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.
This week I lost the worst neighbors I've ever had. I don't mean the worst human beings who have ever lived next door to me; that honor goes to someone else. I used to live in this weird house thing that was all under one roof but divided in half by an alleyway, and one half was divided into two apartments top to bottom and the other half was divided side by side. I lived in one side of one half and these people lived in the other, and when it was cold outside they sat on the steps at their end of the alleyway and filled the entire thing with carcinogenic smoke. They knew as well as I did that the couple living across from me had a little girl probably about three years old who played in the alleyway with her toys. That didn't stop them. I did get them to stop by leaving a passive-aggressive note and then by complaining to the landlord, but I feel like I shouldn't actually have to ask people not to poison children, or me for that matter. So they were the worst humans. But in terms of psychological scarring inflicted on me personally, the people who just moved out of the place where I am now were the worst to have next door.
I have, of course, already written about what "C and T" did to me in mind-numbing detail and subsequently referenced it at least eight times, along with my growing realization that they weren't accountable for their actions because one is delusional and the other is stupid, and nobody need feel obligated to continue reading what I'm only writing for myself and maybe my future children so they can learn about the adversity that almost prevented them from existing. I can't promise this will be my last time writing about it either. I managed to forgive and even love my neighbors some time ago and it no longer constantly weighs on me and sucks every ounce of happiness from my life like it did for a while, but it will continue to affect me for some time. A friend suggested I would need to treat it like a breakup. I don't know what a breakup feels like but to me this feels more like a car accident where the car rolls over several times and the person next to you dies. And then the paramedics show up and start screaming and spitting on you.
I didn't particularly want to speak to the pathological liar ever again, but I would have liked to reconcile and get some closure with the other who was as much a victim as me. But no. C only became even more awkward over time, not less. T, previously very obvious in her refusal to even look at me, started speaking to me a little bit when I went outside and was accosted by her little dog, no longer confined to a leash and obviously missing me as much as I missed her. The dog, by the way, was yet another victim, surely confused at why she never got to see me anymore. She was a nice little dog, not one of those awful little dogs that yips all the time or attacks people and doesn't get punished because her owner thinks it's cute. Sometimes when they left her home alone on Friday evenings she howled non-stop and it was annoying but I understood where she was coming from. Her cuteness actually backfires on me because she overdoes it and activates my "stop trying to manipulate my emotions" mental barrier, but even so, how could I not love one who loves me so unconditionally?
I was intrigued by the change in T and decided that if I had to reconcile with her first to reconcile with the other, I could live with that. But it never went anywhere. I thought she might at some point try to get back the book she loaned me in December, at which point I would have to tell her that I already burned it in May because I didn't want it in my home and she should have thought of that before she decided to bar me from returning it, but she didn't. I didn't much care how she would respond to that and wasn't worried. As they prepared to leave, though, I started to worry about another book, the one I gave C for her birthday. She loved it when I gave it to her. I want it to bring her joy for years to come and not be something that brings up bad memories whenever she sees it. For all I know, she threw it away months ago. But now it occurred to me that maybe she would give it back before she left and that would be even worse and I would break on the spot. That didn't happen either. I held onto a vain, foolish hope that at the last minute one of them would say in person or in writing something along the lines of "Sorry for being hellspawn". Of course they didn't.
In all seriousness, though, I wish the best for them. I feel genuinely bad for T because the brain damage inflicted on her by someone else's mistake has probably decimated whatever potential for success she had in this life. C is a teacher, so my concern for her is a large reason for my difficulty in mustering up a shred of Christian charity toward anti-maskers and people pushing to reopen schools long before it's safe just so someone they think is expendable will watch their children for them. I don't want her to die or have permanent health complications because of someone else's selfishness and stupidity. Fortunately Utah listened to the backlash and has implemented a few tweaks to its reopening strategy, like the brilliant maneuver of no longer allowing children to keep going to school immediately following prolonged exposure to known infected individuals. Yes, this was a thing that had to be changed. I'm not kidding. (I'm going to be a teacher too, but it's at the university level and all online so I'm not being treated like a disposable babysitter and I'm not outraged for myself.)
It just seems such a waste that this thing happened and created this permanent rift and now they're just gone. Was there any point to it? Could I not have gotten along just as well without ever meeting them? I think of the principle expressed by Elder Neal A. Maxwell: "Within each of our circles of friendship there lie so many unused opportunities to love, to serve, and to be taught. Indeed, one could apply the scriptural phrase about there being 'enough and to spare' (D&C 104:17). None of us ever fully utilizes the people-opportunities allocated to us within our circles of friendship. You and I may call these intersectings 'coincidence.' This word is understandable for mortals to use, but coincidence is not an appropriate word to describe the workings of an omniscient God. He does not do things by 'coincidence' but instead by 'divine design.'
"I am one who likes to know of happy ironies and happy intersectings. There are many intersectings, of course, that are not happy. I will mention an episode to you now of which you probably do not know, nor did I until recently.
"In 1855 Abraham Lincoln, then a lawyer in Illinois, was asked to participate in a patent infringement case involving McCormick, of reaper fame. Lincoln had been given a $400 retainer and was told he might actually argue the case, so he studied and went to Cincinnati for the trial. A lead lawyer in the case was a man named Edwin M. Stanton — a brilliant Pittsburgh lawyer — who said when Lincoln arrived, 'Why did you bring that . . . long armed Ape here . . . ; he does not know any thing and can do you no good' (David Herbert Donald, Lincoln [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995], pp. 185–187). Lincoln stayed at the same hotel as Stanton and the other attorneys, but he was never even asked to eat or to confer with them. Lincoln went home feeling insulted and 'roughly handled by that man Stanton' (Donald, Lincoln, p. 187).
"The years tumbled on, and later Stanton was to join the cabinet of the newly elected president, Abraham Lincoln. There were differences of views, of course, but Stanton came to deeply admire Abraham Lincoln. After the shooting of Lincoln, a few, including Stanton, stood mournfully by his bed as Lincoln was in the process of dying. When Lincoln died, Stanton, who had once described Lincoln as 'an Ape,' paid tribute to his fallen chief:
"With a slow and measured movement, [Stanton’s] right arm fully extended as if in a salute, he raised his hat and placed it for an instant on his head and then in the same deliberate manner removed it. 'Now,' he said, 'he belongs to the ages.' [Donald, Lincoln, p. 599]
"Would that all rough relationships could have that kind of resolution and generous ending."
One hopes Stanton at least had the spine to apologize at some point instead of just pretending nothing had happened.
I suppose it was another of those damned learning experiences I didn't ask for. I learned all the positive, uplifting lessons you would expect, like don't love, don't hope, don't be yourself, don't trust, don't give mentally ill people the benefit of the doubt, don't face your fears, and don't step outside your comfort zone. I learned that Luna Lovegood, at least as portrayed in the movies, is not just charmingly eccentric but actually delusional. I always got the vibe that she wasn't really crazy but everyone just thought she was crazy because they were judgmental hypocrites. "No, Luna, I don't have time to listen to your stupid nonsense about invisible pixies. I have to go fly my broomstick and practice turning things into frogs with my magic wand." But after meeting someone with the exact same vibe, demeanor, soothing cadence and charming eccentricity who turned out to be delusional, I've realized that Evanna Lynch meant for her to be delusional. I'm not sure of J.K. Rowling's original intent with the character but she said some politically incorrect things on Twitter so who cares what she thinks anyway? I'm sure this knowledge will be of great use to me someday.
Sarcasm aside, the one remotely positive outcome I can see so far is that the experience instilled me with a profound contempt for the police, which I was able to channel constructively when we as a nation finally decided we'd had enough of their corruption, lying, and murder. I feel bad, but truth be told, I directly benefited from George Floyd's death because the catharsis I experienced at witnessing law enforcement be put in its place was exquisite. I'm sure I would have jumped on the bandwagon anyway but if I hadn't personally been traumatized by a mindless swaggering jackass in a blue uniform who was nothing but belligerent while I was nothing but cooperative, I wouldn't likely have had the same passion for the cause or the same determination to continue after its popularity has waned. Of course, the amount of actual influence I have on this issue or anything else is far from proportionate to the suffering I endured to get to this point, but who said life is fair?
Maybe the actual reason for everything, though, is found in the words of Paul, who recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:7 that "there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure."
Mid-May marks the five year anniversary of this incarnation of my website, hosted by Weebly, after I moved it from the terrible company Webs that I had used since late 2010. I recently went back to my Webs account to try to recover something I had uploaded there, and they wanted me to take the exact same survey I already took twenty times when I used their company. I kept telling them how dissatisfied I was and they kept not making any improvements. But I took the survey again just to give them another piece of my mind.
Previously, I wrote blog posts whenever I felt like it. When I moved here I set a goal to write one every week, to be consistent so I could (in theory) build up a following. This forced me to adapt a little since I was now forcing myself whether the muse had hit or I had anything in mind to write about or not. The first two years of posts are juvenile garbage in terms of finding my writing voice and political philosophy, but at least I can track my progression and at least they're still better than most of the posts on my old site that are lost to time and won't be missed. The rest of my posts have ranged from occasional garbage, to mostly average, to the occasional gem that I know would have gone viral if anyone besides me had written it. My page views and search ranking have ebbed and flowed and consistently remained nowhere near where I'd like them to be after the countless hours of work I've put into this site. Has it been worth it? No, but if I quit now all that previous effort will have been wasted. So I'm here to stay unless I get hit by a truck or something.
On my home page I introduce myself as an
Autistic Latter-day Saint Author,
"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.