Autism Issues: Babies I am Told to Eat

(source: https://youtu.be/CYLxg9bqKZY)

It’s been almost a year since my official autism diagnosis (with a side order of social anxiety), and in that time I’ve had the chance to use that diagnosis to more clearly define some of my particular obstacles and difficulties. I’ve come up with three issues that, in particular, have come to dominate my approach to social interactions, and I’d like to get those out here in writing, both so they’re more clearly defined for my own sake, and so those who care to can understand me a bit more, and perhaps make some accommodations that they otherwise wouldn’t think of.

However, before I get into the meat of that exercise, I want to take a moment to address the neurotypicals that might be reading this. I don’t really like the term “neurotypical”, as it basically means “normal person” and normalcy is usually a social construct, but in this case I especially mean to address those who don’t have the same issues I or those similar to me do, and can’t understand why we just can’t get over these things, either by sheer force of will or by the magical “go to therapy” button (therapy is good to build coping skills and form plans to deal with a difficult or hostile social/emotional environment, but it’s rarely a catch-all cure for mental health issues).

It’s difficult to properly convey how debilitating some mental blocks are. When a person with a mental illness says something like, for example, “I literally cannot make this phone call to the bank,” someone without that illness might be like, “Yeah, it sucks. I don’t like talking on the phone either. But man, you gotta call the bank, or your interest rate on your current loan will go up by 30%,” (or whatever; I’m not a banker). However, the first person isn’t saying, “Ugh, I don’t want to do this,” they are saying, “I cannot do this, and if you force me to try then my brain will shut down.” That’s something that is difficult to understand unless you’ve experienced it. But I’m going to try to express it anyway.

I came up with an analogy that is possibly tasteless, shocking, and maybe triggering, but it is the best way I can think of to properly convey the scale of the mental blocks that I have to deal with on a daily basis. This has been your content warning; buckle up!


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Autism and Perfect Pitch: An Analogy

Last December I was finally able to see a professional psychologist and was officially diagnosed with both high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) (not to be confused with Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is also SAD. And also sad.). In addition to being a nightmare to distinguish between if I was also dyslexic (which I’m not), these diagnoses have coalesced a lot of who I am into recognizable patterns. I’ve wanted to write a blog post about it for some time now, but I’ve been a little nervous about it. Now that I’ve got labels for these things I have the responsibility to be a voice for others with the same condition, and I don’t want to accidentally misrepresent or cause difficulties for others due to my interpretation or experience. But, at the same time, I do wish to convey my experiences for those who don’t understand, and commiserate with those who do. So I decided to just kinda wing this post, with the caveat for the reader that ASD is a spectrum, and everything I say could be way off base for others with ASD.

Having these two conditions has been a weird mismash of social awkwardness on both ends of the scale. One of the issues with ASD is that it’s really hard to get outside of one’s own head. A lot of autistic people just assume that everyone sees the world in the same way they do, not because they’re narcissistic or self-focused, but because they’re literally incapable of seeing it otherwise, at least not without a lot of thought and active reminders. Avoiding others is just easier and less stressful, hence the SAD.

Also, one of the symptoms of ASD is the inability to read/predict social cues from others, but one of the symptoms of SAD is the abject fear of crossing social norms. So, in any given social situation, I’m deathly afraid of saying the wrong thing, but I don’t know what the wrong thing is until I can see people’s reactions. About 60% of the time, I say something that’s normal (or normal enough) that the conversation continues just fine. About 30% of the time, I say something that might be a little awkward, earning some mental side-eyes from others (or actual side-eyes), but I don’t realize it until I think about the conversation afterward (something I do constantly about virtually every interaction I have, from those with strangers to those with the closest friends and family members), analyze it from the other viewpoint, and come to the conclusion that it was probably a weird thing to say. And about 10% of the time, I say something so awkward or inappropriate that I get an immediate response from others (usually a big pause with an “Uhhhhh….so anyway”) and then I want to go die in the corner.

You might think that that 10% is the worst part of having these two conditions, and that’s probably true. But the 30% of times when I don’t know whether or not I’ve done something wrong until afterward is probably more agonizing in the long run, because people don’t give feedback on this kind of thing, or at least feedback in a way that would be recognizable to someone with ASD. It’s not that I can’t recognize social cues at all, but more that it takes a more conscious, active effort to do so, and that takes time, like learning any new skill does, only in this case I’m not mentally able to eventually do it subconsciously. It will always be like learning a new skill. This sounds weird, but I’d like to illustrate with an analogy.

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My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 6: Answers?

I found this on tumblr. I wish I knew the proper creator so I could credit them.

In my last post I talked about the first step in overcoming and/or integrating my weaknesses so that they become strengths. I also promised at the end of that post that I would soon make another one about the next steps, and while the answer is still probably “get a therapist”, since that’s not currently an option, I’ve been doing the best I can otherwise. I’ve been reading up, listening to podcasts and lectures, doing some research (layman research, granted, but still), and listening to feedback on the stuff I’ve written over the past month. And do you know what the true answer I’ve found is?

Nothing.

And I don’t mean nothing like, “I haven’t found it yet,” I think the actual answer isn’t out there. Or at least, it’s not something simple where I can say, “This are the things I need to do to find true happiness, and these are the obstacles in the way, now let’s tackle them all and that’s my life’s work.”

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Part of Me

After last night’s venting session, I got thinking about the game Celeste, since apparently all my epiphanies come from video games now. In case you don’t know anything about it, Celeste is a platforming game where you play as Madeline, a young woman who has made it a personal goal to climb Mt. Celeste (based on an actual mountain in British Columbia). The difficulty level is stupidly hard (unless you turn on Assist Mode), but the game is always supportive and encouraging, which is a nice breath of fresh air from games that are either too easy, or mock you for not being an expert (for example, one of the loading screens states “Be proud of your death count! The more you die, the more you’re learning. Keep going!”).

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My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 5: Apathy

Surprise! You thought this series was over until I was gainfully re-employed! Turns out I’ve got more to say!

Job hunting has, of course, been pretty difficult, for many reasons (bad job market thanks to pandemic, lack of currently marketable skillsets, basically everything I’ve already written in this blog series, etc.). But through it all I’ve been grappling with a problem that has increased the difficulty exponentially. I don’t know how widespread this issue is, but it’s one I’ve been dealing with for far longer than just this job search, though its manifestation here makes it more crucial that I push through it. And that issue is this:

I just don’t care.

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My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 4: Miscellanous Jobs and At Least One Decision

Phew! Job hunting takes a bit o’ effort, in most senses, especially when you didn’t plan on doing it, the market is in such a weird place, and you don’t know whether you’re looking for a quick temp job or a whole new career. I’ve written this series of blog posts partly to answer that question by exploring my different options and finding out which one has the most appeal. We’ve talked about music jobs (not a good money/passion ratio for me), we’ve talked about tech jobs (I have the experience but it may not be the path I want to continue on), and we’ve talked about my actual passion (media analysis apparently). I do want to reiterate that this doesn’t mean all the time I took pursuing music and/or tech ended up being meaningless or pointless. I am proud of the work I’ve done musically, and my technological experience is something I’ve enjoyed building and will continue with regardless of career path.

But now let’s take some time and examine other options that people have brought to me. Would one of them be a better fit?

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My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 3: Have I Tried Turning My Job Off and On Again?

“Have I tried forcing an unexpected reboot?” Why yes, that’s what these blog posts are!

Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! In the last post I waxed on about my passion, which is apparently media analysis (who woulda guessed?). I could potentially turn that into a career someday; possibly even before the end of September, though that’s unlikely, as I feel like I’d need to either get more education or know the right people to fully embrace that career path.

So instead, let’s leave that alone and turn to career paths where I do possess a measure of trained skill and expertise: tech! I mentioned in the first post in this series that I had posted on Facebook soliciting career ideas, and while I asked people to try not to suggest tech jobs, a lot of people did so anyway, because hey, that’s what I’m known for (other than music).

Technical stuff isn’t something I necessarily have huge amounts of passion for either, though I do find working with tech enjoyable and am decently good at it.When I was younger a lot of people thought I would grow up to be some sort of computer programmer, because even at a very early age I was making programs on our old Atari 800XL. Truth be told, however, I wasn’t making new programs as much as I was copying programs letter-for-letter out of my dad’s old computer magazines, then adding dumb childhood jokes to them (like the “guess the number I’m thinking of” program that inexplicably gained a 10-year-old’s interpretation of a British accent if you got it right, or the rock-paper-scissors game that was obsessed with talking about math homework). My point is that, like with music, people saw what I was doing and came to inaccurate, though understandable, conclusions about where my real passions lie.

Fortunately, unlike a career in music, you don’t need to be passionate, or devote your entire existence to technology, to get a good job in the industry. As long as you know what you’re doing and you talk to the right person/company you can probably find something that’ll fit you. And tech is something I do have a fair amount of experience in professionally, even though most of that tech lies on the A/V side of things (I have no idea how to, for example, set up an office network, or, like, code anything).

With that said, let’s look at that Facebook thread and discuss some trends. I’m not going to mention anyone by name for privacy’s sake, just in case.

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My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 2: Passion

Logo from TVTropes.org

Last time I wrote about a potential music career and why that is no longer a good option for me. Long story short: I don’t have the passion for music that one would need to succeed in that business. But before we get to talking more about career options, I want to examine the question: if music isn’t my passion, then what is?

One thing that this pandemic has given me is a lot of free time. Getting furloughed in March, expecting that I would be going back in May (then in the summer, then in September, then probably next year, then who knows?), as well as everyone being cut off socially, and my current single living situation, meant that I had little that I had to do. So I was able to explore the situation that, for most, is hypothetical: given the ability to do whatever you want (time-wise, at least; I couldn’t spend a million dollars or, you know, go anywhere), what do you end up doing?

What do I do all day, when I don’t have to do anything?

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My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 1: Introduction and Music

It’s been about a month since I was informed that my furloughed-since-March A/V job was not going to be coming back, at least not anytime soon, and while I was placed in an “on-call” position, it was more to keep me on the books during the pandemic in case I wanted to return afterward; my boss was pessimistic about the amount of work they’d actually need me (or most of the department) for until next year at the earliest. At first I wanted to just hang on until then, drawing unemployment until my job came back, but it has become increasingly clear that that is an untenable option, at least not if I want to keep my current independent living situation.

I’ve had a lot of time to ponder my options since then, both in terms of my career and just my future in general. Getting another job like I currently have (working A/V in a convention/hotel setting) is virtually impossible: the entire industry has been killed by the pandemic. Most other obvious crossover jobs with my skillset (tech theatre, for example) are also dead in the water. So I’ve got to start broadening my sights to discover where I will go next.

Almost everything will come to a head by the end of September: that’s when my rental contract is up (renewal will lock me in for another six months and be increased $20 per month to boot), and is also when my on-call status at my “previous” job will be official, which has the added side effect of kicking me off my health insurance plans (thanks America!…). I could get a low-paying entry-level temporary job just to make ends meet until my old job comes back, but that won’t cover all my bills, it will make me ineligible for unemployment insurance, and plus…I, uh, don’t really want to.

Thing is, though, this may end up being an opportunity disguised as a garbage situation. My original plan was to stay in my A/V job for about five years and then get something more professional and better-paying with that experience under my belt. This never ended up coalescing, though, as I got settled into a bit of a rut, staying there for close to nine years (longer if you count the time I’ve spent furloughed), being able to stay afloat financially but living paycheck-to-paycheck, never being able to save much for the future (I do have some retirement plans, but I’d only been putting in about half the recommended contribution just to be able to cover my current living expenses).

There was a lot about my job that I enjoyed: the ability to make money with a skillset I’d been working on since elementary school (I handled microphones for our school production of Willy Wonka in 5th grade because I didn’t want to be an Oompa-Loompa), the chance to meet a fair amount of famous and influential people, pin microphones on them, and show them how to plug their laptops into our projection systems, and the opportunity to work in a diverse setting (a huge chunk of the employees at the hotel are first-generation immigrants, and as I’m a white cishet male raised in Utah, it helped broaden my perspective beyond my privilege).

But all things considered, this is an unexpected chance to be forced to reinvent myself. There’s nothing tying me to A/V anymore. There’s nothing tying me to, really, anything anymore. I don’t have kids or a spouse. I don’t own a house or any property. Heck, there’s nothing really tying me to Utah. I could move anywhere, do anything. Change is hard, but when it’s forced upon me, I don’t necessarily want to take the first, or easiest, or laziest option so I can work in subpar conditions for another decade. The only limits I have right now are financial (I saved a little bit with the extra $600 unemployment payments that ended in July, but not a whole lot) and situational (the entire economy is suffering under the pandemic, which limits job opportunities in certain areas).

All of that preamble leads me to this: I can do anything, be anything, and now (or at least before the end of September) is the time to make that decision that will shape who I am and what I do, potentially for the rest of my life, or at least until retirement age.

I asked on Facebook for people to throw out career suggestions for me. I stipulated that there were no wrong answers, though I did ask people to limit it to career options instead of unskilled temp work, and that they try not to focus on music or tech, since that’s what had led me to this. Half of the respondents brought up both anyway, which says a lot about how I’m perceived, I believe, and got some of my other, self-analytical gears a-turning.

So in this series of blog posts, I want to look at two things: if these job suggestions are good fits for me, and what people’s various suggestions say about what they know about me and how I’ve presented myself to the world.

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Adulthood

kirk van houten and greg universe.png

What does it mean to be an adult?

A discussion I had after my most recent blog post (the latest in my series of “Jeff has an existential crisis every so often but he’s OK after getting it all out” posts) spurred me to think on the topic of adulthood. This is something I’ve often thought about, and as a 37-year-old guy who’s never been married, owned his own property, or had a large amount of disposable income, and spends his free time with hobbies that came from his childhood (such as video games), I might be labeled by some as a manchild who still needs to grow up. On the other hand, I am 37 years old and self-reliant (current pandemic-related work situations notwithstanding), so what more would one need? Let’s look at this a bit more in-depth.

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Hiding in the crack under the railing, to not disturb your nap

I saved a spider today.

I was just about to lie out on a cot I have set up on my apartment balcony. Since I live on the third floor, I almost never get bugs or critters in my actual apartment, and I had swept out and washed the entire balcony near the beginning of summer. But as I prepared to lie down, headphones donned and podcast having already started, I noticed a huge collection of webs in the corner, mere inches from where my feet would’ve been. My first instinct was to abandon the balcony and never return, but, swallowing that fight-or-flight response, I instead calmly headed inside and filled a liquid measuring cup with some water to drown out the webs without hitting it with a broom and making stuff fly everywhere (including whatever spiders and/or prey might be trapped in it). Sure enough, eventually, a spider came scurrying out from the crack underneath my balcony railing where it had been hiding and got washed a few feet into the middle of the balcony, where it eventually came to rest.

I could’ve squashed it easily. I could’ve tagged it with some Raid that I have under the sink, or trapped it under a cup until it died. On the other end of the freakout scale, I could’ve just let it be. Not disturbed its web, or let it run to wherever it would run and build a new web (closing the door so the web wouldn’t be inside my apartment, obviously). But I didn’t want it dead. The poor thing was probably starving, as I didn’t see any bugs caught in its web (like I said, being on the third floor does have its perks when it comes to insect problems), and it wasn’t its fault that a huge creature hundreds of times its size just wanted to listen to a Midwestern sci-fi podcaster talk about the Jurassic Park novel for half an hour while enjoying the summer air. But my fight-or-flight response wouldn’t allow me to relax when a giant spider’s nest was mere inches away from my cot.

So I compromised with it. Using a process involving an overturned cup, several sheets of too-flimsy paper, a discarded frozen dinner box, a pair of dusty work gloves that were mostly for security theater purposes, and a nerve-wracking walk down three flights of stairs with a tight grip, I finally set it free out in the lawn of the apartment complex somewhere, free to do whatever it wanted. Sure, the process ended up taking like fifteen minutes and I had to restart the podcast, but I was finally able to lay down and relax, knowing that the problem had been solved, not only for me, but for the terrifying yet helpless creature I had relocated.


I was furloughed from my job (I work in audiovisual doing conventions and parties at a hotel) back in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the expectation that I would go back once the virus was under control (the first early estimates were for May, though that quickly got pushed back to September). Since I live alone, this meant losing my only regular means of social contact until then. As an introvert it wasn’t too bad; though the first week was rough because nobody knew what was going to happen and we were all adrift in a sea of uncertainty, due to a combination of timely Zoom meetings and twitch.tv streaming, I was able to connect with some friends and gain at least a measure of relief from the intense cabin fever. And with a combination of judiciously employed vacation time, unemployment insurance with the federal COVID stimulus, and simple financial saving, I was able to establish a plan that would let me ride out the spring and summer months until I was able to return to work in the fall.

However, with things still not under control, that scenario was looking less and less likely, and finally this past week I was contacted by my work to discuss the situation. Long story short: there aren’t enough meetings/conventions/parties/etc. happening at the hotel to sustain even one full-time A/V employee (let alone an entire department) so as of October 1st I will be moving from furloughed status to on-call status. This means they’ll call me if they need me (which, according to my boss, probably won’t be much: the most optimistic estimate he gave me was still a single-digit number of times before the end of the year). This also means that, after September, I will be losing my full-time employee status, which means, among other things, I will no longer qualify for my company’s health insurance (including therapy, which I was finally able to start contemplating financially) or retirement plans.

So, you know, there’s that.

Sure, I was hurt and angry. Sure, I had no idea how to proceed, since my plans had evaporated. I still don’t quite know what I’m going to eventually do to deal with all this. But that’s not what this blog post is about, ultimately.

I reached out to a few people privately to explain the situation before posting anything publicly about it (which I eventually did on Facebook a few days later). As someone whose needs often get misinterpreted, I attempted to also outline what type of attention I wasn’t seeking (money, advice, generic job suggestions) and what I did need (understanding and emotional support). I guess I worded it wrong, though? Because all I ended up getting was acknowledgements that they had received the message, a couple of generic job suggestions (and, to be fair, a specific one that applies to my skillset and was appreciated), and one who told me (paraphrased) that their reaction was “Whoa, Jeff, chill out!” but later apologized by way of telling me that they weren’t all that good at expressing verbal empathy, which, y’know, fair enough, I guess.

This particular situation was nothing new. I’ve found, in the past, that when I express a need for help and support, I often receive it in a way that doesn’t really help or support me in the way I need. When I try to be more specific, however, I end up getting none at all, and it usually amounts to awkward silence on the part of the people I reach out to. I don’t fully understand this, though maybe it’s because, since I rejected their first instincts to be “helpful”, I’m a hopeless case or a masochistic curmudgeon. Or they’ve got other things to worry about than figuring out what I need. Or, like what happened earlier, they’re simply not good at expressing empathy. (That, by the way, was not an insult. Someone who knows themselves well enough to make that statement is showing a remarkable sense of self-awareness, and if everyone were that forthright about what they could and could not do, emotionally and mentally, then we’d probably all be in better places with people who complement us instead of those that just compliment us. Or maybe I just thought of that wordplay halfway through that sentence and wanted to shoehorn it in. You decide!)

It’s probably far more likely, however, that I’m unable to express exactly what I want or need in a way that would make those who are willing to help understand what they can do. This is especially a problem when what I need isn’t the stereotypical solution, or the easiest, or the one that comes to mind immediately. And people get their hackles up really quickly when their intended charity isn’t immediately accepted with tears of gratitude, even when it’s only because they were offering a helping hand to someone who just needed a foot. (Don’t, uh…don’t pick that metaphor apart.)

For example, let’s say somebody lost their job because the economy was in a place where it was virtually obsolete. They’re hurting and they want support. So you have a few people who respond to this. The first expresses sympathy by sending them job offers, or money, or flyers for night classes so they can learn a different profession, or other types of tangible support. Sure, the job offers are for things they aren’t interested in or good at, the night classes are either expensive or also in fields they’re ill-suited for, and the money is temporary at best and possibly creates a power imbalance between the two, but hey, at least they tried. The second simply ignores the problem entirely. Sure, they privately sympathize with the person who is hurting, but they don’t know the exact right solution, so they don’t do much of anything except maybe sending an emoji of a smiley face hugging a heart. They might interact with the person, but they pretend nothing is wrong and that life is grand all around.

Do either of these help? Not really. Though they do assuage the conscience of the giver, happy in the knowledge that they either tried to help or at least did their best. That might be a bit cynical, as often people’s emotional wells are drained doing other things and you can only spread yourself so thin being a caretaker. (This is probably another reason people react poorly to rejected charity: someone offers something they believe is helpful for what they feel are selfless reasons, and when it doesn’t help or is rejected that’s mental and emotional effort down the drain that could’ve been used for somebody who would’ve appreciated it, thank you very much.)

So what does this person need? I don’t know, but if I were to guess, I’d say they need some self-esteem. They need somebody who will validate them, that just because they’re currently unemployed or otherwise underperforming in life, it doesn’t mean they spent their life pursuing something worthless, that their ability to bounce back from their current bad situation is something they’re ultimately capable of doing. And they need to truly believe this, to have it come from a person or source that has credence in their life. Somebody who isn’t just spouting platitudes because they hope it will somehow make the situation better (and make the giver feel like they’re a good person), but who knows the sufferer well enough to read them, to know what’s important to them and why they’re invested in it, and to use that knowledge to draw connections between who they are and who they are capable of becoming. And to do this with enough effort and persistence that it will eventually pay off. If the sufferer doesn’t believe in themselves, then no amount of sympathy, emojis, or job suggestions are going to do any good. But if they believe they can bounce back, and have that belief reinforced by their friends and loved ones in effective ways, then eventually they will.

In other words, they need the impossible.

This type of attention is needed most by the people who look like they deserve it the least. The ones who get mad when they have different ideas of help than you do. The ones who want support but can’t even articulate themselves what kind of support they need without sounding incredibly selfish. They’re just spiders on the balcony, trying to eke out a simple living where there are almost no bugs; certainly not worthy of the time and attention it would take to put on gloves, take terrifying stair-walks, and miss an entire Jurassic Park podcast just to help them into a better situation when it would be so much easier to squash or ignore them.

It also doesn’t have to be anything particularly spectacular or complicated. I went to dinner recently with a friend I hadn’t seen in years (don’t worry: we were outdoors and socially distanced and all that), and the topic of conversation turned briefly to Undertale (because of my necklace). I started talking about it at length but caught myself before going too far (if you want to know just how much I can talk about it, see the previous blog post and the 10-12 hours of Let’s Play videos it links to), even though she at least seemed interested. She remarked that she didn’t know much about Undertale but it was nice to hear me talk about it because my face “lit up” when I started talking about it, and seeing how much passion I had about it and how important it was to me made it interesting to her. That was a statement that was possibly a throwaway one for her, but it stuck with me. That kind of positive reinforcement was one I didn’t even know I was missing until suddenly I had it for a brief moment. And though that dinner was kind of a one-off thing due to circumstances, it was nice to exist there even for a second, and it’s a behavior I want to emulate.

This is a little thing, but it can solve big problems that would fester otherwise into uncontrolled disasters. At the risk of alienating some people, let’s offer one more different solution to the “guy who’s out of a job and down about it scenario.” Sick of hearing about what he needs to do to be better from others not in his situation, receiving no help from those who ignore the problem, and unable to find anyone willing or able to put in the time or effort needed to help him cope and adapt, a fourth voice comes along. A voice that promises that he doesn’t need to worry about adapting or finding a new job. A voice that doesn’t say “I believe in you” but instead says “If you believe in me, I will fix everything for you. I will make the world bend back to where you can go back to the job you love and everything will be perfect again. I know things aren’t great, but it’s not your fault, and you can’t do anything about it, so give me the power and control I need to…let’s say…make it great again?”

Even when this voice offers no evidence that their (OK, “his”, it’s obvious who I’m talking about here*) promises are even possible, let alone that he is able to keep them personally, the prospect is so tantalizing to someone who doesn’t see another way out of their situation that they pledge their loyalty to him and refuse to budge. Belief is such a powerful motivator that it often overrides everything else, whether that’s a belief that an orange man can fix all of their problems, or just a belief that nobody thinks they’re worth the effort to listen to and/or work with so they can get better; that they’re just a weird-looking spider who just wants to eat some bugs and who would apologize profusely for inconveniencing any afternoon naps if they could, but they need to eat still, y’all; sorry if that’s selfish, sorry I’m not cute and cuddly, just don’t squash me and I’ll go back under this crack and starve to death in peace oh crap now I’ve implied that you’re not as generous as I need you to be and you’re frustrated don’t hurt me or leave me.

I don’t know if this whole metaphor makes 100% sense, but the point is still valid. I cannot expect anyone to help me. I have been burned too often in the past hoping that someone will magically appear who has the time and capability to help me with what I actually need emotionally (as opposed to what they think I need, or what they would need in my situation, or what they can spare given that everyone’s life is hard right now), especially since I don’t even know what that is until I suddenly get it (like with that dinner). Maybe therapy would help, but if you wanted that to be an option for me, well, you shoulda voted for Bernie.

And, honestly, maybe the solution would be for me to look outside myself and be the person to others that I want in my life. I do try to do this, with friends or family members that I know well enough to feel like I can make a difference, even if I don’t hear it from them. But I don’t know you, hypothetical reader who needs my help, so you’ll have to tell me what you want or don’t want; otherwise, we’re just looping back to the initial problem with with the roles reversed. And if you don’t know what you need either…then, well, maybe we can just commiserate together. That does help sometimes.

Thanks for making it this far. This was possibly an emotionally exhausting post to read; I know it was to write. These can get pretty raw sometimes. I can’t hope it will change anything, but I hope it will at least help you understand a little better the mind of a socially anxious yet fiercely independent and overanalytical man who spent the last four or five months in near-solitary confinement before basically losing his job. I don’t want to alienate or insult anyone at not doing what I need (not everyone has a cup and paper, after all), so I apologize if I’ve come across as passive-aggressive; I don’t mean to. I don’t know how to be honest without coming across that way. And I know these posts often vacillate between “somebody saaaaaaaaaave meeeeee” like I was the theme song to Smallville, and “I don’t want to make you feel bad for not saaaaaaaaaaaaving me” like how most people feel about Smallville, but that’s the struggle I always have going on in my head.

I’ll be fine. I always am.

Speaking of Smallville, in closing, to lighten the mood slightly, here’s a picture I’ve randomly had on my hard drive for like thirteen years:

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*it’s Trump. I was talking about Trump. I say this because apparently there was some confusion among some readers.

Let’s Play Undertale to Redeem Chara (and talk about mental health)

A lot of posts I’ve made recently have made references to the game Undertale, and specifically the character of Chara. I keep harping on this subject because it is something important to me, obviously, but I know that there are many readers who don’t know Undertale, or just don’t care. So a few weeks ago I livestreamed the whole game with the express purpose of giving people context for why I’m so interested in this character, and also to talk about the host of mental health issues the game brings up and discusses (in a relatable, non-obvious way with goofy characters). I’m hoping that this will bring greater understanding to anyone who’s not going to get around to playing it themselves. But even more importantly for me: now that this has been posted and isn’t just rolling around in my head, I can probably move on instead of obsessing about it. If anyone asks, I now have something to point them to instead of feeling like I need to explain context for two hours.

So enjoy! If you don’t want to watch all of the many hours this takes, speed it up to 1.25x or 1.5x and listen to it in the background. There’s some important stuff here and I’d like to start discussions about it if at all possible. Let me know what you think!

Connecting (a response to responses)

So I got some…unexpected responses to my last post, which I felt I needed to address before too much time had passed (also I’m on a bit of a roll when it comes to blogging, so while I’m in the zone I want to keep it up before going silent for three years again or something).

The most common response I got was “So…have you considered therapy?” I understand the sentiment behind this (“I have no idea how to be helpful, but maybe a professional does”), but it’s not exactly good form to suggest this to someone in a public space. That’s akin to seeing someone who’s a little out of shape breathing hard and saying, “Whew! There sure are a lot of stairs up to this building!” and responding, “Well, have you considered changing your diet and exercising?” loudly in a crowded room. If you have suggestions for me to help me out, let me know; just be aware of where you are giving that advice. Private messaging is preferable when talking about such subjects. I post personal stuff on this blog, sure, but I try to do my best to keep it anonymous when talking about others, and it doesn’t give anyone else leave to discuss my personal matters publicly too.

As for the actual matter of therapy, to be frank, it’s not something I feel comfortable talking about publicly at this point. Just know that whether or not I’m seeking help should not reflect on what I’ve posted and what you take away from it.
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Crazy Bachelor

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Upon re-reading the decade-in-review post I made a short time ago, there was one sentence that stuck out to me as something I’d like to elaborate a bit on. I was writing about my current dating life (or lack thereof), and I said this:

Getting into a serious relationship with anyone would require some vast changes in how I currently approach life, and while I know there are people out there worth changing for, I have no idea how to find them or recognize that, and I don’t know if they’d have the patience to help me become the person who’s right for them instead of this dude who’s been living by himself for half a decade and has started going a little “crazy bachelor” as a result.

It’s that last phrase I want to especially focus on. Living alone for several years (as I have since late 2015), especially when you spend large amounts of your professional life alone as well, begins to alter your perception of things a bit, to a point that there are some things I do/think/believe/etc. that I’m not sure if they’re normal, or quirky but harmless, or worrisome. So I though I’d outline a few random things and let you, the vast Internet audience, draw your own conclusions, or at the very least get some insight into what life is for people like me. Please allow me to indulge in some intense navel-gazing, as we start with…

1. Indulging in intense navel-gazing

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Spending the teens in my 30’s: a Decade-in-Review

As the 2010’s comes to a close, I’ve been mulling around in my head a “decade-in-review” post for a while now, like I did in 2010. I’ve been putting it off for a bit, even posting some mostly unrelated stuff in the meantime. This is largely due to the fact that there are certain dominating events in my life, especially in the latter half of this past decade, that I’m still not super comfortable discussing on a public blog, though any true review of my life in the 2010’s would be incomplete without at least mentioning some of them. Still, I’m going to give it my best shot, and hopefully won’t step on any toes in the process. So with no further ado, let’s turn the ol’ clock back to the mythical, mystical year that began this decade:

2010

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My final year of college was far overdue. I had been attending university classes in some form or another for the entirety of the 2000’s (barring two years off for my LDS mission) and, with an internship at a marketing co-op company in the winter and my final class in the spring (a Persuasive Writing class where I wrote this), I was finally done! I may have still been a bachelor, but I was also…a Bachelor!

2010 also saw Poison Ivy Mysteries begin to find its footing. Annelise had started the murder mystery company in 2009, and 2010 saw the writing and production of several new shows, including a sci-fi show, a saucy film noir show, and a medieval wizard show, though for her the year was defined by her pregnancy and delivery of her son Ian, who, sadly, was born premature and only lived for a few days.

After graduating from BYU in August 2010, I moved back home with my parents to prepare to seek a full-time career in the music industry. I was still working at the marketing co-op under Nate Drew, writing bits of commercial music for advertisements, trade show videos, and so on, in addition to working on my first album: a complement to my friend Johnathan’s ABC Monsters book he was working on. In early December I posted on my blog a bunch of the music I had written that year, which was quite fortuitous, because it turns out that those were the only surviving pieces of nearly everything I’d worked on that year. Over Christmas weekend, my workplace was broken into and somebody stole a bunch of music-related equipment in the building. All of Nate’s and my computers, keyboards, microphones, interfaces — all gone. The equipment could eventually be replaced, but all of the dozens of projects I had worked so hard on the entire year, including the ABC Monsters stuff, was irreplaceable. All I had left were the demo MP3 tracks of the ABC Monsters that I had sent to Johnathan and the stuff I had posted online in that post I linked to earlier.

It was devastating, and even now, ten years later, I don’t think I’ve still fully recovered from that blow. But we’ll get into the aftermath soon enough.

Oh, also I crashed my grandmother’s car into a wall and totaled it. She wasn’t in it, though, so it’s all good.

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Pop Culture Ephemera

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This has relevance, I swear.

I’ve been thinking of doing a “decade-in-review” blog post for a while now, now that the 2010’s are ending and it seems like a good time to take stock in both my life and the world before beginning the roaring ’20’s that are on the horizon. I first considered doing a year-by-year breakdown, much like I had already done for the 2000’s, but had a more difficult time coming up specific year-related milestones. Turning 30 and getting a steady job meant that I had reached the point in my life where individual years didn’t matter as much as specific events, which is related to something I want to expound on a bit.

I recently came across an interesting video. What I found interesting was not necessarily the content (a dive into popular bad memes of the 2010’s), but how, for the guy who made the video, these memes represented the general tenor of the years in which they came out (2011 was the “Nyan Cat” year, 2012 was all about “Gangam Style” and figuring out what the fox says, 2016 is when Pepe the Frog was stolen by the alt-right, and so on). Thing is, I recognize and remember most of these memes, but I couldn’t, with a gun to my head, tell you what year they came out, or even make an educated guess. Internet culture stopped being delineated by calendar years for me around the same time that Homestarrunner.com stopped updating regularly, and it was a little bizarre seeing someone treat stuff from 2015 with deep nostalgia glasses, when for me, I have to really think hard to place what separated 2015 from 2014 or 2016 in my life (and actually, 2015 was probably the last year I had before I settled into the “living alone in an apartment and working” routine I’m still in today, and even then that’s mostly because before that I was in a “living in a small house with a roommate and working” routine).

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Afraid

So I started a “new” blog, with the intent to start writing more. That was nearly three months ago now, and I still haven’t actually posted anything new.

Fear.

I’m afraid of putting myself out there again.

I’m afraid of unnecessarily repeating myself in these posts.

I’m afraid that people will give me well-meaning advice that I will either have to find an excuse not to follow, or ignore and then feel guilty about yet another thing I’m not doing.

I’m afraid because I have nobody to talk to. I have plenty of people who will offer to talk, but I have nobody to talk to. Not anyone that I can trust with my whole self.

I’m afraid that when people do try to break through to me, I deflect and obfuscate because I wasn’t ready to open up, but when I finally am, they’ve given up or moved on.

I’m afraid that nobody trusts me with their whole self, because I don’t know the proper things to do or say if they did.

I’m afraid that people who do care will care for a minute, before their other priorities reassert themselves, and unless I keep putting all of myself on display, day after day, I become forgotten, less and less of a thought.

I’m afraid because some of the people I care most about care less about me than I had thought.

I’m afraid because recently I had to sever a long-term (non-romantic) toxic relationship, and, while it was necessary for both parties involved, it still hurts.

I’m afraid because I’ve never been diagnosed with any mental anything, but obviously something’s going on here, but I literally can’t afford to seek professional help, at least not without being unable to live on my own. Do I need it? Can’t I just live? Some days I can. All days I can.

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New blog!

Welcome to my new blog! I’ve decided to start a whole new personal blog (with the same URL as my old one so that anyone following me won’t have to change bookmarks/subscriptions). This will be hopefully similar to my old one (now housed at jefferykritarchive.wordpress.com), being a place where I can do some freeform writing, usually about some sort of philosophical or lifestyle observations I’ve made, or insights I have on topics that I feel are important. I still haven’t come up with a good name for it (“Jeff’s New Blog” is very much a placeholder, though I want something different from my previous blog names “Boom Chicka Wiggy Wagga” and “¿Le Gusta Leer?”), so if you have a suggestion lay it on me in a comment or something! I’m still working on the layout and design as well, so it may be changing quite a bit in the next little while until I find something I like.

The main question you may have, however, is why am I starting a new blog instead of just reviving my old one (which has been virtually silent for more than three years)? I go into it a little bit on my last significant post that’s hosted on the old site, but basically I feel like my life in the past few years has undergone a rather dramatic paradigm shift. A large part of that has been my departure from the LDS religion I was raised in and considered myself a member of until around 2015, along with the shifts in viewpoint that that has engendered. Part of it has been my dating/romantic life, which has also dramatically changed (I may or may not go into this in more detail in a future post, but suffice it to say that dating is different when you don’t have the rules defined for you by an organization), though, true to form, I still don’t do it that much. Part of it has been my living situation: my old blog went silent around the time that I started living in an apartment by myself, which affects a lot of how I operate. Part of it was due to the Player and Doodler Youtube channel I was running for a large chunk of that time: though it was more specifically about gaming than about general life stuff, it was still a lot of content that I was putting online there instead of on a blog. And part of it has simply been getting older: I’m now 36 years old, and a large chunk of my worldview has simply shifted due to that.

I tried several times on the old blog to make a post. I probably had about ten or so in the “draft” phase. But for some reason I was never able to really finish one in all that time. It felt like I was adding onto the story of somebody else, somebody who was quite different (at least in terms of the personal picture the blog painted). I’m now somebody who doesn’t look at Mormonism with either adoration or contempt, but just as part of my cultural and philosophical past. Somebody who is no longer pining away or obsessing over why I’m still single. Somebody who, quite frankly, feels a lot more secure and stable about where I am in life. And I would like to start writing about things from the perspective of who I am now without the baggage of who I’ve been featured on the same site.

For there is a lot on the old blog that shows where I came from, but not a whole lot that shows where I am or who I am now. This has actually come back to bite me: not too long ago I was dating a woman who read all of that blog and consequently thought she knew me really well. The problem was that she assumed I was mostly the same person now (or at least she could plot a course from who I was and figure out who I am), and that simply wasn’t the case. It…did not end well. So one reason I’ve started over here is to hopefully avoid that kind of situation in the future.

In any case, I’m hoping that making a clean break like this will inspire me to start writing more, with the knowledge that readers will understand that I may be coming from a different perspective than the guy who wrote most of that other blog. Hopefully it’ll work and I won’t get into any trouble.

There are a few posts, however, that I left here when I moved everything else to that archive. One of them I left mostly because for some reason most of my views come from that one post, for reasons I’ve never quite understood, but hey, traffic is traffic. One I left here because I have links to it elsewhere I can’t easily change (in some videos) and it’s a good post anyway. Another one I left here because it was it was really the beginning of that paradigm shift I mentioned (and also I think there are links to it in places I can’t change and I don’t want them to be broken). The most recent one, however, I have here as officially part of the new blog, to the point that I actually didn’t include it as part of the archive (despite the fact that I first posted it on the old blog). It’s only about two months old instead of three years or more, and better represents who I am now, so I wanted to include it here as really the first substantial post that wasn’t simply a holdover.

So there you have it. New blog, new ideas, new posts! Here’s to the future!

 

Necklaces, Fallen Children, and Forgiveness.

 

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So let’s start at the end. Recently, at the April 2019 Salt Lake FanX Comic Convention, as I am legally required to call it without being sued by the San Diego Comic Con, I went dressed up as Chara from the video game Undertale(If you don’t know who that is, or haven’t played Undertale, I may do some spoiling, so only keep reading if you have played it and/or will probably never play it and don’t care about being spoiled. Anyway, while I was there, I was looking for additional costume pieces, and I came across a necklace that seemed perfect, as it almost looked like the Undertale heart logo, and Chara is supposed to have a heart locket, so I picked it up and wore it as part of the costume.

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It was a pretty cool part of the costume, to be sure, but for some reason there was a little more to it. I liked wearing it. For some reason it felt good to wear it, safe, friendly. I didn’t know exactly why; after all, it’s just an 8-bit heart necklace, just metal and paint, but for some reason it felt like there was a deeper meaning to me wearing it, something that I couldn’t articulate very well at the time, but strong enough that I’ve actually worn it every day since then, often under my shirt. I’ve tried coming up with a few different articulated reasons as to why I feel such a strong connection with a piece of jewelry (other than the possibility that, like, Sauron made it, but that seems unlikely), but when people have asked me, “Hey, that’s a neat necklace; why are you wearing it?” (because, you know, a guy can’t just wear a necklace without having a reason, that’s just the society we live in) I’ve had a hard time coming up with a good, short answer beyond “I want to wear it.” For you see, the true reason is far more complicated than I can explain to some clerk at a gas station, and far more personal than I feel like blurting out to Stranger #14 at Wal*Mart or wherever.

But I shall attempt to do so here.

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Chasing the Light

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Note: this post has been edited to protect some identities. It has also been formatted to fit your screen.

A few weeks ago I shared an article on Facebook titled “Sexuality and Singledom — Navigating with Clarity and Integrity” that dealt with the frustrations of single people in the LDS Church, especially relating to sexual matters (defined by the article as not just sex, but maturity and expressing romantic affection properly in general). A bunch of people commented on it with some great discussions, and I noted that I had a blog post percolating in my head about it about how much I related to various matters contained within, especially about how LDS singles were treated and how they, in turn, treat each other.

This is not that blog post.

At least, not the post I had originally intended when I shared the article.

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