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View From A Hole & Gainful Employment II (by William Matheson)
Once in a while I have one of those experiences where I feel like I'm trapped in a hole with no way out. Perhaps you can understand this. The inside of my head is made up of black space with two eye-holes at the front - even when I'm dreaming, the experience is more of a transparency against the black background. Is that normal?
Well, it really doesn't matter, because I can still function perfectly well regardless. There'll always be that one kid in the line at the Weird Al concert who'll say, "You're weird!" (and just now I realize what a delightful, though wholly unintentional, pun that was) but with most people I can have experiences with lots of smiles, provided I'm not overwhelmed at the time. All of high school was overwhelming in its way, which didn't really give me space to achieve anything much until I got elected to Student's Council - one of the most fortunate things to happen to me, even if a third of my votes came from people who just wanted to screw up the school. (For more on my high school career, check out the "A View from the Solarium" collection.)
I was inspired to collect my thoughts on Asperger's Syndrome after reading this great article at Wired. It's very well researched, and it made me feel at once afflicted and fortunate. In emotional terms, I think the difference between Asperger's Syndrome and full-blown Autism is that someone was kind enough to jackhammer a hole through my mental cement to allow me to function sort of normally. I still have a few atypical shortcomings, of course.
Socializing is one of my worst, but I've found that I can break through a lot of barriers now thanks to my better attitude, better haircut, and decent beard. I've stumbled onto smiling and I feel freer than I've ever been. I'm better at parties than I used to be. From experience, I've gotten comfortable talking to strangers. Having a lot of people surrounding me to pick on me can be overwhelming, though. In high school, people would do it just to see me in distress.
I also have a terrible time with eye contact. Somehow, it's just not my thing. I actually see it as an invasion of privacy. Whenever I talk to someone, my eyes dart every which way except into theirs. On some level, I do it because I don't want to look like I like them too much - so I have a nerological tendancy compounded by a psychological one. But when things are happy in my mind, I can force myself past the well of AS and have a wonderful experience. I've also discovered that setting is more important than the substance I may or may not be using at the time, which is an extremely useful discovery. When I do make prolonged eye contact, it's usually for someone special.
Sometimes I can't tell when the appropriate time to say something is. Two examples spring to my mind. First, just working at the hay with my father, I've run into occaisional trouble. My father was attaching his little hayslide attachment to the side of the wagon with a rubber bungee cord, and when it snapped in two, I started to say, "Well, that-" but got a swift rebuffal with, "That is not the appropriate time to make a comment," which basically ruined the next half-hour of my morning. At least I was twenty, so he didn't slap me in the face like he would have five years ago. The second clear example is from back in the kitchen at Clearsprings, after having been majorly chewed out for saying something in the dining room that I shouldn't have (which wasn't really that big a deal, I think, because contrary to popular belief, most diners have a sense of humour. At least all my guests did. Not a one of them was displeased with me, and I did quite well on tips), and being put to tears ("It's just that sometimes I feel like I have to say something and I don't know what -" "THEN DON'T!! (insert tirade)"), I stumbled back into the kitchen, and having decided that I could NOT deal with the emotional duress anymore, I cried out, "If you're going to fire me, just fire me!"
Her reply involved pointing to the porch and screaming, and I quote, "GET IN THERE!"
"You have emotional problems, young man! (insert second tirade)"
"Why don't you grow up!?"
"I don't have to do this with my other employees, only you!"
She never broke a capillary like that at her other employees, and especially not her son. And if she was ever mad at Jolene, the other daytime server, she'd extend it to me, too, just to make me feel that much more miserable. It's almost a year later as I compose this, and I have tears in my eyes. Perhaps if Kumari could have seen that I was doing well outside of the kitchen, maybe she would have been more willing to forgive my mistakes.
It's not really a job I should have been doing in the first place though, because I'm not particularly good at multitasking with focus and calmness, which are qualities that a waiter must have. Sure, I was great with the customers, but if I had to keep track of more than one thing at a time (which often happened), things went amiss and the rest of the kitchen staff had to make up for my inadequacies, which wasn't fair to them, and I think everyone but Jolene ended up resenting me by the end of the work term.
In the end I'm glad I stuck with the insanity because I had some very rewarding experiences with the guests, and it was kind of nice to be doing something in that long slow summer of 2001. I also forgive Kumari for all her yellings and screamings at me, because I think being stuck in that kitchen from 10:30-5:30 three days a week, and 10:30-11:00 four days a week, with maybe two days off through July and August - made being a quality chef "not fun anymore." Her own words, over the phone, after having yelled at me for having emotional problems. (To balance the ledger, read about a very good night I had at the restaurant in this diary entry.)
If anyone has a problem with what I've written here, please bear these things in mind - 1) I had the sense to avoid writing a positively ugly "Gainful Employment II" in September, which would have made things at the restauraunt look even worse and 2) nobody visits this website, so I'm not really hurting anybody.
One night I was at Sarah's house and I completely made an ass of myself. For a reason that I'll leave to your imagination, my brain kicked into overdrive and I couldn't stop spewing forth words to analyze everything in front of me (the idea might have been to discover the meaning of life, but perhaps I'm not desitined to do that until I become a graduate student). In Joe's words, I was taking up way too much thoughtspace. Here's a paraphrasing of a message I wrote to Joe about it:
I behave perfectly fine when among people I already know quite well. Most of my family has no perception of the social difficulties I encounter elsewhere.
I have the capability to balance myself - but I don't do it sometimes because I feel like I have to preform and be interesting. I know that's flawed reasoning, but [where I was] is good for making flawed reasoning seem like genius.
Now, that still makes everything still my fault because I thought I could get by, when in fact I couldn't. Every night [in a sort] among the public turns out miserable - you'd think I could take a hint, but I kept thinking that maybe I'd stumble onto the meaning of life. Well, (surprise) it didn't happen.
Anyway, I apologize for everything I've put you through, and I hope you'll accept my apology someday.
I don't treat you like a person like I should either. I've been treating you like a repository of genius for the last two years. I'm sorry for that too, and from now on I'm going to change that, and I'm not going to feel like I have to ask for your insight on every little thing.
It's funny, I consider you a friend, yet you see the consistently worst - obsessive, compulsives, rude, annoying... sides of me. That's fucked up.
I can't explain why I am the way I am sometimes, but at any rate I am going to stop acting like a thing ... and I think I started acting like a thing because it was the only way to get recognition. But there are so many other nice and sensible and unobtrusive ways to get recognition out there, and besides my methods were geared for situations that don't exist in real life.
So the next time I go to a party or go out with people I don't know too well, I will strive for "less is more." It irritates me to have to say that, because my problems go beyond that, but that's the outward symptom, so I might as well treat it, even though it's not a cure for my affliction. I'll still talk a lot, but not every second and I will keep most thoughts to myself. I do this a lot already, but just not when it counts the most. Frankly, I'm amazed you're all still sort of willing to put up with me.
Anyway, I hope you have a nice dinner (kind of late, isn't it?) and I hope your [issue] goes smoothly (I don't forsee that, but at least I can hope for it), and hopefully I'll talk to you later. Bye.
Everything is worthwhile, though, for the times where I make it out of my hole and make a profound connection with someone. Those experiences are what make life worth living, and perhaps living them less makes me appreciate those magical moments more than most.
And I've learned to smile.
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