#026 A Portrait of an Autistic Special Interest

The Intentional Hulk

When I first started college, I struggled with in-person interaction so much that I went online to find friends. One day, an internet friend sent me a URL and told me to how to use it.

I lived in an off-campus dorm at a university in Minnesota. Our dorm computers didn’t have browsers, nor OS’s to install them on (it was 1994), so I wrote it down and took the shuttle to main campus. The sun was on its way down. The air was so cold it stung. The snowbanks on the sidewalks were taller than me.

I don’t remember what that first website was about, but as soon as I learned about a thing called a “homepage,” I wanted one. I loved the idea of people finding a little piece of me in my absence. It’d be like leaving a note in the woods or a message in a bottle.

One of my favorites was made by a brother and sister. It had step-by-step instructions on how to use Manic Panic hair dye, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

I convinced a friend to give me a little corner on his webserver, and I copied code, asked questions, and trialed and errored.

My first background image was a scan of a very dense drawing I’d made with a blue ball point pen and a pink highlighter. It took ages to load over 14.4 kbps, and people couldn’t read the bright yellow text until the dark background appeared. Every time someone complained about it, I sprawled in my chair and cackled.

I added a journal-like section. It existed before the term “blog” existed, so I called it an online journal. I mostly wrote about the granular details of my life. I never said anything consequential, but I thought it was possible for someone to read the details and follow them like breadcrumbs to the real me.

Every time I updated, I deleted the previous entry because it never occurred to me to leave stuff up indefinitely. I didn’t want to take up too much space (on the server, on the internet, in the world). Besides, my old entry didn’t accurately represent me, anymore. I’d moved on, and I figured the internet should, too.

After college, I worked as an HTML programmer for a dot-com for about a year. I stopped when the first internet bubble burst around 2001-ish.

I saw myself as too outside of the box to be a post dot-com programmer. I was a young woman. I’d studied art in college. I wasn’t good at math. I relied heavily on signals from other people, and I wasn’t getting any that told me to continue.

So, I did other things, but I always felt the need to keep a website of some kind, often several, even if that meant I’d neglect them for long periods of time. Some of my websites were obscure art projects, some were dedicated to pets (each pet with a separate website), some were galleries for my art or vacation photos, and some were for book reviews.

Apparently, one of my websites (the green one) was a in-depth review of my old apartment building. I think I didn’t like it there.

Web design was a natural extension of my art, but free of the unpredictability of the physical world. For better or worse, code always does what you tell it to do. It’s one of the few places where I can efficiently scratch my itch for accuracy.

That doesn’t mean I always get it right. I get stuck a lot, but I find my way out a lot, too.

A website about my websites. I don’t think I ever made this one live.

Special interests wax and wane (well, mine do, anyway), and they all have their own rhythm. With web development, I can ignore it for months, or even years, and then, there’s some kind of trigger. Someone I know needs a website or I want to redesign my own.

Then, I’ll realize that I haven’t left my keyboard for six hours. Eating is an annoying waste of time. Showers only exist to give me time to think over my next coding issue. Sleep only happens when the website is presentable—no pixels out of place.

I’m not in a normal state of operation. I don’t exist, anymore. The website is the universe, and I’m it’s gardener.

In general, that’s true of all my special interests. They offer me transcendence from the pains associated with being human. They’re lucid dreams with real world outcomes, but they can’t last forever.

Eventually, I get used up. Loss of skill is a symptom of autistic burnout, and I don’t just lose my complex skills. I experience a system-wide shutdown. The only things running are the emergency lights and life-support.

I usually see it coming, but I like to keep the pedal to the floor until the tank empties. In some ways, it’s kind of cathartic.

Under most circumstances, I resent myself for being autistic, but sometimes, I look at my pages of code, my piles of notebooks (filled with writing), or at the stacks of my art and think, “Maybe being me is worth the trouble.”

I think that because I believe the things I make have value.

Moreover, their existence is proof that I got to make them. Like many autistics, I fall into emotional dysregulation easily. In dysregulation, there’s no coding, no writing, no art, and no other special interests.

I grieve the loss when I’m in these fallow times, and the evidence of my productivity reminds me that productive times will probably come around again. I just need a certain amount of care and stability to heal.

Anyway, this is why I haven’t posted here in a while. I’ve redesigned my website, and then I had to recover from redesigning my website.

I’ve also been writing and revising a lot and submitting to places that keep turning me down.

So, here I am, feeling a little ashamed at how badly I’ve treated my newsletter but still doing my best.

A friend of mine wrote a book called The Butterfly Cafe. It came out a few months ago, and I can’t describe it any better than I did in my review:

This is a beloved comfort read that I’ll return to over and over again.

Listen, I know the author. I provided feedback on the earliest scenes and her first completed draft. I’m NAMED in the acknowledgments. I have every reason to tell you I love this book, but that’s not why I’m telling you I love this book.

I knew how it was going to end, and I still couldn’t put it down. The main character is an actual real person. The narrative voice is straight forward and often really funny. The setting (which is Tokyo, Japan) is spot on, but it doesn’t overwhelm the story. It’s not a “foreigner in Japan” story. It’s a story about a woman making her bones.

If you love contemporary women’s fiction, you will not be disappointed.

So, go check it out.

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