Sometimes people on Twitter tell me to get therapy. Not because they actually care about me or mental illness, of course, or because they agree with the best practices of the mental health profession. But I did just go to therapy for a few months. I got it from an unlicensed USU student at a huge discount because I live in poverty. Like everyone else in that building, she was irreligious and politically progressive, the opposite of these Twitter people - not that she pushed any of that on me, but I made the assumption and she confirmed it. I mentioned on my blog when I started therapy, and then I thought I'd have a lot to say about it, but I didn't. Now I'm done for the time being because we ran out of things to talk about and also because I live in poverty.
At the beginning, I was just so excited to have a captive audience that I wanted to talk to her about all the deep intellectual things that I'm starving to talk about. I'd half-seriously considered hiring a prostitute to pretend to be interested in the things that interest me, and I assume this was cheaper. But she wanted to have actual therapy goals and stuff. She had the idea to read and discuss a chapter of The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspective of Autism by Dr. Temple Grandin and Sean Barron each week, and since it's available to borrow for free on archive.org, I agreed. I went through a suicidal patch last summer when I realized that the loneliness I've experienced for my entire adult life is never going to go away. Now it's daunting to even think about trying to have real relationships. I'm still not sure if I will.
I've been a fan of Temple Grandin for a while. I'd never heard of Sean Barron. They bring very different perspectives to the book. It seems that Sean wants relationships for their own sake, while Temple just sees them as a thing she has to do to advance her career. Sean sees autism as a disease and thinks he's been cured of it by learning to think differently, while Temple just sees it as the way she is. I have some mixed feelings about their approach to teaching social skills in the book. I agree that people on the autism spectrum need to understand how to be polite and hygienic. I think I've already benefitted from some of the principles they explained, like showing interest in people and knowing when it's okay to break the rules or lie. At the same time, though, neurotypical people should learn not to be ignorant assholes about things that don't matter. Sean tells the story of how he started to make friends with a boy in his class, but then he blew it, and the boy started bullying him like everyone else. The entire focus is on his lack of social skills, and at no point does he acknowledge that the boy was wrong to bully him. Temple mentions that she got a new boss who wanted to fire her for being weird, but she changed his mind by showing him how much she'd contributed to the company. She doesn't seem to recognize that her boss was in the wrong legally and ethically. She says she learned not to do certain mannerisms in public. She shouldn't have had to.
The other day, an anonymous Twitter account told people that I was always weird, even in the Mormon singles' ward. I asked him what I did that was so weird. He said, "Dude you wandered around shoeless muttering to yourself." He seems to have remembered wrong or conflated me with someone else, because I've never been in the habit of muttering to myself in public, but the first part is accurate, although he could have just as easily said "walked" instead of "wandered," but that wouldn't have sounded derisive enough. Walking around for exercise is entirely normal behavior. Doing so without shoes isn't, but so farking what? I didn't harm him. I didn't harm anyone. He just thought I was harming myself and needed therapy because it was different and therefore made him uncomfortable. Not that he ever expressed that to me in person, of course, though he claims that he knew me pretty well. (He's not the first anonymous Twitter account to make that claim. It's actually pretty creepy.) I wonder how many other Mormons just pretended to be my friends while having no qualms about telling people behind my back that I'm weird. It's funny how they think drinking coffee is a sin but being two-faced isn't. So that was kind of depressing, but I'm used to people unfriending or unfollowing me all the time, so it wasn't very surprising. And I read enough of his Tweets to confirm that he's an asshole and I don't want him as a friend.
The last chapter had a section on anger management which, unlike all the other chapters, included several comments from other adults on the spectrum. It was the first time I ever heard of a correlation between autism and anger. I've wondered sometimes if I'm just an exceptionally angry person. But Jerry Newport validated me by saying, "ASD folks are no strangers to anger. They have lots of reasons to grow up into angry teens and angrier young adults. Put yourself in their place. Imagine yourself being teased, constantly misunderstood, abused in the name of therapy and often genuinely confused and overwhelmed by it all - not just a few times, but hundreds, if not thousands of times. It is no wonder that I know many adults with ASD who are literally paralyzed by their anger." Then, I might add, people just blame you for being angry and tell you it's entirely your responsibility to make something edible out of the shit sandwich that they gave you.
I, for one, get angry about injustice whether it's against me or anyone else, and this world has no shortage of injustice. That's basically its defining trait. I'm angry about how I was raised and about how my entire generation has been royally screwed over by the preceding ones so that I'll never be able to own a house or retire, but I'm also angry about people murdering children in Ukraine and Palestine, people oppressing women in Iran and Afghanistan, people fighting against LGBTQ rights in my own country and too many others to count, etc. I think average Americans ought to be a lot angrier than they are about all this bullshit. It's called empathy. Some members of my family still believe that anger comes from Satan, and I think that's a really immature an unhealthy view. But since I'm also powerless to do anything about anything, my anger goes nowhere, and the only way to deal with it is to stop caring and escape through entertainment. I prefer music and movies. I hope to try mushrooms soon. I take some comfort in knowing that someday we'll all be dead.
Between Temple and Sean, I think I have more in common with the latter. Temple thinks in pictures. I think in words. My mind is constantly running an inner monologue, and the pictures I get in my head while reading are vague and unfocused. I just came to realize this about myself when I needed to put more description into my novel. Sean struggled more as a kid and had more anger. Before, I assumed that Temple had twice as many obstacles to overcome from being autistic and female, but from her description, it seems like those things canceled each other out to an extent, and she was treated better and learned more easily than a boy might have. (She has high praise for the structured, polite society of the fifties and sixties that she grew up in, so that's some white privilege too.) Sean mentions that he struggled with humor, that he tried to be funny by repeating funny lines from TV out of context until everyone was sick of him. This is where I differ from him. Somehow I've gleaned underlying principles of humor without even trying. I often forget to put them in my blog posts, but my novel is very funny. Please read it. Amazon Associates link:
Here Follows Some Verses Upon the Burning of Our house, July 10th. 1666. Copied Out of a Loose Paper.
In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow near I did not look,
I wakened was with thund’ring noise
And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice.
That fearful sound of “fire” and “fire,”
Let no man know is my Desire.
I, starting up, the light did spy,
And to my God my heart did cry
To straighten me in my Distress
And not to leave me succourless.
Then, coming out, behold a space
The flame consume my dwelling place.
And when I could no longer look,
I blest His name that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.
Yea, so it was, and so ‘twas just.
It was his own, it was not mine,
Far be it that I should repine;
He might of all justly bereft
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the ruins oft I past
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast
And here and there the places spy
Where oft I sate and long did lie.
Here stood that trunk, and there that chest,
There lay that store I counted best.
My pleasant things in ashes lie
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sit,
Nor at thy Table eat a bit.
No pleasant talk shall ‘ere be told
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle e'er shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom‘s voice e'er heard shall be.
In silence ever shalt thou lie,
Adieu, Adieu, all’s vanity.
Then straight I ‘gin my heart to chide,
And did thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mould'ring dust?
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the sky
That dunghill mists away may fly.
Thou hast a house on high erect
Frameed by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent though this be fled.
It‘s purchased and paid for too
By Him who hath enough to do.
A price so vast as is unknown,
Yet by His gift is made thine own;
There‘s wealth enough, I need no more,
Farewell, my pelf, farewell, my store.
The world no longer let me love,
My hope and treasure lies above.
I was introduced to the poetry of Anne Bradstreet in a college course on early American literature. Her relatable emotions and vulnerability made an impression on me and humanized the Puritans, whom I, like most people, am otherwise inclined to regard as stuck-up, joyless bigots. The professor made us read between the lines and explain how maybe Anne Bradstreet was secretly expressing doubts when she affirmed her faith. I wondered then, as I do now, whether that was really in there or the professor just wanted it to be. Anyway, I've liked this poem even more ever since my own beloved childhood home burned down. I wanted to buy it back someday, but the new owners apparently didn't know how to use a woodstove. And thanks to the previous generations who thoughtlessly screwed mine over, I may never be able to own a home at all. At this time I can't even save up enough to cover summer rent for one of the cheapest places in town. I have family members willing to help me, but if you want to help too, consider buying my book.
I've shared this poem at a gathering of friends on the theme of change last fall and at a poetry-sharing meeting of the Cache Valley Unitarian Universalists last week. It's all about priorities, and that message remains strong even though I'm now agnostic about the attached theological claims. If Anne Bradstreet's house hadn't burned down, she still wouldn't have it anymore because she's dead. I'm pretty confident that consciousness persists after death, but I won't try to guess what the afterlife looks like, and I won't assert it with certainty because I'm not dead. I think it's a safe assumption, though, that the only things we can take into this hypothetical vague afterlife are knowledge and relationships, so those should be our top priorities once our basic needs for survival are secured. And if we can't get our basic needs for survival secured, well, at least we won't have to worry about that forever. I don't mean to be flippant, but it's true. We might have healthier perspectives on our suffering if we keep in mind how short and impermanent this life is instead of trying our hardest not to think about it.
I also like the part of this poem where she goes full Yoda: "And them behold no more shall I." It's so random.
I really couldn't care less about football. For any non-Americans who may happen to stumble on this post by accident, "football" in this context is not the game where you kick the ball with your foot, but one where you throw a ball with your hands. And the game stops every five seconds for reasons that are unclear to me. I cannot comprehend how anyone finds it exciting, but lots of men are obsessed with football and worship football players. I watched one football game in my first semester of college, and that was enough for me. But when I get the chance, I go to Super Bowl watch parties for the food, the commercials, and the company. Even when I was a Mormon and didn't believe that sports were keeping the Sabbath holy, I felt that bonding with friends was a more important consideration. The local YSA bishop evidently feels the same, as he's (unofficially, of course) hosting a watch party for the second year in a row.
I keep hearing about some stupid controversy over Taylor Swift dating a football player and getting too much attention at football games. I won't mind very much if all the footage of the Super Bowl is replaced with Taylor Swift's face. Actually, I'll pay a lot more attention if that happens. I don't know much about her as a person and I'm only a moderate fan of her music. I'd rather listen to any of her songs than watch a football game, but I don't understand why she's the second-most streamed artist in the world. Still, good for her. I remember when she was a teenager singing country songs about boys. When I heard her almost every day on Q Country 102.9, the school bus driver's favorite station, I never imagined how far she'd go. And if she's making MAGAs angry, she must be doing something very right. I think I know what it is. I've heard various things, but I think what really set these terrible people off the most was when she encouraged young women to vote. She didn't tell them how to vote, but it's a given that most young women will not vote for the senile orange fascist. His cult is scared. And it should be. All Americans, whether they realize it or not, will owe Taylor Swift a debt of gratitude if we just get a civil war after he loses instead of the nightmares he'll unleash if he wins.
The LDS missionaries stopped by my apartment the other night. They were the Chinese-speaking missionaries, the only ones who have ever stopped by my apartment, apparently because a couple years ago I had a Chinese neighbor who had joined the LDS Church. One was American and remembered me from the last time he knocked on my door. The other was from Hong Kong, hadn't yet mastered English, and didn't talk much. I told them I was no longer LDS, but I still let them come in and try to convince me to come back because I want them to have positive experiences on their missions. I have no animosity toward these kids doing what they believe is right, and I want everyone everywhere to be nice to them. I could have wiped the floor with them in a debate, but because I didn't want to send them into crippling existential crises, I was vague about my reasons for leaving and didn't push back much on the stuff they said. I especially didn't want to expose the Chinese guy to a bunch of problematic stuff that he'd probably never heard of due to having far LDS-adjacent fewer resources in his native language.
The American said he knows there are a lot of difficult issues in church history, and he named a few - the Book of Abraham translation, polygamy, and the priesthood ban. He probably learned about those things in seminary. I certainly didn't. When I was his age, the LDS Church was just barely starting to be more honest about its history as damage control after the skeletons in its closet were plastered all over the internet, which is how I had to learn about them. The seminary curriculum was dumbed down so much that even as an all-in gung-ho believer, I hated it and didn't finish. And, of course, even though this missionary knows these things, he sure isn't going to teach them to prospective converts. Anyway, I could have wiped the floor with him in a debate on any of these topics if I'd wanted to. I'm positive I know all the same apologetic arguments that he does. But we didn't go in that direction. He only lingered on the priesthood ban, mentioning that Joseph Smith gave the priesthood to Black men, and then that practice just stopped, and it's weird. I could have said that we know why it stopped, that it stopped because Joseph Smith's successor was virulently racist and enshrined his virulent racism in both church doctrine and policy, which really decimates the credibility of all LDS prophets, but I nodded politely instead.
He asked what it would take for me to come back to the church. Again, I held back. Believing in the LDS Church again would be like putting all the toothpaste back in a tube. I would have to forget that I know it's not true. I would have to pretend I can't see Joseph Smith's nineteenth-century fingerprints all over the Book of Mormon, or his manipulative tactics to increase his authority, blame others for his prophetic failures, and persuade teenage girls to marry him. In short, I simply know too much to believe. But I didn't want to say something so invalidating. It's not polite. I told him I'd come back if I heard a voice or saw an angel. I said I know the church specifically tells us not to demand miraculous signs like that, but I don't trust "the Holy Ghost" anymore or believe that my spiritual feelings really mean what the church claims they mean, so I'm going to need something more. They read some scriptures. The Chinese guy talked about the importance of trusting God with my questions instead of people, and approaching them with a perspective of faith. I nodded politely instead of complaining about confirmation bias.
They asked about my views on God and Jesus. I said that I don't feel like God ever intervenes in my life, and I still pray every night, but I've given up on asking for anything because it's pointless. I said that I used to look back and feel like God had been guiding me through my life, but now I wonder if that's just because I'm a human and my brain has evolved to see patterns where there aren't any. I said that I think I have a pretty good life, but I'm not comfortable attributing that to blessings from God because what about the countless people with crappy lives? Does he love them less? The Chinese guy said it's important to keep the perspective of the premortal life and the next life, to remember that not all blessings come in this life. And you know what, that makes sense. I do believe there's a purpose to life and that whatever it is can only make sense if it starts before birth and goes beyond death. That's one thing I think Joseph Smith got right. I certainly don't believe the specific details taught by his church, though. And I don't think it's possible to know the details without dying. Maybe not even then.
The American encouraged me to pray and ask God if he loves me. Not if the LDS Church was true. I was glad that he wasn't really pushy about me coming back. He seemed to genuinely respect my personal journey and prioritize God's love over being in a specific church. He encouraged me to ask that and pay attention to whether I felt anything or to what happened the next day, and if I didn't notice anything, to be patient and not give up. I could have argued that in my view, if you have to keep praying and waiting until you feel something, you've probably just convinced yourself to feel it. But I didn't. And that night, I did ask, and I didn't feel anything, just like I knew I wouldn't. And the next day was a good day, but I wouldn't say anything special happened. Oh well. I certainly would like to believe that God loves everybody. I don't claim to know that he doesn't. I just don't see it. As the missionaries left, the American asked if I would like to go to church this Sunday, and I said I'm participating in the Unitarian Universalist church right now, and he said that was good and didn't press the issue.
Believing in the LDS Church again is out of the question, but here's the bare minimum that it would have to do in order for me to participate:
* End all policy restrictions on LGBT members.
* End all policy restrictions on women.
* Stop hoarding obscene wealth and start spending a lot more on humanitarian aid.
* Stop protecting sexual abusers and fighting against their victims in court.
* Stop lying about its history and finances.
* Stop worshiping the current prophet and pretending that every word out of his mouth comes from God.
* Apologize and make restitution for the harm it's caused to people of color, LGBT people, women, abuse victims, and apostates.
I have no doubt that all of these things will happen eventually, but probably not in my lifetime.
Much to the disappointment of both my regular readers, I'm a bit behind my usual posting schedule because I spent much of the weekend in Salt Lake and also because I've lost so much sleep in the last two weeks that I wish I was dead. The most significant thing to come out of that weekend was that I drank a significant amount of tea for the first time. Because a con man enshrined nineteenth-century pseudoscience as revelation, I was raised with the belief that coffee and tea are unhealthy or somehow sinful, and I'm not even being snarky when I say that belief has been the hardest part of my Mormon upbringing to deconstruct. I have no desire to try coffee because I dislike the smell. I tried a small bit of tea without sugar some time ago, and it was putrid. But this weekend I was killing time with a couple of friends in Salt Lake's Chinatown market, a place I never knew existed, and they wanted to get some boba tea, so as a matter of principle I pushed past my deep-rooted misgivings and got some too. The first sip was weird. The rest were delicious. It had brown sugar and tapioca pearls, which I didn't notice until the first one came up my straw. Little rubbery balls, not much flavor, but appealing in their own way. Part of me still stupidly expected some kind of physiological reaction to the forbidden drink, but of course there wasn't one because it was just a normal drink. Up yours, Joseph Smith.
Then we met up with a couple of other friends and went to a Chinese restaurant that ironically was not in Chinatown. It was a rice noodle soup restaurant, and I think the menu items were more authentic than the ones at Panda Express, but the still left me hungry again a couple of hours later. This soup had beef, cabbage, corn, carrot shavings, cilantro, elephant ear fungus, and a quail egg. I saved the quail egg for last because I knew I wouldn't like it. Also, I was the only one at the table who didn't know how to use chopsticks, so I just struggled through it.
I stayed the night at another friend's house, but he didn't get off work until 12:30, so for a while I was alone with his wife who doesn't speak much English, and that was a little awkward, but she was very nice. I watched the Disney version of Hercules, struggled to get to sleep, woke up in the middle of the night, struggled to get back to sleep, and slept until 10:30. That afternoon, all the other friends came over to celebrate Juanuary, a tradition I was there to experience for the first time. Apparently it's just having tacos in January. Then we watched Coco. It occurred to me that Hercules and Coco both depict absolutely horrifying visions of the afterlife. In the former, Hercules gives up his immortality to be with Meg, and it's supposed to be a happy ending, but it's really not because you know that after they die their souls will be condemned to swim around half-comatose in Hades' giant magic toilet forever, along with everyone else who's ever existed. No wonder this religion lost to Christianity. Then in Coco, of course, dead people's souls only continue to exist until every living person has forgotten about them, which will eventually happen to everyone except for Jesus Christ and Genghis Khan. What is even the point of that temporary afterlife, except to prolong and exacerbate the inequality between famous people and normal people? And how did it work before photographs were invented?
Speaking of death, the high school I worked at yesterday recently had a suicide, so this week it's doing "Hope Week" with the theme "Life is worth living." (Utah has an above-average youth suicide rate, though you wouldn't know it from the imaginary problems its Republican legislature chooses to address instead.) It had an assembly with Tom Ballard, a guy who cuts hearts out of rocks and distributes them to people to remind them that they're loved. (Not to be confused with Tim Ballard, the grifter and sexual predator who founded Operation Underground Railroad.) He brought heart rocks to give to everyone at the school. I forgot to get one before I left. I know it sounds weird, but he says it's really impacted people and even saved lives, so good for him.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, 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.