Monday, March 30, 2015

The Aspie Traveler: Day 6 Part 1

Jet lag was relentless again. I first woke up at midnight and thought I overslept for a presentation. I must've been dreaming about presenting but once I figured out I hadn't overslept I had no idea where I was. It took some thinking, but I finally replayed the events of the past five days and figured out that I was a long ways from home.

Jet lag again woke me up at 3, 5 then at 7:15 a.m. There was no going back to sleep. And why would I want to go back asleep because the hotel breakfast was now open and I was ready for another amazing meal. I was not disappointed.

On the docket for the morning was walking to the Anne Frank house. From the first time I heard the story, I wanted to see the place where it took place. The line out front extended around the building and down a block so I wouldn't be going in, but the timing was perfect because I got there as the church bells were ringing out the time. It was a somber experience being there and it was hard to imagine what it was like in that exact spot 71 or so years ago.

I continued to walk around a bit and proceeded to almost get run over by several bicyclists. My trip is getting to the latter stages and you'd think I'd have adjusted to the bike lanes, but still it isn't something that comes natural for me. I'm so used to cars that you can hear whereas bicycles sneak up on you.

When I motioned for a bicyclist at an intersection to go by, and then quickly thereafter a car, I realized something; not once did anyone acknowledge that I had let them proceed. In America, well, at least in Missouri, when you give someone the right of way there is a wave of thanks, but I had not seen this once. The odd thing is I began to miss this, which in my early presentations I stated that I didn't understand why one would give a wave of thanks in such a situation and now it was gone.

This got me thinking that during the entire day up to that point, three hours, the ONLY interaction I had with anyone was at the grocery store where I got some local candy and a Monster Energy drink. Besides that one interaction, checking out, I wouldn't have even known I had existed. Back when I began presenting this would've been my dream! In fact, I've actually had several people with Asperger's across Missouri tell me they envy this part of the world for the lack of interactions that occurs. I didn't really understand what they were talking about until this walk, when I might as well have been a ghost. So I tried something new. I started to make it a point to make eye contact. Whoa, what? Yes, I was now drilling people with eye contact as they walked by to get something, anything, but it was all futile which leads me back to a chapter of Finding Kansas that I purposefully left out of the Finding Kansas Revisited blog series.

The chapter I omitted was “The Fourth Wall.” I mentioned in my series that it was "The Conscious Coma" that I had the dream of someday presenting overseas. This was wrong as it was actually “The Fourth Wall” that I had these thoughts so I apologize for the miscue, but it fit perfectly as I remembered that fact this morning at breakfast, which made me aware of all that has been said so far in this post.

So what is “The Fourth Wall?” The concept comes from the stage. If you were to go to a play, you are looking through the fourth wall as an actor has four; the two sidewalls, the backdrop, and the solid wall for them that separates them from the audience. Few plays do it, but another term is called “breaking the fourth wall,” which is when an actor acknowledges that you're watching. Plays don't often do this but more and more television shows are utilizing this feature which, when it happens it feels more real to life. In my chapter in my book I avowed that I wanted to be that invisible person in the back of the theater that no one notices because this would minimize the chance of a social encounter.

If I had written this in my Revisited series, I would have again stated firmly that I wanted to be that person that was invisible. But now, on the streets of Amsterdam, I was getting my wish. Trying to make eye contact felt as awkward as when I tried to avoid it.  I wrote a blog about this in 2013 when my sister visited Saint Louis and we were walking downtown. She made eye contact with everyone and so many people in return said "Hello", and yet here in Amsterdam I tried the same thing and nothing happened.

I'm not saying anything bad about the culture here, and five years ago I would've wanted such a thing, but now that I got what I wanted in the fourth wall not being breeched at all, I felt this overpowering feeling of just how alone I was on the other side of the Atlantic. Why did I come over here? The original plan was to get away from the relationship that fell apart and write my fifth book, but then I realized I could learn a lot more if I went out searching for bits of info like what I had just found being alone amongst thousands.

Walking back to the hotel I got lost and stuck on the North side of a park and I kept walking, waiting for a road to turn to the south all the while still trying to feel as if I existed. Then, when I did find that road, I notice something else. So often bicyclists were traveling in twos and threes and the interactions I noticed from those that knew each other was like every other interaction I've seen in America. I thought back to the days in the late 90's when I would see a group of friends and I'd pine for such an experience. Once again, at a corner of two roads in Amsterdam, I wanted it again.

Do you see the contradiction here? In my book I said I wanted the fourth wall to not be breeched and when I achieved it, as those with Asperger's told me I'd find it here, as well as Denmark and Sweden from what other people told me, I didn't want it anymore. I often say "X” is the essence of Asperger's’ but once again, I'll state something new and that contradiction is the essence of Asperger's. Why? At the start of my blog in 2010 I talked in great detail of random social encounters and the difficulties with them, the seemingly irrelevance of them, how I'd love a world where it didn't happen, and yet now I'm in a place where I've achieved that and I feel as if I'm a ghost.

Again, this isn't a knock on the culture or the people here. I highly respect the resolve of the people here and their focus, and furthermore, why would someone randomly say "Hello" to me? I'm an outsider, a foreigner, and an unknown stranger walking down the beautiful streets of Amsterdam. And yet I wonder what it's like on the other side of the wall here? What's it like to be in one of those groups on a bicycle with a friend known for many years?


All of these thoughts could change this evening. I'm breaking up today's blog into two days because this evening, and I mentioned yesterday, I'm doing something I've always wanted to do and that is to go to a European soccer, ahem, football match. Tonight is the second leg of the round of 16 in the UEFA Europa League with Amsterdam's AJAX vs. Dnipro. I bought some really good seats and I've been warned that people at a soccer game are very friendly with each other (especially when the home team is winning) so perhaps everything I’ve written today about wanting to be alone, well, perhaps the world of contradictions will live on.

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