July 2018

It was a bad sign. Immediately upon leaving my apartment to go host visiting hours at The Belmont Goats, the brightness and heat of the afternoon sun of the ongoing heatwave was like suddenly being slapped across the face. I’d already announced we would be open. There was no turning back.

By the time I’d finished setting up for the two-hour shift, I felt like I was running on fumes. That sensation usually precedes a breakdown.

I took a beat, took a breath, and walked in the brightness and the heat the two blocks to the nearest market to get ice. They were out. I took a beat, took a breath, and walked in the brightness and the heat even further to the next-nearest market, and then walked in the brightness and the heat back to the goats. I opened ten minutes late. I was not in good shape.

Soaking a bandana in cold water and wrapping it around my head, I sat down in the shade on the deck at the front of the barn, with our shop fan aimed squarely at me. I was still pretty shaky.

I managed the two-hour shift. I managed to get through the closing procedure feeling mostly okay.

And then on the walk home in the brightness and the heat, I had a breakdown. It was brief (I won’t say “minor”), and I was able to keep going rather than stop in the brightness and the heat. Once home, things started the slow process of calming, the tension its slow movement of ratcheting down.

One thing I’ve been pondering lately is the idea that society has a sort of background radiation of conformity. So, even if you don’t know you’re autistic, you conform unconsciously because you’ve been “irradiated”, unless you have the sheer self-awareness and strength of will to resist. That’s how you go four decades camouflaging, masking, passing without knowing — and then hit midlife and wonder why the hell all of these routine things about the world suddenly hurt so much.

There is no question at this point. For the decades before my diagnosis, I had been ignoring or rationalizing or not even recognizing what the brightness and heat do to me, have probably always done to me. Although it’s probably true that the “psychic plaque” of a lifetime of unknowingly masking that increases the risk of a midlife autistic burnout comes into play here, as well. To wit: burnout made me more sensitive to some stressors that I might have managed or mitigated more easily in the past.

Autistic burnout, let alone its concomittant increased sensitivities, is tough to explain to some people. Especially for the late-diagnosed, it can sound to other people like you’re simply taking advantage of your midlife diagnoses to do less, to shirk responsiblities.

In my case, the problem literally ends up being the opposite. I took my diagnosis to Vocational Rehabilitation precisely to use it to attempt a return to gainful employment. Then the increase in stressors due to those changes in my circumstances — going from no paid work to twenty hours a week of paid work plus an hour commute both ways — landed atop the “psychic plaque” of those four decades not even knowing I was masking, and I broke.

Now I can’t tell from one week to the next what thing is going to turn out to be a stressor that puts me on the edge.

This heatwave has been murder on me. It’s finally breaking, a bit, but who knows for how long. Some days my brain is filled with foam and I can’t even move a thought around. Some days I *want* to get things done, but there’s nothing in the tank. I can’t sleep well. Dreams feel like threats.

I write this up because I’m going to need anyone who deals with me in any official capacity from here on out to understand these things, be they psychotherapist, vocational rehabilitation caseworker, primary care physician, job coach, or social service provider.

Autistic burnout is real. I’m being knocked around by it. Yes, you really can go decades, your entire life up until now, not knowing there was a real reason for problems you experienced. Not seeing the signs, or ignoring the signs, because the background radiation of conformity tends to win.

Conformity is like inertia. The typical way of being continues to be, in a straight line, until acted upon by an outside force.

In this case, the outside force is diagnosis, and if it gets the opporunity to exert itself, everything can come barreling down at you at once, even if “at once” is a slow-motion weight descending on you for months on end.

I am very tired. I am learning a lot, but I am very tired, and I don’t yet know what to do with what I’m learning, or what any of it means for the help I need, or what it says about *what kind* of help I need, or for the challenge of convincing people of the help I need.

I’m not lazy. I’m not taking advantage of my diagnosis. I’m not lying when I say that for four decades I had no idea.

This is who I am now, whatever I was, or thought I was, before.

I’m left with the same question I seem to be running into all the time these days.

Now what?

In addition to this writing experiment (from which I’d been somewhat absent until the last couple of weeks), awhile back I tried a related one on Tumblr, where there’s an entirely different autistic community. It didn’t last long, and I wiped the few things I had posted or reblogged.

The entire experience was weirdly alienating.

There’s lots of talk on Tumblr about how great everyone’s autistic experiences are, and how one’s autism comes with all sorts of neat and interesting abilities. Mostly it just made me feel like there’s a menu of superpowers autistic people are supposed to get that no one bothered to tell me about, or give me access to. There’s even a post about it on Medium, that I’d forgotten about until while reading it I discovered various things in it that I’d previously highlighted.

There’s also a subculture of autistic people that like to flaunt their identity as self-professed polymaths, who mostly, to me, just come across as shameless braggarts. (That’s setting aside the minority of people I keep running into who use their being autistic as an excuse for just being assholes.)

Do I have “hyperfocus”? Sure. But at the expense of being able to task-switch or remember to eat or go take a god damned shit. Do I have “fact absorption”? No, I really don’t. Even in areas where I do learn something, the next time I need that knowledge I have to give myself a refresher. It’s why there are things I’ve done that I can’t do for other people, or, worse yet, for a job. “Dialogue/lyric memorization”? Nope. Not at all. “Stubborn rationality”? Probably, in some ways and circumstances, but that’s, if we’re being honest with ourselves here, just as much a weakness as a superpower. “Stimming”? I have my share of sims, mostly mild, a fact which might be innate or might be because the four decades I spent not knowing I was autistic yielded a suppression of the stimming instinct. But I also don’t see how this is a superpower. It’s just a thing we do to mitigate the impact of our surroundings. That’s a helpful skill, but superpower? No.

Finding being out in the sun and heat to be debilitating to the point where I have to concentrate either on getting home or stopping — in the middle of that very sun and heat — to cry from the strain of it, that’s no superpower. That’s a hindrance, and it’s terrible. Getting up and wondering just how many spoons I’m going to end up with for the day and whether or not I’m going to run out of them at an inopportune moment, that’s no superpower. It’s terrifying.

I’m not complaining about these things, per se. These aspects of my being autistic are what they are. Figuring out how much I can push the world around me to adapt to me rather than me always having to adapt to it is just part of the deal. That’s fine.

But superpowers?

I suppose I just find it off-putting, this compulsion to react to the allistic world’s rejection of the neurodiverse as also being “normal” by spinning it around to proclaim all autistic behaviors to be some sort of gift. Being autistic is mostly value neutral. And, in the end, the “superpowers” rhetoric actually makes me feel *worse* about being autistic, because it makes me feel like an outsider even in autism.

So much of what I now know, or suspect, were artifacts of being unknowingly autistic were things that at the time just made me feel like a failure and a fuck-up.

Now I’ve got other autistic people describing being autistic in these hyperbolic ways that just make me feel like I’m even a failure at being autistic.

And that’s just super.

One continuing obstacle for me is the question of trying to look back over four decades to see if I can find signs of being autistic, or signs of how no one ever noticed that I was. It didn’t help when exactly the wrong person bluntly questioned my contention that I never knew there were diagnosable reasons behind difficulties I’ve had.

I’ve talked a little bit about related things here, such as how unknowingly engaging in lifelong masking could have led to autistic burnout (my “masking leaves psychic residue akin to arterial plaque that increass the risk of a kind of autistic stroke” theory). I’ve also talked about how, pre-diagnosis, use of a toolkit meant for introverts could have helped me mitigate some of the social stresses of unknowingly being autistic.

During a particularly stressful day last week, as I was rocking back and forth against a railing waiting for public transit, I had further thoughts about how being autistic without knowing it could have played out in my interactions with the world around me. These thoughts aren’t especially built out or built up, but I do think they add small points of understanding when it comes to trying to decode my past.

There’s a lot of discussion about autistic people’s penchant for focused and obsessive interests. There are two periods of time in my life during which this was especially true for me, in ways that secretly and happenstantially might have been providing outlets for those aspects of being autistic.

I first got online in 1993, via a dialup gopher server run by a local public library in upstate New York. Through it (30-minutes at a time, because that’s when it would disconnect on you), because of an article in the debut issue of Wired magazine, I ended up on an internet-connected bulletin board system out of New York City called Mindvox.

Descriptors of MindVox in that Wikipedia article generally are true. “In many ways MindVox was a harder, edgier, New York incarnation of the WELL.” “Members who met through the conferences often became acquainted in person, either on their own, or through what were termed ‘VoxMeats’.” “MindVox was deeply connected to the emerging non-academic hacker culture and ideas about the potentials of cyberspace.”

All of these things made for an online space perfect not just for hyperfocused and obsessive interests but a space both online and off that tended to accumulate a large variety of awkward or quirky behavior by the standards of the larger, normative world. There were losers and professionals, extroverts and introverts, alliances and enemies, and generally speaking most everyone was building for themselves a social persona that genuinely reflected who they were (or thought they were, or were trying to be), come what may. You meshed with others, or clashed with others, essentially on your own terms.

This is not always true for autistic people navigating the allistic world, and I do wonder now if this outlet for individuality (the mid-90s internet was rife with a libertarian attitude) in some ways meant that for the mid- to late-90s much of my social communication both online and off required little to no masking. I wouldn’t have been aware of it in those terms at the time, and indeed my entire point is that this is only occuring to me now, but during this period as far as the outside world was concerned I was being who I was and that was that.

In no way did this outlet preclude all of the other struggles that we now know at least in part were due to other aspects of unknowingly being autistic (and therefore, because unknowing, all of it was going unexamine and unaddressed). All of the things that I’m now trying to mitigate or nevigate when it comes to employment, for example, were the case back then, too. Having an authentic outlet for one aspect of being autistic didn’t magically solve the difficulties I was experiencing elsewhere. But I do wonder today if things would hae been even worse for me in the 90s *without* that outlet.

Getting online in the early 90s also meant experiencing the early days of the web, which meant that easy access to other interests increased. While pre-web I was active on Usenet groups such as alt.tv.twin-peaks, the arrival of the web rapidly meant that pop culture discussion not only was everywhere but was easier to find and to navigate. Even some producers of pop culture latched on relatively early, which was how I ended up on Fox’s official website and discussion forums for Firefly, and then on the now-defunct Whedonesque, in 2002. I would spend the next decade firmly entrenched in Whedon fandom. *Firefly* fandom, especially, was home.

Here, again, we have an environment where hyperfocus and obsessive interest run rampant. Here, again, we have a social scene that both online and off (through conventions) tended toward acceptance of the allegedly quirky and awkward. During my time in this fandom, I went from being active in these discussion forums to creating (or co-creating) probably a dozen different websites that helped fans find where a movie was still in release, curated fan-recorded audio commentaries, followed *Firefly* DVDs into space, mocked ill-conceived fan campaigns to “buy” the rights to a TV show, tracked information about an unproduced movie script, ran fan-directed social media campaigns for a TV show that had almost no support from the network, and more. Hyperfocus? I had it. Obsessive interests? I had it. I also had yet another outlet for being who I was, and being accepted for who I was.

Like my time as part of MindVox, I do look at my time in fandom as another period in which perhaps I was not subject to the stresses of masking, at least in the realms of social communication and my issues with performance distress. At the same time, the later years of my fandom period were exactly the years in which I started to utilize a toolkit meant for introverts to help manage certain stresses. Yes, I could attend large, sprawling, crowded events such as San Diego Comic-Con, but only if I had my own hotel room, shared with no one else, so that there always would be a place to which I could escape. I’d often sit as far toward the back of panel rooms as I could, unless I was sitting with friends, who were a kind of buffer.

During the middle of my fandom period, there was something else happening, too. I spent three years covering local Portland politics, an experiment in what came to be called, at the time, “stand-alone journalism”. It was just me, my self-hosted website, and a lot of lurking around the edges of meetings and protests and public discussions. Arguably this was the highpoint for hyperfocus and obsessive interest. My experience in committing acts of journalism was that people tended to leave you be. I didn’t have to interact. I just had to watch, listen, take notes, and then go home to write things up. While there was a greast deal of freedom to be who I was, there was also a lot of exposure to the most annoying, aggressive, and venal attitudes of which people are capable. After three years, I was burned out on subjecting myself to that. The obsessive interest vanished into thin air.

In the end, then, I do wonder if in some ways my pre-diagnosis life being unknowingly autistic could have been worse. I could have stumbled into not a single outlet for any parts of my particular autistic feature set. I could have never found any online or offline spaces where what the normative world considered quirky or awkward were accepted in fact as normal.

Having those outlets did not address any of the other parts of my particular autistic feature set. All of the things that gave me trouble in finding, securing, and keeping employment continued unabated and, perhaps worse, unseen, helping to generate a resume that to this day does not instill a great deal of confidence in prospective employers.

Having those outlets, however, did provide me with something of a stable piece of ground to stand on when it came to letting me be myself. Those two decades from MindVox to Whedon fandom arguably would have been better had I known I was autistic, at least in terms of having had the opportunity to chase down those other trouble spots. Without those oases, however, who knows where being unknowingly autistic would have left me.

That doesn’t do much of anything for me today, but I suppose it’s useful to try to figure out what it might have done for me then?

There’s not really any form of communication that I enjoy, per se. I suppose that I’m most comfortable with the sort of mass, meandering aimlessness of my Twitter feed, but that doesn’t exactly translate into utilitarian conversations such as those in the workplace, or, really, those involved in finding work to begin with.

I don’t really do small talk (despite my fondness for Twitter), although I can in certain contexts. What’s problematic for me is communication that has a purpose and a goal and is happening in real-time, be it face-to-face or over the phone.

Some of this is the fact that I am effectively incapable of multi-tasking. It dawned on me only recently that the reason I sometimes will interrupt someone I am talking with is because when a thought strikes me I am mentally incapable of simultaneously holding onto that thought for later *and *continuing to pay attention to what the other person is saying to me. So the thought leaps out of me while they are in mid-sentence, and I need to apologize, urge them to continue, and hope that the mere fact of me having said something out loud will be enough to bring my thought back into the conversation at a more suitable moment, like when it’s actually my turn to speak.

Telephone conversations in some ways make this worse, because at least face-to-face the other person likely has some conception of the fact that a thought has just struck you and you are waiting to be able to get to it. They also have some sense of when you are quiet because you thinking about things rather than from some sort of disinterest.

In both situations, too many things are required to be happening at the same time for an effective conversation to happen. It’s not dissimilar to why I cannot drive a car and stopped trying to learn pretty early on. I can’t steer the wheel, know which peddle I’m supposed to be using, know where the edges of the car are, and watch for pedestrians, cyclists, and other cars all at the same time. I’d have killed someone for sure.

Written communication is best for me. Emails are great, because they don’t have an immediate expectation of synchrony. In many ways, you’re expected to take time to respond. Direct messages and texts are okay, to an extent. The still bring with them some of the pressures of real-time conversation but also have a wider comfort zone for both parties when it comes to delays in responding.

Part of the problem, for me, with face-to-face and telephone conversations is there’s typically a pressure to respond, to come to a conclusion, to reach some sort of decision.

I have made some poor decisions because of this, often because my brain knows that the fastest way out of the stress of that conversation is to respond deferentially, which has led me to assent to things that a more careful consideration would have led me to understand were going to be more harmful to me in the long term than the short-term stress of the conversation itself.

During my first round of taking me and my diagnosis to Vocational Rehabilitation , I acceded to things said by my job coach and by the boss at my job placement that only made things difficult for me later, and it took me weeks to realize that it was because my brain took the shortest route out of the stress of social communication. It didn’t help that part of me had decided that I needed to appear as responsive and responsible as possible to the Vocational Rehabilitation process, and that sometimes overrode my better judgment.

To be clear, it isn’t the *content* of the real-time conversation that’s the problem, although obviously difficult conversations only make it harder. It’s the act of social communication itself. Remember this bit from my Psychodiagnostic Evaluation of October 2016?

Clinical evaluation and tests indicate that aspects of his functioning are impaired by his autism spectrum disorder, and related anxiety, cognitive and behavioral rigidity, deficits in social reciprocity, poor understanding and management of his own emotional and behavioral responses and his inability to tolerate distress, ambiguity and to engage in goal-directed behavior when he does not clearly see and agree with the method and purpose of the tasks and general direction of the activities.

These things don’t lend themselves well to social communication happening in real time, with an inherent, built-in sense that there’s an expected endpoint that must be reached. I can walk and chew gum at the same time, but I can’t think and converse at the same time, and the stress of doing so can spiral pretty quickly, or lead me to agree to things that aren’t in my best interest overall.

Written communication almost always is the best option. If there’s an issue that for whatever reason must be discussed with me face-to-face or over the phone, there shouldn’t be any pressure or expectation that I have clear or concise thoughts about it, let alone a decision. People need to give me time to consider that conversation after it’s over. If there’s some sort of action or decision required on my part, it’s going to have to wait.

There aren’t a lot of things I post here that overly are messages to future prospective employers, but this is one of them. It also applies to any agencies enlisted to support me.

Please think carefully about what you really *require* when it comes to communication and what you’re simply accustomed to doing. If you can avoid it, don’t call me. Don’t ask for a meeting. Email me. Text me. Give me the time and space I need to understand not just what you’re saying but its implications for my own wellbeing.

I’ll get back to you, I swear.

Inside Joss Whedon’s Unfilmed ‘Goners’

Note: I originally wrote this a few years ago solely for myself, just to exorcise my thoughts. Last year, someone publicly posted a write-up of the script, and with the cat somewhat out of the bag, I posted these thoughts on a site I’ve since taken offline. I am putting them back up, as HBO PR has announced The Nevers, which sounds weirdly like a combination of Goners and a comic book for Dark Horse called Twist that didn’t happen.

I’ve long argued that “cynicism is frustrated optimism, resulting only from first believing that people are capable of better and then too often being proved wrong”, and that “this is why the small, every day courtesies matter”.

What if we with deliberation and care did right by each other in all the tiny ways: holding the door for the person behind us, giving up our seat for someone who needs it more, using headphones on our devices when in cafes and bars, remembering our “pleases” and “thank yous”. What if paying attention to all of these small moments left us no longer too exhausted and too world-weary even to think about the larger and more inexplicable challenges of the larger life and lives around us, let alone to act on them?

My first time through an undated draft of Joss Whedon’s unproduced screenplay Goners, there was a moment which nearly made me leap off my couch. Explaining a colleague’s theory as to the nature of the film’s supernatural antagonists, one character says to another that the threat before them is not just the “fear” and the “hate” but “all the thoughtless bullshit of the city”.

All those small moments of unthinking selfishness and self-centeredness. What evils do they amount to?

Late in 2010, I was approached by someone I know from pop culture convention circles. They were about to come into possession of the screenplay for the film Whedon wrote almost immediately upon completion of his directorial debut Serenity. They asked if I’d heard of it.

At that point, I’d already been blogging about Goners for several years. I was part of a ridiculously-premature fan community which revolved around it. Nothing about the script was known save the tidbits Whedon would sometimes drop into interviews, convention panels, or Q&As.

We knew it was about a woman named Mia, who sees “a part of the modern world most people don’t get to see”, but “the world has forgotten about her”.

We knew there was a character named Violet.

We knew there were some dobermans.

So familiar was I with its existence, and for so long, that I expressed skepticism that the screenplay actually had surfaced, especially when told that it had a lot of Dollhouse-like stuff in it.

There are several other unproduced Whedon screenplays. Afterlife tells the story of a man whose mind is transferred into the brain of a convict, personalities whose conflict forms the general narrative thrust of the film. The mind-transfer technology in Afterlife having something of an ancestral feel to the technology in Dollhouse, I half-suspected that what was purported to be the screenplay for Goners instead might be that for Afterlife (which existed online), renamed by someone having a bit of fun of the expense of Whedon’s fans.

So it was with no small amount of surprise and excitement that in March 2011, I found in my mail a copy of what indeed turned out to be an authentic screenplay for Goners.

That first year in possession of Goners, I re-read it every couple of months. I told not a soul that I had it. When the original draft of the screenplay for The Cabin in the Woods showed up online, I even lied to people who asked me if I also had a copy of Goners.

There were weird coincidences. Certain aspects of the story happened to match certain design elements of the site I’d maintained to track development of the film. After my first read of the script, I deleted some of those design elements. I didn’t want anyone familiar with the actual script to get any indication, even if happenstantial, that I’d read it.

Around this time, the month after I received the script, talk of Goners popped up here and then as Whedon was getting mainstream attention for The Avengers. By then, my unofficial production blog for the film had been dormant for three years. Living with the script having re-sparked my interest, I started posting about these new remarks about Goners. It became clear over the next year that while Whedon still had some degree of interest in it, apparently not very many other people did. He revealed, in fact, that when he’d turned in the first draft, the powers-that-be at Universal “shitcanned” it, and he felt that over the years he’d been “yanked around” by studio executives. [Ed. note: I might have misremembered the timeline here; the folks at Universal who were in charge after Mary Parent left were the ones who “shitcanned” the project, and I think that had to have been after most of the rewrites.]

Goners was to have been Whedon’s next movie after Serenity, although, for awhile, his involvement with attempting to bring Wonder Woman to the big screen was in something of a competition for time and attention. Both projects, of course, ultimately went nowhere. Again in 2012 he expressed some continued interest in filming Goners, but the process of its development, back-burnering, and eventual death made him wary. He’d also let it be known more than once, in this context and others, that he doesn’t often “go back” to old material. Some stories, perhaps, need telling when they demanded to be written, not years later when life both personal and creative has moved on.

(That old Wonder Woman script surfaced online a couple years ago now, and was dragged pretty hard on Twitter, deservedly. Despite being written around the same time, Goners does not sink to its level.)

Little, really, has been said about Goners for the past several years. It continues to have its own small cadre of dedicated believers. I have no idea how many of them also ever stumbled into the chance to read the script. Even now, as I admit that I’d read it, I’ve no interest in getting into the details of the story it tells. I still hope it someday will see the light of day, even if it’s never produced. In comic book form, maybe? Or perhaps it’s time for Universal to just publish the script.

Or, I should say, scripts.

It’s been known all along that the script went through several rewrites. At one point, during the 2007 writers’ strike when the film still was in development, a fan asked Whedon how it was coming along. His response was what the fan later described as a “low, quietly-distressed moan”.

Late in 2014, three years after being alerted to the existence of a script for Goners, I received another copy. Unlike the first, undated script, this one had a date: September 2005. This, then, apparently was the original draft. The one that had been “shitcanned” by Universal. [See previous ed. note.]

(For lack of a better way to describe the difference, this was the earlier “Clay Men” draft, which recently got written-up online. The later draft, the one I’d read first, wasn’t. It remains a mystery to me is whether or not there also exists yet another version, a third. In reference to this September 2005 draft, someone remarked that they’d seen a different version but it wasn’t all that different. This does not at all characterize the relationship between the two drafts I’ve read.)

Whatever I’d at that point had for nearly three years was something later, the result of that oft-mentioned rewrite process. It for some reason never had occurred to me that what I’d read, and re-read, over and over, wasn’t the original draft. After having lived for so long first with tracking the film’s development and then with an actual script in hand, suddenly there was new, to me, Goners material.

There is an original draft of Serenity, referred to as the “kitchen sink” draft because in the wake of Firefly’s ignominous television demise Whedon tried to put everything he could possibly think of into what might be his one and only shot to bring it back to life. Certain infamous character deaths never happen. There’s at least one fantastic set piece that likely for reasons both financial and emotional is scrapped in the film itself. Generally speaking the “kitchen sink” draft of Serenity has some terrific stuff in it. It also would have made for a very long movie. It isn’t bloated, per se, but it was nowhere near as streamlined, efficient, or effective as the draft Whedon shot. Arguably, the movie that got made is better than the first script he wrote for it.

I thought a lot about the “kitchen sink” draft of Serenity when reading the original draft of Goners, heart racing the moment I detected the first deviation from whichever later draft I’d first read.

The original draft of Goners is long, and much more involved. Much larger parts of an overall background mythology for the characters and their world appear, never to be seen, mentioned, or even alluded to in the later draft. Various characters each get more little moments of their own. The protagonist is subjected to a completely unnecessary and extraneous assault. There’s also much more expositional discussion. It’s generally a lot more intricate. There’s simply too much going on, and whatever might be the point of telling the story at all effectively becomes lost in the shuffle.

It does not work anywhere near as well as the later draft. I don’t think this is just because I read the later draft first.

One of the most revealing things Whedon ever has said about Goners, it turns out, is that he considers it an antidote to “the horror movie with the expendable human beings in it” because he “[doesn’t] believe any human beings are”.

There’s a moment in the later draft of Goners where this is made starkly, remarkably clear, and for the first half dozen or so times reading it I simply missed it. He holds to that idea so strongly that it’s at the center of a larger mythology surrounding Mia, Violet, and the others that’s entirely different from the one used in the earlier draft. Once you see that moment for what it is, it’s impossible to shake the idea that it might even be something of a tough sell to an audience. There’s an expectation, yet it deliberately is left unmet, because for the story to be what Whedon says it is, it must be unmet.

On the surface, the actions of this moment occur in the original draft, but in every real and meaningful way the moment itself does not. Not really.

There’s a lot more going on in the original draft, but the story at the core I don’t think really comes out until Whedon has to subject himself to that frustrating process of rewrites. Whatever notes he received seem to have prompted (forced?) him to strip the story down to an essential core.

Not long ago, despite everything he’s said about how he doesn’t like to go back and revisit things from other parts of his creative life, Whedon revealed that Goners still has a place in his heart.

“Every now and then, it crops up in my head,” he said. “A lot of my stories that I’ve told, I’m like, I’m past that stage of storytelling, or I got it out of my system, and it’s hard to work up the energy to go back. Every now and then with Goners, I’m like, there’s something about this that hasn’t been expressed yet.”

That something precisely is what those rewrites, despite the low, quietly-distressed moan they later prompted from him, apparently led him to find after he peeled away the more complex layers in the scenario of his original draft. Once he stumbled upon that something that hasn’t been expressed yet, Goners found itself.

Presuming that the first draft I read in fact was the final draft before the project spiraled into the lowest rings of development hell, it still has issues. There’s a problematic character name that I’m quite sure was taken from a Grateful Dead song but carries racist European baggage. Two minor characters, among the only ones specifically to have their races specified, really ought to have those races swapped. Some characters who were more developed in the earlier draft perhaps have had a little too much of that stripped away in the later one.

These would be necessary tweaks, not wholesale rewrites. The first draft I read, however late in the rewrites process it came, essentially feels like it’s ready to go.

Will we ever see it?

I don’t think I really believe it will ever be a movie. But there are other venues, other mediums.

I’ll never quite entirely give up hope, even if I won’t be holding my breath. I still sometimes fantasize about how I’d shoot it: nothing like The Avengers, not even like Serenity; more grounded like the Whedon-written and -produced but Brin Hill-directed In Your Eyes.

(Since the original version of this post, I’ve even mapped out how an expanded version of the later draft could be structured as a short season of television. Lately I’ve started finding ways to make Mia not “painfully shy”, as described by Whedon, but instead actually autistic.)

I still want to see its mythologizing of the thoughtless bullshit of the city. I still want to see its argument for the unexpendability of human beings.

I like to think that Mia is still out there, somewhere, waiting. The world might have forgotten about her, but I haven’t.

I’ve been getting down in the dumps a bit lately, wondering why so many autistic people seem to think that being autistic comes with some set of “superpowers” when I feel like no one ever provided me with that particular handbook. I even bailed on a brief experiment in following autistic people on Tumblr because of it.

In all likelihood it’s intermingled with knowing that once I clear some hurdles with my nonprofit’s next major physical relocation, I’m going to need to take another stab at working with Vocational Rehabilitation and in order to avoid a repeat of earlier mistakes I’m going to need to find ways to adequately explain to them, and therefore to potential job placements, how my being autistic will interact with a new workplace.

My first real post-diagnosis employment experience was an emotional disaster, so the stakes are pretty high.

I have to communicate things well, and in advance, but if I haven’t been seeing this whole experience so far in any real positive ways, how do I convince a prospective employer that I am a positive addition for them?

Then, today, I just sort of randomly realized that the one frequently-mentioned autistic “superpower” that I actually have is so-called hyperfocus — but then, par for the course, almost immediately I saw the pitfalls as well.


The short version is that hyperfocus is what it sounds like: the ability to intensely concentrate on a task to the exclusion of basically everything else, up to and including frequently forgetting to take a break to go to the bathroom or wondering why you’re suddenly very shaky and it turns out it’s because you haven’t eaten anything in the four hours you’ve been working on something.

You can accomplish a lot through hyperfocus, but there’s a catch for potential employers: it’s not exactly an on-demand feature.

Part of why hyperfocus can result in so much getting done is because by its very nature it runs uninterrupted. It’s not focus, let alone hyperfocus, if you’re expected to multitask or outright switch to doing something else instead. This is especially true for many autistic people, as near as I can tell, because of a common problem with task switching.


For most allistic people, I sort of assume that when you are asked to stop what you’re doing and work on something else, you see two things: your current task and your new task. If you do have some sense of autistic people having difficulty switching tasks, maybe you can grasp the idea that autistic people instead might see three things: their current task, the transition, and the new task.

Here’s the thing for me, and I’m betting for many other autistic people as well, however: task switching isn’t three things, let alone two things.

It’s five things.

  1. The current task.
  2. Winding down from the current task.
  3. Switching gears.
  4. Spooling up for the new task.
  5. The new task.

Each one of these things requires its own, separate, independent expenditure of energy.

(All of this, of course, ignores for our purposes here the fact that being asked while doing a current task to switch to a new task itself is a new task. The energy expenditure can become sort of fractal, I guess, but I don’t want to go down that particular rabbit hole here.)

Even if an employer is willing on their part to expend the time, and therefore money, required for me to go through all five steps involved in task switching, that still means on my part that I’ve used up energy I might need for something else later on. Like, say, walking from work to the bus without crying. Or even just the grocery errand that I really need to run on the way home.

(The energy drain of that five-step process for switching tasks will be clearer to any employer who is familiar at all with Spoon Theory, since they will grasp the idea of someone having only a finite number of very discrete units of energy, and understand that conserving spoons is in the best interest of both employer and employee alike.)

What I realized, then, is that while I do possess the autistic “superpower” of hyperfocus, the context for it must be spelled out very clearly to Vocational Rehabilitation and therefore to any prospective employer.

For example, if there’s going to be task switching in my job let it fall during natural transitions built into the workday, e.g. breaks and lunch. This works even better if you tell me beforehand that when I come back I’ll be doing something else. My brain already understands those transition points in the day, and so they are great opportunities to switch me over to a different task. Alternatively, task switching can happen even more naturally: when one task is finished, I can switch to another. Task completion is yet another transition point which my brain effectively grasps automatically.

These natural breakpoints lessen the energy expenditure required for winding down and spooling up. In a sense, using natural breakpoints closely mimics a three-step process of task switching.


I’m feeling a bit better, then, about this whole autistic “superpower” thing people keep going on about.

I’m still nowhere near celebrating being autistic. I’ve no shame about being autistic, but for me the post-diagnosis process has been aggravating and somewhat debilitating. I’m grateful for the ways in which it’s explained so many things that before only had the apparent explanations of “failure” and “fuck-up”, but if ever there comes a time where I’m proud of being autistic… well, let’s just say I don’t see that time on the immediate horizon. It is what it is, nothing more.

I suppose right now I’m a bit mercenary about it. What I need is to identify the ways in which being autistic is going to affect taking another stab at Vocational Rehabilitation. I need to know how to talk about it in ways that will provide a realistic picture for any prospective employer. I don’t really have the luxury of wondering about how my being autistic impacts my identity. I have to focus (no pun intended) on how it’s going to affect my survival and my self-sufficiency.

Hyperfocus is one autistic “superpower” I do apparently have, but it comes with its own pitfalls, kryptonite, and potential confusions for employers.

The trick is going to be finding effective ways to communicate all of this ahead of time, for this and for any other powers, if any, being autistic allegedly grants me.