ME: We’re fucked.
THEM: You should try being more positive.
ME: Okay. I am positive that we are fucked.
As an Autistic person, I’ve always struggled with the concept of positivity, when faced with a negative reality that forces honesty. This is difficult to describe, so I’ll give you two examples.
1 OF 2: AN ADULT WHO IS BAD WITH MONEY
I was not yet 16 years old, so this was before the end of 1980. We had driven up to Pendleton to visit with my aunt. Up to the fateful day in question, she was my favorite aunt.
A little history is in order, so that the event will make sense.
Her house had a 3-car garage attached to it. This was also where the laundry washer and dryer were located. One thing I had noticed about the garage was that women’s clothing was piling up to the ceiling and filling up one-third of the garage space. I had noticed this and watched it for THREE years.
Of course, I had nothing in my mind telling me that this wasn’t something that I should be bringing up, so I asked her about it. As it turns out, the clothes had belonged to my female cousin, Lammy. She was very pretty and raised like some kind of wealthy socialite.
It was like watching Snow White get raised by the evil Queen.
My aunt’s response to my question was, “Lammy’s friends can’t see her wearing the same thing twice in a row.”
To that, I could only reply, “Sounds like Lammy has some shitty friends.”
But this is NOT the problem. This is just the set-up. Yes, it gets worse.
The event in question involved a discussion that was being had while we were all having breakfast at her dining table. My aunt was talking with my mom about her house being under foreclosure. I might have been a young teen, but I could see the problem from a mile away. So, in an effort to be helpful, I interjected my thoughts.
“If you weren’t wasting so much money on Lammy’s clothes, then your house might not be in foreclosure.”
Yes, I can tell now that this is rather blunt. The look on her face was that of horror. She snapped back, “That’s not funny.” To that, I could only reply, “I am not kidding.”
This was the last time I ever saw my aunt. Bullet dodged.
2 OF 2: ANOTHER ADULT WHO IS BAD WITH MONEY
This event occurred in early 1988, when I was working at a computer rental firm called Computer Rents. The owner was a big, arrogant, cocky, and intimidating man named Don.
Don knew about my experience at McDonald’s. He would sometimes say, “Sure beats the fuck out of flipping burgers, eh?” Other times, he would use that phrase in a disparaging way, to insult someone who was not capable of earning. In this regard, he was a classist.
“That guy’s got a future flipping burgers.”
One day, two men in suits from the Internal Revenue Service [IRS] came in to sit with our accountant to go over the books. The accountant’s office had a picture window, so I could see him in there. These two guys were standing over his shoulder, and he was sitting there with his elbows on his desk, head in hands.
After only one hour, I can’t help myself and comment on the situation. “I have a strong feeling that we’re going to be flipping burgers soon.” My guess is that I was merely utilizing the terminology that was popular in the office.
Don replies, “That’s not funny, Dan.” Once again, I can only reply, “I’m not kidding.”
After six hours, the two men emerged from the accountant’s office. “Attention, everyone. This business is now officially closed. You will not be receiving your final paychecks. Everyone go home.”
I was right.
The second incident closely relates to the first. This is what caught my attention when the second incident happened. My recall was instant.
Oops, I opened my mouth again.
The other thing that caught my attention was that both of the people who were offended thought that I was making a joke of the situation. I was NOT joking, at all. I was merely stating what I felt was painfully obvious.
In the first situation, I thought that stating what was obvious might be helpful, since it seemed that my aunt wasn’t seeing this, or was lying to herself about it, or was in denial. People who live in denial don’t want the truth being told. They actively avoid it.
In the second situation, I was expressing my hard feelings about the fact that we were all about to lose our jobs, because the company would be lost to the IRS. Maybe he was too wrapped up in his own difficult feelings, as the owner of the company. It could have been the case that I merely stole his line.
Both of these people were/are heavy-duty Narcissists.
But what was the most sad about all of this for me was that I liked both of these people. I looked up to them. When people would ask me about my favorite relative — outside of my mother and maternal grandparents — I would reference my aunt as one of the two. The other was my uncle [her brother], but he is also a big Narcissists.
And to this day, if I ever get a job interview and they ask me about the best job I ever had, I will very openly and happily talk about my days at Computer Rents. Don was intimidating, and I know that I frustrated him at times, but I looked up to him.
I hoped to be like him one day; a rich asshole who can say whatever he feels like. After all, I clearly had a problem where I would say whatever I wanted, and it always caused me trouble. In America, being rich makes this problem sort of go away, to a big degree.
HOW DO PEOPLE REMAIN POSITIVE DURING DIFFICULT TIMES?
This is a question that I cannot answer. Are they lying to themselves? Are they delusional? Are they acting like things are fine, in an effort to try to influence things in a more positive direction?
It is something that I do not understand. To me, when things are bad, it means things are bad. In these two situations, I cannot twist any of it in a way that makes it positive.
YES. I KNOW. PERSPECTIVE
There is a story Alan Watts liked to tell, which I will repeat in a way that may not be verbati.
This is a story about a Chinese farmer who has a humble farm with some land and a few animals.
One day, his favorite horse broke out of its stable and ran away. When his neighbors found out, they said, “Oh, that’s such bad news.”
The farmer replied, “Maybe.”
The next day, his horse returned with a group of stallions. They all walked into the barn. The farmer was able to put each stallion into a stable. His neighbors commented, “What great fortune!”
The farmer replied, “Maybe.”
The farmer’s son was out trying to “break” one of the stallions so that he could put a saddle on it. The stallion knocked him down, breaking his leg. His neighbors sounded concerned, “Oh no! What bad luck!”
The farmer replied, “Maybe.”
The next day, the Chinese government was going door-to-door in search of able-bodied men that could be sent off to war. Because of his broken leg, the government decided to NOT draft the farmer’s son. His neighbors felt relived, “Ah, you are one lucky man.”
The farmer replied, “Maybe.”
People have explained to me that this story means that when something doesn’t work out, that means something better is in store for you. It’s the, “when god closes a door, he opens a window.”
This is positivity at work, but it is not always true.
The BIG problem with their explanation, which they do not see, is that the story is about the concept of dismissing the idea of “bad” or “good” things happening.
This idea suffers a paradox. If good and bad have been discarded, then there is NO such thing as “better.”
So, as an example, when your relationship doesn’t work out, that does NOT mean that something better is around the corner. Maybe something DIFFERENT will be around the corner. But if there is no good or bad, then there is no better.
There just is. Nothing more.
So when my once-favorite aunt dumped me, there was NOT a new favorite aunt to take her place. And when my favorite boss and favorite job fell apart, there was NOT a new favorite boss or new favorite job.
Those things just ended. They both easily moved on. But I would struggle for decades, thinking about these situations, what I did wrong, why I did it, how I could stop it, why I can’t stop it, and so on.
Being Autistic and not knowing that you’re Autistic is a situation that raises hundreds of questions that are not only NEVER answered, but they raise more questions of their own. It’s like a question family that keeps pumping out more baby questions, Duggar style.
Finding out roughly 3 decades after the last incident has helped a bit. I stopped wondering about what it would be like to be able to call or write with my aunt, and came to terms, accepting the fact that she’s not the kind of person who would be a positive force in my life.
I had written with Don once, about ten years after the incident. He was working on a website service, where you can find businesses, reviews, etc. It sounded neat, at first. But as websites like Google, Yelp, and Angie’s List took hold, I lost all hope for his “too little, too late” idea.
IN THE END
We are all flawed people. Although I have not historically had a use for something like positivity, I can see how sometimes it might help people through some difficult times. No doubt, I was wrong to speak up when I did, how I did. It was all that I could do, because it was part of who I was.
Who I am is why my life has had difficulties that others don’t seem to experience. I see many instances of neurotypical people skating through life like it’s no big deal. I know they have their issues and challenges, so I’m not seeing some kind of delusional pollyanna dream of utopia when I inspect their lives.
They have their problems. It’s just that their problems don’t seem to be caused by a compulsion to speak out, and to speak in blunt, honest terms.
But I am learning how to stop being so brutally and thoroughly honest. I have been learning how to lie like “normal” people. Part of it is understanding that things aren’t literally the things they appear to be.
For example, when someone asks, “How are you doing today?” they don’t REALLY want to know how I am doing. They are not asking because they care. It’s just bullshit that people say before they get to what they really wanted to say.
So, in an effort to do my part, I will lie and say, “I am fine, thanks. How are you?” Although I might actually care to know how they are doing, chances are really great that I am NOT doing fine. So I lie and say that I am doing fine.
This lie worries me, because the day might have challenges that require me to be doing fine. My thoughts were that maybe they were asking how I was doing because I was about to meet a big challenge, and I’d best be doing fine and having a good day if I want to get through this challenge and survive.
This would result in the question of how I am doing generating a great deal of fear and anxiety.
I clearly still have a great deal to learn about humans and how they interact. They don’t teach this in school, and most parents assume that it’s something that is natural.
But we humans are a weird bunch. We need classes on how to have sex, so it makes sense that we’d need to have a class or two on how to address certain scenarios and people.
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