I’ve packed for my New York trip. Well, really Mum packed. I was torn between wanting to be independent and knowing that she can pack much better than I can, and just wanting to remember how she does it so I can pack on the way home. I don’t have great ability to do things like packing that involve imagining how different objects would fit when stacked differently in a space. I’ve never seen it listed as an autism symptom, just like I’ve never seen a bad sense of direction as an autism symptom, but to me they fit logically with acknowledged autism deficits in body coordination and spatial awareness.
My mood has been up and down today. I’m really excited at the thought of seeing E, but also terrified of travelling: terrified of COVID disruptions (or simply being sent home from the airport with asymptomatic COVID), of cold weather (everyone has terrified me by saying New York is cold, but I’m not sure it’s that much colder than London right now), of problems travelling with a mask (I’m particularly worried that my usual anxiety at going through airport security combined with shallow breathing from wearing a mask will trigger some kind of panic attack), of having made some terrible mistake in booking my flights and apartment, of just being overwhelmed by EVERYTHING. At the moment, after a Skype call with E, the excitement is winning. I hope it stays that way for the next forty-eight hours!
On an autism forum I’ve joined, people have been discussing school days. Interestingly, a lot of people who responded had a very negative time at school, reporting poor academic achievement, friendlessness and bullying, too much noise and bustle and difficulties fitting in and following rules.
It does make a me feel a bit ‘not autistic enough’ that I did better at school than some. Some people did respond with similar experiences to me, namely good academic achievement, but social isolation and bullying. I went to a very big secondary school and I wonder how I managed to cope with it for seven years. Work wasn’t so bad, but lunch could be very busy. I used to find a quiet corner, with or without my friends. For much of my time there, I went to extra optional Jewish studies shiurim (religious classes) during lunch break, which got me away from the busy lunch halls and playgrounds. I don’t know how I came home after a long day followed by a long journey on buses and the Tube at rush hour and then did a couple of hours of homework. No wonder I was burnt out by sixteen! I was bullied too, although perhaps not severely; not as severely as some people are, anyway. And I had a couple of friends. I think the rules were a positive thing for me, they gave structure and boundaries, and protected me from other children. I couldn’t really understand why my peers wanted to break them so much. They couldn’t understand why they mattered to me.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m very glad I had what Tony Attwood calls a ‘mentor friend,’ a neurotypical friend who to some extent guided me and even sheltered me from some of the worst aspects of school for an autistic child. This is my oldest friend, who I’m still in contact with.
I watched The Old Man in the Cave, a post-apocalyptic episode of The Twilight Zone. A lot of episodes of The Twilight Zone revolve around fears of nuclear war, one way or another, as does a lot of science fiction of the fifties and sixties e.g. Philip K. Dick’s stories from the era are full of it. It’s unsurprising, given how real a threat nuclear war was (e.g. the Cuban Missile Crisis), but I wonder if it’s more reassuring to depict the end of the world when it’s humans who have destroyed it. At least we had some agency.
Stories that deal with catastrophe through man-made pollution and global warming are common, but I suspect that we won’t be seeing a bunch of plague stories post-COVID (cf. Survivors, the 1970s post-apocalyptic series created by Dalek creator Terry Nation, although that was a lab leak plague, so some human agency). I don’t think people want to be reminded how puny we are in comparison with nature.
In the wake of the Black Death, European art became distinctly morbid. There were depictions of the danse macabre, showing the Grim Reaper dancing with people in the fields. Rich people were buried in two-level transi tombs, with a human form depicted on the top and a decayed skeleton underneath, often accompanied by cheery messages like, “I was like you. You will be like me.” It would probably be a good thing if we were humbled in this way by COVID, but I don’t honestly see it happening.