Comfort-able

For the first time in months and months — far longer than it should have been, but there we are with the insane busyness of life — a friend and I got together at her house for dinner.
“You look like you’re finally relaxing,” she said after I’d been there a little while, and we decided to not wait in conversational limbo for the third person (who never did show).  “You were so stiff when you came in,” and she made reference by some expression (that now escapes memory) of how I was indicating being relaxed by behaving more normally.
Not “normally” in the er, Normal (neurotypical) sense, but me-normal, where I felt comfortable enough to sit and rock slightly, to not worry about making eye contact, to get a bit flappy at funny events or when agitated, to shed the pent-up motor tics.  To just be me. To “let my hair down” and to set aside unnecessarily restrictive social norms.  To eat my chicken and rice with a fork, and the still-crisp cooked green beans neatly with my fingers (as one does with fries or asparagus), because her table was Nicely Set for our aesthetic enjoyment and yet we weren’t standing on formality.
We talked about typical stuff, like the foibles of spouses, the concerns for college-age kids, the drudgery of eternal home repairs, the quirks of cats, of temperamental computers and the thrills of new mobile phones, of career changes, and the vicissitudes of economic times.
We also talked about atypical stuff, like the difficulties of college education and employment when dealing with various educational/neurological disabilities, of managing arthritis pain and joint issues, of the wonders of TMJ bite blocks, of dealing with the profound cluelessness of the general public for the extreme pain of migraines and how hospital Emergency (A&E) is a horrid place to physically be when in the throes of gut-wrenching-head-splitting pain and the snarkiness of some medics therein.
Crip chicks like we don’t diss on our disabilities, we diss from our disabilities.  It’s not poor-pitiful-me whining but the healthy pitch-a-bitch whining from someone who understands, even when our respective glitches are not all issues shared in common.
I need more social life, but there’s so much of ordinary socialising that I find enervating.
I’m not antisocial; the interest in socialising is not a binary form, where one either does it or doesn’t do it.  But over the years I have learned what I actually enjoy (as opposed to what one is “supposed to” enjoy).  My intro/extroversion levels vary wildly because some kinds of social interaction are nothing but draining, while others leave me (if not physically) at least spiritually recharged.
I’m not fond of socialising by large quantities of people all chattering with each other in the same room, where the conversations get all blenderized from my Auditory Processing Disorder, to where I end up trying to tease apart sequential fragments of half a dozen unrelated conversations, fruitlessly trying to follow just one voice or two, and reasoning out from fractured context what some of the mis-heard words could possibly be.
I’m not fond of socialising where the content gets watered down to less-consequential subjects of chit-chat, by dint of less privacy and some unwritten code of how long one is “supposed” to entertain time with another guest before moving on, and by the other unwritten rules of conversational quid pro quo, where my monologuing to fully deliver a story complete with back-explanations and thesis statements delivered at the end is discouraged in favor of witty repartee.
I like the time to mutually share and analyse our respective news, and the real, content-laden answers to our mutual questions of, “How are you?”  The real “How are you?” question, not the fluff of “How-are-you?” or “How-was-your-day?” that is the social minefield trying to distinguish between polite interested query of acquaintances and polite disinterested query of associates (that latter social coin that is all form and no content), or the mental quagmire of trying to answer “How-was-your-day?” when the question is so vague and our answers are so experientially linear and tangential instead of whatever the hell others were expecting.
I was comfortable — we both were comfortable — because together we had created a social environment that enabled our mutual comfort.  It was an agreement that had been developed by long familiarity and by various conscious decisions over decades, to create a friendship that fulfilled our individual needs over the culturally-proscribed forms.  True friendship enables positive interactions, and supports needs and affirms and enriches our lives.
Here’s a toast to real friendships!

That old social bugaboo. Again. Still.

So, recently I was observed while teaching an evening class, and a couple weeks later had the opportunity to meet and discuss the professor’s observations.  Except for one problem, most everything else can easily be resolved.
I was able to explain how the combination of illness and exhaustion were affecting me, as well as how accessory issues like Auditory Processing Disorder and tinnitus and prosopagnosia meant that I had to either work harder or do some things differently.  I explained how I took notes during the classes of what I wanted to do differently, to keep improving my teaching. I think that overall the discussion went well.
The prof had some really good suggestions, such as repeating questions, or asking students if I had answered their question.  He reminded me not to mutter to myself when looking for something, as it was distracting to the students.
Since the observation, I decided to have the students pick up their returned papers from a pile, instead of trying to pass them out. That had not worked out well.  Due to my faceblindness, I was carrying around my seating chart and asking each person if they were so-and-so before handing them their paper. Students can accept that the first week or two of school, but even though I have mentioned my problem more than once, the concept is really hard for most people to get their brains wrapped around.
Halfway into the semester, I’ve finally sorted people out with regards to my prosopagnosic identification crutches, but I’m still working getting the names attached to their individual gestalts.  The other week I was entering grades and finally realised that there’s a student who is in both of my classes!  That this student is rather generic looking, quiet, and sits in the back of the classroom doesn’t help, faceblindness-wise.
But after the whole review experience had passed beyond the anxiety level into the stage of applying the information positively, I am still sighing over one point.
I thought I had gotten past this. I thought I had it down pat. But apparently, I still need to work on making eye contact.

"Mama said,

‘There’ll be days like this,’

‘There’ll be days like this,’ Mama said.”

The Shirelles, “Mama Said”

Coming down with some virus most likely, as the school nurse says it doesn’t look like strep throat (despite the sore throat that’s making it hard to lecture).  I can deal with that.
Headache, only ’bout a 4 out of 10, not so bad of itself. I can deal with that.
Ditto the tinnitus, which alas, seems to be making it more difficult to understand people, especially those students more than a few feet away from me, which is most of the time — why do the most soft-spoken students sit in the back corner?  The auditory processing glitches don’t help, either; I’m sure some of the students think I’m not paying attention, or am losing my hearing.  At least no one is going around yelling to me in the mistaken impression that volume = clarity.
Five hours sleep.  Definitely need to get to sleep sooner, and I would were it not for the class prep I have to do before and after classes.  Okay, now it’s getting really challenging.  I’m dropping words in the middle of my sentences once or twice an hour, and does that ever make me feel stupid.
I’m hungry because I didn’t eat much due to the sore throat & canker sore.
Two of the pieces of paper I really needed to have with me were not in my binder.  No, I’m sorry, I don’t remember the date of the next exam right off the top of my head.  No, I’m sorry, I haven’t memorized the ID labels to all of the slides (but I can tell you what’s important about the slide).
We were reviewing the results of the first exam.  This is the first college-level science class that many of the students have had, and some of them haven’t had a science class in years.  Bumpy ride.  It’s also the first full exam I have written, and every teacher knows the hidden hazards of writing such.
For some reason I decided to hand the graded exams out, rather than just letting the students pick their own test up.  I’m faceblind, and have not yet memorized the seating chart.  Definite planning error on my part.
My PowerPoint — that delightful gizmo that helps keep the tired, the distracted, the forgetful, the sick, and the first-time teacher from losing track of the game plan — the PowerPoint file on my flashdrive proved to be an older version that did not have the other half of the slides I needed to remind me what I was going to tell the class this evening. That too, of itself I could deal with, although the presentation was not at smooth as I would have liked, and we had to go back a few times and fill in something I had not mentioned earlier.
But all of these things together, oy vey!  I muddled through everything, but did not feel very brilliant or smooth.  I didn’t even have all of the lab equipment fully prepped because I had rushed in right before class.
And then shortly after class started, one of the professors came in to do a surprise Observation of me as a new instructor.
At least I didn’t have my trouser zip left undone, or have a strip of toilet paper (loo roll) stuck to my boot!
Mama said there’ll be days like this …

Cartoon: "Efficiency"

This cartoon is composed of four pages,

each of which bears a caption at the bottom of the page.

What, weighting scores?
Andrea’s Buzzing About: “Efficiency” A female Geek and older female User are seated at a desk, where the Geek is giving the User some instruction in how to use a program. A male Techie stops by the door. Geek to User: "... so you need to set up a user file with the ID 'foo@farble'; save that before moving onto the next step. --Yes?" Techie to Geek: "Here is the report doc." Geek to Techie: "Did the update load?" Techie replies: "Good-for-go with 3.0; included in the backup." Geek replies: "Excellent, thank you." The Techie leaves without further ado. Geek continues to User: "Now, the next step is to set up the database; you can do this with weighted or unweighted scores, the former being used for --" User: "How rude!" Geek: "What, weighting scores?"

Continue reading Cartoon: "Efficiency"

Bits and Pieces

I’ll never earn a Good Blogkeeping Seal of Approval* if I don’t get around to mentioning these diverse pieces of news!
I am remiss in mentioning Greg Williams’ wonderful cartooning work; he does a weekly piece called “Blogjam” for the Tampa Tribune (Florida newspaper), where he illustrates people’s stories as described in their blogs. Recently he did one based up my prosopagnosia page, “I’m Strange, You’re A Stranger”.
There are updates on my Hypermobility page for the curious, including handy-dandy medical information links for those who “Need more input!” (An “Ooh, shiny!” for whomever can name that movie reference?)
The latest Circus of the Spineless is up at the Seeds Aside — my antennae are all a-quiver with excitement. Such great reading for wasting time relaxing after a long day’s work, especially if you are also “feeling sluggish” like some of us.
My mum used to tell the tale that as a mere tot I tried to check out (shoplift) a book of dirty limericks. Of course, everyone assumed that I couldn’t read them … those limericks came back to haunt me when Akusai produced the 87th Skeptic’s Circle: Dirty Limericks Edition.
And just for fun, the connection with Asperger’s has been made before, but A. A. Gill does it best of all.

* No, I don’t think there really is a GBSoA — and I certainly wouldn’t apply for a housekeeping seal with the amount of clutter everywhere from these three dozen ongoing projects!

Clonal antibodies

“Clonal antibodies” was the phrase that came to mind. Which really had nothing to do with the news image I was seeing, it was just my brain doing the AD/HD-randomizer trick again.
Or, maybe the words did have something to do with the photograph. I was looking at an AP Photo by Tony Gutierrez, one of many recent photographs of the mothers from the The Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as they stood in front of the courthouse:

Clonal was in a sense true. All nine of these white women are garbed in nearly identical frocks, a rather loose-fitting style that the press is referring to as “prairie dresses”, made of plain pastel blue, lavender, teal or green fabric, with long sleeves pleated at the shoulders, bodices buttoned all the way up to the collars, and reverse-pleated ankle-length skirts. Not only that, but Continue reading Clonal antibodies

Three strikes and you're Out!

My first job was scooping ice cream. Normally someone would come up to the counter, tell me what they’d want, and then would stay there until we traded money for cone. The system worked fine most of the time. I could keep track of my customers fairly easily because the shop did not have high volumes of traffic, and the narrow store-front meant both limited seating for customers (most of whom promptly left) and that the servers stayed behind the counter.
At the time, I had no idea how much difficulty I really had recognising people. It had never occurred to me that there was a reason why I hardly knew anyone at school besides a few teachers. Because I didn’t really go anywhere around town, I had not really encountered the issues of not recognising familiar people outside of their familiar contexts. The narrowly-defined social worlds of my life was an effect of the faceblindness, and perpetuated my continued unawareness. I’d had inklings on previous occasions when I could not find or identify people, but lacking any way of comparing my inability to others’ abilities, my faux pas were considered to be rudeness or stupidity on my part, rather than an organic problem.
There behind the ice cream counter, I unwittingly kept track of my customers by their position at the counter, and by their shirts or hair style … which if the shop was not crowded, worked pretty well. There would be the tall guy with the crew-cut in a white cowboy shirt, the skinny girl with the afro in a glittery tank top, the big mom in a pink muu-muu with two little kids in tow, and so on. Of course I knew who got which kind of ice cream, no problem.
And then one day a softball team came in, some dozen white girls, all wearing the same jersey, and they all seemed to have their blond hair up in pony-tails. It was the most queasily-disorienting sensation, as though the same person had been multiplied (“cloned” was not yet in the public vernacular). Of course, all the girls were bouncing around changing positions to see the different flavors of ice creams, and going back and forth chattering with each other. They wouldn’t even stay put in the queue for me to keep track of them!
By the third serving, I had absolutely NO idea for whom I had just scooped, and just stood there with the cone held up in my trembling hand, “Who wanted the praline on a sugar-cone?” They all look at me with disdain, and the gal flounced up and grabbed it, and re-joined her giggling mates.
Mortified, I stared down at the lines of ice cream tubs, trying to remember the next flavor and focusing on scooping it out into a perfect ball.
I couldn’t put my finger on why, but I knew that I was uncomfortable with trying to keep track of which customers had which orders. Worse, I couldn’t figure out how everyone else knew the “regulars”, those customers that came by frequently and always got the same thing. I just figured that somehow the other ice cream shop employees knew those people from other parts of their life — that they knew them in other capacities than simply as frequent patrons whom they recognised.
It never occurred to me that it was odd that I never noticed anyone I knew when I was out shopping or running errands. When I couldn’t recognise the neighbors my mom chatted with in local shops or restaurants, I just assumed they were part of the vast horde of adults that my parents knew but I didn’t — I didn’t realise that they were people whom I should have known. I never “ran into” anyone when I was out, partly because I knew so very few people, and partly because I could not recognise them if they were “out of place” from where I was used to seeing them.
It was only a summer job and I didn’t get into social trouble very often by just keeping track of people by their shirts and haircuts. But the experience did serve to keep me away from employment in food service or retail from then on.

Welcome to the first ring of Hell

I’m going to send in a couple of job applications for biology teaching positions at community colleges. With some 200 credit hours of college education, I’ve been exposed to enough teachers to know that I teach better than some of them. I’ve had a course in college teaching, over a decade of teaching continuing education (designing my own courses, content, handouts & my own photography), and have been tutoring biology for several years.
But of course I’ve not actually applied for such a job before. So here I am re-doing my teaching philosophy, checking over my resume, chewing over application letter drafts and whatnot.
Like everyone, I’m really nervous about the prospect of interviews. Unlike a lot of people, I have particular difficulties with interviews, such as the prosopagnosia. This means not recognising people from one day to the next, at least not until I’ve been around them a while. I hate it when people drag you around a building and introduce you to a gazillion people. I can barely mentally file away some vague identification characteristics for one interviewer, and even then I never know which details will prove to be the useful ones for recognising them in the future. Yes, I know … I spend an hour talking with someone, and then (aside from the name on the business card) I truly can’t remember who the hell they were the next day. It’s awful.
During the actual interview process, I’m running mental circles around the auditory processing difficulties, fidgety-scatterbrained ADHD issues, unconsciously suppressing little motor tics (I shouldn’t have to theoretically, but it’s ingrained habit under such situations), concentrating on trying to make “enough” eye contact (whatever the hell that is), concentrating on speaking clearly and avoiding stuttering, ignoring the tinnitus and joint aches (and hoping against migraine). And being nervous is bad enough without those damn menopausal hot flashes!
Of course all that detracts from the amount of energy available for composing brilliant answers. So my usual interview plan is to anticipate interview questions and then prepare and practice answers. I spend days ruminating over and practicing my short “scripts” while in the car. Fortunately, I can never remember my answers verbatim, so they don’t come off as sounding “canned”.
Unfortunately, for all I have a large vocabulary and am a well-practiced writer, I’m less able to produce clear, concise answers to unexpected questions. It’s not that I can’t think of what to say, but rather that all the details of things come to mind at once, and I can’t prioritise and sequence them easily, nor compose paragraphs and then remember them all the way through.
So … anyone out there have specific tips for teaching interviews? (I’m good on basic interview stuff like professional wardrobe.) But this is a new kind of interview situation, and I don’t know what sorts of questions are likely to be asked, nor what sorts of unspoken conventions are typical for such a process, or what committees look for.

Rare sightings

A few weeks ago I was teaching one of my gardening classes when a student came up to me during break and identified herself to me again. I’d already taken roll at the beginning of class by way of having the students tell me their names, as no one ever mispronounces their own name. Despite having heard her say her name and also seeing in print where I’d checked it on my roster, I hadn’t made that connection.
I know her. Or, knew her — we’d had a class together about eight years ago. Once she pointed that out, I recognised the name as being familiar, and excused myself by way of saying that I’m really bad at remembering faces. Continue reading Rare sightings

"Smile!"

I went in to get my driver’s license renewed. Part of that ended up getting my name entered correctly into the system; convolutions on my name seem to follow me everywhere! And of course, there’s always the ordeal of smiling for the photograph. This involves a story in two parts.
No one looks good in their identification photos, or at least that’s the impression I get from hearing people’s comments. They complain that the picture “doesn’t look like” them. Sometimes people feel compelled to pull out their new license or employer ID tag or school ID card and show it to me, which leads me to shake my head sympathetically and say something blandly supportive, like, “Yeah, what can you do!”
Truth be told, I can’t really recognise people from their ID pictures. I don’t even think that the pictures look necessarily lousy, aside from obvious annoyances like having a “bad hair day”, crooked clothing, or less-than-steller compositional framing. True, identification photos always have that flat, full-front angle that removes distinctive profiles, and the artificial lighting saps the natural color from most everyone’s skin tones. I’m sure those are some of the reasons why people don’t like their ID photos.
But one part that I’m missing is the, Continue reading "Smile!"