And then the bandages came off…

Last week I was in a training session on Zoom — more precisely, a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion healing session. It was a small group, so as we went around and introduced ourselves, we were asked to share something that had brought us joy in the last week.

When my turn came, I had to be honest and say that nothing had brought me joy in the last week; that the dark tunnel kept getting longer and the light farther away. I was able to mention something that had given me a little lift —a blog I found here called Mickey’s Journey. Mickey’s parent posts pictures of his latest accomplishments and they are very touching. I see joy in those pictures that I have lost.

I have been struggling to come up with a metaphor for how I have been processing the autism diagnosis I received eighteen months ago (at age 57). The first few months were a honeymoon period of relief — but since then, a new reality has been sinking in.,

I just remembered a scene from M*A*S*H that seems to sum it up. Colonel Potter is telling one of his many WW1 stories. After being wounded in an explosion, he spends a month in a French hospital with bandages over his eyes. He is tended by a nurse called Colette and is very comforted by the sound of her voice and the touch of her hand. (For context, Potter, BJ, Hawkeye, Frank and Radar are stranded overnight in a broken-down bus and are passing the time sharing tales of “When love conquered all.”) Then the day comes for the bandages to be removed. And there she is. Colette. And obviously nowhere near as attractive as Potter had expected, because he jokes, “I pretended I was still blind!” He then goes on to say that love did indeed conquer all, but he “couldn’t have done it without the bandages.”

Nurse Colette represents my life — and all the things I have done. All the things I have cared about. All the things that have given me comfort. But now that the bandages are off, it does not look so good. There was a time — not so long ago — I had no regrets. Now I regret almost everything — all the way back to my first choice on my university application at age 17. I have made poor choices for friends, hobbies, education and jobs. I have allowed myself to be influenced by people who did not have my best interests at heart. I have allowed myself to be comforted by watching TV and drinking wine. I have filled dozens of notebooks with writing that no one will ever read.

Life is pretty decent right now. I have a good job that I can do from home. And I live in a nice neighborhood. But I have had a lot of disappointments and sadness along the way. And I have embarrassed myself so frequently without realizing it at the time. I can not think of a single event that does not make me cringe to think about. And on top of all that, despite having been using the internet since the early 1990s, I have become very fearful of being online, something that is almost impossible to avoid now. At least three times a week I am terrorized by fears that one of my accounts/devices has been hacked. Every surprise behavior of my iPhone prompts several hours of research to reassure myself it is either expected behavior or an annoying iOS bug. Unfortunately, my job is in IT, so my newsfeeds are always full of reports of the latest zero-day vulnerabilities and zero-click malware attacks on one platform or another. I am in a permanent state of fear.

I am not one for video games because my hand-eye coordination is lousy and my reactions are too slow. But sometimes I have had puzzle apps on my phone or iPad where I just try to top my best score. Most apps allow you to abandon a game without seeing it through to the end. Once I realize a game has gone off the rails and that I am not going to beat my best score, I tend to abandon the game rather than waste any more time with it. If my life were one of these games, I would probably abandon it and start over.

But I suppose I could put those bandages back on 🤕

Dancing Dreams

There is a little girl in my neighborhood I often see when I walk past her house. I would guess her to be eight years old, but tall for her age. She is very pretty with long blonde hair that falls in ringlets to her waist. She is very energetic and I usually witness her skipping and jumping around the front yard, waving and flapping her hands as she goes. She always looks to be happily immersed in her own universe.

I recognize this behavior. As a child, I did it myself. As I got older, I did get the message that it was strange behavior, so I sought out more private locations to dance my daydreams. In winter, I took advantage of the fact that all the houses we lived in lacked central heating, so there was always a cold room I could have to myself. My grandparents’ house had a covered veranda I could enjoy on rainy days while everyone else was in the living room on the other side of the house. At night, I would often keep the light off for additional privacy.

But I sometimes forgot myself. One evening I could not contain myself and skipped back and forth in the kitchen which had a large, wide window. Our neighbor saw me and shook his head and rolled his eyes. It was very embarrassing as I was fifteen years old at the time.

When I was little, my dancing dreams were often of riding horses. But as I got older they were about hanging out with imaginary friends, some of whom were loosely based on people I knew and worshipped from a distance. As an adult, my dancing dreams became more about trying to imagine myself accomplishing something — and I dialed down the energy, pacing instead of skipping.

I still pace on a daily basis. And I actually find it productive sometimes. Yesterday, I was struggling with a coding project and each time I got stuck I got up from my chair and paced around until my brain clicked into gear (working at home allows me do this whenever I want.) When I am depressed, I can sometimes “talk myself back to happiness” by pacing and having out-loud conversations with imaginary people.

Every now and then, I succumb to dancing dreams — usually after I have had several glasses of wine. I grab my iPod Touch, put in the earbuds, and find tunes on YouTube to take me someplace else. I turn out the lights so that I do not cast incriminating shadows onto the window blinds. And the next morning I feel silly.

I always say hello to the little girl. Sooner or later, someone will make fun of her and she will have to be more mindful of where she enjoys her dancing dreams. I suspect I will not be seeing her much longer.

Early grave

My workplace has seen several crises in the last few months, all of which directly affect me. One of them was particularly bad, but I am unable to discuss with anyone outside the organization until the lawyers are done drafting the official statement to go public with.

I went in to the office today, to better deal with one of the other less serious problems that I discovered yesterday. I vented with my boss a bit — and then felt bad, because his load is much worse than mine, and I am unable to help him much, because he does not share much with me. Although I know he appreciates me as an employee, I suspect he does not actually like me personally and tries to avoid dealing with me as much as possible. So our relationship is very tense right now.

My bus home from downtown Seattle was almost empty and I was able to enjoy a podcast. I got off near a waterfront pub for an impromptu pint of cider. The pub is nice and quiet inside but there is plenty to see outside. A nice overcast day over Puget Sound.

It has been one of those days when I really question the wisdom of living a healthy lifestyle. An early grave seems like a pretty good idea, if you ask me.

Hence the cider. Cheers!

A very different time

It is hard to remember life before smartphones and social media. But in 2001, my TV was my main connection with the outside world. I was unemployed after June and had no internet connection at home. On 9/11, I was just dallying at home all day with the TV off. I did not turn on the TV until 8pm PDT — and suddenly there was a lot to catch up with.

I am trying to imagine how the events would have unfolded with the technology of today. We are so much more reactive now because we get so much more information so much more quickly. Instead of an unlikely accident on an otherwise ordinary day, perhaps the situation would already have been escalated to a horrific extraordinary day on which anything might happen; and the South Tower would have been evacuated immediately after the first plane struck the North Tower; and people would have streamed out of Lower Manhattan by any means possible. Perhaps both towers might have been evacuated at the first suggestion of highjacked airliners headed for New York City. But the outcome might have been even worse, with terrorists leveraging social media to creat panic and chaos.

I watched the 9/11 movie recently released on Apple TV+. It documents how the events unfolded from the perspective of the Bush White House. Hard to believe now, but in 2001, Air Force One relied on terrestrial TV broadcast signals — so the president only got a viewable signal while Air Force One was over a city.

A very different time indeed.

October all year round

Today was Labor Day, the last holiday of American summer, and the weather was perfect in Seattle. I enjoyed a long walk along the waterfront of West Seattle, looking across Elliott Bay to downtown Seattle. Although there were a few masks in sight, you could almost imagine that there had never been a pandemic and that this was a normal holiday.

Many years ago, I worked at a gift shop in Pioneer Square. And on Labor Day, the crowds would be thick everywhere you went. Long lines for coffee and takeout food. Underground Tour participants taking up all the space at intersections. And lots of people milling about in our store. And then if the Mariners were playing, there was the baseball crowd on top of that. It was always utter mayhem!

Looking across to the Smith Tower, I could imagine that same mayhem today. Perhaps it really is different now. But I was glad to not have to be over there anyway. The place I worked at still exists, and it was hard enough in those days to get customers to cooperate with our request that food and drinks not be brought into the store. It is amazing how many people get quite emotionally unhinged when told they can not do something. I would hate to have to be policing masks. Although Seattle is operating under minimal restrictions, indoor mask mandates were reinstated a couple of weeks ago.

Labor Day ushers in my favorite time of year. I make no secret of the fact that I really do not care for summer. It is not just the heat that bothers me, but the late sunsets. We can still get a heatwave in September, but it is much less likely AND the sun sets well before 8pm, so hot days cool off more quickly. So I go from my least favorite part of the year (June/July/August) to my favorite part of the year (Sept/Oct/Nov/Dec) in the space of a few days.

Then in January begins my second least favorite part of the year (January/February). But this has nothing to do with the weather. It is just that in my job, I get bombarded with really annoying reporting tasks as we close out the old year. AND, I have to gear up for filing incoming taxes, something I dread even though my taxes are fairly simple. My impaired executive function fails me frequently at this time. Anyway, I always try to get my taxes filed by the end of February. And then I have March, April and May to enjoy (sort of) before the dreaded summer returns.

I really wish it could be October all year round.

Just falling asleep

Yesterday I had a dental appointment first thing in the morning. And it was time to take x-rays. When the lead apron was draped over me, I felt this sudden calm wash over me. I sleep with a weighted blanket, but it is quite a bit lighter. I wished I could have had the lead apron on for the entire appointment. Next time, I might actually ask!

My bedtime routine is undergoing some adjustment. For the last six years, I have been watching M*A*S*H. I have all eleven seasons on DVD, although many of the discs are very temperamental from wear and tear. Well, now my portable DVD player is acting up. I only bought it three years ago, but it was a rather cheap model (I was amazed it was still possible to buy a DVD player at all) — and it has seen a LOT of use. I could look into getting a USB-connected DVD player to plug into my Chromebook, but that would hardly be convenient in my bedroom. So I decided to bit the bullet and try bedtime without M*A*S*H.

I always take my iPod Touch to bed with me because it serves as my alarm clock. So now I am collecting podcasts to listen to. I used to be a huge podcast junkie. But now that I work from home, I do not need to load up on podcasts to for my bus commute (that can be ridiculously long for the distance when Seattle traffic is gridlocked.) So, I am not sure what I want to listen to these days (apart from the various Ted Lasso podcasts.)

I found a really interesting podcast called The Rise And Fall Of Mars Hill, about the megachurch that was once a phenomenon in Seattle. But I have kept falling asleep about twenty minutes in, even though I find it really interesting. I am finding myself nodding off very quickly to other podcasts as well.

Perhaps I have rediscovered this crazy idea of just going to bed and falling asleep 😴 How wild is that?

The turn of the earth

Christopher Eccelstone is often overlooked amongst the Doctors of the 21st century — probably because he only appeared in one season — and the first season of the reboot to boot (sorry, could not resist!) But he has some memorable lines.

Rose: If you’re an alien, how come you sound like you’re from the North?

Doctor: Lots of planets have a North.

In that first episode, Rose keeps pressing the Doctor to tell her who he really is. And this is where we first hear about him “feeling the turn of the earth”. It is a very amazing idea to entertain.

One summer evening, I lay down on the grass in a park in Seattle and watched the sun going down over the Olympic Mountains. The light was filtered enough by haze that the sun was easy to look at. And as it sunk slowly down behind the mountains, I was able to imagine I was feeling the turn of the earth.

In graduate school, I took a class in physical oceanography which was my first mathematical encounter with the Coriolis force. The strength of this force is dependent on latitude (zero at Equator, maximum at Poles) and velocity. Fast-moving objects, such as baseballs and artillery shells, can see measurable deflection from the Coriolis force in just a matter of seconds. However, slow-moving currents of air or water may require at least one full rotation of the earth in order to register a deflection. But as long as the earth keeps turning, the Coriolis force affects how air and water move, deflecting transfer of fluid to the right, north of the equator, and to the left, south of the equator.

It was also in that class that I first encountered the thermohaline circulation of the global oceans, whereby differences in density of ocean water, driven by differences in temperature and salinity, cause water to sink — especially in the North Atlantic, where this sinking event helps support a poleward flow of relatively warm water towards Europe. The Gulf Stream, as it is known, is credited for keeping the winters of the British Isles remarkably mild given the high latitude (despite Britons insisting that their winters are cold.) Back in 1991, this flow driven by the sinking of cold water was known as the Atlantic Conveyor. Nowadays, it has earned a fancier name — Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation — with an obligatory acronym, AMOC. (An old joke at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration is that NOAA actually stands for the National Association for the Advancement of Acronyms. And is true that earth/ocean/atmospheric science is awash with acronyms.)

This week, we learned that AMOC might be showing signs of weakening due to global warming. Warmer ocean temperatures and lower salinity due to runoff of glacial melt from Greenland threatens to reduce the rate of sinking. And this could disrupt the global thermohaline circulation of the oceans, with concurrent disruption of climate systems in many parts of the world.

The global conveyor of the ocean moves very slowly. A parcel of water sinking in the North Atlantic will eventually start to drift south along the ocean floor, crossing the Equator, and continuing towards Antarctica from where it may continue its journey into the Indian or Pacific Oceans. At some point in its journey, it will find its way back to the surface. But on average, this requires around a thousand years. Quite simply, water sinking off Greenland today would not be expected to surface again until around the year 3000.

In that class, I also learned of the two viewpoints from which we may consider fluid flow. For example, with water flowing in a river, we can view from the perspective of someone standing on a bridge above the river (Eulerian); or we can take the perspective of someone in a boat being carried along by the river (Lagrangian). The latter is more applicable when developing systems of equations from basic principles; but the Eulerian viewpoint is more convenient when it comes to solving the equations,

So why am I writing about this? In a post with the #autism tag? Well, this is the kind of stuff that really tickles the happier parts of my autistic brain. Right now, ocean water is surfacing, somewhere far from the British Isles, that might have sank in the North Atlantic the very same day when Harold took that arrow in the eye at the Battle of Hastings. From the Lagrangian perspective, that parcel of water has a memory of the last thousand years.

Feeling the turn of the earth is Lagrangian. And that must be very profound for someone like the Doctor who operates mainly in the Eulerian framework (setting coordinates in time and space).

Scientists are not expecting AMOC to suddenly shut down anytime soon — although they can not be sure. But I have rather enjoyed thinking about — after all these years.

Gentle weather

My favorite shirt has detachable sleeves which allows me to wear it as a lightweight waistcoat in summer. But today I got to put the sleeves back on.

Usually by the end of July I have “summer fatigue” and reverse-SADS. It’s not just the heat that wears me down. It’s the bright sun and the long hours of daylight. But the record heatwave we went through in Seattle at the end of June obviously added to the stress. So the cloudy drizzly weather I woke up to was most welcome. And it looks like staying that way this afternoon with temps in the low 20s degC.

I moved to Seattle to find a kind of weather that is becoming elusive. It is a weather that is possibly the least harmful to people – but most frequently complained of.

It is gentle weather. Temperatures somewhere between 8-15 deg C with cloudy skies, light winds, and rain that can be kept off with a light rain jacket and hood.

Twenty years ago, this kind of weather could be found in any month of the year in Seattle. But summers are getting hotter, sunnier and drier — and are lasting longer. Meanwhile, autumn, winter and spring rains are showing up as intense deluges that no rain gear is a match for.

I have never understood why my preferred gentle weather goes so unappreciated. It is perfect for running, cycling, hiking and other outdoor activities. It is nice weather for gardening. It is even good weather for washing the car. But it is also nice weather to have when you are stuck inside working, studying, or just curled up on the couch feeling bad.

However, since that big heatwave of June, I have noticed more people saying that they will never again complain about cool, cloudy weather in summer. But I fear that gentle weather is becoming a thing of the past — and will not be fully appreciated until it is gone for ever.

Normal Saturday

Washington State lifted all COVID-19 restrictions on June 30. So for the last two weekends, my Seattle neighborhood has largely reopened for business. And I have been most happy to resume my Saturday visit to a taproom. It has actually been open for several months under capacity and social distancing restrictions, but that meant limited seating at tables for four. And as I am usually a party of one, I don’t feel comfortable taking up a table by myself. But now, the stools are back at the bar and along the perimeter shelves — and I have been able to take up my favorite perch from where I can see the whole bar area, the TV, and the street outside.

Social distancing was actually hard on us parties of one because so much casual seating was done away with in order to provide adequately spaced tables for groups.

The last time I was in this pub, before the COVID-19 shutdown of March 2020, I was waiting on the results of my autism diagnosis. So last weekend was my first back in my old routine since the diagnosis.

Nothing has changed. I still feel like I don’t quite fit in — that I will never be one of the regulars. But I am no longer going to let that spoil the experience. Every once in a while, I do manage to have an enjoyable conversation with a stranger. I don’t think that will happen today. But I have my phone — so can pass the time blogging.

Executive function OK – for a change

Executive function has been failing me too often of late. But the last few days have reassured me that there are situations I navigate as well as anyone else, if not better.

Seattle has just been through a record-setting heatwave, with the temperature topping out at around 42C (108F) on Monday, the third day in a row that temperatures broke 100F. Like most Seattlites, I live without air conditioning AND my top floor apartment soaks up the heat all day long and is very slow to cool down overnight. I have been through several big heatwaves in the nineteen years I have lived in this apartment, but nothing like this one.

On Thursday, while temperatures were still unremarkable, I stocked up at the grocery store so that I would not have to go out for several days. (Going to the grocery store involves a long walk up a steep hill with little shade.) I pulled out the two long, baggy shirts that I wear around my apartment during hot weather. And I loaded up my iPod Touch with podcasts.

My living room has a large window which faces south-southeast, so it warms up very early in the day. But my front door is in an alcove that opens on the opposite site of the building which is in shade until late afternoon — so it can be quite pleasant to sit out there until around 3pm. So I set up my folding table and chair and did several hours of writing on my iPad on Saturday and Sunday morning. I made great progress on a novel I started a couple of months ago. But eventually I had to come back inside.

The only thing to do was lie down in the bedroom and listen to podcasts. The window faces east-northeast, and so that room is rather cave-like in the afternoon with the blinds closed. I wish that could make it cooler, but by the afternoon it is the most comfortable part of my apartment. Temperatures were high enough that running a fan just makes you hotter – unless you are soaked with cold water. I always keep plastic bottles of frozen water in my freezer. They are a good emergency supply of water. And in hot weather, I like to have a couple out near the fan to cool the air as it blows over them. Moisture in the air readily condenses on them, so every few minutes I can wipe my hand over them and get a nice amount of ice cold water to splash over me. When the ice in the bottles was almost melted (something that happened alarmingly quickly) I put them back in the freezer and brought out two frozen ones. And each time I went to the kitchen I made another cup of ginger-lemon tea to pour over ice in a twenty-ounce beaker.

Heatwaves at this time of the year are the worst because sunset is at 9:11pm so it is not dark until almost 10pm. But once the sun goes down, my building usually starts to feel a breeze from the water, and I relocated to my chair outside the front door to listen to podcasts there. Unfortunately, if cool air does find its way into my apartment it does not stay cool very long because of all the stored heat being radiated from the wall, but eventually the cool air does win. So I prepared to sleep on the floor of my living room right by the front door — with the door propped slightly ajar and a fan pulling air in. And I soaked a t-shirt in cold water to drape across me. Each night I woke up around 2am feeling sufficiently comfortable to discard the damp t-shirt and cover myself properly with a sheet.

On Monday, the hottest day, I started work (at home) around 6:30am and stopped around noon. But I checked email every hour or so, and unfortunately there was something that needed my attention at 3:30pm. Once I was done with that, I signed off and closed up the laptop.

Yesterday morning (Tuesday), I woke up at 2am and was actually cold. A marine push from the Pacific Ocean had finally shoved that heat dome to the east and north. I was able to turn off the fan and close the door. And I knew the worst was over.

I had been worried about my cat, because she is seventeen. But she did fine, sleeping in a spot that obviously worked for her and getting up occasionally to eat, drink and use the litter box. I basically emulated her behavior. I was lucky not to have the power go out on me at all. There were several isolated power outages in Seattle. My modem did get rather hot, so I kept a fan blowing on it. My iPod Touch ran hot also, so I propped it up against the fan that was blowing air on me.

While I was lying down in my sweltering apartment, I did think of less fortunate people: those who were working; those who had someplace they needed to travel; those who live far from the evening breezes by the water; those who lost electric power for hours; those who could not feel safe going to sleep with windows and the front door open. (And hundreds of people ended up dying.) All I really needed to do to take care of myself was lie down and keep still, splash cold water on myself, and keep the iced tea coming. But it was tough, all the same.

I hope I never have to go through this ever again. But I must admit that I rather enjoyed the enforced downtime. Some of the podcasts I listened to really helped me regroup after the anxiety of the last few weeks. And I am very happy with the writing I did. A difficult chapter suddenly found a direction I had not even though of a week ago. I feel motivated to finish this novel so that the inspiration does not go to waste.

I think I did OK.