On Being a Robot

If you know me, you’ve probably seen or heard me refer to myself as a robot. An alien. A cryptid. An android. And, when I am feeling human, a bad person. I learned recently that this is common among people who discovered their autism later in life.

My cryptid brethren. From the Patterson–Gimlin film

Full disclosure, I haven’t been diagnosed with ASD by a professional. It’s difficult to diagnose in people who aren’t boys, and I only started looking into getting diagnosed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But I’ve spent the last six months taking autism screening tests, reading first-hand accounts, talking to diagnosed autistic people, and watching YouTube videos of people like me (here is a particularly helpful channel). And who I am has finally started to make sense.

I’m writing this because those firsthand accounts helped me see myself and how I operate in the world more clearly than I ever have, because hearing firsthand lived experiences helps me far more than clinical, pathological terminology tailored to a particular subset of the autism population.

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The Splendor of Solitude

I have been thinking a lot lately about Uemura Naomi. 

Uemura is considered the first person to reach the North Pole by himself, to raft down the Amazon by himself, and to climb Denali by himself. 

He was part of a community of adventurers, of climbers, but he did many of his excursions alone. He wrote, in what’s become his most famous quote: “In all the splendor of solitude… it is a test of myself, and one thing I loathe is to have to test myself in front of other people.” 

Uemura disappeared in 1984 while climbing Denali in the winter. We know he reached the summit, but his radio signal was lost on the descent. Normally a search party would have been sent sooner, but the community of climbers who knew him felt it would be disrespectful to do so. His body has never been found. 

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You’re not entitled to your opinion: Or, the aggressive ignorance of the 21st century

I’ve seen other people explain why “everyone is entitled to their own opinion” and “everyone can believe whatever they want to believe” are bad arguments. But I continue to see people use these arguments, so I’m doing it again. And because I’ve seen it come up recently, I want to apply it to people who say that they “just don’t believe in gay marriage.”

A legal designation isn’t even the type of thing you can believe or not believe in to begin with, but we use the word “belief” in very bizarre ways in the 21st century. Let me clear that up first.

A belief is an acceptance that something is true or that it exists. You can’t really say “I don’t believe in gay marriage,” because marriage is a social convention that already exists, and “gay marriage” is just extending that convention to gay people, who also already exist.

An opinion is a judgment that is not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. Opinions are not conclusive and cannot ground an argument. Opinions are things like matters of taste. Here’s an example: I don’t like Jello. That’s an opinion. Jello is not objectively awful. It’s not wrong for other people to like Jello. It’s just not to my taste.

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It Doesn’t Matter. It’s Only Time.

I write a post each year on January 1. Sometimes these are personal, but this year, I want to talk about time.

I don’t believe in time itself. What I mean by this is that time is a reference frame and a useful tool, but it isn’t a real thing beyond that. Beginnings and ends are all relative.

As far as ends go, there are countless ways for human beings to go extinct. We could blow ourselves up with nuclear bombs. Climate change could lead to the planet being uninhabitable for humans. A near-Earth supernova could cause a mass extinction event and end human life.

And then what will we be? What will all of our toil, our sorrow, our joy amount to? Nothing. But we always will have been. And maybe that’s something.

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Knowing What It’s Like: Why Jeff Tweedy’s “Warm” Made Me Cry

jeff tweedy_warm

WARM. Credit: dBpm Records

This isn’t an album review. This a story about a person who was curled up on a couch, severely sleep-deprived, full of anxiety about life and death, listening to Jeff Tweedy’s Warm for the first time.

I’ve written about Wilco before. About how their music and Jeff Tweedy’s lyrics are one of the few things in the world that makes me feel tethered to it, not alien. About how one of their songs, lyrics I have tattooed on my body, saved my life in a not-quite-metaphorical way.

It sounds odd to say, but I forgot that I’m probably always going to be a little bit in need of saving until I started listening to Warm.

Warm is mostly a quiet record, more folk heavy than rock, with songs built around the acoustic guitar. And it’s easy to listen to, until it punches you in the gut.

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What was so bad about the 1980s?

I was going to write a birthday post, but most days I feel like I have profoundly screwed up my life, and I have to deal with the overwhelming sense of dread that comes with thinking about how I’ll never get a do-over. So… I wrote this instead.

2018 is bleak. I don’t really like playing the “better” or “worse” game, because human beings have done (and continue to do) some pretty atrocious things. In certain regards, our current time might be “worse” than the world I was born into 35 years ago today, but, then, Ronald Reagan was president when I was born, so worse is truly a relative term.

Your judgment of good or bad, better or worse, depends on what you value. When you’re trying to evaluate the state of the world, you’ll probably run into internal inconsistencies and conflicts about said values, especially if you do the work of asking yourself if your actions support your values.

But to be pleased with living in the US in 2018, then it seems like you would have to value the following:

That said, we had this coming.

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Why I Still Love College Basketball

The day after the NCAA tournament is always a sad day for me, and not just because after binge-watching basketball for a month, I feel wrung-out. It’s because in spite of everything I love this stupid sport, this annual event.

Photo: Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes I joke that the IOC and FIFA are the most corrupt institutions in the world. But I think the NCAA surely comes close. So many schools have been riddled with scandals of academic fraud, point-shaving, illegal recruiting, even drug dealing over the years with little consequence, that I don’t even know where to start. When you look at the Duke lacrosse rape case, the Penn State child sex scandal, Larry Nassar molesting gymnasts while at Michigan State, there is clearly a huge problem in college sports that reflects a lot of bigger social problems.

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But the World Has Never Understood Me

Disclaimer: Every year since 2011, I’ve posted a self-reflection on New Year’s Day, looking back and forward. I hope you’ll grant me this self-indulgence once more. It was a rough year.

I’m adaptable. I have to be.

It seems that every one or two years, I pick up, move, and live a totally different life. Since finishing grad school, I have been an editorial assistant, a communications writer, a professor, and an environmental compliance specialist. A Memphian, a Virginian, a Chicagoan.

The Brutalism of Chicago. Credit: Heidi Samuelson

I’m pretty good at rolling with these external changes. I have to be.

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When Bad People Make Good Art

I grew up watching The Cosby Show. It’s hard to even think about watching it now, knowing that as it was being filmed and airing on TV, Bill Cosby was (allegedly)* drugging and raping women.

As it comes to light that Kevin Spacey, an actor who starred in some movies I loved (The Usual SuspectsAmerican BeautyBaby Driver), serially preyed upon young men (also allegedly)*, it makes me question what other terrible things have been done by people whose creative work I have enjoyed. It makes me wonder what I should do about it as a consumer of art.

The Usual Suspects. 20th Century Fox.

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The Ubiquity of the Male Revenge Fantasy

Warning: contains spoilers for a lot of movies, mostly notably American Assassin and Captain America: Civil War.

Imagine this. A man has had some hard times, maybe a parent (or both) died when he was young, maybe he grew up in a bad situation, but he has managed to grow up and find love. Then something unfortunate, something violent, happens to the love of his life. Maybe the violent event harmed or killed their child as well. So he vows to get his revenge on what, or who, caused the untimely death(s).

What movie am I describing?

If you answered:

Braveheart, Captain America: Civil War**, Collateral Damage, Confessions*, Death Wish, Django Unchained, Drive Angry, Equilibrium, Faust: Love of the Damned, Gladiator, Godzilla (2014), Hamlet, I Saw the Devil, Inception, John Wick, Kill Bill*, Law Abiding Citizen, Lethal Weapon, Lethal Weapon 2, Looper, Mad Max, Memento, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rolling Vengeance, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan**, Straw Dogs, Taken 3, The Bourne Supremacy, The Brave One*, The Bride Wore Black*, The Crow, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, The Fugitive, The Punisher, Unforgiven, X-Men: Apocalypse, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or, most recently, American Assassin, you would be correct. Continue reading