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.
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.
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.
I remember when 30 sounded old. Frankly, it still sounds old.
Sometimes I think about the child I was, and I wonder if it was actually me. I wonder if there’s any continuity between that person and this person. I wonder if she’d be disappointed in me.
Most children want to be something when they grow up, it seems. It’s something we emphasize early on. You are identified by a profession, by a marriage, by being a parent. What do you do? Are you married? Do you have kids?
Apparently this is a thing.
When I was 6, I essentially wanted to be Carl Sagan (although I don’t think I knew who that was). When I was 8, I wanted to be a paleontologist. Those were passing fancies, and the truth is, I never had a clear idea of what I wanted out of life. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t think about getting married or having kids.
I just assumed I’d have a job, any job, and that maybe I’d get married. But it was never anything substantial. There’s that famous John Lennon quote: “When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” I don’t think I even thought about being happy. To this day, it’s not a word I understand.