity panel that really resonates for me: Autistics experience double the Earth's gravity. So where other people walk, I slog. The mechanics get easier the more I do a thing, but doing it is still hard. 

The worst part is the shame. I've spent most of my life believing I'm just too lazy to try harder. Through working the steps and through therapy I’ve learned to ignore that voice most of the time. But when I let myself listen, it's still very much there. I still believe deep down that I am a waste of energy and space. A failure-in-hiding. A liability, all in all.

But maybe... 

Maybe I have been doing the best I could all along. I mean, it always felt like I was doing my best in the moment, but intellectually it didn’t compute.

It turns out doing life in double-gravity feels hard because it is hard.

But it’s not doing life that has worn me down so completely. It's beating myself up so relentlessly for fifty years because I thought I should be able to do it better.  That, and the constant effort to hide the struggle from you. (If you ask me to help with dinner, there’s no way I’m going to admit to you that I don’t know how to slice the tomatoes.)

That’s why I’m always exhausted. 

So where does that leave me? Relieved! So relieved! Sad, for being so hard on myself. Still very much aware of the effect my actions have had on others, so, still guilty.

I wish someone else would take over for just a little while. Walk me through the should-be-easy stuff I already know, and help me decide what more I'm ready to learn. Point me toward the path to self-forgiveness. Or maybe just nurture me. You know, just for a few days so I can catch my breath and power down that malicious voice inside. 

But of course, that someone is going to have to be me. And it’s going to take a lot more than a few days. 

Meanwhile, it turns out there’s a whole big world of neurodiversity to explore, a robust culture similar to the Deaf and LGBTQ+ communities, one with it's own vocabulary and political etiquette and activists and even villains

So next time you ask me to cut up some tomatoes, I won’t pretend I know what you’re talking about. I’ll ask you. What shape? How big? How thick? How many? And what do you want me to do about that place where the stem used to be? Because, you know, some people throw it out, and some people don’t, and I don't want to screw it up. 

Yeah. Like that. I think it's gonna be good.

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Aftereffect

It was my dream job. I used to say that if I had done everything right all my life, I would have been incredibly lucky to get that job. But I've screwed up plenty, and somehow, still, I got that job.

Oh, god, it was my dream job, and every morning I got to take Route 66 to work and smile at the Sangre de Cristo mountains in front of me. Real mountains, with aspens green in the summer and yellow in the fall. Aspens with wizened white bark and round leaves whirling in the wind like spinning gold coins.

It was idyllic, really. I was home, settled in New Mexico forever, with my cute little Stamm house just a block from dozens of meetings a week, and close friends, and a full pension waiting for me just five years down the road. It was my best life writ large. And always when I was asked if I liked my job I would smile wide and say, "I LOVE my job!"

It was idyllic. Until it wasn't.

The mountains never lost their allure, and the golden leaves continued to spin. I still loved my little house and the people and the meetings. But I didn't love my job. Not anymore.

A change in management can do that. A change in management can also make bad jobs go away, sometimes at the most inconvenient times.

And that, dear reader, is how I came to pack up my car and leave behind the aspens and mountains to take an academic job across the country. Me, plus two chihuahuas and a cat, surrendering to upstate New York and the icy, unforgiving reality of lake effect snow.

How my heart aches for the mountains and the meetings and the people, and also for the simplicity of having a yard for the dogs and a life on the first floor.

I'm not crazy about the weather here, or the meetings. Hope of a pension is gone. My credit score has tanked. And I'm completely mystified by academia's relentless obsession with proper citation formatting.

But even here, in this time, in this strange place by the lake, there is bliss. Bliss in living behind the movie theater and smelling popcorn when I walk the dogs. Bliss at a lively downtown just two blocks away, complete with good food, good people, and three tattoo parlors. Bliss in the steady roar of the surf crashing onto the shore, and in the delicate curve of a wave just before it breaks. Bliss at the serenity of an empty laundromat before the sun rises. Bliss in knowing I can stay sober here, even if it's not according to plan.

And then there's the bliss of academic librarianship. The wonderful release from the airless, windowless chamber that was the law. I honestly didn't realize I was suffocating until, suddenly, I could breathe again. Here curiosity is nurtured and pondering is encouraged. Here are books with pictures, and we don't even have to sneak them in.

The bliss of being able to say, once more, that I love my job.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

On horrible people.

Yeah. That.

Let's see if I can do this without getting myself into trouble. Don't worry! This'll be fun! First of all, if you're reading this -- and you know who you are! -- this isn't about you. Not even a little bit. There have only been two horrible people in my life, and you're not one of them.... So anyway, there’s this horrible person. Which, again, it’s not you, okay? And this person did this thing that was really pretty rotten. Shitty, in fact. About as shitty as what my other horrible person did (and they blocked me from Facebook?).  And behind my back, too, which makes it even shittier. 


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Gratitude, uncensored.

People tell me they enjoy the semi-daily gratitude lists I post on Facebook, and their appreciation warms my heart, it truly does ... 

Sigh ... 

Here's the uncomely truth about my gratitude postings.

I am grateful to be sober today.
I'm grateful I survived that shitshow of a meeting.   I'm grateful I don't have to see that asshole again for a week  I'm grateful I met the challenge and now the meeting is behind me.
Great. Just great. I stepped in dog pee first thing this morning and right this minute  I'm not so grateful for my two little dogs.  
I'm grateful that I got to the litter pan first for a change before Hetty could eat the cat poop. 
Do I really have to wake up every morning with cat hair in my mouth?  I'm grateful for my lovely cat with the fabulous fur.
I'm grateful for a good meeting today even if the topic was gratitude
I'm grateful for my wonderful, beautiful, talented, compassionate kid. 
I'm grateful I'm becoming willing to meditate.,if you count listening to NPR while I play mahjong on my phone. 
I'm grateful that I blogged today but I know it'll be six months before I post again, and oh god, I'm 60 and I've accomplished absolutely nothing -- nothing! --  and now I'm never going to finish a single novel or play in my lifetime because I can't even finish that stupid-ass poem and besides, like an idiot I went and lost the document, which just proves I'm a completely, utterly worthless excuse for a human being and I have a hell of a lot of nerve taking up space on the planet which explains why I'll probably never, ever get laid again..
I really am grateful. But sometimes I gotta work it through.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Near Abilene

Somewhere in Texas, sitting in a parking lot with the engine running. I really don't want to go in. Too few cars in the parking lot to slip in unnoticed.

It's a typical recovery clubhouse. There's no smoking anymore, but the walls are still stained with nicotine from alcoholics long dead. A bunch of beat-up six-foot folding tables are arranged to make a square in the middle of the large room. The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions hang on the wall, and in the front of the room is an enormous hand-made cedar podium rigged with a microphone for big Saturday night meetings. 

I pour myself a cup of coffee, and add enough creamer to mask the grey-brown tint. It looks disgusting, but it tastes okay. I take a seat at the table. There are only about ten people in the room, all of them quiet.

Whap! Without looking up from his newspaper, the old guy on my right slams down a flyswatter. I count seven plastic fly swatters evenly spaced around the table. Huh.  I think about leaving, but the chairman asks me to read the preamble so I stay. I remind myself that I'm not here for the ambiance, or the coffee. But damn.

It's like that, you know. Some meetings are weird. In my city, I have the luxury of a pristine club with gourmet coffee, and still, once in a while, even the best meetings turn strange.  

The chairman gets started with the readings and then calls for shares. The first speaker is a girl just coming back from a relapse. She's a mess, and she's crying. It's a good sign: there is power in those tears of desperation.

The second speaker is a middle-aged woman celebrating ten years of sobriety and she, too, is sobbing. Two beloved sons lost to accidents just in the past five months, and somehow she is sober.  

This. This is why I'm here, these two women. The young girl reminds me how miserable it would be to get sober again. The older woman reminds me that nothing, but nothing, is ever bad enough to make me drink or use.

Resigned but grateful, I grab a flyswatter, sip my grey coffee, and listen.

Monday, September 11, 2017

An inconsequential blurb.

It's a librarian's wet dream: an unending supply of young adult literature for free. Dozens and dozens of books arriving on my doorstep because I'm on a book-selection committee. Nearly every day there's a box waiting for me when I come home.

But that's for another post. This is about a different box that arrived about a month ago, which held
Harvard Law School's bicentennial alumni directory. I ordered it about a year ago for a slightly outrageous price. Because, well, vanity.

As I looked into the box, though, I felt a wisp of doubt: would I be in there? I was in no hurry to find out I wasn't, so I put the package aside.

Two weeks later, I finally pulled that hefty volume from its box and braced myself for disappointment.

And there it was, in the alphabetical section: my name, in bold letters, followed by "J.D. 1989."
I read it three times. Then I looked in the chronological section, and there I was again! I returned to the alphabetical section to see if it had changed.  And then I took a picture of it. Why was I obsessing over this silly little blurb? 

Because it was there. Because I was there!

I spent three years swimming semiconsciously in a muddy moat of gratitude, sleeplessness, and stark terror. So what if admissions had accidentally sent me an acceptance letter? I pushed forward anyway. Then they accidentally made me a teaching assistant with a little office in Austin Hall, and after that I became the managing editor for the environmental law review. A job which, by the way, I completely mangled. I graduated on time, a respectably average Harvard Law student. I took the bar and passed. I was even a lawyer for a while. Like, with a license and everything!

My God, I was really there. I slogged through snow in Cambridge and rode two trains and a bus to get home to Chelsea. I pushed my way through the masses in Faneuil Hall. I rode the Green Line to the Museum of Fine Arts. I went to Passim on Sunday afternoons, and I shopped at the Coop. I ate fried clams on Revere Beach, and I smelled the sweetly pungent garbage as I ran down the stairs to catch the T in Harvard Square.

I did all that. I was there.

Jesus Christ

If someone asks me a direct question -- where did you go to law school? -- I answer honestly. But I rarely volunteer the information. Yes, it's on my resume because it's true and it's useful. Only, it's not me I'm describing.

I thought I'd been hiding it out of false humility. But I was really hiding it out of fear: fear that people would expect me to be smart. Fear that talking about it would make me an elitist asshole. Fear that people wouldn't believe me.

Fear, deep down, that I never actually went to Harvard.

But there's my name, in that book. 

So, what would happen if I were to let myself believe it? What would happen if I were to embrace it, to feel its warm breeze on my face, to let it soak into my soul?  Would I survive?

Maybe it's time to find out.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

It's like this...

I'm weird. I'm just weird. I'm full of things that don't quite fit together.

You know those cheap flat square puzzles with the little tiles you have to slide around until you get them all in order, and sometimes there's oily stuff underneath the tiles? Well, my tiles keep popping out. They're popping out all over the place.

I'm writing this after a long hiatus from writing much of anything and as you can see, I'm not going for quality here. But I feel like I'm finally taking a big, healthy, happy crap after being constipated for a year.

Yeah. It feels that good.

See? Weird.

About a Promise

Promises can be hard.


Summer in Phoenix. I'm 13. The zoo has a summer day-camp program and I'm nuts about animals so my mom signs me up. 

On this particular day, my big brother is supposed to pick me up after camp, and he's a little late. I feel silly standing around by the entrance, so I leave and walk down the road a bit to kill time. Once you leave the zoo entrance area, it feels like the middle of nowhere. 

As I'm walking, a white sedan approaches me from behind. The guy is young, maybe in his early 20s. He rolls down the window and says hi. I return the greeting.

"Do you need a ride?" he asks.

"No, my brother is coming to pick me up."

"Well, I could take you home. I'd be glad to. It's really hot out here."

"That's okay. I'll wait."

"Are you sure? I'll bring you right back." 

Something is definitely not right. "No, thanks." 

The guy just drives off, which makes me one lucky girl, I turn around and head back to the entrance where it's safer.

When my brother arrives, I tell him what happened. All the way home, every time he sees a white car, he asks me, "Is that him? Is that him?" Of course, it never is. But my big brother has my back, and it feels really good. We get home and my mom calls the police.


I'm 10 years old. The parents have gone shopping, and my brother and I are standing in the kitchen. He grabs a bottle of Coke from the refrigerator, and he shakes it up. When he takes off the cap, it explodes like a champagne bottle. Brown spray goes all over the white ceiling. I laugh. 

My brother seizes a sharp knife, grabs me from behind, and holds the knife to my throat.  I'm not entirely sure he won't use it, and a weird, calm sense of acceptance sweeps over me. I apologize, and he lets me go.


My second year of law school. A law firm in San Francisco has brought me out for an interview. My brother and his wife and daughter live in San Jose, so of course I want to visit them. 

At that point, I still don't know I'm a lesbian. Or maybe I do, because I show up at my brother's house with short hair and a flannel shirt. He says I look too butch, and I'm both mildly insulted and slightly pleased. 

So, my brother and his wife and I go for a drive to see a little bit of San Francisco. We get kind of lost, and find ourselves on a quiet non-residential street in the city. No traffic, and hardly anyone around. The businesses are all closed. 

Up ahead, a woman is walking down the street. She's slim and tall and attractive, and her hair is cropped very short. She's sporting a leather vest and jeans. 

My brother slows down as he approaches her. I figure he's going to ask for directions.

Instead, my brother rolls down his window and spits at her.

I'm stunned. I'm - well, there's not even a word for what I am. I know I have to say something, I must say something, but in my shock my brain has pretty much left the building. I fumble unsuccessfully for words, and then yell, "Hey! Live and let live!" It's lame, and I know it's lame.

There is no further discussion. My brother rolls up his window and we drive on.


My father has just died, and as it happens, he has specifically excluded me from his will. My brother, who is the executor, insists on giving me a sizeable chunk of money that he could have kept for himself. It's why I have a car. My brother really does have my back.


The promise: 

My mother is in the hospital, semi-conscious and near death. She's restless, and I can't figure out why. I can't calm her down. Suddenly a thought occurs to me. She was always really close to her sister. 

"Are you worried that your kids will lose touch with each other once you're gone? We won't. We'll stay close, I promise." 

Immediately, my mom calms down, and she soon falls asleep. She dies a couple days later.


I'm having trouble keeping my promise.