Well, it’s Monday again, the start of another work week, with only a lucky thirteen shopping days left until Christmas (and fewer until the beginning of Hanukkah or the Winter Solstice). As is the usual case, I don’t especially know what I’m going to write about today, and though you might think that would mean this post would be brief, it may mean that it will get too long, since I tend to meander when I’m not focused on any destination.
I guess that makes sense, now that I stop and think about it.
I’ve been rereading a bit of Unanimity: Book 2 on and off over the last few days, mainly because some other things I’d been reading and videos I’d been watching had made me realize again something that I’d sort of realized before: that inadvertently, I’d written in Michael Green a character who probably has Asperger’s. Maybe other characters I’ve written would fit that mold as well.
Characters often reflect facts about the author, though they also often are very different from their authors. Otherwise, how could a nice person ever write a bad guy? Not that I’m saying that I’m a nice person. I don’t really think I am, though I guess I’m not the most objective judge. But there are plenty of authors of terrible characters, and of at least morally questionable characters, who are clearly quite nice and positive people.
An author can’t really make a character the nature of whom they cannot even comprehend or grasp. Of course, Lovecraft could use various forms of hinting and misdirection to make his creatures and beings and gods and whatnots feel real, but only from the outside. We cannot really get a sense of, for instance, Cthulhu as a character. Which is fine when you’re literally trying to convey inscrutable, “outside”, alien evil.
Anyway, that’s all just a tangent. I merely thought it was interesting that I was writing such a character before I’d even begun to be directed to videos about such matters or started to really learn about them more deeply*. There’s even a point in the book where Michael wonders (as I have) if sometimes the apparent inability of autistic people to process other people’s emotion isn’t because they don’t sense it—which would make them more like psychopaths, which they are not—but that they are over-sensitive to emotion, and that it arrives as a chaotic and overwhelming cacophony whenever they are around other people; that it’s another form of sensory processing disorder, like sensitivity to sounds and to bright and glaring lights, and to over-strong odors and flavors and textures. This may be part of why eye contact is so difficult for people on the autism spectrum.
Maybe it’s the filter that’s the problem. Michael wonders this, obviously, because it is how he experiences things, and he’s a neuroscientist and recognizes that he might be on “the very near end of the spectrum” as he says. But this is not really the point. The point is, I was writing from my own experience, that being around other people, at least in too great numbers, tends to be overwhelming, because their voices, their noises, their feelings and whatnot, all come flooding in, and I can’t seem to do the metaphorical Fourier analysis of their inputs to make sense of them.
I was always good with patients one on one, partly because I can almost literally feel their emotions, though I can’t and don’t try necessarily to understand them, and I’m not much good at deciphering other people’s motivations or purposes. In that, however, I don’t feel too bad, because as far as I can see, other people are shit at that, too.
Maybe I’m just projecting, but I think the vaunted human “theory of mind” sense is not quite all it’s cracked up to be. Mostly, people seem to be terrible at understanding why other people do what they do, and their assumptions, which they rarely seem to question once they make them, tend to be thoroughly narcissistic and hubristic. Not to say they’re not better at it than the typical person with Asperger’s or similar, but that’s not saying much.
This is why my policy in general is not to try to guess people’s motivations or goals or whatever at anything beyond a coarse level—people aren’t even very good at understanding themselves about such things, as far as I can see—but to take them at their word except when proven otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt, and, as part of that, to carry the presumption of innocence about other people’s actions.
That doesn’t mean I don’t think (and feel) that many things people do are intolerably stupid, but I presume** that they don’t mean to be stupid and that they have no specific malice behind their actions, at least until the evidence otherwise is overwhelming. I try to take advantage of my existence as a true stranger relative to other people to be at least as objective and disinterested as I can be.
For the most part, I don’t care much, anyway. What each person does is generally about the person’s self, not really about other people specifically. At least, that’s the way it looks to this outside observer. Most people seem to think that the things that happen in the world are happening specifically to them, which is probably why so many of them feel so sensitive and easily injured and “unsafe”.
When one feels that something an author wrote two hundred years ago was an attack on them personally—they may not think this consciously, but it is the apparent attitude—of course they will find it more stressful and saddening than one would feel simply reading something written in and about and influenced by the happenings and people of an era two centuries ago, people whose children’s children were already dead before most living people’s parents were born.
I guess this is related to the apparent tendency for most people to be in denial about their own personal death, or about the fact that the world existed before they were born—and it’s understandable, though not excusable, because for them, the world did not exist before they were born. And for them, the world will cease to exist when they die. And by “them” of course, I refer to every individual. But it is possible to learn better, and it’s not even all that difficult, which is why I say it’s understandable but not excusable.
Of course, it’s difficult truly to feel it “in your bones” that the world will go on without you once you’re dead, and it’s only a little bit easier thus to feel it about the fact that the world has existed not only for hundreds of millennia (the timespan of humans) but for eons prior to the existence of anyone or even any species alive today. Again, though, it’s not all that hard to grasp intellectually, and it’s worth doing, because it can give one a bit of perspective sometimes, though not always.
One is still trapped in the body and nature that the world has crafted one to be, and that nature is insular and small on many scales. But the mind has landscapes of its own, and these can encompass, and even in some cases and senses be larger than, the universe outside.
Speaking of minds: I wonder if anyone out there has actually read all of Outlaw’s Mind as far as I’ve written and posted it here on my blog. If anyone has, do you think it would be worth it for me to try to force myself to start writing on it yet again, but—this is my thought—using pen and paper for the first draft, however inconvenient it might be, so that it doesn’t grow quite so large quite so easily as, for instance, Unanimity did?
Mark Red, The Chasm and the Collision, and the story Paradox City were all written by hand in first draft, using BIC® Round Stic® pens on notebook paper. I think they came out okay, though maybe others would disagree. I don’t know. It’s probably a pipe dream to think that I’d be able to force myself to get back to writing, but maybe I could.
If you have an opinion, please leave it in the comments below (NOT on Facebook or Twitter or whatever). Thanks.
[Oh, and P.S. to WordPress, regarding their stupid little automatic writing “prompt” for today: It should read “Whom do you envy?” not “Who do you envy?” The question calls for the objective form of the pronoun. I know that I’m being uptight (and I’ll probably fall victim to Muphry’s Law), but a venue called WordPress, all about communicating through the written word, might consider it worthwhile to try to bolster some aspects of traditional grammar. Perhaps I’m tilting at windmills in this.]
*Though, to be fair, as an MD, I’d learned at least something about such things in the past, but it was very superficial.
**I know, I know—when you presume, you make a Pres out of u and me. But not all Preses are horrible.