A week of graduate school is past and I'm already very busy. More importantly, on Friday I heard back from someone at the police department about my complaint, so as far as bureaucracy goes that wasn't a bad turnaround time. I'm going in and talking to Captain Curtis Hill about it on Wednesday. On the advice of my friends, I hope to bring someone with me for emotional support and so he can't abuse me - I don't want to assume the worst of him, but he is a cop and I don't have many reasons to trust cops - and one of my friends and colleagues from the English department has agreed to do it, but I can't get ahold of him and find out if that's allowed until Wednesday. I also hope he'll let me record the conversation so he can't lie about what either of us said. I don't want to assume the worst of him, but he is a cop and cops lie literally all the time.
He also asked me to bring in a copy of the email I sent to the police department over a year ago, which I mentioned in my complaint just in case it would help with any statute of limitations they didn't bother to mention on their website. He said somebody dropped the ball by never responding to it. I mean, I'm pretty sure the lack of a response was very intentional, but either way, this is a great and unexpected bonus. First of all, someone else who treated me as less than human, albeit in a far less dramatic fashion than Officer Nelson, may also get in trouble. Second, I now get to share the mocking and sarcastic words of my email with this investigation even though I kept my formal complaint restrained and professional. I think I successfully conveyed my anger and contempt in both media, but the email has more raw emotion. And yet even that was restrained. Because it was written to be a Google Review, it has no swear words in it. I will put the email text in italics here to avoid confusion with the quote within the quote.
Because Google is apparently not publishing business reviews at this time, I decided to send this to you directly. I expect the only thing it will accomplish is to give me some small sliver of satisfaction from knowing that you know that one of your officers single-handedly erased all of my respect for law enforcement months before George Floyd's murder, but I'll take what I can get.
In January a couple of officers abruptly showed up at my apartment, responding to a complaint from my neighbors. I had no idea what was going on. These neighbors had never once said anything to me themselves about real or perceived problems. The police never explained to me in plain English why they had come. They never asked me one single question about my side of the story. Instead, one of them said nothing while the other immediately launched into throwing his weight around and trying to scare me into compliance even though I never showed one iota of resistance or disrespect. For at least ten minutes he was nothing but belligerent while I was nothing but cooperative. He never explained what exactly the problem was but from the details he dropped here and there made it obvious that either my neighbors had straight-up lied about some things or he just hadn't bothered to get them straight himself. He told me to stop doing things that I had never done.
He told me not to talk to, call, or text my neighbors ever again. He said, "Consider this a warning." I would have complied with this "warning" if my neighbors had been adults and made this request themselves instead of pretending to be my friends for months, and I would have complied if the officer had just explained it to me without turning it into a threat. Despite this being my first time hearing any of this, he chose to assume from the moment I let him into my apartment that I knew exactly what I'd done wrong, wouldn't cooperate, and needed to be taught a lesson. And he knew that his uniform gave him impunity to treat me in a manner that would have gotten him fired from any other job.
When this officer was done verbally abusing me, he switched tactics and started pretending to be concerned about my emotional health and asking if I felt suicidal. Yes, he literally tried to play "bad cop good cop" by himself even though he had another cop with him. If he was really so concerned he could have maybe, I don't know, not prefaced it by deliberately confusing and scaring the crap out of me? He made me go to the hospital despite me explaining that I had no health insurance. He knew this was part of his purpose for showing up in the first place and still chose to first treat me in a manner that anyone over the age of three could have told him would only make me more suicidal (which it did, very much).
I was not arrested or accused of anything illegal, but before driving me to the hospital they frisked me for anything I could use to hurt myself (even though the hospital rendered this precaution entirely superfluous by taking my clothes away). For no legitimate reason that I can discern, they chose to do this after we had left my apartment, on the sidewalk in front of their police cars and in full view of the entire block. After the abusive officer dropped me off he said I could call the station and ask to talk to him if I wanted, because he apparently thought I was the stupidest person on the planet and would see him as something remotely resembling a friend or ally. The only reason I would ever want to talk to him would be to say some things unfit for publication in this review.
I forgave my neighbors after about a month because one of them was brain-damaged and delusional in the most literal sense of the word. All of our mutual acquaintances including their own roommate felt that their reaction to me was stupid, immature and uncalled for. But at least it wasn't malicious. I can't say the same for the police. I don't fault them at all for taking the complaint seriously and looking into it - they would have been criminally negligent in their duties if they didn't - but the way they went about it was wrong, full stop. I would feel safer entrusting my mental health to the first person I see on the sidewalk than the Logan Police Department. Their gross incompetence has traumatized me since then and probably for a very long time to come.
It was a one-star review, of course, but only because zero-star reviews aren't an option for some reason.
- Christopher Nicholson
So yeah. Officer Nelson has undoubtedly read my complaint by now, and I hope he has a great Labor Day weekend experiencing a sliver of a fraction of the shock and bewilderment that he sprung on me out of nowhere. And by that I actually mean I hope he can't sleep or focus on anything. And after I submit a copy of this email to the investigation, really, it's only fair that he should get to read it too.
Well, I can't complain too much because many others have experienced far worse at the hands of the American legal system. Any victory for them is a victory for me regardless of how my own case turns out. I'm delighted that former Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson was indicted the other day for stopping police officers from arresting the men who lynched Ahmaud Arbery because one of them used to be a cop who worked for her. She was voted out of office last year, but now she'll probably go to jail too. I'm delighted that Kim Potter's charge for not knowing the difference between a gun and a taser, something any toddler could figure out, has been upgraded to first-degree manslaughter. It should be murder, but whatever, we have to take baby steps in these matters.
And I'm delighted that the three police officers and two paramedics who murdered Elijah McClain have been indicted for manslaughter and reckless homicide, even though the police department's previous "investigation" of itself determined that they did nothing wrong when they stopped him for no ----ing reason and injected a fatal dose of ketamine into him for no ----ing reason. Once again his family can thank Derek Chauvin for this case being taken more seriously now than it was when it happened. To be frank, Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, Randy Roedema, Jeremy Cooper, and Peter Cichuniec should be publicly executed just like they publicly executed Elijah McClain, sorry not sorry. Oh, and let us never forget how three other police officers unrelated to the incident (Erica Marrero, Kyle Dittrich, and Jaron Jones) photographed themselves at Elijah McClain's memorial smiling and recreating the chokehold used on him. "A few bad apples" my ----ing ass.
This case hits close to home because he wasn't neurotypical, and I'm not neurotypical, and I've also had some anonymous asshat call police on me for "acting weird" while I was minding my own business and doing nothing wrong. I was even the same age. It was a Saturday afternoon in September 2016, I was swinging in a public park, and somebody decided my mannerisms looked odd enough that the police needed to get involved. When you're not neurotypical, you constantly have to justify your existence to the people who think they're the default humans and you're an unfortunate aberration. On that occasion the police just checked my ID and asked if I needed any help and then left me alone. It set my self-esteem back a few years, but it didn't traumatize the hell out of me like Officer Nelson did. I've also, subsequent to Officer Nelson traumatizing the hell out of me, been dismissed and dehumanized by so-called healthcare workers who were supposed to help me not kill myself but instead decided to make it as obvious as possible that they didn't give a rat's ass about me.
So Elijah McClain's case feels personal for me, but the obvious difference is that I've never been tackled to the ground and injected with drugs. White privilege is very real.
I've felt that if I could channel my anger constructively into advocating for police reform, what happened to me would be worth it. But that hasn't happened because I don't have much of a voice through my obscure little blog or my Facebook shares that the algorithms make sure are never seen by more than two people. I kind of just write about things, express outrage over injustices and happiness over indictments and reforms, creating for myself the illusion that my commentary has any impact on these impacts that go on in a sphere entirely separate from mine. Still, I guess it gives me a sense of purpose. I'd hate to get to the other side and try to explain to God why I was more upset about a black man kneeling during an old English drinking song than about men, women and children of various races, but disproportionately black, being abused and murdered by the men and women who took an oath to serve and protect them.
I'm very excited for school to start in a couple days - excited for my class on Monday, excited for my class on Tuesday, excited for the classes I'll teach on Tuesday even though I won't have Zoom as a crutch and wouldn't have chosen to start at 7:30 if it were up to me, excited for what feels like a five-day weekend every week but really isn't because it just means I need to be a very responsible adult and determine my own schedule for the many things I have to do outside of classroom time, excited for the vaccination mandate that USU is preparing to implement because asking nicely just isn't enough in Utah. The future is bright, up until the end of this year when I really need to start getting a handle on whether I'm going to get a PhD or just take a job somewhere and if so, where, and supposedly I'm going to get married at some point before I die and it would be really nice to have that at least underway by then so I could make these decisions with my wife or wife-to-be instead of us both charting our life paths separately and later struggling to mesh them together. But nobody asked me.
You know, my first first day of college was ten years ago. This may or may not be my last one. As a student, I mean. I should be waxing all nostalgic about that, as is my wont, but I don't feel articulate enough to do it justice right now.
Of course, the week or so leading up to school has its drawbacks, and my desire to just relax and savor it was somewhat thwarted. Logan Preferred Property Management sent the carpet cleaners to my apartment complex without telling anyone, sent the normal cleaner to my apartment complex without telling anyone, and sent roofers to replace the entire roof without telling anyone. All of us except my roommate who can sleep through anything were pretty pissed. When the roofers woke me up at 7 a.m. on Monday, I couldn't believe LPPM had the audacity to do that after I complained about the idiots with the chainsaw who had done the same thing despite being ordered not to start until 8. I complained again and got the same empty apology and reassurances. The next day the roofers started later, but on Wednesday they started banging away at 6:30, which is, as I understand it, illegal. So I complained to management for the third time, and apparently "illegal" was the magic word that got them to stop lying about addressing the problem and actually address the problem. I decided I'd file a noise complaint if it happened again, and then I decided I was pissed enough to file a noise complaint anyway.
I know what you may be thinking - Ah, Christopher, you fool, you complain about police all the time and now you suddenly need them. Why didn't you call a crackhead for help instead? Correction: I didn't "need" the police for anything. I could have dealt with the situation myself, but our society has arbitrarily decided that pushing people off of roofs is also illegal. So I looked online for some kind of form I could fill out instead of talking to a human, and stumbled instead on a different form entitled "Personnel Complaint". I got so excited about this that I considered the roofers a blessing in disguise.
As both of my long-time readers are aware, on January 14, 2020, aka the worst day of my life,
D'oh. Anyway, on that day I learned firsthand that police officers are the natural enemies of anyone with a mental illness, when Officer Nelson showed up to "help" me and instead did the opposite of that. I didn't do anything about it at the time. My first priority was to get out of the hospital before I got stuck with a buttload of medical debt (because 'Murica), and then my first priority was to live through the night despite the unbearable pain for my friend Katie's sake, and then I just kind of wandered through life as a shell of my former self for a couple months. I didn't know anything about formal complaint procedures and I feared the police retaliating against me if I did complain to them. You have to remember, this was before George Floyd became one police murder too many, and nobody was putting them in their place. As Officer Nelson was abusing me I knew that he knew he could do it because he had a blue uniform and de facto authority to kill anyone who didn't show him the respect he thought he deserved. If he hadn't been in a blue uniform, I would not have tolerated the way he spoke to me.
Largely thanks to the well-deserved anti-police backlash a few months later, I got over my fear enough that I started to hope he would see my blog posts or Facebook posts and comments where I told the world, usually in rather crude terms, exactly what I thought of him. And I knew I would not respond the same way if anything similar ever happened again. A while ago I had one of my occasional nightmares that the police were coming after me again, and I was terrified, but determined that despite my fear I was going to give them a piece of my mind. I woke up before that came to pass.
When I did briefly look into the possibility of a formal complaint, I read something about a six-month statute of limitations, and looked no further. I also knew that Derek Chauvin, in his nineteen-year career, had accumulated eighteen conduct complaints resulting in literally nothing but two letters from his boss asking him not to do it again. But this complaint form on Logan City Police Department's website said nothing at all about a time limit. And now the climate around policing is much different. I figure there's a very real chance of getting a tangible result. Even if I don't, I at least have the satisfaction of knowing that Officer Nelson has been blindsided by this coming back to bite him in the butt long after he'd forgotten about it, and by the realization that this doormat he trampled on actually has feelings and a brain. I wish I could see the look on his face when he reads my complaint. I'd like to think he already has, and that it ruined his weekend, but with bureaucracy being what it is I doubt it's moving that fast.
Another cop was there, but he said three sentences the entire time and wasn't a bully or a jackass, so I said little about him in my complaint but I did list him as my sole witness despite not knowing his name. I only know Officer Nelson's name because he told me. A few months ago when I was in a car crash and had to talk to a cop, he had his name printed on his uniform, but I'm pretty sure that was a post-George Floyd reform. Anyway, I'm sure they'll ask this cop to evaluate my account, and I can only hope that honesty is more important to him than backing the blue. On that note, the form claims that the investigation will be "objective", which is kind of a red flag whenever I see it because nobody on the planet is objective about things that matter to them at all. Even if they really are trying, police officers investigating another police officer are not going to be objective. They just aren't. They can, however, still do the right thing if they choose to be honest.
They'll surely consult with Brad Hansen, the USU police officer who first received my neighbors' complaint and delegated it to the city police. My neighbors went to him because he was in our bishopric. He never spoke to me again after that day, but I made a point of resting my hand on my face with the middle finger extended when he walked by, and I know he noticed. I'm excited for him to read my complaint too. And they really should ask my ex-neighbors about what they said and how they said it, because they more than likely were overdramatic and told some outright lies that influenced Officer Nelson's response to the situation. I didn't devote nearly as much space as I could have in my complaint to explaining why their complaint was wrong, because that's not really the point, but it is still relevant because Officer Nelson was an idiot to take it as gospel truth and never ask me about my side at all. I have let go of all malice toward my ex-neighbors because, as mentioned in my complaint, one was delusional and the other gullible. (And I was equally gullible, which is how the problem started.) It's the trained law enforcement personnel who should have known better.
I assumed that walking into the police station and handing my complaint to the woman at the desk - I visualized a woman at the desk with a few male cops nearby, and I told myself that was a sexist assumption to make, but of course that was exactly what I saw when I went - would be terrifying. I assumed that I would have to be courageous and push through the fear. But it wasn't and I didn't. It was no more stressful than going to the post office. Maybe God was with me. After the woman at the desk said "Hello" I felt a little bad at repaying her kindness with a personnel complaint form, but I wasn't about to back down at the last minute.
I made scans just in case she or someone else "misplaces" it. Here they are for posterity.
For my birthday I went hiking up the Logan River Trail and then to Panda Express and then to Hyrum Reservoir, with guests rotating in and out as their schedules permitted and only a few stalwarts making it all the way through. This year, fed up with month after month of soul-crushing isolation, I took matters into my own hands like never before to make something happen and invite people to it instead of just hoping someone else would take care of everything - a couple of my graduate school friends helped, but I didn't ask them to or drop hints about my upcoming birthday. I had a rough plan in mind and invited them to it and then they offered their assistance. The last time I took this much initiative to plan basically anything was a surprise party for someone else years ago. I had also planned to watch the classic sci-fi "Metropolis", but we ran out of time at the beach and I decided to adapt rather than insist on a strict schedule to the point where it ceased being fun. That movie's kind of an acquired taste anyway.
I had reached out to this one guy years ago because he was also autistic and needed friends, and continued to invite him to things sometimes, but I rarely saw or talked to him. I knew he was gay, but that fact almost never crossed my mind because it simply wasn't relevant to anything. I had not the slightest clue why he asked to talk to me in private when we got to the beach. He began, "Remember when you asked if I'm interested in anyone?" No, I had no memory of asking him that or anything like it. I don't ask people about that kind of thing, mostly because I don't care. But he continued before I could say anything. He said, "Well, I'm interested in you."
He hastily went on, "I know I'm probably not your type," which was true enough, and not just for the obvious reason. And it should have been the simplest thing in the world to just say, in case there was any confusion, in case whatever mannerisms caused everyone on the school bus to call me "faggot" five times a day had also given him an erroneous impression at any time, "Sorry, I'm straight" - not a strictly accurate statement, but close enough for the present intents and purposes. Yet I couldn't bring myself to say it, because it felt in that moment like such a cruel and gratuitous thing to say, a bit of knife-twisting, and I thought back almost a decade to Kelsey's attempt to comfort me after I caught feelings for her.
If it helps, I've always had that problem. Straight girls.
It didn't help. It destroyed my faith that God loves His children, as I imagined how much it must suck to be gay because of that very problem, no matter how accepted by society or even religion one may eventually be. So now I didn't say anything.
We hugged, and I was very grateful that I'd kept my shirt on as I always do at the beach. He said, "I would have kissed you for your birthday." We let go. He said, "I'd still like to kiss you."
That didn't register, but after a moment he interpreted my blank stare as consent (it wasn't) and moved in. Oh well, I thought, it's only a kiss, and I'd kiss a guy if I were an actor playing a gay character, so it's not like it's the worst thing in the world that I'll never do under any circumstances, and anyway, the few kisses I've shared with women didn't mean anything either so the difference is kind of arbitrary. I stood stiff as a board and let him do it and then we rejoined the others. That's all he's going to get from me, so I'm not sure if it made him feel better or worse.
My neighbor Hailey got some pictures of me that I don't hate, that rarest of rarities. She saw me walking along the beach and made me go back and start over. I'm glad she did.
Later it transpired that Hailey and Mia had both observed my contentious comments on public Facebook posts without me being aware of it. Hailey found them alarming and Mia found them amusing. So I'm still not likely going to stop.
One of the greatest birthday presents I could ask for was delivered a couple days later in the form of a 22.5-year prison sentence for Derek Chauvin over his murder of George Floyd. Though far less than he deserves, it's about as much as one can expect under current laws. I think Peter Cahill is about as fair and impartial a judge as you can get, and I'm not surprised in the slightest that his sentence didn't give either the prosecutors or the defense what they really wanted. But the fun doesn't stop here. In a few days, Chauvin and his now ex-wife begin their trial for $21,853 worth of tax evasion - yes, 1092.65 times the amount he murdered George Floyd for - and this fall, he begins his federal trial for civil rights violations in both the George Floyd case and another one where he split a (black) teenager's head open with a flashlight and pinned him down for 17 minutes for no reason. If experiencing joy as I watch this fascist pig's life get ruined is wrong, I don't want to be right.
Of course, even a fascist pig has friends and family who love him. (The emotion bootlickers feel toward him isn't love - it's more akin to the mindless biological drive of a male preying mantis to let his mate tear his head off.) Chauvin's mother reminded us that he isn't Satan incarnate. She extolled his years of service as a police officer and his dedication to the job, conveniently neglecting to mention how many conduct complaints he accumulated during that time. She didn't want him to go to jail for a long time because she might be dead when he gets out. And she maintained that she believes in his innocence. Okay, so she isn't wrong to love her son or to be distraught over the situation, but I'm sorry to say that love has made her delusional. If I ever have a son who murders someone and everyone in the world sees the murder, I don't intend to show up in court to try and protect him from justice. Familial love and parental mortality are not arguments for letting people out of jail early.
Chauvin, we were told, has run through what if scenarios in his mind constantly since the day of the murder. What if I hadn't volunteered to work that day, what if I hadn't responded to the call, and so on. Notably absent were the questions he actually should be asking himself: What if I had taken my damn knee off his neck? What if I had moved him onto his side like Officer Lane suggested? What if I had offered medical assistance after his pulse disappeared? What if I hadn't completely disregarded my law enforcement training and ethics? Excuse me, but are we really supposed to sympathize with a 19-year police veteran for whom nine and a half minutes isn't enough time to make a split-second decision? Are we really supposed to feel bad that he feels bad - assuming he does, though we've seen zero evidence of that? Get out of here. He's had ample opportunity to apologize and/or show some degree of remorse. He never has. Not once. And the obvious reason is that he's a fascist pig who doesn't think he did anything wrong.
He did express his condolences - not an apology - to the Floyd family on this occasion. And all I could think of was a line from Kylo Ren (aka Matt the Radar Technician) on Saturday Night Live: "Hearing that Zack lost his son really struck a nerve with me. Especially since I'm the one that killed him."
I tried not to worry much about teaching my class on Friday, since worrying doesn't help anything, and it was bound to get better eventually since this is what God told me to do for a living, and compared to an average day at the call center where I once worked, the most awful teaching experience would be like getting a full-body massage from Gal Gadot as the sun sets on the shore of Bora Bora, Tahiti. Incidentally, one of the managers and cofounders of that call center, who has since sold it, is now one of my classmates. He has no idea who I am because he spent most of his time in an office and had employees quitting every week. Anyway, teaching my class on Friday went much better, even though Zoom decided for inexplicable reasons to automatically mute me, the host, when I ended the breakout groups, and I didn't notice for at least three minutes. My students weren't answering my questions, so I couldn't tell the difference.
My luck has run out and I have two new roommates. I should only have one new roommate but they got another bed and moved in together. I haven't had a roommate since my old one got married and moved out in December, and then the guy who bought the contract for summer moved home instead when the you-know-what broke out, so I've been alone and it's been great. I've been so lonely that I wanted to die but I've never been so lonely that I wished I had a roommate when I didn't have a roommate. I can't complain too much about these guys, other than the usual unwelcome inconveniences of sharing my home with other humans and my exponentially increased chance of getting the you-know-what. When they're not on campus, they spend the majority of the time in their room playing computer games, and when I'm not on campus, I spend the majority of the time in the living room with the kitchen door closed so I can't hear them talking. After avoiding my previous roommate as much as possible, this time I made an effort to introduce myself and get to know them when they moved in, but they don't seem very talkative either so we don't talk much and that's fine with me.
Some new girls also moved in next door. I was quite determined this time not to meet them or talk to them, ever. They came over and introduced themselves.
Actually, one of them claims to be related to the owners of the place, and has taken great interest in reporting to them her discoveries that Logan Preferred Property Management has refused to provide wi-fi like it's supposed, provide two couches in each apartment like it's supposed to, and fix the washing machine like it's supposed to. So that's exciting and gives me a bit of schadenfreude. These girls are much louder than the previous ones, and almost every day I hear them yelling, singing, and/or laughing hysterically like teenagers. You would think I would find this annoying. I would think I would find this annoying. But somehow, it just amuses me. And they know they're loud and they're self-conscious and apologetic about it but they keep doing it and that amuses me too. I find it much less annoying than being able to hear my roommates talk to each other through their bedroom door. I have a double standard and I'm not proud of myself.
My ward boundaries were drastically altered three weeks or so ago, landing me and most of the Logan YSA 46th Ward in the Logan YSA 19th Ward instead. It was a godsend because I could no longer be temple worthy as a member of the Logan YSA 46th Ward. Now, instead of experiencing painful personal growth by learning how to sustain the two out of three bishopric members that I no longer like, respect, or trust, I just have a new bishopric and I really appreciate that. I actually go to my assigned ward now. Despite scores of new membership records being moved in over the last three weeks, the Logan YSA 19th Ward isn't getting larger, and today the bishop mentioned that several people were out sick. I'm sure that has nothing to do with at least thirty of them cramming into a ward member's living room with no masks for a "Come Follow Me" lesson (which I wouldn't know about because I didn't show up, take one look and flee). If it did, they would of course deserve whatever happens to them.
The police in Salt Lake City recently shot a thirteen-year-old autistic boy after his mother called them to help him with a mental health crisis. He survived but will probably have medical complications for the rest of his life, not to mention a buttload of trauma. Not to victim-blame or anything - nobody is to blame here but the officer(s) who pulled the trigger and would, in a civilized country, already be behind bars or at least hanging from a lamppost - but she should have called almost anyone else. Almost anyone who isn't a police officer could come up with a better strategy for helping a mentally ill or disabled person than "Yell at him, and then shoot him several times when he doesn't comply within two seconds." And this is why people want to defund the police and stop sending them to deal with situations that they have less than zero qualifications to deal with. But sure, let's pretend it's a communist conspiracy.
On a Facebook post discussing this atrocity and the prospect of organizing a protest, I yet again mentioned my own experience with the brainless bully sent by the Logan City Police Department, as an unnecessary second witness of law enforcement incompetence and the need to hold them accountable for their actions. Someone asked if I would be willing to do an interview with Utah Public Radio, and that terrified me but I said sure, and she told me to email this person, and I did, and I warned this person that telling my story in a radio segment of less than two minutes would require us to be very sparse on detail but I'll still give it a shot, and she said she wants to go for it, and I suggested a time and she didn't respond, and that was four days ago so it looks like she's forgotten about me and maybe that won't go anywhere. If it does of course I'll post about it here, though I won't likely listen to it myself because I hate my voice.
“If we cannot respond, as a police agency, to a 13-year-old child who has autism, without shooting him, I don’t know if we should be in this business.” - Chris Burbank, former Salt Lake Police Chief
"No shit." - Chris Nicholson, current 27-year-old child who has autism
Monday, my first day of teaching, I showed up in my reserved classroom and set up Zoom forty-five minutes early just to be safe. As my students trickled in I was gratified to know that the link worked. However, I didn't think to test the audio. I thought I could just talk at the computer like I talked at my laptop all week during Orientation, because nobody told me I had to talk into this little radio thing. So the first seven minutes of class were wasted on me trying to figure that out as my students in the chat helpfully explained that there's a little microphone icon in the corner, then giving up and calling IT. The class went well other than that and I learned that disasters are okay. I wasn't very nervous going into it anyway, since all we had to do was get to know each other and discuss the syllabus, but that's actually a bad thing because Beth said that even after all her time as a teacher, if she didn't feel like throwing up before her first class of the semester, she would know something was wrong. So something was wrong.
Throughout the week, I corresponded via email or Canvas with some students who had various questions or concerns. The respect they showed me was so heartwarming. A couple called me "Professor Nicholson", which isn't technically accurate but feels really good so I hope they don't stop. I'm so used to feeling marginalized and invisible - for example, my email to the Logan City Police Department a few weeks ago went completely ignored because the recipients didn't and don't see me as an actual person who deserves to be acknowledged in any way - and I'm not the type to demand respect, and unlike a police officer, I'm not authorized to shoot people for refusing to kiss my butt, so the voluntarily outpouring of good will from these students who place a scary amount of faith in my qualifications to teach them composition is such a breath of proverbial fresh air. I will do my best to be worthy of it.
Friday, my second day of teaching, things once again got off to a rocky start when I failed to elicit the desired discussion from my students. Both my teaching style and USU English courses in general are very dependent on discussion. I don't have the capacity to just get up there and lecture for fifty minutes even if I wanted to. Asking a question and just having twenty muted microphones stare back at me was a very unnerving experience, and it repeated a few times. So I whizzed through the main class "discussion" and got right to the breakout groups. I had scientifically calculated the groups to ensure that none of them were majority male, but some of my students ruined that by being absent, so I had to make them from scratch and I think next time I'll just randomize them. I put the discussion questions for the groups in the chat. This worked fine every time Beth did it during Orientation, but as I rotated between the groups I discovered that none of them had received the message, so that was annoying.
Nonetheless, the groups had their desired effect of getting people to relax and open up more. Maybe too much. In one, I arrived just in time to hear a student opine, "I feel like he was just like 'Get into groups' because he doesn't have an actual lesson plan." I don't know at what point she noticed me, since her camera was off, but another student noticed immediately and laughed in that shocked "Oh my gosh" kind of way and had to turn her camera off. Basically it was something out of a movie. I pretended nothing had happened and I hadn't just been stabbed in the heart. I realized after a while that I shouldn't take it personally because the use of breakout groups was actually something recommended and modeled over and over in Orientation and the practicum, and it worked, so this student just didn't know what she was talking about. After we returned to the main group, the discussion went a bit more smoothly than before. I may have grilled one student a little too much about her career ambitions because I was just so enthusiastic about her actually speaking.
I wouldn't count that class among even the top fifty worst experiences of my life, but when I ate lunch afterward I got the PTSD shivers that have only happened to me once before. And though it was far too late to quit, I considered quitting anyway. I'd have to fake my own death or something but I considered it. I told Beth and she was very sympathetic and said she had a similar experience her first semester with a student who assumed she didn't know what she was doing when she put them into groups, so that comforted me. And it was still better than teaching elementary or middle school students.
On a more lighthearted note, here's an excerpt from the Zoom chat in our practicum when Beth had some technical difficulties.
Me: Is Beth frozen for everyone or just me?
Hannah: She’s frozen for me
Kelsie: She froze.
Steven: She's froze.
Greyson: me too
Madeline: Me too
Elle: Yup Beth is frozen for me too.
Hannah: NOOO Beth come back!
[Literally ten minutes later]
Hannah: Uh Oh.
Alex: bye beth
Greyson: She’s frozen for everybody right
Steven: Frozen II
Kylie: lol she is for me
Me: I guess we should just let it go
Hannah: NOOOO Christopher beat me to the joke
Elle: You guys are the best lol
Alex: can she see the chat when she comes back?
Me: And apparently I'm the host now for some reason?
Mia: I am so impressed by the amount of dad jokes in this chat.
Hannah: Now you’re in charge
Hannah: Teach us something
Elle: Christopher go! Teach!
Me: The area of a circle is pi r squared
Me: Oops, wrong class
Alex: get outta here
Hannah: Now I have useless math equation songs running through my head from high school
Kelsie: I love that we’re all interacting in the chat and no one has unmuted themselves.
Kylie: classic introvert English people.
Alex: speaking out loud is for chumps.
Me: If we speak out loud too much we might freeze
Madeline: Does that mean I'm next?
Alex: I hope not.
Alex: we should have told Beth to join on her phone if she can't connect to her computer
Me: For tonight's homework, read all of Shakespeare's plays
Alex: oh she's back
Hannah: Yuck, don’t make Christopher the host again… ;)
After spending twenty-nine hours in one week with these people during orientation, amounting to more social interaction than I had all year up to that point, I feel like we're all best friends forever. Except Steven doesn't seem to like me anymore. He broadcasts from his little office down the hall from mine, and sometimes during breaks or after class we emerge at the same time, and one time during Orientation he said "How has your day been?" and we chatted as we walked around the Quad for ten minutes, but since then he just stares at me when I nod or say hi. I guess I said something wrong. I'm good at that.
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
- David Young
About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.