Monday, January 30, 2023

A Most Engaging Story on a Volcano

"Aaron!" my girlfriend Kristen yelled, "There's a cockroach in there!" Indeed, there was, a bigger one than what I've seen back home in the states, but I'm on the island of Reunion and they seem to be larger. This wasn't how I wanted this day to start. This was going to be THE DAY and starting it with a creepy crawler wasn't how I envisioned this day to begin.

It wasn't first light yet, and we had a two-hour drive ahead of us on our way to Piton de la Fournaise. This island isn't well known in most of the world, and if you have heard of it, it's either because you've heard of this most active volcano, or perhaps the most shark infested waters in the world, or this is also where the aileron from MH370 washed ashore. This island is remote, and as our drive down the N1 progressed I thought back to the third e-mail I exchanged with Kristen in which she asked me where I'd travel if I could go anywhere. I mentioned this island and she, like most, had never heard of it and I said that exact same description to her about volcanoes and sharks. Somehow though, she was seated right beside me as the sun was now up in the East.

The drive to the volcano seemed to encompass four different climates. One minute it's a tropical shore, then we were in a rainforest, and as we neared the volcano, you'd have sworn you woke up on Mars. Between the moments of awe, I knew what I wanted to do today... would she say yes?

As we pulled into the park that has the volcano, I smiled back to our fourth e-mail on when she asked, "Are you doing anything fun this weekend?" I was, perhaps, a bit smug when I said, "I think so, you can watch what I'm doing this weekend on NBC." What else could I say? It was June 2021, and I was in Detroit for the NTT INDYCAR Series race there. It was going to come up at some point in time, that and she also was wondering why I had a selfie with Milo Ventimiglia on my profile so I answered both when she asked, "NBC"? 

Surprisingly, she watched both races that weekend and that certainly caught my attention. She had said she hadn't watched motorsports in the past, but now here was someone that was returning my emails,
loved to travel, and watched two INDYCAR races in one weekend... as intrigued as she was with my selfie with Milo, I was doubly intrigued by her.

I attempted this hike seven years ago and it was ill-fated. It was foggy, rainy, and had I continued onward when I abandoned it, I'd probably have ended up dead. So, could there be a better way to ask the ultimate question than here? Maybe, but I've never done anything traditional.

The start of the hike is hell. It's 560 steps down and none of the steps are the same height. It's 700ft downward of switchbacks, loose handrails, and uneven surfaces. I couldn't erase the thought that the cockroach was somehow a harbinger of the disaster that could come later and that the cockroach could, quite possibly, be the highlight of the day with everything else going downhill.

We survived the stairs and in front of us was the Formica Leo. This was a smaller volcano that has been dormant since the 18th century. There were dozens of people climbing on it and it was here that we made the mistake and went right instead of left. We didn't know it at the time, but this wrong turn added 1.61 miles to our day and about an extra kilometer of elevation we didn't need to do. 

As we rejoined the path and discovered our error, I quickly thought that this was such a perfect metaphor for our lives. I didn't know if I'd have the nerve to pop the question at the summit, but this was churning my thoughts on how to ask and utilizing the fact that, in life, we may end up on roads that we didn't intend to be on, but eventually we will end up exactly where we need to be. 

I couldn't believe, when we were emailing back and forth back in June of 2021, that she was going to wait to meet me. After Detroit, there was a race at Road America, then I had a USAC .25 race in Toledo

(almost got hit in the flag stand... imagine that) followed up by another INDYCAR race at Mid-Ohio. It would have to be a month, but she waited and all we had were emails followed up by texts and one phone call. I don't like talking on the phone, she respected that, and I couldn't wait to get home to meet this Kristen I had been chatting with for a month.

The weather turned. It became foggy, rainy, and the term "Middle-Earth" would've applied quite easily. Walking on the side of a volcano, if you haven't, is surreal. It doesn't seem real and as the rain came pelting down, the volcanic rock maintained a high level of grip. Had there been any slick spots, I'd probably have fallen, but then, behind me, I heard some loose gravel, and I looked back and saw Kristen slide, but she made a great catch to prevent from falling. Oh cockroach, don't be the best part of the day.

It was about then I had my first bit of doubt on this grand idea. Who proposes on top of a volcano? Who attempts such a hike when neither of us truly were prepared for just how daunting of a hike this was with these awful conditions? From the first time I mentioned it on Match, to meeting in person, Kristen has fully accepted me as me and has never once questioned any quirky behavior the autism spectrum plays out in myself. Never. Not once. I thought that maybe proposing on a volcano would add to the uniqueness and besides, we had just been in Paris and that's just way to cliche for me. A volcano would make a much cooler story. However, this hike was getting dangerous and all of a sudden it got real.

Kristen's foot got hung up as she tried to make a step down. Even ground simply doesn't exist on the latter half of the hike, or rather the whole hike, but this hang up caused her to fall. She did great preventing a faceplant into rocks, but instead she got her hands and shin. Her palms were scraped, and her shin started to bleed. At about the same moment the rain picked up and visibility dropped, and it felt like my ill-fated 2016 expedition which, I was sure I was going to die because it was at least two-hours back to the stairs we had descended and if it is hell going down, what would you call the same except going up after such a strenuous hike? The level of concern grew. 

When people fall in my presence, I don't usually know what to do. The other person can be hurt and yet they're the one comforting me... awful, I know, but in this instance, I asked for tissue to apply pressure to stop the bleeding. It wasn't bad, and after a minute the bleeding stopped, and now it was decision time. 

"Should we head back?" I asked. Just then another group passed us headed back and Kristen asked, "Are we close?" and the wife turned to the husband, speaking French, and the husband looked at us with a bit of disgust (maybe he thought we were ill-prepared? If he had, he would be correct) and he said, "for you two? At least an hour!" It was now 1PM, and we had been hiking since 7:55AM. We had already heard other people give us wrong times so if this hour turned into three hours, we might not make it back to the car in daylight. This was serious, it was dangerous, and again I asked, "should we go back?"

In one of our earlier emails, I talked about my regret on not seeing the summit. I felt as if I had come up short on a goal I had and I don't set many goals. She knew this, and despite bloody wrists, and an awful looking shin, she said we would continue onward. She didn't respond in question form. It was factual, with confidence, and with unwavering resolve. It was a no-brainer now. This day was exactly a metaphor for our lives. Her confidence in life, and in me, has been about as foreign of an experience as being 10,000 miles away from home.  

There was a signpost up ahead, it said summit in 20 minutes. It lied. The whole hike seemed to be false hope after false hope. "That's gotta be it!" was mentioned by both of us at least a dozen times. The times on the posts lied as well. However, we kept getting baited by thinking the next crest would be the destination, but we'd be met with another valley and more white dots.

On the ground every meter or so are painted white dots. They mark the path, or suggested path, as the fog and rain can get so bad that a meter is all you can see. For us, the visibility got down to maybe 50 feet, but we kept going, and we finally saw a new sign, this one mentioning that there's burning and unstable cracks below the path so we'd be best advised to stay on the path. Surely that meant we were close, right?

The clouds started to part as we made another climb and then, up ahead there was a new sign and then... nothing! The summit. I stopped as Kristen was 20 feet behind. I didn't want to see the glory of the crater by myself. This journey since the first emails we exchanged had been us, together, and I was going to make sure we made the final push together.

It was unbelievable! The silence at the top is unexplainable unless
you've been somewhere so vast and marked by nature's savage fury and heard the silence. It was still. The clouds were above, behind, left, and right of us but the view of the crater, which caved in in 2007, was unobstructed, and it was hard to process what was being seen. Also, the ring box in my pocket felt like a five-ton anvil. It needed to see the light of day, and I had been thinking about what I was going to do, so as Kristen ventured to the left to look, I told her I wanted to do a video blog and she should stand in front of me looking off to the horizon. The rest, I think, is best to let my real voice and her expression do the talking, and thank goodness that cockroach wasn't an omen and we somehow made it back with no water left and just an ounce of daylight left.

Friday, January 27, 2023

The Normal Pain in a Foreign Land

An hour prior I had been staring at the Indian Ocean, and
 I had a sensation that I find rare and that’s a feeling of serenity. Typically, I’m over analyzing every aspect of life and a sheer moment of peace is hard to find. The usual processing of “what I’ll be doing in 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, two hours… 10 minutes…” is repetitive and exhausting. My brain is always thinking, always analyzing, always exerting more effort in absorbing my surroundings than is anywhere near necessary, except here on Réunion. However, that sense of tranquility was smashed, burned, and obliterated by the all too common pointing out of an autistic trait I have. 

We had come in from the beach, and I had spent about 45 minutes out in the lagoon. Life was good. I told my girlfriend that, “I could cry I feel so relaxed.” Anyone that knows me knows “relaxed” is a word I don’t use to describe myself. Ever. Anyway, we got back into our AirBNB rental and the owner of the place stopped in for some papers to be signed. 

My girlfriend had been chatting with him for maybe five minutes while I was finishing up getting cleaned up. I eventually joined the conversation and he was as nice as could be. For saying he didn’t speak English well, he spoke English rather well and the words he did know he spoke without any issues at all. Communication was a two way street, and he showed up places we should visit and tips on driving. It was a flurry of information and as my girlfriend asked questions I did my normal, “stand there and listen” technique. 

I’m not good speaking in a group. I never have been. One-on-one I’m great, and speaking as a public speaker is far too easy for me, but put me in a setting where it’s one-on-one-plus-one and I will give one word, or shorter answers. It’s simply too much processing, and my attempted timing is akin to trying to square dance to a 1830’s waltz. 

A few more minutes in the conversation went by and the owner, perhaps jokingly, looked at me and said, “you don’t talk much, do you?” My paradise, was just crushed. 

If you’ve never had something pointed out that you wish you could do but you do poorly, I envy you and you might not be able to relate. I know I’m quiet, or as he put, “in French we say ‘you timid’”. I know I struggle, but I try. To have it noticed, and thrown into my face, even in a joking tone, makes me not want to try. Why should I try? This is the second time this month a person made such comments, previous one was back home in Saint Louis, so no matter where I go I’m in line for a crushing dose of reality. 

It’s hard to rebound from this. The event took place 26 hours ago and I’m just now to the point of going from the numbness of an event like that to feeling the emotions. It’s not a fun ride. 

Society has a long ways to go in understanding the invisible wall that Asperger’s creates. I wish I could be vocal, and engaging in a group, but that simply, most of the time, isn’t possible with my brain. I do have great talents, I know this, but the weaknesses too are great and when they’re blatantly mentioned and noticed, well, it makes me forget who I really am. 

I’ve never let a social snafu like this being me all the way down, and I’m trying to fend it off now. It does however show that whether at home, or 10,000 miles from home, there is no running away from who one is. I hope I can get back to that feeling of serenity, but I also know that my timidness will be noticed in any language on any land. Perhaps I was foolish to think otherwise.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Joy in Being

My time in Paris is drawing to a close, but I think we did as much as we could in 72 hours as we could. Jet lag has been awful so far, but between yesterday and today we saw many of the typical Paris sights. While the Louvre was downright mesmerizing, the true glee of travel for me comes from what many would call the mundane. 

Each morning on the way to the Metro, we made a stop at this grocery store on the corner. What's unique about this is that, at home, I loathe going into a store due to the chance of a random social interaction. It's different abroad though. Perhaps it goes to what I've discussed with the language barrier and not being able to respond. Because of this the amount of processing I have to use to get by decreases greatly.

At home, I have to worry about the verbal chess match. If a worker asks, "Can I help you?" I have to come up with a response while preparing for their counter move. There are so many possibilities and I'm trying to calculate them all. It's impossible, and it jams my ability to respond in a matter of time that makes me seem coherent. However, abroad, we are taking the processing element of language out of the equation because as soon as I speak perfect English, they know I don't speak the language of the land. After this, all I have to do is to focus on having a positive looking face with a smile.

It's difficult to truly describe to you how freeing of a sensation this is. Imagine, in your daily life, having to constantly worry about the next move, and the one after that, and the next two hundred thereafter. A great fear is natural with this because, and I'm trying to give you something to relate to, have you ever been tongue tied and the person you're talking to gives you a prompt to hurry up, or think faster? This is what every conversation feels like to me, so there should be little wonder as to why it is such a sense of freedom.

Tonight, we fly to the island of Reunion. English did get me places in Paris as many, well, almost all in a service environment do speak some, but from my experience on the island in 2016, English will get a person nowhere. Is it still that way? Will I experience the same sense of freeing disconnection I had in 2016? I don't know the answer, but I can't wait to find out. 

Monday, January 23, 2023

The Silence in the Words

Hello from Paris! 

It had been five years since I traveled abroad and jet lag hit extremely hard. So much so that, on the taxi ride from the airport to our hotel, I fell asleep in the seat. I’m not one to be able to sleep if there’s any stimuli whatsoever, so when I do sleep like this there’s this almost euphoric sense about it. Anyway, jet lag aside, there is a story from dinner last night that I think is highly relevant. 

I’m here in Paris with my girlfriend and we needed to find dinner. We were both exhausted, and as we walked almost aimlessly we stopped and ate at the first place we found. 

As we were seated, there was a group behind me of six people deep in conversation and also an older couples diagonal to them that were chatting. It was a chorus of words that had only brief bits of slowing down, and yet I was able to focus on my girlfriend’s words without problem. She also noticed that my sense of ease was higher than normal and remarked, “are you at peace because you can’t understand what they’re saying?” She couldn’t have been more right. 

I’ve loved to travel and this is one of the reasons. It is almost impossible for me to turn my ears off at home. I can’t simply not hear what is being said three tables over and once I hear it I process it. Even if I’m conversing with a person across from me, the level of stimuli I’m processing from all around makes it a tiring experience. However, when my brain knows I can’t understand the words, it becomes this silent noise that is simply there and not processed.

There is such a deep level of safety in this. If you don’t have this issue, it’ll be difficult for me to explain to you just how all encompassing of an experience it is to not be able to filter out the world at home, and yet when I’m in a foreign land with a language I don’t know, well, it’s one of the few times I’ll use the phrase, “at peace” when describing myself in a social setting. 

I wish I knew how to emulate this experience at home. Since the start of the pandemic I’ve dreamt about a return to a place like Tokyo where I don’t have to worry about words spoken and most of the locals will assume I don’t know the language. There’s such a peace in that environment. At presentations, when this area of life is brought up, others often recoil at the thought of both not understanding the words and not being able to communicate, but it’s been something I’ve grown fond of and yesterday, at dinner with my girlfriend, it was so obvious that she instantly knew I was at peace. 

Saturday, January 21, 2023

"What's your favorite memory?"


My blog is in travel mode as I head to Paris and try to avoid the fact that I’ll be turning 40 in a couple weeks. It was fitting that, at a presentation at a middle school earlier in the week, a student asked me, “What is your favorite memory?” I was momentarily stunned as I processed all the different things The students had a hint of all the things I’ve done, places I’ve seen, and people I’ve met, so there was a bit of pressure to produce a good answer. The answer, however, was one I didn’t know the answer to immediately after the question.

photo credit Walter Kuhn, IMS
My brain was racing. How could I come up with a favorite memory? The first image that flashed into my head was Helio Castroneves crossing the line under my twin checkered flags to win his fourth Indianapolis 500. That’s a moment that is indescribable as the roar of the fans was louder than the cars and I lived out an impossible life dream. I smiled and proceeded to answer the question by mentioning that this was the first thing that came to my mind, but in a way that moment is a moment just for me and it had nothing to do with the good of others so if it were my favorite, it would be with a hint of too much self.

Next up in my brain was flashes of all the awesome places I’ve been. I tried to explain the island of Reunion and how remote it is. That type of travel isn’t for everyone and witnessing a sunset on the horizon over the Indian Ocean isn’t a common occurrence for us North American inhabitants, but at the same time, as great of a memory as it is for me, it’s lacking on what should be the singular favorite memory.

I was speaking in circles and any seasoned politician would’ve been proud in my stalling tactics as I tried to formulate my answer. I spoke of presenting on the top floor of the J. Edgar Hoover building in DC, and as I mentioned that and scanned the audience and saw a teacher almost entranced with my words it hit me. I began my answer again.

“My favorite memory is actually a time I spoke at a school.” It was a fifth grade only presentation a little over a decade ago. I was a rookie when it came to school presentations, but the kids were entranced by my words, and it was the start of “magical” presentations. During these moments it’s as if the world has come to a halt and all previous moments were to be in that exact moment. The students, teachers, and anyone else watching is solely focused on my words, and the heartwarming questions the students ask. It was after that presentation, on that day over a decade ago, that I knew I was where I needed to be.

A teacher came to me afterwards with a solemn expression. He attempted to speak but words were failing him. He choked up, held his breath, and he said, “Mr. Likens, you’ve reignited my passion for teaching. Thank you.” That was it. Nothing more was said as his eyes began to water, and he then walked off. I’m not sure what was going on, and I don’t know what became of this teacher, but in that moment my pain of all the years prior were worth it. I continued my answer to the students earlier this week by saying, “In life you will never know the impact you’ll have on a person. Most of you probably don’t know for certain what you’d like to do as a career, and this applies more than just in your future work life, because every day you can have an impact like I had. Every day you have the chance to leave a lasting positive impact on a person by being a friend, a peer that lends a hand, or helping someone in need. I didn’t understand this until that teacher told me abut his passion for teaching and that’s why it’s my favorite memory.”


Thursday, January 19, 2023

Why Réunion?

A week from now I’ll be on an island I never thought I’d get the chance to go to, but what is my fascination with the island so few have ever heard of? If you have heard of it there are probably two things you’d know it for; the most shark infested waters and it’s the island that the aileron of MH370 washed ashore. Other than that, its existence is not known by most, so why am I going? The story starts in 2006. 

I was with my dad in Madagascar and the trip wasn’t going to plan. I contracted E-coli and was, well, at one point in time I was praying for death. Misery isn’t a word to encompass just how downright awful the experience was. Anyway, this trip was going to be a highlight in an otherwise stagnant time in my life. I was in the middle of writing what would become Finding Kansas, but other than that I didn’t have much going on so a trip like this was welcomed fully. With the illness, the trip was cut short. 

At this point in time, I’ve had my diagnosis of Asperger’s for just over two years and hope wasn’t in my vocabulary unless it had the suffix -less attached. Arriving at the airport to leave was crushing because, at the time, I believed I’d never have the chance to travel anywhere by myself. This trip was it, it was getting cut short, and what’s that? On a sign board at a gate it said “Réunion”. My mind went literal and thought, “how big of a reunion is it to post it on a board in Antananarivo, Madagascar?” I was confused and I wanted answers. 

When I got home 27 hours later I instantly went to the internet to see who had a gigantic reunion on the island of Madagascar, but I learned it was its own island about 300 miles away from Madagascar. The words written about it intrigued me. “Dangerous” and “adventure filled” were the words I saw. At the time, it wasn’t dangerous because of sharks but rather a mosquito-borne infection that had 90+% percent of the island infected. For whatever reason I vowed that someday I’d be able to go there on my own and in 2016 I did. 

In a way, in the years of 2017-2019 I felt like I did after my diagnosis. I felt as if there wasn’t any hope to make it anywhere again. I lied to myself in 2006, as well as those years just mentioned, and I wanted to be able to go one more time to the dangerous, adventure filled island.  Next week I will have defied my own odds and it’ll be back on one of the furthest places away I can get from home. I’m excited! 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Réunion flashback: the pizza

My trip to Réunion for my birthday is within a week and I’m curious if there will be any experience like this from 2016:

For the first time on this trip I woke up after 6:30AM, actually it was 8:30 as I concluded that the swim the day prior took a lot out of me. That, and the massive sun burn on my back to prove I was out for a long time. Breakfast was had and it was time to decide what to do.

            The volcano was calling but the weather forecast was horrendous with 50kph winds and 197mm of rain. I have no idea what that would be in numbers that I would understand, but it to, “expect flooding” so that was a no go. On top of that I had been emailing a guide that, if we agreed upon the terms, would lead a trek up the volcano tomorrow but the conditions were just too dangerous he said which meant that someday I’m going to have to come back here to finish what I started and hike up Piton de la Fournaise.

            So with the volcano now out of the question it was time to narrow down my options as to where to go and what to see. My previous chapters may have sounded as if I’m not enjoying this trip and it isn’t that I’m having a bad time it’s just that I’m not having the same type of time I had on the previous three trips. This isn’t to say it’s better or worse but I hope to cover this on the end chapter of this trip. Anyway, I was scrolling around Google maps and I came across Cascade de Grand Galet. I took from the name this was the famous waterfalls and the pictures proved I was right. I was elated to find this because in the tourism video I watched with my mom and sister a little over a month ago to show them where I was headed this area was featured heavily. 

            I looked at the map to try and memorize the route and I got into my car and started it up but then I looked to the south and then it hit me; the waterfalls are just a few miles south of the volcano and if that’s getting pelted with rain so too are the waterfalls. I rolled out of the hotel parking lot and when I could see to the south in full it was one of the nastiest looking storms I’ve seen on island which isn’t that many but I wanted to part of it so I parked and went back to my room in defeat.

            Now what to do? I had such a great idea and motivation only to be thwarted in my efforts. I looked out my window and now the ocean was calling my name. I still hadn’t made it out to the end of the barrier reef so I decided to give it a go.

            This was now my third time snorkeling and with each time I saw new aquatic life and fish I had not seen the previous time. Unlike the first two times I saw some rather large fish this time and I decided to follow them to just see what fish do. They had much better mobility through the coral than I did and they eventually went within one reef which for me was a coral dead end and as I surfaced I realized something; I was… Relaxing!

            It was unforeseen but swimming amongst the fish and the coral was now relaxing me. I was astonished and I thought back to the first day when I injured my foot and realized I may have let my guard down then because I was relaxing and didn’t know it.

            As I mentioned earlier I had a sunburn on my back and I didn’t want to risk a blister so when I was constantly impeded by the coral I threw in the towel, well, I actually swam back to shore to grab my towel but it was 50 minutes well spent but now I was once again in a dilemma as to what to do to fill my day.

            My mom had suggested earlier in the morning to read a book which I did bring an assortment of books to read but my logic to her as to why I hadn’t was that, “I can read a book at home.” This is true, but it was just a lame reason to say I didn’t want to read so once again I went to Google Maps to see what else was out there.

            Scrolling around the map I came across a picture icon of Le Maido. The reviews were high and the looking at the map it is situated across the cliffs that I saw in Cilaos. The views from Le Maido appeared to be breathtaking so off to my car once more and I went up D100 to RN one to head north for the first time and as I took the on ramp I looked up and what did I see? Well, the fact that I couldn’t see the top of the land meant the ceiling was low and that a trip up there would only be interesting if I were into cloud physics, which I might have been 20 years ago, but I wanted to see the cliffs, trees, and mountains so the next exit I got off and headed back to the hotel once again in defeat.

            Nothing was going how I had hoped today, not that I had a plan when I got up but each thing I chose had a block become in place. So once again I got out the fins and went back into the water and decided I’d swim until I became too tired to and once again I simply was in a state of doing while doing. I don’t think I could ever enjoy simply reclining in a beach chair watching the waves and the sky. No, that would never be me. I have to be doing something and discovering what lay behind each reef and seeing a fish I hadn’t seen before became highly enjoyable and relaxing. 

            In all my indecisiveness I had forgot to make a reservation with the hotel restaurant so I went to do that but found out they had no seats available which meant I could do an early dinner so I went to my go to pizza place which is by the grocery store which was closed. Much like what I saw in Norway most places are closed today with today being Sunday. This eatery though was open so I got out and then were a group of seven men by the outdoor bar and one woman and I was a bit nervous because their energy was exuberant. Nonetheless I approached and the manager recognized me from several days ago and shook my hand with an enthusiastic firmness. “Aaron!” he said, “Welcome back!” I was amazed he remembered my name because had a hard time pronouncing it the first day I went but once the greeting was out of the way I ordered and sat down under the canopy and observed the group of men.

            This group had been drinking, and were still drinking, and there mannerisms and gusto while speaking were almost over the top. It was all very French I believe. Each guy would go talk to the woman whom seemed to be disinterested in them but did nothing to stop them from talking. There were lots of handshakes, fist pumps, and sometimes even chest bumps from the men for reasons I could only imagine because I didn’t know what was being said, but I did see that this comradery was something I had never witnessed in America and they were having the most jovial of times and were completely free of any social barriers. Maybe the beer and wine had a bit to play, but it was something to watch knowing I’d never seen this type of time that people in the world experience.

            When you go to a local eatery the locals can quickly decipher who is new and one of the men came over and I instantly feared a Hammerfest episode; this was amplified by the fact that there was connecting factor and that was pizza. The man asked me, I think, if I spoke French. The problem I have with other languages is that I can’t even distinguish words as it’s all just sounds that I can’t decipher. Anyway, he quickly realized I didn’t understand a word of French and he asked, “English?” which then he said he spoke, “a little less than a little English” but he was able to ask me where I’m from and why I’m here. I don’t know if he understood my answers but he shook my hand and said, “thank you” and that was that.

            There was one man in particular that stood out from the group. He had his shirt off which is nothing out of the ordinary here, but he was bouncing from person to person and talking nonstop. I thought about the energy it must take to be that social, that free, and to be that commanding of those around you. It was something I looked at in awe.

            My pizza was done, I paid, and as I exited the little alcove where one pays the man without a shirt backed up into me. I whispered, “Sorry” and kept walking and then the man shouted which froze me and he started saying something and made a frowny face and he looked to be irate. The man who asked me where I’m from told him, “English” and this made the man even angrier. He then asked me where I’m from and I said, “America” and his audible anger turned into a gigantic smile and he said, “America! I love that place, I was in Las Vegas last week!” and he showed me a key chain casino chip with the Vegas skyline on it. I said, “I visit there once a year” and he said, “Awesome, except when the dealer gets 21!” He then shook my hand, and the manager, whom knows that I’m leaving in just over a day, told me, “bon voyage and bon appetite!” and then each man then shook my hand. This was unexpected and as I got into my car I felt, for the first time since I’ve been here, that maybe I sort of belong after all.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

“You Should Smile!”

This seemed to happen to me more often in the past, but recently it happened again and is so frustrating on several fronts. 

So anyway, it was early in the morning and I arrived at a place with a couple other people. As we got out of the car, a person working at the location greeted us with the two people I drove leading the way. He mentioned the great weather and the two person’s smile, but when he saw me he frowned and said, “they’re smiling, why aren’t you smiling? You should smile!” 

Crushed. That’s all I can say. Crushed. It’s a jarring experience when my social shortcomings are so bluntly seen and even more bluntly commented on. It was morning, I’m not a morning person, and even more importantly, if I have nothing to smile about I won’t be smiling. 

It takes so much effort to attempt to blend in. My facial expression feels natural being flat and expressionless. People used to mention that I looked sad, solemn, or serious and I might’ve or might not have been. However, I can only fake a smile for so long. I can’t simply smile to smile and when it is brought up like it was, well, the look of sad will be real. 

For the rest of the day I was thinking about that morning encounter. I started second guessing my facial expression and this seeped into myself question the words I was speaking. As soon as I start second-guessing my existence like this, more and more mistakes can take place, or my ability to fake it diminishes greatly. 

I’ve often wondered why others have to comment on the lack of a smile. Why do I have to be happy? Is it out of concern for me because if so, their concern eliminates the ability for an organic smile. Does it make them uncomfortable? Or is it that they just want me to smile? So often, the people that tell me this are people I don’t know personally. Those that know me know that, when I’m happy, I can’t hide that fact. If I’m not happy, I won’t be faking looking like I’m happy. So why then must I appease others with a social pleasantry that is fake. I don’t get it, but I fear the next time this will happen when I realize I’m not the expert chameleon I think I am. 

Thursday, January 12, 2023

A Reunion Flashback

In two weeks, I'll be headed back to the island of Reunion, here's a f;ashback to my first trip there and I blog I wrote in 2016:

With the little excursion yesterday I felt like having an adventure today and the greatest adventure one can tackle on Reunion is Piton de la fournaise which is the name of the active volcano on the island. Most people go with guides but all the websites were in French so I decided to make a go of it because, after all, how difficult could it possibly be?

Right before 8AM I got in the VW Up! and wheeled away from my hotel. Again, I’m so amazed at how fast I fall into routines and can feel as if I’ve been doing something for years. This, of course, only happens when I’m someplace I’ve never been and have no knowledge about anything in the place. Anyway, I got on the main road and finally found the right roads to hit D100 that took me back onto the RN1.

It was early in the morning and I hadn’t had an energy drink since I was in Paris so I stopped at a gas station which felt almost like a pit stop because the exit and on ramp are exclusive to this gas station, but going in I lived out a life dream.

This is going to sound odd, but for 20 years I’ve had a dream of stopping at a gas station in a European country. Yes, I’m technically in Africa but the soil is European and walking into the gas station I froze and soaked in the moment because I’ve done some incredible things in this book but this might just take the cake… Okay, in the grand scheme of things this may not be that high up on the list but my Aspie heart was elated as I went to the refrigerator and got a cranberry flavored Red Bull and then I stood in line. This was all so normal! I stood in line and no one around me knew I was from 10,000 miles away and had no idea what they were saying. I got to the counter where the clerk said, “bonjour!” and I, for the first time on this trip, responded with, “bonjour!” and he said the price which I had no idea what it was but I knew I had enough so I handed the money to him and he gave me change and said a bunch of other stuff and when he said “au revoir” I responded in kind and left with the biggest smile you could possibly imagined and I got in the VW, backed up, stalled it, caused a traffic jam, but still had the biggest smile possible.

The drive in store would be partially similar to yesterday’s drive with a trip through Saint Louis but instead of cutting off I’d be continuing to Saint-Pierre up on the RN3 where I would need to find D36. Now here’s the tricky part about D36 and that is there are two of them. Two! That would be like having two main streets in the same town in the same region but not connected. To complicate things road signs here aren’t overtly present outside of the RN1, and RN3. And if that wasn’t enough I accidentally triggered something on my phone that deleted the desired path. Thankfully, with Google maps, the phone remembers where you are and keeps a low-rez image of the region you are in as well as it knows where you are even in flight mode. However, narrowing down whether to take the first, second, third, or sometimes fourth exit at a roundabout can be tricky and on the second roundabout after getting off the RN3 I decided second exit and YES! I was on the D36.

The tricky thing about driving here is that, even though D36 is a semi-main road, there are many spurs off and at some point in time I took one of those spurs and ended up snaking through a neighborhood. Ten minutes later I was back on D36 and ten minutes later I was off on another spur where I came across a water truck and they were watering the shoulder. As to what this accomplished I’m not sure because this road was pavement and only a car width-and-a-half wide but I had to wait for the truck to move to get by. A couple corners later there was a man with a dastardly looking paddle that had the dreaded white bar with a red background and the road was closed so a U-turn was made and I had to deal with the water truck and its crew who were none too happy to see me and they talked to me and I made no indication that I understood them, because I didn’t, and this time the crew and the truck took their good time to clear the way. That would be ten sweet minutes to sit there and think about life.

The road was more fun than the day prior, not as spectacular with cliffs and one lane roads, but there were hairpins and the road was wide enough to not be scared the entire time. As I got to the point where D36 meets D36 (confused yet?) and merged into one D36 I was entering the farm land of Reunion and there were farmers working on the fields and cows with some impressive sized horns. From where I had been just an hour prior on the ocean it was odd to now be in a place that could pass for Iowa!

It was going to be tricky once more finding the right turn towards the volcano as I was looking for the road called Chemin Mathias and even if I wanted to ask someone for help there was no one about today. Really, yesterday driving up to that small mountain village the roads were filled with cars but here I was alone with just the road, daylight, and the cows watching me pass by. When I thought I was getting close I saw a sign that said, “Route du Volcan” I remembered back to knowing that Vulcan was the logical… wait no, that’s Star Trek… Vulcan was the Roman God of fire and volcanos are fire therefore that arrow was telling me the way to go.

As sunny as it was at the hotel the skies were now grey and the temperature was dropping. It was 28C at the hotel and now it was 19C and the numbers continued to drop as I entered the park where the volcano sits which is a really long name and has lots of accents marks I don’t know how to make in Microsoft Word, but I was getting close.

When I got into the park the trees all of a sudden were fir trees and I could’ve sworn I was in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The roads got twisty again and the 180 degree hairpins came back and I was not going to take these at any high rate of speed and once again I got in the habit of letting cars by. Somehow the cars I let by I got in front of them and the game went on but eventually I made it to where the pavement ends.

Mars? Am I on Mars? I knew I wasn’t but the surroundings could fool you and you’d have
thought they shot the movie The Martian right out in any given direction as the ground was red and rocks were haphazardly everywhere with some formations and others that tried but failed and were just in a pile. The road now was a gravel/rock mix with plenty of pot holes. I was stuck behind two other cars that were doing just 10kph and trying to miss every hole. A minivan stormed by doing at least 50, and I thought about joining him, but there were an alarmingly high amount of various car parts scattered about. There was a hose, then part of a muffler, then a wheel so I figured that the two cars in front of me knew something that I didn’t so I followed them slowly.

What should have been a 100 minute drive turned into 165 minutes but there I was at the end of the line. The temperature was now 14.5C, or 58.1F and the slight mist became a steady mist. “Dang! Only if I had a water proof jacket” I said only to remember that I do, at least back in my hotel room in my second suitcase which is my USAC raingear. So I was without a rain jacket, oh well, I still had shorts on. Shorts? Um, okay, this wasn’t starting out all that well but I did bring my extra warm long johns that I wore in Norway so I put those on and then put my shorts over them and I got my energy bars and water ready and I got out of my car ready for the five hour trek.

            Five hours lay ahead and if it were sunny I would be able to see the destination, but the ceiling was low and the mist was now teetering on being called a heavy drizzle. I got to the gate that had information in many languages and one was the dangers of an eruption and if the gate is closed it said, “do not pass due to extreme danger” which I thought was the most obvious statement ever because you can have signs that say, “don’t feed the bears” or, “don’t get out of your car in a nature preserve” but lava, yeah, I’ll do anything I can do to avoid a run in with lava.

            There were other bits of information such as, “don’t attempt to hike in heavy rain or heavy fog”. I looked up at the sky and it wasn’t exactly foggy and an annoying mist teetering on a heavy drizzle is not heavy rain so onward I went and found the 20 stories of stairs. That’s right, on this hike you immediately start with the steepest decent possible with what is the equivalent height of 20 stories and the stairs are spaced far apart and are uneven. One wrong step and it’ll be a nasty landing and my phobia of losing a tooth kept coming into my head.

            Zigging, then zagging, followed up by more of the same over and over as the decent continued onward into what I presumed to be a crater of some sort. I didn’t exactly know because it was now becoming a moderate rain with moderate fog. I had some trepidations on continuing but a volcano! How often does one get to do this? (Residents of places where volcanoes are common don’t answer that)

When I got to the bottom the world changed. On the decent stage there were an abundance of greens be it trees or flowers and now I was back on Mars, but instead of driving through it I would now be walking in it and the ground was not even as it obviously, at some point in time, been lava as I could see streaks where it had flowed and there were even some imprints of footsteps which puzzled me. I did have to look down a lot because the ground wasn’t even in the slightest and I had to choose my step closely all the while following the white bits of paint which is the guide. As close as the dots of paint are I became concerned because this meant when it gets foggy it gets to the point where one can’t see 15 feet in front and as I looked up for the first time in a while I could only see four dots in front of me. This now, in my book, classified as heavy fog. Oh, and the rain? It was now heavy with winds gusting well over 20 and here I am with nothing truly waterproof outside of my boots which were soaked on the inside from rain coming down and my computer bag substituting as a hiking bag and a voice of reasoning started to say, “Aaron, what the HELL are you doing? It’s one thing to travel to place you’ve never been but you know you can manage that but this? You’re no outdoorsman!” I decided that voice didn’t know what it was talking about and I continued onward.

I then heard something I hadn’t heard since the angry watering men and that was voices and through the fog came a couple and the woman frantically approached me and said, “bonjour!” and I returned in kind which led her to believe that I spoke French and I had to say, meekly and in the form of a question, “English?” and then the hand gestures and guessing games begun.

Her words went from French to partial English but I heard a word I understood as “accident” is the same, or at least spelled the same, in both languages, so I said and nodded, “accident?” and she said yes. She was visibly frustrated on trying to find the words to say. She kept pointing the way I was going and the way they came and she kept making a motion of a jacket which I presumed she was concerned about my well-being but she reiterated accident and I pointed that way and asked, “did someone fall?” and I made a falling motion and she nodded. She then said “serious, about 10 minutes from here” and that they were, “seeking cover and help”. I said I had nothing and they continued their way back to the starting point where there is a snack bar to seek that help. As they left the man, which hadn’t spoken, yelled to me, “be careful.”

I ventured forward ever the adventurer but their words now hit me. They had said, and I left this out, someone was tending to the seriously injured person, but as the rain now falling icily, and the wind blustering, and the fog denser than it had been I realized a trip onward would be asinine. There’s being an adventurer and there’s being in conditions in which one knows what they are doing and then there’s foolishly risking one’s life in the pursuit of trying to get an awesome Facebook profile picture. This wasn’t going to happen and I turned around and then climbed the stairs of doom (they weren’t as fun going up as down) and when I got to my car an hour later I turned the heat on and I thought about my day and then I thought about the various delays I had. It was an hour’s worth of delays and had I gotten there at my scheduled time it probably would’ve been sunny and I might not have brought the long johns. I’d have been hiking up the volcano which the weather is even worse there and potentially that could’ve been me needing help. Furthermore, with the conditions so poor, had I had an issue there most likely would have been no other parties making a trek that day, or even tomorrow if the weather continues to be poor, so with that thought I was content on my decision to abort the journey.

It was a long drive back, which I did see an ambulance at the entrance to the park some forty minutes in so help was on the way, but the drive back was made longer because I took the wrong D36, but made exploits in the crater got me thinking about how all this can tie into Asperger’s. This trip, at least on the island thus far, has been the least social of my trips, but it’s also been the most “out there” trip. Had this been trip #1 I wouldn’t have had the gull to get a car and venture out. Could I have done it? Possibly, but with each trip comes just a tick more of confidence and within the failure of my expedition comes the heart of this story and that is this; this book isn’t about a person on the autism spectrum exceeding their limits, but slowly increasing it. Could I someday be a hiker trained enough to take on conditions like that in earnest? With the training yes, maybe, but I’m not a hiker nor have I had any training so how could I even expect to make it with those odds against me? So too is everything else regarding the autism spectrum. The next person you may read, or know, that is on the autism spectrum may not want to travel, and doing what I’m doing in this experience may end much like my expedition to the volcano, but that’s the important thing.

Limits are an important thing to understand and when a limit is reached it’s got to be realized. I reached a crossroads in that crater; admit defeat or carry on to which would have been highly perilous. I chose right, thankfully, but what if I had tried Hammerfest on my first trip with no confidence? How would I have dealt with the drunk man without the confidence in previous life experiences? Progression is a key to life, autism spectrum or not, and one can’t simply go out and be the best or exceed their limitations simply because they want to. No, one has to work for it and work hard for what they want. It’s small steps, one at a time to get to a destination and for the next person out there, instead of a volcano, it may be getting a driver’s license, getting a job, or understanding fractions (ugh! Fractions) but whatever it is if the person isn’t prepared it could end in misfortune. Thankfully, today, I decided not to exceed my limitations. Hey, I just turned 33 yesterday, I gotta at least get a couple days past my birthday!

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Reunion Flash back: Madagascar

In 10 days, I'll be doing my first international overseas trip since the start of the pandemic. I'm excited, but this blog from 2016 reminds me to stay vigilant: 

The sun is out this morning and it is quickly warming up in the capitol of Madagascar. I don’t have much time here as my plane for Mauritius leaves in five hours, but all through the night, even in my dreams, I played and replayed the events of my arrival.

            There was a lesson I learned in school in fifth grade and that was never use red ink on anything but, since I was so tired yesterday, I used the red pen I had been using on my crossword puzzles for the visa entry and as I got in line I thought, “uh oh.” What’s the worst that could happen, though? Well, on that end not much but it put the elements in play for what would happen later.

            When I got to the first of four mandatory stops in the customs section of the airport my fears came true and the lady said, “Blue only!” She was real nice about it and let me come to the officials’ side of the kiosk to fill it out and I did only to make one error so I had to start over. This, I feared, was the start of a miserable night.

            Eventually I had success and got that little pamphlet stamped which meant I now had to go to the visa purchase line. I would have been far up in line but instead I now was in the back and the line moved at a pace akin to a motorless car going uphill. I was tired, a bit antsy, and I just wanted to go to sleep although there were a couple hundred other travelers in the same situation I was.

            I arrived at the visa station and had exact change, that would be $27, but then I looked and I thought, “I don’t have any other small bills. This might just be an issue should an issue arise.” The rest of my money I had tucked away in my sock because one just doesn’t know what could happen here and I was going to take every precaution possible to avoid trouble.

            After the final check of my passport at the police checkpoint I awaited my bag and when it came out I cleared customs and I went to the outer lobby of the airport where it looked as if a couple hundred or more people were waiting for the couple hundred that landed. I was a bit lost and I’m sure I looked it as trying to find my name on a sign in the midst of so many signs was difficult. Then, descended upon me a man in a florescent green vest and asked if I had a taxi waiting. I explained, “no, a hotel is picking me up” and he asked, “which one?” so I got my phone out to look it up and at this time two other people in equally shining green vests came and all of a sudden my bags were being handled by others. I should’ve said, “stop” but I wanted to know the name of my hotel and when I found it the first man said, “Ah yes, the driver is a friend of mine and he is over there.

            Where was over there? The guy with my sign was actually behind the masses which would have made it impossible for me to see without walking outside. Now, my bags were a couple dozen paces in front of me and somehow I now had an escort of six people in green vests. This was not good and I knew no good deed here goes unrewarded and all I had were large bills. I knew what seemed to be the right way to prepare for this trip would turn out to be a comedy in over-preparation since, had I had a bunch of $5’s, I’d have looked rather generous, but now… now things were about to get expensive, I feared.

            When we neared the hotel van one of the men said, “How’s this for security?” and I simply thought, “At what price?” After the Hammerfest incident I wanted to avoid anything remotely close to something resembling any event that could pose a threat. My goal is to neutralize any threat before it becomes one which sort of created this problem when I was so keen on telling the man of the name of my hotel. Had I just kept going I would’ve been okay and had he not stopped me I’d have gone to the currency exchange to get local money and when we got to the van I knew that they had a well-oiled game going on and I was the prize at the end.

            Before my bags went into the van hands just started to be held out. Their due diligence in walking me the 1000ft from the airport to the van was to be rewarded and the only thing I could do was try and negotiate because I didn’t have a bill for each person. Would they be willing to share a 20 Euro note? I handed one person the only 5 Euro I had and this was all but scoffed at so I took out a 20 and asked if this would be good for everyone and they all agreed. So I said, “give me back the 5 and you’ll get the 20” but the 20 was taken from my hand so quickly that this vision I had of negotiating quickly turned into a free-for-all. I was reminded of the “security” they provided and the “dangers” that lurked. Were there other dangers or was the dangers he mentioned the dangers they posed if I didn’t pay?

            All the while I was wondering, “Where on God’s green earth is the driver of this van? Shouldn’t he be saving me from this?” The 20 Euro was not good enough because the person that got it wasn’t going to share so then I was reminded of the dangers again with the constant pestering of these men saying, “please, baby, please, just a bit more.” Just a bit more but how much was enough?

            The remaining two bank notes I had in my wallet were a 50 Euro and a 100 US Dollar and I thought back to that morning, well, my morning when I took out all my small bills and left them at home and when I did I thought “Aaron, you clever person you, keep a couple large bills in your wallet and the rest in your sock and should you be robbed they can’t take that much!” Oh, clever indeed, but I had the vision of being robbed at knifepoint or gunpoint, not by six men less than 5 minutes of leaving the airport.

            Perhaps I looked the part of the sucker, but as their pleas for more money came and their tone intensified I had thoughts back to Hammerfest and how there was no prediction of that situation escalating and now, here in the dimly lit parking lot at 1AM, there were signs so I used my next to last note of the 50 Euro and I said, “is this good for everyone? This is my last note!” and the mass all agreed, but when the first person took it he wandered off and now the five said that person wouldn’t share… Of course he wouldn’t and their game continued.

            My bags were still on the ground beside one guy and it wasn’t in the van showing me they had not thought they had been compensated yet. At this point what am I going to do? Demand they just leave? There’s five of them and one of me and I’m tired, exhausted, and scared out of my mind. I weighed my options and I kept a calm demeanor as to ‘try’ not and show fear but I deemed this to be a losing cause and I took out the final bill from my wallet and said, “This is it! Okay!? There’s nothing after this. You will split this. Who can I trust to give this to?” They all said the person that had already in their possession my 5 and 20 Euro note so I gave it to him and they all thanked me and left which at this very moment the hotel driver showed up and wanted a tip. “They took it all” I replied.

            The entire ten minute ride to the hotel was filled with self-hate. In my preparations I played through scenarios where I only lose a bit thanks to my forethought, but this all but ambush was unexpected and was executed flawlessly. The second my bag was out of my hand their game was on and they were assured victory. I doubt things ever turn physical and if I simply refused to pay them they probably would have left. I mean, if tourists were constantly being beat up in the parking lot that would not look good for the tourism board of Madagascar but, what if it would turn physical? I had my computer which had the previous chapters to this trip on it, I had my iPad in my computer bag which had not left my possession, and I had my phone in my pocket along with my passport. I doubt they’d have found the money in my sock had they beat me up but at that point, had I lost my electronics and passport, what would it have mattered. Logically, even though I hated myself for it, paying them off was the only sure fire way to get out of that situation once it had started.

            This will be a learning experience and as I got to the airport today to go to Mauritius on my way to Reunion I’ll be protecting my bags with a furor. I’m not playing that game again as I don’t know if I have enough self-hate to go through another episode of losing that much money in that type of situation, but in the least I hope those men treat themselves to a good meal today because they played a great game and I gave them what I have to think is the grand prize.

Monday, January 9, 2023

A Game of Pinball

Over the weekend, my girlfriend and I visited CP Pinball in Roxana, Illinois. It was our second time there in three months and the deal is simply amazing. For $20 you get UNLIMITED PLAY for FOUR HOURS! Where was this when I was age 10? 

Pinball used to be something I excelled at. Like, watching me play was described as “art” by my first girlfriend. I could set a high score on almost any machine, call my shots as I was playing, and it had been a long time since I felt that level of “one with the machine” that I used to feel so often in person. Simulated pinball is nice, but it’s just not the same. 

One of the machines that I really wanted to do well at was the Indianapolis 500 pinball table. It makes sense, right? Anyway, my girlfriend and I went to it after the man that had been there an hour and seemed to have some good score scoring around 300-500million. Replay, not that it was needed, was 200million. 

The first game my girlfriend won! I don’t think she’s played extensively, but they’re certainly a foundation of skills and reflexes there. The second game I started getting my timing down, and by game three my girlfriend wanted to move on but I was starting to feel a connection, a zen-like experience where there is no thought on what’s about to happen. Timing becomes perfect, and it becomes easy to hit every target at will. Call it the zone, call it anything, for me it’s sheer bliss and as my girlfriend played the machine beside me I said, “I think I can set the high score.” It was at 1.3billion and I had yet to score half of that. I knew this feeling, and that record was going down. 

I don’t think I’ve conveyed in all my writings just how competitive I am. It’s tapered down a little bit as I used to have to win at everything, but now I only expect myself to do as good as my skills allow. This means that, if I know I’m capable of the best, I expect it. All the previous hours at CP Pinball had been leisure, but now the competitive juices were flowing and nothing but that high score would be satisfactory.

The first ball of the game lasted 20 minutes. It was a journey to the top and while the points were coming in bunches and I played in an autopilot state that is impossible to explain, I had thoughts of all the pinball games I’ve had before. I thought back to the fact it was pinball in a news article that my dad read that helped him realize I was on the autism spectrum, and I laughed as I trapped a ball with the flipper to slow the game down. My dad used to always tell me to do that but of course I knew better… for some reason I got better when j listened… only took a decade from the first time he told me. 

Ball two came, and the by the end of that ball’s bonus I had eclipsed the high score. There would be no sweating it out on needing one shot to get a multiball while having no safety net. I had done it. High score at a place that a lot of professionals play at. 

I had forgotten the feel of having a goal and crushing it. I forgot about the clarity that comes within achieving subconscious awesomeness. This is something quite simply is a “if you know you know” because how can I explain time slowing down, and the noise of the environment ceasing, and that all the sensory challenges I have turning I to an unfair advantage as the ball becomes a tool of my brain to move at its will?

I’m sure Kristen and I will be back. In a way I hope someone out there beats my record because I know I have more left. 1.6billion was my final score, but 3 billion? That’ll be easy!

Friday, January 6, 2023


I just finished watching a series that had an actor that played one of the most convincing, and chilling bad guys I've ever seen. Each scene he was in became a canvas for his acting skills to shine on. There's a big thing I learned though, and I wrote it in the last sentence... "acting skills".

When I finished the series, I looked up some interviews from crew and cast, and the baddie actor was interviewed. Watching it, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Gone were the smooth, seamless moves. Gone were the confidence and the aura of being in complete control. It was all replaced with a rather meek man who was... human.

I wish I would've understood this at a younger age. Perhaps anyone that watched this series would've come to the same conclusion of this man's confidence in life because he's an awesome actor. What he portrayed on the screen wasn't who he was at all (thank goodness, actually) but he was doing what the script said. How does this fit into my blog? It's because of all the actors and actresses out there... everyone.

Growing up, and even up until a few years ago, I was envious of what everyone else had. It seemed everyone had the confidence of that actor in that show. Everyone else seemed to glide through the day seamlessly and without effort while I would be uncomfortable in my own skin having no idea how my posture should look or what direction my arms and hands should have. Day-after-day of seeing everyone else's perfection takes a toll, but I do wish I could've seen a situation like that actor's interview earlier in my life because what one sees probably isn't 100% reality.

There are probably some people out there that do ooze confidence and are in complete control in every situation they're in, but not many. Most have doubts, fears, and trepidations but are great actors in concealing them. What is seen may not be reality. Most of the world had me convinced that I was so much lesser than who I actually am because of this imagined, acted world. How could I compete with perfection? What's the motivation to compete against perfection? 

The world had me sold. I believed the actors. It's not like this, however, and yes, those that don't have Asperger's may have faster processing when things go awry, but if I relayed how many neurotypical individuals mentioned the anxieties I mention in my presentation are emotions they have, well, if I tried to relay it, it would be months and months of blog posts.

 If you would've told me all this two decade ago, I'm not sure I'd have believed you. With that said, if at a presentation and this subject comes up, I'm not sure how to convey this fully to convince someone that the world isn't perfect and people project what they want the world to see. What's the saying? All the world's a stage? And from my interactions, there are millions and billions of award-winning actors out there that ooze the confidence I'm envious of, but the world is indeed a stage and they're concealing the fears I face head-on. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

The Fever Effect

My 2023 is off to a sickly start. I typically get a horrible sinus infection once a year and it’s now. The odd thing is that the fever I’ve been running has been giving the opposite effect of the blog post below. The blog below is from 2010, but with my increased heart rate now it has been like a faucet tap has been turned on increasing my level of worry/anxiety. It’s been a unique experience and I’m not sure if a decade removed has made a difference, or if this sinus infection has changed the rules of the fever.

I don't know how to start this entry as this statement may seem odd. For some people these experiences might be very difficult, but for me I look forward to them. These experiences would be the best in the world, if not for the headaches, body aches, and the sore throat. Those side effects aside, a fever is a welcomed event.

Why is something that is so harsh on a body a welcomed event? I think I can say that the only time I relax is during a fever. It's a very bizarre sensation as my mind's habit of overly thinking about everything slows down.

Things seem to make more sense when I have a fever. Perhaps this is because my body's energy is elsewhere and my mental focus isn't dwelling on anything.

When I was in school a fever was like winning the lottery as it meant I would not be going to school. Could this be why I feel better, now, with a fever? Much like a certain aroma may remind you of your grandmother's house, a fever reminds me of the freedom of not dealing with school for a day.

I'm not so sure this is simply based on the memories of avoiding school. There is certainly a change in the way I process information during a fever. I know I smile more often and my rigidness to any and all things decreases. It's a shame that the side effects come along with the fever!

So, I do have a question of you whether you are or aren't on the spectrum; What is a fever like for you? I know I had a friend, not on the spectrum, that got really mean and almost aggressive when he had a fever. I was always confused by this because I associate a fever with relaxation.

Finally, I should say when I say fever I am talking about the 99.5-101 range. Anything above 101 has been truly unpleasant and it speeds up my mind to an unwanted level. When I had my bout with MRSA and my fever was 105 I could not slow my mind down. The unfiltered emotions I felt were to an almost unbearable level and this was weird because my strength in my body was non-existent.

So, again, does a fever change the way your mind processes information, or am I the only one who has this seemingly odd characteristic?

PS, I have known this about myself for a long time, and first talked about it openly in 2005. I never thought anything of it, but after writing this I did a Google search of "fever" and "autism" and many media outlets (webmd, Time, ABC News) all have had stories such as, "Fever may improve behavior in kids with autism".

Monday, January 2, 2023

2023: The Year to Come

Welcome to 2023! The changing of the year always has brought about a sense of dread to me as, even from a young age, I knew it would never be the previous year ever again. 2022? It's done, never to be experienced again and whether I was 8 years old, or 39, there's something gravely terminal about it that saddens me. 

Speaking of 39... oh goodness! 2023 will be the year I turn 40. Midlife crisis? Probably not, but turning 30 was a trying experience a decade ago made more so by the 5th grader that, at a presentation, asked how old I was, and I responded that I had turned 30 last week and she said, "30? EWWWWW!" I took it in stride and told her that she should remember that day forever and when she turned 30, I would hope she would remember "EWWWWWW!"

Banter from students aside, the turning of 40 is, obviously, a major milestone. There's probably a mix of being human and a hint of autism in this mix as I've always heard of people dreading this milestone, so I have that but also the fact I will never have a 3 at the start of my age again. Ever. It's going to be a trying experience which is why I'm doing the "healthy" thing and running away for my birthday. Yes, for the second time in my life my birthday will be celebrated on the island of Réunion. I went there in 2016 as part of a blog project, which the week leading up to this year's trip I'll run a couple of the posts from back then to compare, that saw me travel to places pretty much ill-prepared to see if I could navigate new places where I knew no one and didn't know the language.

Once again in 2023, I'll be in the flagstand for the NTT INDYCAR Series, including flagging the 107th edition of the world's greatest race, the Indianapolis 500. I can't wait for the season to kick off in St. Pete and I look forward to sharing with you more stories from the road.

That's the stage set for the year. I can't wait to share the insights I have, the stories of hope, and the trip to the island should have more than enough writing material for a stellar blog or two, or ten. 

Here's to 2023! The year's begun, let's make it great!