Have You Ever Bletted a Medlar? Me Neither.

Never forego the opportunity to add new words to your vocabulary. Doing so is especially gratifying if they refer to something so foreign to your experience as to seem otherworldly. If you can throw in a little bit of potty humor for good measure, then so much the better, as far as I’m concerned.

I came across the terms “bletted” and “medlar” in a roundabout way. Repressed adolescent that I am, I must confess that what really drew me in was a less title-worthy term for the medlar, which is “open-arse”. It seems that this was the name more commonly used for this fruit for 900 years. In other places, the medlar was called “monkey’s bottom” or “donkey’s bottom” or “dog’s bottom”. That’s all understandable, given what a medlar looks like.

Those names hardly make me want to rush out and try what was considered a delicacy in medieval Europe and is still popular today in countries near the Caspian Sea where it originates. But what intrigues me the most about this fruit is that it was once so popular, and it has such funny nicknames, that you’d think we’d have at least heard of it in the modern era, but I am willing to bet that 99 Americans and Europeans out of 100 never have. It was certainly news to me.

So how did the medlar drop off our radar? Well, for starters, it’s not an easy fruit to eat. You might even say it goes against your instincts. That’s where bletting comes in.

This is a Mediterranean fruit, and there it can be plucked and eaten right off the tree. But if you try to do so from a tree in a European climate, you wouldn’t like it, and you might even regret it. It could make you violently ill. Still, the tree itself is rather pretty in autumn. It’s green, yellow, brown, and blood red.

But the fruit? First of all, it doesn’t give off a “come hither” vibe, does it?. I’d be afraid it was poisonous if I didn’t know better. And oddly enough, you don’t harvest it until mid-November or December, when you’d much rather be inside by a warm fire, and when the fruit is still hard as a rock. Once harvested, you then put the fruit in a crate of sawdust or straw, or put them on racks with a lot of ventilation, in a cool, dark place, and forget about them for a few weeks until they start to rot.

Yes, I said rot. That’s what’s known as the bletting process. Medlars will look brown and squishy and feel kind of grainy at this stage, but they’ll also be extremely sweet. At that point you can eat the inner flesh right away, or you can use it as a colorfully sweet contrast to your cheese course. You can also make it into jelly, chutney, brandy, cider, or as a filling for tarts.

In medieval Europe, medlars were one of the only sources of sugar to be had in the wintertime, and they were therefore highly prized by many, even if some found them to be an acquired taste. They’re mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, as well as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Medlars probably sank into obscurity because tropical fruits such as pineapples and bananas became cheaper and more accessible after World War II, and you could get them year-round. Why bother harvesting a fruit in the frigid dead of winter that then had to bletted, taking up space for weeks, when you could run down to the corner shop and buy alternative winter sugar sources, no muss, no fuss?

Medlars could teach us much about how fickle fame can be. It makes me wonder what things loom large today that will be forgotten about entirely in 80 years. That adds a whole new layer of complexity to the concept of time travel.

“Wait. What? You’ve never heard of Kalamata olives? That’s it. I’m going back to 2023.”

Sources:

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Pieces of Family Stories

Tales of who you were will eventually be overtaken by a swirling fog.

All families have their stories. There’s the time Uncle Bob decided to throw his drink out the car window, only the window was closed. The time my father’s car overheated while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, and the only liquid he had to put in the radiator was laundry detergent, so not only was traffic backed up for miles, but when he got moving again, he left a trail of suds. The time my grandfather went outside, pitchfork in hand, to have a calm, quiet talk with my aunt’s abusive husband, and the guy left and never came back. No one knows what my grandfather said, but I sure wish he had lived to have my back like that.

I know tons of stories about my parents and grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts, and even a cousin or two. But it occurs to me that I don’t have any complete stories about great grandparents or any generations older than that. Little bits and pieces have come down to me, but they’re either incomplete, implausible, or disputed.

For example, I know there is a Prussian officer somewhere in the family tree. I’ve even seen a picture of him, sporting the spiked helmet and the monocle, but I’m not even sure where that picture went after my mother died. I don’t know his name or how he is related to me. And I vaguely remember my mother saying there was some Czechoslovakian in our bloodline way back in there, but I don’t know how or why, and it sure didn’t pop out when Ancestry.com analyzed my DNA. My mother once showed me the coat of arms of a distant relative, and there was a unicorn in it. Yet my cousin swears there are no coats of arms in that branch of the family tree. I have no idea how my great grandmother felt when my maternal grandmother left Denmark and went to America without speaking English or knowing anyone but the husband who awaited her. What did they say to each other when they parted ways?

Unless you come from a culture that makes a habit of reciting the family history from generation to generation, or carving it in stone, then all the family stories that don’t get written down have a finite shelf life. In my family, It seems to be two generations. Beyond that, everything is pieces and parts, surrounded by a swirling fog.

If you’re not famous or infamous, eventually, these tales of who you were and what you did will be overtaken by that fog. On some days, I actually find that comforting. On others, I find it a bit scary.

We are all temporal beings. We are all part of the eternal ether, even though we debate whether that ether takes on a spiritual, philosophical, or physical form. We are surrounded by those who came before us, whom we have never met, and we, too, will surround the generations that come long after we’re gone.

Will we know? Will they? I’m thinking probably not. But it’s impossible to say.

It was ever thus.

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A Desperate Plea to Future Mental Health Professionals from an Adult-Diagnosed Autistic

There is a tsunami of adult autistic trauma out there. We need your help.

I was just diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in December of 2022, a few weeks before my 58th birthday. I wrote about what caused me to seek this diagnosis here. I’m rather new at this stuff, and I’ll be blogging quite a bit about various aspects of it as I go along, reading and learning and wondering what this means for me, as I suspect that quite a few other people are experiencing a similar thing.

Check out my autism category for a list of relevant blog posts, and never forget that 1) I’m just one person, writing about my personal experiences with a thing I only just learned I had. 2) No two people on the spectrum are alike. 3) I am not a medical or mental health professional. 4) I’m not attempting to write a one size fits all autism advice column.

Recently discovering that I have been walking around for nearly 6 decades with autism has given me a completely different perspective on my past, present and future. At first, my ASD diagnosis had me feeling euphoric. Finally! Answers! Vindication!

But the more I learn about my condition, the more reality is setting in for me. I don’t think I realized how profoundly everything in my life would be impacted by this new understanding. I wish I had more support, but services for adult autistics are very thin on the ground.

That really surprises me, because there are an estimated 5.4 million autistic adults in America alone. Despite searching online for hours, I couldn’t find a breakdown as to how many of those were diagnosed as children, how many were diagnosed as an adult, how many suspect but aren’t pursuing a diagnosis, and how many of us are wandering around feeling broken and confused and clueless about autism, like I was a month ago.

Naturally, I feel for that last group the most. Not understanding the why of things can be really isolating and upsetting. Having answers is such a relief, but it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. The majority of us who have managed to fly under the radar this long are most likely highly intelligent and relatively functional, so it would be easy for mental health professionals to assume we don’t need help. But I’m here to tell you that I really, really need help. Here are some of the issues that I’m dealing with.

I’m finding the acceptance process to be similar to that of mourning. I have good days and bad days. There is anger and depression for sure. I haven’t exactly experienced denial or bargaining, but I have no idea how I’m going to feel from one moment to the next.

Sometimes I feel joy because I’m finally finding my tribe, and the more I read about autism, the more I understand about myself. Other times I feel the harsh reality of the prejudices people have about autism, and how those prejudices affect me on a daily basis. One loved one no longer speaks to me, and I’m guessing that’s because she is not willing to discard the drama queen lens through which she has always viewed me. It’s a shame, because she’s the only person left who might be able to give me answers about things that I’m wondering about from my childhood. So in that way, it really does feel like I’m mourning someone I love.

It also feels like I’m meeting myself for the first time. I’m not sure who my authentic self is anymore. After a lifetime of masking my symptoms in an unconscious attempt to fit in, I’m no longer sure what is real. All of that is a lot to unpack, and I am mostly having to do it all alone.

Dear Husband has been extremely supportive and willing to listen, though. In that I’m extremely lucky. He has read quite a bit on the subject, too. But this is essentially one of those you-had-to-be-there scenarios, and I’m happy to say that he’s never had to be there before. I’m having to deal with a lot of guilt because of the extra burden this places on him, too, although he’s never said so. He’s willing to go there with me, but I’m sure it wasn’t in his original 5 year plan.

Looking back at my childhood through the lens of autism is clearing up a lot of confusion for me. The extreme effort my mother put into trying to get me to make friends felt like torture to me at the time, and ultimately it didn’t work, but I can understand why a mother would want her daughter to be more “normal”. To be clear, she never made me feel like I was weird. Society needed no assistance on that score. I just wish she had been able to talk to me honestly about how atypical I was, because then the “what’s wrong with me” battle that raged within me wouldn’t have felt quite as lonely, and maybe I wouldn’t have felt like such a failure at life. But little was known about autism back then, and I’m sure she did the best she could.

Services for autistic adults are, as I said, practically non-existent. I was on a waiting list for 6 months before I was finally evaluated, and now I’m on yet another waiting list to get help from the University of Washington’s Adult Autism Clinic. They told me it would probably take a year. Meanwhile, I’m barely sleeping because wave upon wave of new perspectives about my past keep crashing over me, and I feel like I’m having to tread water.

The need for these services are not going to go away. As autistic children “age out” of the services they now receive, what then? Do they get to fall into this crack with the rest of us? And the more adults get diagnosed, the more they’ll talk to others, many of whom will attempt to seek a diagnosis as well. You might say that adult autism is a growth industry.

From a capitalist perspective, it stuns me that there is such a potentially lucrative unmet need out there, and no one appears to be making an effort to fill it. Hence my desperate plea to future mental health professionals. We need you so badly.

I’ve seen so many therapists who did not spot my autism and sent me on wild goose chases that did not result in any healing or answers. I am trying to find a counselor who takes my insurance and has experience with autism. But so far they’re either not accepting new patients, or they don’t take insurance and want to charge anywhere from $150 to $250 per session, which makes them well out of reach to the majority of us. I’ve also looked for support groups, and they are, indeed, out there. For an equally high fee.

I know I’ll get hooked into the system, however flimsy it may be, eventually. But I’m struggling right now, and crashing into brick walls at every turn. Advocating for myself is stressful and exhausting. I cannot imagine how someone who is even less functional would be able to handle it. I’m sure many give up in despair.

There is a tsunami of adult autistic trauma out there. If you don’t believe me, check out this YouTube video by Orion Kelly about Autism and Self Hatred. It’s heartbreaking to hear this man suffering so profoundly. He does videos about autism on a regular basis, and they’re raw and vulnerable and honest and enlightening. But this one, in particular, is gut-wrenching.

Even if you don’t have time to watch his video, I urge you to scroll down on its page and read some of the 1,442 comments that it has garnered at the time of this writing. Being autistic can come with a lot of baggage. Spending so much time trying to be something you’re not while trying so hard not to be a burden is stressful and exhausting. That in turn causes health issues.

So much pain and loneliness, frustration and anger, confusion and depression is out there. We as a society shouldn’t be wait-listing all this trauma. If we want our communities to be mentally healthy, we need to meet these needs.

Speaking only for myself, I wouldn’t want to be cured even if I could be (and by the way, I can’t). What I want is coping skills and support. I want to feel less alone and more capable. I believe I can achieve that and still be me. But I need help.

I have this fantasy that someday there will be a clinic without a waiting list. This clinic will provide counseling, even to those who are self-diagnosed, and especially to those who cannot afford it. This clinic would provide prompt evaluations and teach life skills to those who need them. It would provide and/or host support groups, and, since we’re dreaming, here, it would even have a quiet, warmly lit café/library to hang out in when you’re feeling misunderstood and overwhelmed. Perhaps it should be called an adult autism community center, which leaves room for all sorts of services and opportunities.

Those of us who find ourselves in the lost generation of adult autistics have been neglected our entire lives. On the whole, this neglect was unintentional. Nevertheless, it happened. Imagine how devastating it is to discover that, even after a diagnosis, that neglect will continue.

We need you. Please don’t forget us yet again. We still have a lot of living to do. Most people, whether they’re on the spectrum or not, just want to live their best lives.

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Looting in Plain Sight

For the current possessors of plunder, repatriation does not appear to be a topic of discussion.

If you’ve ever been to any museum or art gallery anywhere on the planet, odds are quite good that you’ve looked at something that has been stolen from its rightful owners. Colonialists the world over have looted, pillaged, and plundered with impunity, because they believe the world is theirs to exploit and profit from. For the current possessors of such booty, repatriation is quite often a dirty word. (And I find it ironic that these organizations often charge the general public a good bit of their hard-earned money to gaze upon these stolen goods.)

I firmly believe that things should be returned to their rightful owners. Unfortunately, that gets rather complicated in practice. I’ll give you one such dilemma that I stumbled upon quite by accident, and afterwards I’ll hit you with some questions about how these situations should be handled in general.

I must confess that even at my ripe old age, I still play Pokemon Go. One aspect of that game is the ability to exchange “gifts” with other players around the globe. These are in the form of digital postcards. They’re often photographs of points of interest, and if you’re lucky, someone has taken the time to write a description thereof. This is my absolute favorite part of the game. It’s like traveling without leaving your own home. Every day, I get “postcards” from Japan, Hong Kong, India, Brazil, and Spain.

Last week I was getting my Pokemon Go on, so to speak, when I received the following postcard from a Pokemon friend who is from Louisiana. My first thought was, “What the heck is a Buddha statue doing in Louisiana?” Many more thoughts would follow.

The person who created this postcard was kind enough to type out, verbatim, the inscription placard that is below the statue. It says, “This Buddha was built for the Shonfa Temple located northeast of Peking by the order of Emperor Hui-Tsung (1101-1125). Its builder was Chon-Ha-Chin, most noted of ancient Buddha makers. The temple was looted by a rebel general who took the statue as part of his loot and sent it to New York to be sold … The statue came to the notice of two friends of E.A. McIlhenny who purchased it and sent it to him as a gift in 1936.”

Seriously? This statue was knowingly taken from its intended place, passed through several hands, and now it’s proudly displayed in Louisiana, and the owners/accessories-after-the-fact don’t even bother to hide this information? It’s right out there for the whole world to see. “Look what we got!”

Naturally, I had to learn more. The postcard didn’t say exactly where in Louisiana this Buddha patiently sits. But since those who run the venue are blatant and proud of having this loot, they weren’t hard to track down. I simply dragged the image into Google images, and voila! The kidnapper’s lair was uncovered!

This statue has pride of place on Avery Island, which is located on the Louisiana coast southwest of Baton Rouge. If you look on a map, it would be quite understandable if you didn’t realize the place was an island. It’s a salt dome that is surrounded by bayous, marshes, and swampland, so technically, yeah, it’s an island. But much of its boundary is comprised of what looks like a drainage ditch that you could easily jump over, if you don’t have the good sense to be mindful of alligators and poisonous snakes.

Having never stepped foot in Louisiana, I had never heard of this island, so of course I did some homework. The place does have a fascinating history. Currently, about 124 people live there, but a lot of tourists come to visit the island, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

First, the island was a sugar plantation that was operated by about 100 slaves. Then, strangely enough, a nutria farm was established there. The culprit was Edward McIlhenny. While this family is known for its environmentalism, the nutria is one of the most ecologically harmful invasive species on the planet, and this guy released “a large number” of these nutrias into the wild, and their descendants plague the south to this day.

During the Civil War, Avery Island was home to a salt mine that supplied the confederacy with 22 million pounds of salt. Right after the war, in 1868, Edmund McIlhenny invented Tabasco Sauce, and you can still tour the factory, which continues to crank out the hot stuff for a spice-loving public.

Even more interesting for tourists, in my nature-loving opinion, is Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre venue on what used to be the McIlhenny estate. It looks like a beautiful place, well worth a visit, although I wouldn’t do it in the middle of summer. Way too hot.

The site is also used for events and weddings. Much of the garden was built to highlight the stolen Buddha. Buddhists sometimes come here to worship.

I don’t mean to imply that the McIlhennys did the actual stealing of this statue. But if they knew enough about it to be able to compose the placard that tells its history, then they were most definitely complicit. If someone steals the key to a house, and then gives you the key as a gift, that doesn’t mean you have the right to go in there and make yourself at home.

That placard gives us many clues about the statue’s provenance, so I decided to do a little sleuthing to figure out where it came from. First, the Shonfa Temple is mentioned, and it is said to be northeast of Peking. I Googled the temple and came up empty. However, there is a Chongfa Temple that was ransacked during the late 1800’s, but it is southwest of Beijing (Peking), not northeast. But the description might have gotten that backward. Further, the Emperor Huizong (anglicized as Hui -tsung) figures prominently in this temple’s history.

I could not find a thing about Chon-Ha-Chin, but given the other slight errors, and the fact that at the time the English spellings of Chinese names left much to be desired, it’s not surprising that I couldn’t find him.

The rebel general who did the looting was not named, but there was quite a bit of plundering going on during the Taiping Rebellion. I find it interesting, though, that said general would send the statue to New York to be sold, and yet no one knew his name. I’d think it would be much more likely that he sold it to some rich white guy who then brought it to New York. It is said that the statue languished in some warehouse for many years until two friends of the McIlhennys found it and thought it would make a great gift for them. It came to Avery Island in 1936.

And there the statue sits to this day. If it could talk, I wonder what it would have to say about the slavery and the nutrias and the Tabasco sauce and the tourists. Its surroundings are lush and beautiful, and it’s obvious that it is much loved. It’s the Jungle Garden’s most prized possession, but I still believe that they have no right to keep it.

But here’s where it gets sticky. History changes much. Even if Chongfa Temple is Shongfa Temple, most of that temple is no longer standing, and what remains is now a tea house. Should it go there?

In addition, while Buddhism is still popular in China, its history with the communists is fraught with violence, destruction, and suppression. Currently, Buddhism is tolerated, but it’s hardly official. And who knows when that tide will turn, and in which direction? Lest we forget, a fair amount of the ransacking of that nation was done by the Chinese themselves. Wherever this statue goes, it should be kept safe, and there’s no guarantee that that will be the case in today’s China. Just ask the people of Tibet.

But who gets to decide what is appropriate for this statue? It hasn’t exactly been safe in Louisiana either. Some fool tourist decided that it would be fun to break off its right earlobe. It’s a strange world we live in.

I don’t think Jungle Gardens or the Chinese Bureaucracy has the moral authority to make a decision about any of this. But then, who does, and based on what criteria? The ghosts of the past seem to be keeping their own counsel, and I keep going back and forth on the subject.

This seems to be a dilemma that matters to nobody but me. I’m sure Jungle Gardens doesn’t want to broach the subject for fear of losing this lovely statue. I suspect the current Chinese Government doesn’t particularly care, because they don’t want to focus on Buddhism. And while the Dalai Lama may be the most famous Buddhist, that religion doesn’t have an official leader.

Meanwhile, the Buddha sits in whatever the Buddhist equivalent of limbo might be. He sees everything, patiently waits, and judges not. But there’s plenty of judgment to go around.

Additional Sources:

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Gottman’s 5 to 1 Ratio

Everyone wants to feel heard and valued.

Increasingly, I find myself reading up on all things autism, due to my recent diagnosis. The other day I was particularly interested in how people cope with meltdowns, because I was writing blog post on the subject, which you can find here. I find that you can learn a lot if you not only read articles, but read the comments from readers that often follow them.  This time was no exception.

Many people were giving advice based on their own experiences with autistic meltdowns, and one mom said that she always tries to follow Gottman’s 5 to 1 Ratio. Unfortunately, she didn’t elaborate. Now, I knew I had heard of this ratio before, but for the life of me, I couldn’t place it. So naturally I delved deeper with the help of a search engine, as one does.

I went directly to the source. The Gottman Institute website reminded me why I had heard of this ratio. It comes from their research into healthy and happy marriages. By studying how couples work through conflicts, they were able to predict, with 90% accuracy, which couples would divorce. They determined that for every negative interaction a couple has during a conflict, a stable and happy marriage has at least five positive interactions.

I genuinely believe this ratio is true, based on my own observations. However, I had never thought of applying it to relationships that weren’t romantic, such as those with work colleagues or children or friends. I have no idea why.

I think everyone wants to feel heard and valued. Everyone appreciates little acts of kindness. It’s always a more comfortable conversation when we can emphasize common ground, understanding, and compassion. All of these things constitute positive interactions.

Dear Husband, in particular, is very adept at this. I’ve never met anyone before him who seemed to be born to be married. DH definitely is. He thrives in matrimony. He is positive with me in particular, but he’s also that way in general. It’s second nature to him to seek out the positive spin on every situation, and you can tell that he’s really sincere about it. How lucky I am to have found him!

I, on the other hand, waited until I found a keeper, which means I married for the first time at age 53. Sometimes I feel like I’m a baby giraffe just learning how to walk in this marriage thing. DH is very patient with me, and he has taught me a great deal by sheer example.

You’d think positive interactions would be common sense, but they don’t come as naturally to others as they do to my husband. That’s unfortunate. I agree that it’s also good to be playful in a marriage, but I’ve known a lot of people who take this way too far.

It’s okay to joke and gently tease, but it’s easy to cross the line. Some jokes can be cruel. Some teasing can be humiliating. If you get too comfortable in your interactions, they can become hurtful. I’ve witnessed a lot of couples who interact in that manner, and often at least one of them doesn’t seem to realize that they’ve stopped being mindful of the other’s feelings. Those are the relationships that don’t last. I often wish those people could pay more attention to how Dear Husband treats me.

But the same thing can be said about how one deals with coworkers or friends. Have fun, yes, but also show that you respect the people you interact with. Make sure they feel that you support them. These basic tenets have fallen by the wayside since 2016, and it’s having a negative impact on society in general. We have to turn this around somehow.

I know it sounds corny, but that’s only because it’s so true: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

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The Unexpected Insights of a Newly Diagnosed Autistic Adult

To say that the dust has yet to settle is putting it mildly.

I was just diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in December of 2022, a few weeks before my 58th birthday. I wrote about what caused me to seek this diagnosis here. I’m rather new at this stuff, and I’ll probably be blogging quite a bit about various aspects of it as I go along, reading and learning and wondering what this means for me. I suspect that quite a few other people are experiencing a similar thing.

Check out my autism category for a list of relevant blog posts, and never forget that 1) I’m just one person, writing about my personal experiences with a thing I only just learned I had. 2) No two people on the spectrum are alike. 3) I am not a medical or mental health professional. 4) I’m not attempting to write a one size fits all autism advice column.

I’m barely one month into my Autism diagnosis, and to say that the dust has yet to settle is putting it mildly. As a friend of mine said, this is a major sea change in my life. I naively expected the waters to be more calm, but I’m learning that sometimes they can be very stormy indeed.

So many of my friends and loved ones have been accepting and supportive. I’m really grateful for that. And I have a newfound appreciation for them, because I can be a lot sometimes. I always knew that, but I don’t think I fully comprehended the extent of my “differentness” until now. Being around me probably requires more patience than I care to admit.

I’ve been observing myself closely this past month. I’ll do something, and then I’ll ask myself, “Do other people do that? Have you ever seen anyone else do that?” And more often than not, the answer to both those questions is no. “That” could be anything from farting with impunity in public to running my hands through my hair when I’m nervous. It could be laughing when others don’t, and not laughing when they do. It’s definitely being bothered or delighted by things that other people don’t even seem to notice.

I guess I thought that the diagnosis would be The Answer. The answer to everything. And yes, it has provided me with a lot of pieces to the puzzle that I wish I had gotten decades ago, but it’s not as if anything has been “solved”, as in, “Okay, we’re done with that thing. Now we can move on.” Diagnosis does not equate to closure.

I can understand why so many adults don’t bother getting an official diagnosis. Much of the autistic community seems to accept people who self-diagnose, so why bother? There are plenty of books to read and groups to join, so many of us can still figure a lot of this out without professional intervention of any sort. And, I mean, we adults have managed to muddle through for this long, so it’s not like a diagnosis is mission-critical.

But for me, this diagnosis has helped me figure things out. For example, I’m starting to accomplish more, because I’m breaking tasks down into smaller pieces. I still plan out the entire task, but then I focus on the first step, then the second, and so on. I’m not as likely to be overwhelmed to the point of paralysis that way. That’s a good tool to have in my toolbox.

I wanted an official diagnosis because, silly me, I thought having something in writing would make the more hesitant people in my life believe in its authenticity. “See? Here’s proof. I haven’t been having tantrums all this time! I haven’t been acting confused to somehow manipulate you.”

But no. Not so much. I now realize that the hesitant people are heavily invested in the lens through which they’ve always viewed me, and just as with Trump supporters, no amount of facts are going to make them see the light. It makes me sad, but I don’t  know why it has come as such a shock.

Another thing that I didn’t expect was how uncomfortable it makes people to talk about my diagnosis. If I bring up the subject, then clearly I’m comfortable talking about it, and I am hoping people will ask questions. But most people seem to squirm, especially if I’m talking to them face to face. That, too, shouldn’t have surprised me, because I now realize that I would have reacted the exact same way prior to my diagnosis.

The unknown makes people very nervous. And it’s astounding how few people know anything about autism. It’s a hard disorder to define, because there are so many potential aspects to it, and so many degrees of intensity for each of those aspects. No two autistic people are alike. Since that’s the case, autism doesn’t fit into a neat little box. It can’t be described in an elevator speech.

And I’m having to confront the fact that I’ve carried around my own prejudices about autism. I thought that most autistic people were incapable of empathy or emotion. I can’t speak for everyone, but it’s more like I feel so much more than most people that it often overwhelms me. I’m not some automaton. It’s as if my nerves are jangling so rapidly that their motion can’t be seen with the naked eye, but believe me, I feel them. I’m here. And there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. I’m only just now realizing that not everybody feels this way.

I’m thinking of making a t-shirt that says, “Autism. It’s complicated.” Hmmm. Maybe I could sell them.

I’m only now starting to realize how few services are available for autistic people who have only just discovered this about themselves late in life. Naturally, the focus should be on autistic children who still have their whole lives ahead of them. I get that. But I’m not done with my life either, and I sure could use some support. I’m still working on that, but I can’t imagine how someone on the spectrum who is less verbal would be able to get past all these hurdles. It’s not easy.

I was utterly unprepared for how much of my life would get stirred up by all of this. I’m an autistic person. I don’t need to be fixed. But now that I know so much more about the how and the why of me, I’m setting firmer boundaries with people, and I’m getting mixed results.

I’ve been struggling my whole life to seem “normal.” Now, I’m saying things like, “All this noise and activity is overwhelming for me, so I need to go off and have some alone time for a while.” And, “I know you want to go to this party, but I’d rather not. Please have fun without me.” And, “I really enjoy hanging out with you one on one. Let’s do more of that.”

An exciting aspect of all this insight is that I’ve got a stronger sense of what makes me comfortable in any given environment, and what really, really bugs me. It will be interesting to see if I begin to feather my nest in a different way due to this knowledge.

Now that so many people know this fun fact about me that I’ve only just learned about myself, I can sense them watching me. I don’t think they’re worried that they’re going to “catch” autism as much as they fear that I will stop being me. Am I supposed to bulk up and turn green like the Incredible Hulk? I don’t know.

I’m still me. Yes, I’m an autistic person, but I have always been that. It’s just that I didn’t know it until now. I feel increasingly authentic. I can stop trying so darned hard. I can maybe cut myself a little slack.

Breathing room is a very precious commodity. It’s nice to have that. A door has been opened wide, and the fresh air is coming in. I’m sure I’ll have good days and bad days. But at least I finally understand that the ability to breathe is out there and within my reach. I may not breathe the way you do, I may not yet breathe the way I’d like to or the way I should, but, yo, I’m breathin’ here! That counts for a lot.

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Obsolete Skills

There was no internet when I was in college.

The other day, during my long commute to work, I remembered, for no apparent reason, a story I had most likely heard on NPR back in the 1990’s. It was about a young lady who won a four-year, full-ride scholarship to college because she had won a competition for being the fastest and most accurate texter in the country. This was back when telephone texting was so new that you used to have to use your phone’s number pad, and, for example, push the number 2 anywhere from three to seven times (depending upon the phone) in order to get a lower case c.

I was still extremely new at texting at the time, but I remember being jealous of that girl, because I sure could have used a full-ride scholarship back in my day. But when I graduated from college, no one I knew had even touched a cell phone, let alone used one. They were out there, but they were the size and weight of a brick, and only the ultra-rich had them. The line for the payphone at my college dorm was always quite long.

I can still hear the sound of horror in my nephew’s voice when he told me his sister’s phone was so old that it “didn’t even flip”. That cracks me up. But man, it also makes me feel old.

But then, I remember bringing my laptop to work to show people in 2001, and bragging that it had a 10 gig hard drive. People were so impressed! That was cutting age. That was 15 years after I graduated college. So, yeah, I’m old.

Anyway, I wondered what had become of that scholarship winner. What did she major in in college? What is she doing now? Does she ever reflect on the fact that her education was paid for because of a skill that is now so commonplace that people barely give it a thought?

I tried to find the story about her on the internet, in hopes of tracking her down, but I came up empty. That’s not surprising, when you consider that commercial Internet service providers only started up in 1989, so a lot of old news never quite made it into cyberspace. I guess it will just be one of those questions that I’ll never find the answer to.

Still, it got me thinking about obsolete skills. I don’t think of texting as a skill anymore. It’s more like a means of survival. But there are quite a few skills that seem quaint or completely unnecessary these days.

I know someone who got a degree in computer science back when computers still used punch cards. That knowledge won’t exactly pay the bills in 2023. You might say that that skill was folded, spindled, and mutilated long ago.

I also know someone who won awards for her perfect penmanship when she was in elementary school. Her letters were beautiful to behold. Now, cursive writing isn’t even taught in public schools anymore. What would be the point? Will there come a day when only a few people will be able to read cursive writing, just as most Germans can no longer read Old or Middle High German texts?

I can imagine a day when people’s ability to even print words will deteriorate. Yes, they’ll know what shape each letter has, and they’ll be able to read, but they’ll have been typing and texting to the point where they’ll look like three-year-olds when they try to write something. They won’t be confident that they know how to hold a pencil or a pen. Will they even know what paper feels like? That will be tragic.

Other skills that are falling by the wayside are writing checks and balancing checkbooks, reading analog clocks, driving a manual transmission car, doing minor car maintenance such as replacing a flat tire or changing the oil, ironing clothes, making your own clothes, remembering phone numbers, having a sense of direction, folding a map, doing math in your head, finding hard copies of things in a library, making coffee on the stove, refilling a fountain pen, making and flying kites, tying a tie, creating meals using recipes, and conducting business using actual currency.

I suspect that in the year 2050, if you threw people into some sort of a wayback machine and sent them to the year 1950, they wouldn’t have a clue how to survive. From the perspective of a person who has one foot in the internet age and the other one off somewhere holding a payphone door closed while irritated dorm-mates looked on, the loss of all these skills makes me sad.

But it’s the way of the world, isn’t it? I wouldn’t know how to hunt for my own food or skin an animal or find the proper herbs to heal myself or build a house without power tools. (Well, I suppose I could Google those things if I were sufficiently motivated, but you get the idea.)

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Kash Out and Go Home

Now he’s written what amounts to Pro-Trump propaganda for children.

The only reason Kash Patel even popped up on my radar was that I read this article about a gift one very deluded grandmother gave one of her grandchildren for Christmas. The book, which amounts to Pro-Trump propaganda for children, is creepy at best. (You can peek inside its sick-making pages on the Amazon site here.)

Patel’s book, which I refuse to name, is an adaptation of Dinesh D’Souza’s debunked conspiracy theory film 2000 Mules, about alleged voter fraud in the 2020 election. (You can read about how easily this film is debunked here.)

On the cover of the book, Trump is portrayed as a king, Hillary Clinton is made out to be an evil, scowling queen, and the author himself is standing behind the king, dressed as a magician, and waving a magic wand. That’s all you need to know to realize that this guy has a massive ego. But oh, it gets worse.

In the aforementioned peek inside feature on Amazon, the first 4 pages of this f****d up fairytale are about Patel himself. He calls himself “Kash the Distinguished Discoverer” and claims that he was known far and wide as “the one person who could discover anything about anything.” He alludes to the Russian’s being innocent of all wrongdoings with regard to Trump’s election, and then even more of Kash’s heroic exploits are touted, until finally the “king” is trotted out. Patel then goes on to tell the children who have the misfortune of reading this book that King Donald would “Make the Kingdom Great Again.”

He’ll be more than happy to sign the book for you, using a QAnon slogan. He also still believes the election was stolen. You’ll excuse me while I rinse the stomach acid from my mouth.

So who is this guy? Actually, Kash Patel is enough of a heavy hitter in the Trump-iverse that I should have known of him. But during that presidential debacle, there were so many scandals, lies, and dirty-dealings that perhaps I can be forgiven for not being able to keep up to speed on all of them.

On his Wikipedia Page, you get some of the broad strokes of this man’s strange political history. But basically, he’s the guy who claims that Trump declassified all of those classified documents lying around in Mar A Lago, simply by saying so. He himself had access to them. He’s the guy who worked the hardest to discredit the FBI and DOJ officials investigating Russia’s election interference for Trump. He’s the guy Trump wanted to install as either FBI or CIA director, but couldn’t, because it would have sparked organization-wide walkouts. He’s the guy that Trump thought was an expert on Ukraine, despite his total lack of experience or knowledge on the subject, and he’s the guy that convinced Trump that Ukraine was corrupt.

Nowadays, not only his he an author of questionable renown, but he has a website called “fight with kash” where you can buy obscenely overpriced merch, such as an unattractive $85.00 jacket with a “Don’t Tread on Me” logo. Proceeds to support the “Kash Patel Legal Offense Trust” with zero explanation as to what that organization stands for.

I think Mr. Patel is trying to turn himself into the next Rush Limbaugh. He has a vlog called Kash’s Corner where he spends a lot of time explaining that he’s persecuted by the current administration, and attacks the FBI, DOJ, and President Biden every chance he gets. He is also a proud supporter of the January 6th insurrection, and still is a Trump loyalist to this day.

This guy is in love with himself. Fortunately he’s small potatoes compared to the late Mr. Limbaugh. Patel apparently has a net worth 1-5 million, whereas, upon his death, Limbaugh’s estate was valued at 600 million. Frankly, both of them are a waste of human flesh as far as I’m concerned, but at least Patel is a less popular waste.

I’m not one to censor, ban, or burn books, but if one of Patel’s books showed up in my Little Free Library, I’d be sorely tempted. This man should come with a warning label. Children should not be exposed to his warped philosophies, even if grandma is the one who gives them the book. I wish Kash the Distinguished Discoverer would take himself back to the dark ages from whence he came, so that none of us would have to listen to the self-serving proclamations that sally forth from his pie hole.

I couldn’t resist giving this my official seal of disapproval.

Additional sources:

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My Exploration of Mystery Flesh Pit National Park

If only it had not chosen to engage in a premature geobiological consumption event which resulted in such a catastrophic loss of human life.

Longtime readers already know how much I love our national parks. I wish I had the time, money, and stamina to visit every single one of them. I’ve learned a lot about our country with each new park encounter.

While researching parks that I have yet to visit, I happened to stumble upon one called Mystery Flesh Pit National Park. Naturally, discovering that there’s a park I’d never even heard of intrigued me quite a bit. I had to learn more.

This park, sadly, can no longer be visited. Its history is rather tragic. In the early 1970’s, we are told, James Jackson, an oilman, stumbled upon what turned out to be a large geobiological orifice just outside of Gumption, Texas. He decided to explore said orifice, and the subterranean superorganism turned out to be so large that it couldn’t be accurately measured. As is often the case, man’s first instinct is to profit off all discoveries, and the Mystery Flesh Pit was no exception.

Enter the Anodyne Corporation, which, post-catastrophe, was renamed the Permian Basin Recovery & Superorganism Containment Corporation. They saw the opportunity for great riches by mining the site’s organic resources, and while conducting their extraction operations, they enlarged and reinforced the organism, and opened it to tourists in 1976. It became part of our national park system in the early ‘80’s and was a very popular destination, but it had to close because of a horrific tragedy that occurred in 2007.

You can read the very detailed and extremely technical government disaster report here, but if I’m reading it correctly, a freak combination of a great deal of rain which caused an overflow of water inside critical sections of the superorganism, combined with a power failure and the inability of some very poorly maintained pumping equipment to keep up with the water volume, caused a choking action and subsequent vomit response within the superorganism at a time when there were an increased number of visitors within it due to holiday celebrations.

That tragedy resulted in the death of 750 visitors, and an additional 1,800 people were seriously injured. (I can’t imagine what it must be like to have your last conscious moments on earth be consumed with the fact that you’re essentially being digested and/or masticated.) To make matters worse, 18,000 residents of Gumption County were left with some horrific side effects due to the gastric ejecta which flew, well, just about everywhere.

But even worse than the loss of human life is the loss of such a precious natural resource for the American people. While it’s understandable that the federal government wants to avoid future gastric disasters, especially since it’s unknown if this superorganism, when sufficiently agitated, might become ambulatory, the end result is that park lovers like you and me will never again be able to visit this unique location.

If you approach the site of the former park now, you are presented with a tall electric fence and a warning sign that says, among other things, “Stop! This area has been quarantined for YOUR safety!” “Over 582 people have died attempting to commune with the superorganism.” (Which proves this sign is woefully out of date.) And, perhaps most startling, “There is nothing beyond this fence worth dying for.”

But there is a silver lining to this cloud. Mystery Flesh Pit National Park’s legacy is an extremely comprehensive internet archive that is not only educational, but also allows you to delve almost as deep into the ecosystem as you would have if you had been able to enter its big, fleshy maw to go exploring like so many others have done.

If you visit this archive, click on everything you see, because things that don’t necessarily look like links often lead you to yet another page, with yet more links that yield troves of fascinating information. I have, on more than one occasion, lost 3 or 4 hours wandering through this internet maze, learning something new every time. I highly recommend it.

There is entirely too much information to distill in this humble blog post, so, to whet your appetite, I’ll just introduce you to this one topic: The Fauna of the Permian Basin Superorganism. I hope these few fun facts will encourage you to delve into this archive in greater detail. You won’t regret it.

In my opinion, one of the most intriguing creatures that resides within the deeper portions of the superorganism is called a Gasp Owl. They are very elusive, so little is known about them. They congregate in broods and are easily frightened. They are called Gasp Owls because their breathing is quite labored, even in those specimens which seem otherwise healthy. I wonder if they used to keep the campers up at night? I suspect I wouldn’t get much sleep, knowing they were nearby.

Gasp Owls have often been mistaken for the fabled “Marrow Folk” on the rare occasion that they’ve been spotted by tourists.

Campers who overnighted within the deepest regions of the superorganism (surrounded by a mandatory electrical fence, of course) often surfaced with stories of hearing ritual chanting deep below. Sometimes they saw the shadows of creatures that could not be mistaken for any of the park’s many parasitic organisms. Scientists have found no conclusive evidence that Marrow Folk exist, but the chanting voices leave many unanswered questions. I wonder if any recordings of these chants are extant?

This historic national park flyer, which shows many of the parasitic organisms that tourists would often encounter in this unique ecosystem, gives you a small taste of how much we all can learn from this now defunct site. It’s heartbreaking to contemplate the numerous scientific inquiries that will now never reach credible conclusions.

Our nation, and in fact, the world, is diminished by our inability to enter the deepest bowels of this creature and conduct further study. If only it had not chosen to engage in a premature geobiological consumption event which resulted in such a catastrophic loss of human life. Contemplating the discoveries we will now never make is enough to make one weep.

For those of you who are gullible enough not to realize that this park is an extremely detailed and very hilarious work of fiction, here are a few sources that will explain how the whole Mystery Flesh Pit story has taken on a life of its own:

Please support Trevor Roberts, the creator of this amazing world, so that he can continue to entertain us with his wild imagination. Either buy some Mystery Flesh Pit merchandise here, or contribute to his patreon account. Thank you!

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You Don’t Have To

We are still responsible for our choices.

More and more things are becoming politically and/or socially acceptable. We are all able to cast our voices much further than we could in times past. The anonymity of the internet allows us to be more impulsive and less inhibited. Anything is possible. We practically have a mandate to go hog wild.

To that I say, “Sure you can, but must you?”

Just because many of us seem to suffer fewer consequences, does that mean that we’re no longer responsible for our choices? Absolutely not. There may be more temptations for you to resist, but you still are the conductor of the very content of your character.

Just because you can be intimidating, that doesn’t mean you have to be. Just because bullies now seem to be revered, that doesn’t mean you ought to jump on the bandwagon. What is your motivation when you say something anonymously that you would never say publicly? Is that who you want to be?

It may seem like there’s less of need for integrity, common decency, and critical thinking than there once was, but in fact, those things are needed now more than ever. With so many resources and influences out there, you have a legion of options, and very few of those are related to doing the right thing. But in the end, making bad choices will still rot you from the inside, and will likely damage others in the process.

To thine own self be true.

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