Tired of starting over

Day Eleven of my Dry January. I started a few days late. But I still plan to go through to February 3. As usual, I am not experiencing anything remarkable to encourage me to think beyond then. Earlier this week, I did fancy I felt a bit happier and less anxious — and wondered if a week without wine had helped. But yesterday and today, I woke up back in the dark place, wishing I had not (woken up, that is.)

The weather is rather pleasant lately. Dry and mild with periods of sunshine and light winds — a nice change from the winter storms that have been slamming Seattle for weeks. So I have revised my midday walking route to take in a stairway for some climbing exercise. And I have started doing an early evening exercise routine after finishing work for the day. Some light aerobics. I have been enjoying it and want to get some light hand weights to make it a little more work. I am much more likely to stick with exercise than not drinking — that I am pretty sure of.

Work has been a little dispiriting. My job involves a lot of brain work. Usually I enjoy it, because it is interesting. But lately I have had too many days with little to show for my efforts at the end of the day, because one idea after another has not yielded results. My boss understands and he certainly has plenty of days (and even weeks or months) that go that way for him. But it gets me down. My brain could use a short-term change of scenery. I would love to spend a couple of weeks doing something relatively easy so that I could plow through a pile of work and feel good at the end of the day. I had a Teams meeting with my boss today — and I do not feel good about it. I tried to explain to him how traumatized I have been by cybersecurity fears over the last few months and how that has been consuming so much of my energy — but I did not do a good job with that. And I feel bad because he has been carrying most of the security load since our cyberattack last summer. He has his own nightmares. But there is really no one else I can talk to about it.

Once I get into a bad groove, I find it very hard to get out of — no matter how good my intentions or how hard I try. In the past, I have only been able to resolve situations by getting out them altogether. Quitting jobs. Moving. But I do not want to have to do that yet another time. I am tired of starting over.

Now that I know I am autistic, I need to find another way.

Things I find difficult

This is something I wrote three years ago — before being diagnosed with autism.

My parents must have feared I would need training wheels on a bicycle into adulthood. I did not have a bike as a child but all my friends did and I was often allowed to take a turn on theirs. But I usually had to borrow a friend’s little brother’s bike — with training wheels. Try as I might, I could not get anywhere on a regular bike. My mother had no sympathy. Said she had learned to ride a bike on one morning. It only took a couple of tries for her to get the hang of it.

At school, children were not allowed to ride a bike to class without first passing something called the Cycling Proficiency Test. In the spring, instructors would come to the school for a series of classes teaching safe bicycling, at the end of which, students were given a field test. My friends brought their bikes to school for the class — and from the confines of the classroom where I did extra schoolwork, I watched with envy as the cycled effortlessly around a training circuit. Why did I find this so hard?

Thankfully, by age twelve I had finally got it which was good because I now needed a bicycle for after-school transportation. I never too the Cycling Proficiency Test and I am sure I would have failed, but my mother persuaded the school to grant me an exemption from the rule, so that I would not have to come home from school to get my bike before riding on to my after-school activity.

I adulthood, I got reasonably comfortable riding a bike for transportation but I would never describe it as fun. My balance is terrible and I am unable to look back over my shoulder without becoming unbalanced. So I usually dismount and wheel the bike across intersections and through situations that need a lot of attention.  I would rather walk any day!

I had much difficulty without swimming also. At age sixteen, I was finally able to dog-paddle, but try as I might, I never progressed further. I do not see what is so laughable about dog-paddling. It is the way most four-legged creatures swim — keeping face safely above water. Needless to say, I do not enjoy swimming either. And when I take a ferry, I make sure to know where the life vests are stowed.

Music instruments also confounded me. I did OK on the recorder (everyone does), but violin, guitar and piano were a disaster. I just do not know how one’s fingers can possibly be made to be in the right place at the right time. My friends who rode bikes effortless also made good progress with the music — enough to play in the school orchestra. I was the one who chime in every now and then with the triangle!

I struggled with computer programming. I was in high school at a time when not all schools had computer labs and I found myself at a big disadvantage in my first college programming class. The other students found it boring and complained that the class was too easy and just a joke — while I struggled with the most basic of assignments. Luckily, I had a series of jobs where I was able to learn coding on the job, starting with simple revisions to existing code until, having seen enough examples, I was able to write my own programs from scratch. But they were never elegant or efficient. Later on, the internet helped me make progress, especially when the only academies showed up. And object-oriented programming seemed more intuitive to me. So this has been a happier experience — but I still struggle to get to the next level.

I am also a slow typist. Not a two-finger find’n’poke typist — I have tested at 40wpm and 9600 kph. But in a quiet office I have very intimidated by the rattling keyboards around me. How the heck do people manage to type so darned fast? I have been typing all my life, but I have gained no speed from all the practice.

What else? Drawing. Learning foreign languages. Multi-tasking of any kind. Oh – driving a car!! (I am so glad to not need to do that where I live now.) Knitting, crocheting and crafts in general. I can do simple things — but can never progress to the next level. Any sports that involve balls — throwing, hitting, catching, bouncing, dribbling. Actually, any sport other than just plain running!

Is there anything I have been able to learn easily? Not really. Although I do not feel I had a hard time with mathematics — but not because I fancy I have a talent for it — but more because the vast majority of people struggle with it more than I do.

I am also fairly decent with mechanics, when I have access to the proper tools. I drove an old British sports-car for a few years and was proud to be able to do almost all my own repairs — even big jobs like replacing the rear springs!

Putting jigsaw puzzles together is something I am good at — although I would not break any speed records. But I am patient and tenacious enough to stick with it until it is done. I have always wished this was were a skill I could apply in the workplace — but the world moves too fast for me to keep up.

Perhaps this is why I did eventually manage to build some competence in auto mechanics and computer programming — even if only at a basic level. Both involve figuring out how pieces of a puzzle fit together — and both can require a lot of patience and tenacity to get the job done.

But with other things, bike-riding, swimming, foreign languages, crocheting, etc., it either clicks with practice — or it does not. And for me, I just does not.

Finally — and this is the thing that has the biggest problem — I do not understand the glue that binds most people together. I do not understand the obligation to go home for Christmas or Thanksgiving or whatever. I do not understand birthday celebrations once you have come of age, with the exception of landmark birthdays, e.g. fortieth, fiftieth, or until you are past the age of eighty, by when every year is something of an accomplishment.

I do not understand painful coming-of-age rituals; or family naming conventions for children, such as all boy names beginning with M and all girl names beginning with K; or naming a baby for one of your religion’s gods or prophets; or eldest sons sharing the same first and second names in a succession Jr., III, IV, etc. I also do not understand the fascination with family trees and genealogy — although I do enjoy the TV show Finding Your Roots.

Some people insist it is because I am English and not the product of an immigrant experience. But I do not understand the glue that binds English people together either!

In my late thirties I had a few life-altering experiences that go me interested in reincarnation. And I encountered people who volunteered to give me readings, from which two major ideas emerged:

  • Although most people have had many millions of lives, my past lives number just a few dozen
  • Most people incarnate in groups, varying in size from a few dozen to several million — but I am a lone soul

Whether either of those ideas is true, one can never know. But my difficulties do make sense in light of them. Each time you learn to ride a bike or play the piano, it comes to you a little more easily. After several thousand lives, it is more a matter of remembering than learning. And when you have been incarnating with the same group of souls for a long sequence of lives, you come to accept their norms as normal without having to think much about them.

I just haven’t had much practice at life!

(I continue to wonder if my flavor of autism is simply an outcome of being a young soul in a complicated modern world.)

Out of the comfort zone

Today was a rare day off work for me. I needed to go to the post office and do some Christmas shopping. My Christmas list is very, very short — all of two people — but those people are very hard to buy for because they have everything. Last weekend, the shops in my neighborhood were crowded so I decided I needed a weekday to take care of everything.

I got to the post office shortly after it opened and there was already a line for counter services. But I only needed stamps so I was able to use the self-service kiosk in the lobby. Then I went in search of breakfast.

In the twenty years I have lived here, I have never had breakfast at the local cafe so well-known for it, although I do sometimes get a latte to go. On weekends, the wait to get a table for breakfast can be very long. And this morning, the cafe was very busy. But there was an empty stool at the counter, so I decided to give it a try. And I enjoyed very good scrambled eggs with hash browns and several refills of coffee.

While I was there, I thought about my hesitation to patronize these funky, independent cafes — and how I so often end up at Starbucks. In Seattle, a lot of people would not be caught dead in a Starbucks and I sometimes have to defend my choice. My defense has been easier with the pandemic. The Starbucks mobile app is great. The estimated pickup time is very accurate and my order has been correct every single time. When I place an order in person at any coffee shop, I am often mis-heard. I have a very soft voice that does not carry well and my order often comes up wrong. (I cannot tell you how many times I have been given an iced latte when I never even mentioned ice!) Anyway, this has turned out to be an acceptable explanation of my choice to patronize Starbucks.

But even before the pandemic, and even when ordering in person at the counter, the Starbucks routine is rather orderly and predictable — and I consider it to be more autism-friendly than coffee shops where things are chaotic. A lot of people enjoy chaos, but it makes me very nervous and uncomfortable. I like to see some evidence of a process. Even at Starbucks though, when it is very busy, the level of chaos behind the counter can be too much for me. So then I just order a drip coffee — because it is poured and brought to you right away and you do not have to spend minutes waiting around wondering if your cup got knocked on the floor and lost forever.

After paying for my breakfast, I left a cash tip on the counter. But I am nervous about leaving cash unattended. Even though I was at the counter, the woman tending it had her back to where I was sitting much of the time. Over recent years, I have taken to tracking down the staff person who served me to give them the cash in person — to make sure they get it. If the tip gets stolen, then they are cheated of their tip — and they will probably assume I am a mean person who did not leave a tip. But after I did that today, I worried that the woman might think I was trying to draw attention to the large tip I had left. I cannot win either way. If I had just left the cash on the counter, I would have spent the rest of the morning worrying that it got stolen and I was marked as a non-tipper.

The Christmas shopping went OK. I ended up buying some very nice coffee mugs from the cafe with their logo on and found a really nice book at a shop that will be too crowded tomorrow to even think about going in. And I managed to get home before the bad weather moved in. It was a good day off!

Puzzle pleasures

Last night I finished knitting a hat. Not with knitting needles — but on one of those circular looms with pegs that you wrap the yarn around. It suits me well because I do not have to think too hard about what I am doing so I can actually enjoy it. Most handcrafts get me very frustrated. I usually persevere and finish the project. And sometimes I do a good job. But I do not always enjoy it.

Lately I have needed something tactile to do with my hands while watching/listening to videos or podcasts. I made several hats a couple of months ago and just had one more to finish. I still need to secure ends and will try to get that done one night this week so that I can donate them somewhere. Then I can clear my hobby table for a jigsaw puzzle. I thought about buying a new one as I have seen a lot of puzzles in shop window lately — but I do not feel like braving holiday crowds. Perhaps I will just redo a puzzle I already have.

Puzzles are wonderfully comforting. When they are easy, there is the pleasure of seeing them grow quickly. When they are hard, there is the pleasure of knowing they will last for a while.; and then the amazing satisfaction of finding a feature that allows you to make an inroad! I love the feeling of running my fingers over the completed areas and feeling the edges of the pieces. I do not really have a preference for the picture — as long as it is not offensive. And some of the most boring of designs have grown on me by the time I finish the puzzle.

Wintertime is nice for puzzles — when it is dark and dreary outside. But I also enjoy doing a puzzle in summer — enjoying a fragrant breeze from the window on a pleasant evening.

I sure wish it was something I could get paid to do!

Time to write

The Thanksgiving Holiday weekend took me to a dark place. The four-day weekend was most welcome because I have not taken any extended time off since October 2019. There is nothing really stopping me from taking time off. But we have had a lot of crises at work — and if I take time off, those crises will still be waiting for me when I return — and that would really make it hard for me to enjoy a vacation. And within an hour of starting my first day back, I would be stressed and upset and wondering why I bothered. I sometimes wish I had one of those jobs that happens in real time. I used to be friends with a bus driver and when he took two weeks off, someone else drove his route. When he returned from his vacation, there was no work to get caught up with.

Thanksgiving Day itself was not too bad. I took a bus across town to have dinner with friends. The mood on the bus was fine. But then I had a fifteen minute walk along streets that were largely deserted. And there was a tense atmosphere at my friends’ house because one of them had accidentally sliced his hand that morning and spent some time in urgent care getting it treated and bandaged — leaving the other to do all the cooking. And I was not able to be helpful — because I have that autistic habit of just being in the way. I was driven home around 7:30pm and the streets we traveled were deserted. And I arrived home to my dark and chilly apartment. I drank some wine that I probably did not need and watched some music videos on YouTube that took me deeper into the dark place — where I have been since. I do not typically listen to music let alone watch videos. So when I do, it is a sign that something is not right with me.

Last night I went to bed listening to the Films To Be Buried With podcast presented by Brett Goldstein, who plays Roy Kent in Ted Lasso. And the podcasts kept playing. I woke up several times overnight and did not turn off the iPod. Brett’s own voice, rather different from the gruff voice he uses as Roy Kent, is very comforting. Most of the guests I have never heard of. And I am not a movie buff. But it does not matter. It is rather like listening in on an interesting conversation in a coffee shop or pub — something I have been greatly missing. And there are more than 170 episodes, so plenty more to enjoy.

I did a bit of writing yesterday and it lifted my mood a little. But last night I succumbed to wine and music videos again. That will not be happening tonight because I am out of wine. So I am going to try to spend more time writing — and see if I can write myself out of the dark and back into a happier place. I also have not done any arts or crafts for a while. I started a hat on my circular knitting loom last month and perhaps I should finish that while listening to more of Brett’s podcast.

I am not sure what keeps pulling me into dark places. But I think I have a hard time tuning out the angst of the world around me. I have known times in my life when I was facing serious challenges and difficulties and everything was going wrong for me — but the world around me was chugging along pretty well — and I was able to be encouraged and reassured by seeing other people enjoying their lives. That encouragement and reassurance is no longer there. And the prospect of a reintroduction of Covid-19 restrictions just before Christmas does not look good.

My latest writing project concerns a group of guides (angels) and the conversations they have with mortal souls in between lives. It is intended to be a humorous examination of ways humans can manipulate their destiny across many lives. I think about reincarnation a lot. When I hear about a three-year-old child who can play a complete concerto note-perfect, I just assume it is a reincarnated concert pianist with a good memory. No mystery there!!

Rare compliments

“The world would be a better place with more people like you.”

Surprisingly, I have had this comment directed at me a few times. And I always find it surprising because I am much more accustomed to being sermoned about my shortcomings. But every now and then, someone connects with me without any effort required on my part — and they find something to like.

However, there are homilies such as: “it takes all kinds to make a world”; and, “it would be a dull world if we all were the same” — which is probably why that first statement is “more people like you” instead of “all people like you.” But it is an interesting exercise to contemplate what the world might look like if everyone were like me.

  • No personal cars on the road
  • More bus routes with buses running every few minutes
  • A coffee shop or pub (serving craft beers and ciders) on every corner
  • More libraries and used bookstores
  • Smaller grocery stores that only sell basic staples and fruit/veg in season

My guess is that most people would like more of the above in their world. However, if we extrapolate further, we could end up with a landscape that would be unrecognizable:

  • No sports fields, arenas or stadiums — because no one plays or watches sports
  • No restaurants or home-delivered food — because everyone makes their own dinner
  • No passenger air service — because no one travels for pleasure
  • Fewer hotels and accommodations — ditto
  • No theaters or performance auditoriums — because no one attends concerts or plays
  • No movie theaters — because no one goes to the movies
  • No recorded or live music — because everyone listens to podcasts or BBC Radio 4

It would be fun to have an economist determine what the resulting economy might look like!

But perhaps this rare compliment is not about how I live — but more about how I make the person feel. “It’s always a pleasure talking with you” is another thing I hear from such people.

Once again, these are rare compliments — but they mean a lot to me.

Eavesdropping and emotional noise

Lots of Teams and Zoom meetings this week. I do enjoy seeing other faces because I am rather isolated working at home. From my desk in the downtown office I was able to overhear activities and conversations and get a general feel for what is going on. And I never realized how valuable a source of information that is until I started working from home. My boss is pretty easy to work for and I have no major complaints — but he does not share much with me so I only know what is going on with our department from conversations overhead over the cubicle wall. Working from home, I am in the dark about a lot of things.

Outside of work, I also seem to rely on overhearing conversations. Whenever I chat with other people who live in my apartment building, I am stunned at how much they know about planned building maintenance and policy changes, long before I get an official announcement in the mail. Where do they get this stuff from? And they always seem to be on first-name terms with people who I have hardly ever met. Amazing! So when I notice two or more people having a lengthy discussion outside, I am often tempted to eavesdrop in case it is something I might need to know about.

When I read our local community blog, which actually serves as the local newspaper (it is operated by two professional journalists with decades of experience covering Seattle news in print, radio and TV media and is excellent as a news source), I do actually read the comment threads. I know some people consider that a waste of time. Just read the article and ignore the comments which are just full of idiotic remarks from people with nothing better to do. Well, I find it useful to get a barometer of the overall reaction to a piece of news. For example, whenever a new Covid-19 measure is implemented, I obviously need to know what is expected of me. But it is equally important for me to be able to assess the level of potential anger out there — so that I can perhaps avoid public places where confrontations might be expected.

Perhaps eavesdropping allows me to anticipate the level and nature of emotional noise that I will have to contend with. Emotional noise has been a big challenge during the pandemic. Even though things appear to have returned to normal operations in Seattle, albeit with an indoor-mask mandate, they do not feel normal. I was enjoying visiting coffee shops and bars for a few months — when people were able to sit outside and I had plenty of space inside. But now that the summer weather is gone, more people are sitting inside — and bars and restaurants are now required to check for proof of vaccination. So I am not going out to pubs anymore. Witnessing a confrontation between staff and customer would spoil the experience.

However, yesterday I found myself in a Starbucks where the emotional noise was surprisingly comfortable. I had ordered my latte and pastry via the mobile app and was prepared to take it somewhere else. But there were plenty of empty tables so I decided to stay. In one corner was a young woman working on a laptop (it looked like she was studying rather than casual browsing.) At the next table was another young woman with a little girl. The little girl was enjoying looking through a picture book. And closer to me was an elderly man who had brought a chunky hard-back book but spent about twenty minutes scrolling on his smartphone before putting it away and just looking out the window — which is what I was doing. There was a steady stream of customers coming in and going out. It reminded me of the energy I reliably encountered in coffee shops twenty years ago. It is nice to know that pockets of such energy can still emerge and survive for an hour or so — so I guess I will just enjoy it when I can find it!

The folly of it

Veterans’ Day is observed at my workplace so I am home today. Actually, I am home every day. But I am not working. Well, I did log in and work for about an hour this morning because I had a task that is best done outside of business hours. After that, I went for a walk to beat the incoming rain (which I can now hear outside) — and I am resolved not to think about work for the rest of the day.

None of my immediate family ever served in the military. My mother encouraged me to think about the military as an alternative to university. I was the first person in my family to attend university. And if I had joined the military, I would have been the first to do that also!

I wonder how autistic people fare in the armed services. I am sure the structured life and work would be helpful. And I find discipline easier to bear when I can see that it applies to everyone. Wearing the same clothes every day is one less thing to have to think about. On the other hand, I am not always quick to realize when I should just shut up and be quiet. I can see myself mouthing off at a 4-star general and ending up with a dishonorable discharge!

Military life is something I do not think a civilian such as myself (from a non-military family) can every truly understand. But I find it fascinating. I am currently watching a documentary series on PBS called American Veteran. The first episode was about basic training (boot camp). The very thought of it is intimidating and I am pretty sure I would have washed out after a couple of days. But if I did manage to make it through, I am sure I would have been better equipped for civilian life also. (Perhaps we need a civilian version of boot camp.) Someone once told me that in was in boot camp that he learned how to pack a bag with all his stuff in a just a couple of minutes — a skill that was a godsend when he traveled as a businessman and had to change plans at a moment’s notice.

Last night, I watched the next two episodes which explored the experience of being deployed to war and then coming home afterwards. The oldest veteran described being part of the D-Day Invasion and it was emotional. There were several Vietnam veterans. But most of the veterans had seen their active service in Iraq or Afghanistan. Amongst the veterans featured, women were well represented, as were African Americans and Native Americans. Some made the transition back to civilian life very well, capitalizing on their acquired skills and experience with a confidence that is amazing. Others had sad stories of PTSD and other obstacles.

It seems like nothing prepares you for the experience of actually killing a person.

An interesting homecoming story concerned a Native American woman from Montana who had served in the US Army. A tribal gathering met her at the airport. An elder presented her with a war bonnet. At first she declined to put it on because women are not permitted to the wear the war bonnet. But he explained that she was a warrior and entitled to wear it — and she put it on. And two traditions briefly intersected.

I once watched the Festival of Remembrance on TV. It takes place in the Royal Albert Hall and concludes with the dropping of poppy petals from the roof while the audience stands in silence. The audience is requested not to brush petals off their clothing — just to let them pile up. Each petal represents a dead soldier. Around one million red petals are dropped — and just when you think it is over, another red cloudburst explodes — and you begin to feel that it is never going to be over — and you have to cry. As a visual commentary it is very powerful. Amongst those petals are tens of thousands of Indian and Irish soldiers who died for Britain on the understanding that they would be granted independence. But that promise was not kept. And men from German-controlled east Africa found themselves having to fight men from the British-controlled territory next door — in a conflict that they had nothing to do with. The colonial powers of Europe reached out to every nook and cranny of their empires to gain whatever leverage they could.

If nothing in military training prepares you for the experience of actually killing someone, I will bet nothing prepares you for the overall folly of certain wars either.

To World War None.

Saving the dream

My ideal place to live would be a small town on a sheltered inlet of a west coast at a latitude somewhere between 55 and 70 degrees, i.e. comparable to Scotland and Norway. (Or the bottom end of South America.) Winters: mild, cloudy, rainy with some snow. Summers: cool, cloudy, rainy, i.e. un-summery weather most of the time. I could wear the same clothes year round but with a warmer raincoat and boots in the winter. I use the word “sheltered” because these coastal areas at these latitudes can be incredibly windy and wind makes rain hard to enjoy.

The town would be physically small enough to not need a car and I would easily be able to walk to supermarket, pharmacy, library, post office, bank, etc. There would be a small assortment of pubs and coffee shops for me to spend time in. And there would a few things like bookstores, second-hand stores, etc. Ideally, there would be a rail station. Branch line OK. But if not right in the town, I would be OK with taking a taxi or having someone drive me to the station. I would rarely be going out of town anyway.

My job would be low-key and allow me to enjoy being part of the community without having to constantly interact with people. I have always enjoyed being one of the people who sets things up in the morning. For example, at a community center, I enjoy setting up the dining room for morning coffee: putting the furniture back where it belongs if it was rearranged for an evening event; putting out bowls with the packets of sugar and creamer and coffee stirrers; cleaning out the coffee urn and getting the brew going; arranging the coffee mugs on a tray and making sure they are all clean; and taking used coffee mugs to the kitchen to wash as people come and go. And then later in the morning, turning everything around for lunch. This is the kind of work my autism allows me to excel at — without much risk of annoying people. If I have to be out sick, the next day I generally hear about how much I was missed. However, I would not be adverse to managing the database either — and enjoy taking my morning coffee break in the dining room. But I would not be career-oriented — just enjoying going to work everyday and making myself useful.

In my spare time I would visit coffee shops and pubs to read or write. Books would be checked out of the library or bought second-hand. At home I would watch TV and listen to the radio while assembling jigsaw puzzles, doing crafts, or writing. Depending on my living circumstances, I might have a cat and/or dog for company. I find it hard to imagine living with another person.

What I have just described precludes the prevailing technology of the time. In a less advanced time and place, I would have a landline phone at home and perhaps some kind of antenna for the TV/radio. Writing would be done by hand into a composition book. And any banking would involve visiting the bank in person. In the current context, I would probably be streaming TV and radio over the internet and writing into a laptop or iPad (as I am doing now.); and I would be banking online. But the kind of town I have just described might possibly, even today, not be built out with broadband internet access and might have spotty cellular reception — and I might have to live with the landline phone, TV antenna, and going to the bank in person. And I think I would be willing to make that adjustment.

But there is something I have not mentioned that makes my dream life probably out of reach for me — and which is why I do not attempt to pursue it. Housing. Or lack of housing. The little bungalow or cottage I might have rented in previous decades (even if it meant sharing with others) is now either a second home or an AirBNB rental. And if broadband internet IS available, home prices have probably soared as high-paid tech workers have abandoned cities to work remotely where they choose.

The sad thing is that my desired life is hardly ambitious. I just dream of living in a small coastal town, renting a modest home and getting around on foot. It is not as though I aspire to buy a large house + two cars + a vacation home + travel several times a year + pay for private education for children. My dream is very, very modest — but I might as well dream about being an astronaut, because that is only slightly less achievable!! Something must be very wrong with the world when such a modest ask cannot be accommodated.

Finally, the culture wars that have been playing out in the USA, UK and other parts of the world have made the city-rural divide much uglier than it has been in the past. I have made the big-city-to-small-town move many times in my life. Each time, I have definitely felt like an outsider, but being autistic, I am familiar with this and never let it concern me. But I never encountered hostility. I am not sure how it would go today.

So. I am saving this dream for another life on another world. Hopefully.

Yard sales and supply chains

People-watching is one of my favorite pastimes. I do not consider myself to have autistic “super powers”— but perhaps my ability to draw joy and happiness from watching other people go about their lives is not to be dismissed. And it has probably saved me a lot of money over the course of my life.

Covid-19 restrictions rather got in the way at the beginning of the pandemic, but I have people-watched in all kinds of circumstances and I quickly adjusted my habits to accommodate it. And for the last few months, I have been able to sit in a pub once again and enjoy overhearing conversations and watching people from my favorite seat.

Now the darkness and rain of autumn has landed. It does not really bother me, but I do become more of a homebody once we get into October. When it is windy and pouring with rain, I tend to just go to the grocery store and come straight home without stopping for coffee or beer. But there is no people-watching to be done from my apartment, so I depend on doing it virtually. And I recently found a gem!

I have not watched Antiques Roadshow for around twenty years, but it once was on my list. I liked both British and American versions — but I must confess a preference for the American show. Americans just seem to have a more interesting relationship with their stuff. American homes and garages are typically much larger and many have full basements — so Americans are able to collect a lot more stuff. And once the home/garage/basement gets impossibly full, they have a yard sale and drag a lot of the stuff out onto the front lawn. And there are people who are yard-sale junkies, driving around town on weekends looking for yard sales to poke around in. And it is at yard sales that many Americans acquire the treasures that end up on the Antiques Roadshow.

Not surprisingly, the current season is a compilation of footage from pre-Covid events. But they have done something rather interesting. Each episode features items from events held around fifteen years ago (2006/7). And the valuation has been reassessed to see if the item gained or lost value in the meantime. Ugly vases, large pieces of porcelain and folk art have not fared well!

It is fun to hear people tell their stories — and see their reaction when they learn that the watercolor painting they bought at a yard sale for $10 could be worth $25,000 at auction. But I also love watching the people hovering in the background, most of who are waiting in line to have their items assessed. And every now and them, I glimpse one of the Keno brothers getting animated with a piece of furniture.

I must digress to mention the Keno brothers, Leigh and Leslie, identical twins with rockstar blond-haired good looks. When I was a regular viewer, Leigh and Leslie appeared together, but by 2006, each seemed to have started in business for himself and appeared alone. Both are equally passionate about antique furniture and are not at all shy about exploring every nook and cranny, even if it means enlisting the help of production staff to turn over a large heavy desk so that they can look for tell-tale marks and fittings — or climbing inside an armoire to inspect the heads on the screws.

Fashions do not seemed to have changed much. The crowds of 2007 are indistinguishable from crowds of today. The only noticeable difference is that no one is looking at a phone. Many people undoubtedly have a mobile phone, but not a smartphone to be staring at.

Anyway, this has been a fun TV show to dip into again and binge-watch. And it has been interesting to consider as I read about global supply-chain problems. Many people are fretting about Christmas merchandise possibly not making it to stores in time for Christmas shopping. I worked several years in Christmas-dependent retail — and I have to confess I always get excited at the prospect of Christmas shopping being disrupted. Not Christmas. Just the shopping.

Our local antiques mall has been shuttered since March 2020. I can assure you that place is filled to the rafters (on all three floors) with stuff. Over the years that I was visiting, more stuff seemed to come in than go out. Each time I went in, it was harder to move around. Right now, I do not think you could get more than a few feet inside the front door (from what I see through the glass.) If local retailers run out of stuff to sell as Christmas presents, perhaps the owners of the antiques mall could open a temporary wholesale operation — or even get a permit from the city to close the street outside for a day to put up tents and have a giant sale for the public. This could be an unexpected bonanza for thrift stores, charity shops, flea markets and car-boot sales if people are forced to buy second-hand goods for Christmas because all the new stuff is stuck in containers on ships anchored at sea. And if the weather forecast is good for the weekend, people might want to hold an impromptu yard sale.

This is a golden opportunity to get rid of your stuff!