thursday 19 may 2011

He belonged to my parents, ultimately, but that’s not how it was supposed to be. He was born in the basement of our house during the first semester of my senior year at college, 1974, or maybe even during my junior year in 73. I wasn’t at home for the blessed event, but when I got there for my Christmas break, my brother’s dog Nipsy was installed in the basement with her new children. The father of this bounty was, I think, a dog called Alex who belonged to brother’s friend. The mom had been named after the comedian Nipsy (Nipsey?) Russell, a favorite of brother’s at the time.

At the time that I arrived on the scene for a month’s break from academe, negotiations were going on between Dad and second brother about keeping second brother’s favorite puppy. My parents already had one dog (I’m pretty sure it was the little Scottie), and didn’t want to go through puppyhood again. And you can’t blame them. They were past 45 and had raised a bunch of puppies in their lives, and it’s a lot of work. Back and forth it went, and while my father protested every single time, dragging out the list of reasons to veto (a list that included brother two’s lack of track record for taking care of any animal), I knew by my father’s tone of voice and the slight twinkle in his eye that he wasn’t going to deny my brother this, no matter how effective a battle he pretended to wage.

Black lab-mix puppy was kept. Was called Groucho after brother number two’s favorite comedian, Groucho Marx. In the cement-floored cellar of our house far from Hollywood, Nipsy Russell had given birth to Grouch Marx. Or Marks. However they spelled it.

Groucho lived a long and storied life, dying on 18 May 1990. He was pre-leash-law days in our town, so he chased cars and rabbits and kids and whatever else. He was hit by drivers of cars twice. Yes, my father had a weakness here about young labs: he felt they needed to run. And though Groucho was hit twice and was lucky not to have been killed, my father did not begin restraining him on a dog run until he was at least several years old. He was a big, sloppy, frisky, absolutely harmless lab, like so many of that breed. He chased kids because he loved them and wanted to play, and while most kids around us understood this, a few did not.

Groucho was special for another reason too, in that he was my daughter’s childhood dog. We lived with my parents for her first five years, and she was a dog person from the time she was still in diapers. She and Groucho were great pals for the ten years they had before he died.

And what of brother number two? It was the same old story. He didn’t take care of, even halfway, the animal he’d asked for. Lost interest in training pretty quickly, and as I was away a lot for school and couldn’t help much, the work of the puppy fell to my parents. For all the years that Groucho lived, my father would pull out at every single family gathering, large or small or important or not, the refrain brother number two had used in his campaign to keep the puppy: You’ll never know he’s around, Dad. It became part of the family lore to the point that we would all say it, both to brother number two himself and to each other when he wasn’t even around. Every time Groucho came home covered in mud,  or chased a car halfway across town and Dad had to get into our car to go fetch him, or brought home a snout full or porcupine quills, and all of his other mischief, at least one of us would say it: You’ll never know he’s around, Dad.

Well, he hasn’t been around now, for twenty-one whole years. I remember him with laughter and affection, and with gratitude that he was the first dog who ever showed my very, very small child how great it is to know a dog.


read…   All my stars…     Stolen stars…    Mugsy’s book

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monday 16 may 2011

This friend was a rabbit; the first rabbit I’d had since Peter II had died so young several years before. Though Silky lasted a bit longer than Peter did, she was fated also to die too young.

I got her in the fall of 1987 to be a companion for a white guinea pig whose older black guinea pig pal (Smoky) had died in the spring. I’d seen the pet shop housing young rabbits and pigs together, so I decided to try it. I decided to go from black and white in the same cage to white and white. The only markings Silky had were some small, very pale grey patches on her ears, mouth, and a couple of her feet. While all rabbits have soft, smooth hair, Silky’s was unusually so — I’ve never felt a rabbit so soft — and that’s why she got her name.

When her first spring came, Silky got sick. I took her to the vet, the vet said she was in her first heat, and that some animals do get sick at that time. We pulled her through that one with antibiotics, yogurt and some additions to her diet. But she came into heat every month through spring and summer, and every time, we had to pull her through. If rabbits come into heat in the winter months, they do so at a much less intense level, and Silky was, for her two falls and winters, as healthy as any other rabbit.

But in 1990, the spring of course came again, and Silky in her second spring got much sicker than she had in her first. We couldn’t get her through it that time, the vet and I, and she died when she was less than two years old.

I had her such a short time that I feel, these long years after her death, that I hardly had her at all, hardly knew her. That’s one of the objectionable things that time does. I have to console myself with the knowledge, yet again, that while she was with us, I did indeed know her very well, even if now particular memories of funny things she did, and naughty things she did, and spats that she and Snowball (the white pig) sometimes had, are all faded and I can’t report them here with any detail. She was so soft. Even the vet said when she met her that was she was unusually soft, and that her name fit her.


read…   All my stars…     Stolen stars…    Mugsy’s book

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within the autos, I

saturday 7 may 2011

In whatever writing I have done online since 2008 concerning my own particular experience on the autism spectrum, I have remained largely on the surface of the thing. I’ve said I don’t smile much compared to most people, and this creates in others an immediate negative: the failure to smile is a negative thing. I’ve said I rock back and forth in anxiety, and this again sets up an instant negative response: rocking back and forth is childish, and weird. If you’re that anxious, have a couple beers, or run around the block, or do anything that we consider normal anxiety relief. I don’t like looking at the human face, for the most part. I do it, but it jangles the nerves. In most cases I don’t find the human face interesting, but rather a shifty, dangerous thing. And these are all important signifiers of a supra-normal (as I choose to call it) neurobiology, but they do not approach what it feels like to need desperately to live in the αυτος, the self. And I feel very strongly that those of us who are on the spectrum and are prone to write, should make every effort to describe as accurrately as we can the experience of being autistic, in the hopes of engendering some real understanding in the minds of neurotypical people.

But I have very little confidence in my own ability to do this effectively. I feel as though there must be other autisitcs who can fulfill this assignment much, much better than I could. And yet for months I’ve been nudging myself to try, and no doubt to produce an inadequate result, and having tried, will discover that no one is interested anyway.

Knowing all that, I still feel obligated to try. Autism is slightly different in each person who has it, so my autism isn’t exactly like anyone else’s. I can only make the best report, the best description I can. No doubt I won’t even get other autistics to come here and read it, much less any neurotypicals. This foreknowledge of futility makes the task even harder to get started on.

I try.                                     

I’m a little kid, three years old. On my bedroom floor coloring. For me the absorption in the picture and the colors I am putting on it are, for the moment, the entire universe. I am totally focussed on and interested in the colors and how they are going to go. Nothing else matters. Enter one of my parents through the door, talking about it’s time for supper or time to go out shopping. Yes, sometimes the parents come to the door bitching about something, but it doesn’t even have to be bitching to totally set me off. Some autistics act out when they are set off, others don’t. I mostly don’t. I get up and leave my colors and my pictures. I get up and leave the universe. But there are internal reactions to this interference from the outside. I am angry that I’ve been taken away from the sheer absorption of color by human voices, and therefore there is yet another reinforcement for my child’s Asperger’s mind that human voices are irriating things. They take me from absorption, they take me from beauty, they tear apart a sphere of bliss I was busy in, and wasn’t ready to leave yet.

Or, still three years old, I am just sitting somewhere, living my newly-devised life in my head. A parallel world I have learned to make for myself, where everything is safe. I make up people for my alternate life, adults and children, and I make up situations. And in every situation, I make the people behave in a way that I understand, that I don’t find confusing, and in that life where I understand, I am safe. I make up sad events and funny ones and all kinds of things to happen in this world I understand. I’m enjoying myself there, I’m energized by this world I understand. And then, again, comes a human voice. And though I usually show no signs, inside me it feels like a tearing, a great ripping, as if pieces of me were being rent from each other when I have to obey the human voices and leave my inner world where all is clear to me. In my teenage years, when I came upon T.S. Eliot’s poem with the line: till human voices wake us, and we drown, I found a line that runs through my head so very many times when a human voice tears me out of my world of the autos, where I am at home, into the sea of society that irritates and hurts and confuses me, and I drown.

There are physical reactions to this tearing, as well as emotional ones. Along with the anger and resentment can come a lurching stomach; or pins and needles in the skin; or a sudden, brief, all-over shudder; or pain inside the ears. Pounding heart, brief chest pain. And so on. Physical responses to being torn from one’s inner world.

Added to the distresses occasioned by Asperger’s, I had a whole other set that were brought about by my serious physical illness in childhood. More human voices piercing into my inner world with do’ s and don’ts and drugs and the words: she’s going to die. All of this resentment of the medical voices fused with the resentment of the ordinary voices that tore me out of my world, so that by the age of three I already regarded smiling as highly suspect and tricky; human voices as scratchy, grating and determined to snatch me from beauty and safety and pleasurable absorption. By the age of three, the human species was already mistrusted, dismissed as mostly unbeautiful and mostly unpeaceful, and impossible to decipher. Why didn’t they understand the way color can completely mesmerize you? Why didn’t they know that I had to stare at the lines of sunlight coming through the window because it was so beautiful that sunlightcould do this, and why weren’t the others completely engaged by those lines too? Why were they too dense to be fascinated by these things?

Most children can get very absorbed in play, but I could get intensely absorbed in almost anything. In watching my parents scream at each other, for example:  the redness in the face, the fire in the eyes, the tension in the muscles, the increasing volume of the voices. This made me nervous, of course, but it also fascinated me from a purely physical point of view to see that the skin and voice and eyes of the angry human could produce all these strange changes.

In light of the anomalous immune system that created so much severe illness, and the autistic neurobiology, and the non-average high IQ, what chance did I ever have to be average, or to be of any interest or value at all to average people? What chance did I have to be other than at some level a crashing weirdo, and more often than not, a burden to the average? I look back over many, many years, and still believe my chances of being anything like average and likable and acceptable and lovable were already, by the age of three, slim and none. No one knew I had Asperger’s, except me (and I certainly didn’t know what it was called, or that other people had it too), and even if they had, in the years that I happened to be growing up, not much of anyone would have tried to understand or accomodate it.

Has it been this way for scores of Aspie children, especially those of my generation?


read…   Neverending solitaire

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