The portraits of Benjamin.

Portraits adorn a residential fence in the Cathedral Park neighborhood.

For the three and a half years I’ve been in St. Johns, I kept seeing this installation from the bus and then managing not to make myself go down to take a closer look and maybe some photos until this past week. While this particular shot of the entire installation was taken a couple days later when the street was clear of cars, when I first stopped by it turned out that the people who live there were in the process of moving out, recently having sold the house.

Since I’ve been pretty significantly overwhelmed lately, I didn’t quite catch all of the story she told me, but apparently an artist named Benjamin would leave paintings around Portland, some of which would get spotted, picked up, and brought to be added to this fence. If I recall correctly, the portraits of people were his, but those of animals were painted by the homeowner’s sister. Supposedly the second one in from the right on the top row is Benjamin.

All of the terms I thought to use to search the web about the story of this installation were so general or common that I never managed to find anything.

In my mental state of late, I simply didn’t think to ask what’s going to become of all of it under the new owners. You can get a better look at this photo on its Flickr page. If you look closely, there’s a tiny painting of a cactus that the homeowner herself painted to add before she left.

The pathology of autism research.

Over in a subreddit for autistic adults, someone linked this Newtsoda webcomic about this study about moral decisions in autistic people. Or, really, the webcomic uses that study to talk about how researchers pathologize pretty much any behavior if it happens to come from an autistic person. There’s a good NeuroClastic writeup of the study if you don’t want to wade through the paper itself, although you always could just skip to the discussion section at the end.

I’m not going to bother to pull out a bunch of quotes; I just want to flag a couple of thoughts I had along the way.

While the study reports that both autistics and non-autistics agreed that the “good” scenario was good and the “bad” scenario bad, it doesn’t seem to account for whether or not non-autistics were just saying what they assumed a public and judgmental audience would want to hear. Given that the study itself specifically examined actions in public to actions in private, you’d think they’d have to account for this possibility.

As with any discussion of autism and morality, I can’t help but think of the autistic guy who called the police on black women violating a rule about poolside drinks at this apartment complex. For sure, he apparently thought he was enforcing a morality, but at the risk of putting into motion a greater immorality about which he apparently was oblivious, and despite not only doing all of this in public but energetically posting about it online.

Also, I’d be interested for someone to repeat this study but add in a third scenario: one in which you do the moral thing but get punished for it. This springs to mind because I just went through that scenario when fundraising for veterinary costs. The fundraiser potentially put at risk my own health and food benefits, because those funds had to be reported to my state of income and/or assets. For a few days I was under a particularly intense sort of pressure from family members not to report the money.

The argument, considered objectively, wasn’t ridiculous: because the money was for a moral cause, and was only going to be spent on that cause and not on myself, why should I put my own health and wellbeing at risk by reporting the funds? Realistically, however, things could be far worse for me if I never reported it at all. It was legally required of me, and the risk of being a scofflaw wasn’t small.

Morally, my family was right: I shouldn’t be punished simply for doing the right thing for and by my animals. In the real world, it isn’t that simple. It rarely is.

(For the record, I not only reported the funds, I documented both the fundraiser and the expenses exhaustively in my reporting to the state. Neither my health nor my food benefits were curtailed or reduced.)

At any rate, I think there are a lot of gaps in how thie particular study was put together, but more than anything else both Newtsoda and NeuroClastic are right about how too many autism researchers can’t seem to help making every single thing they apparently uncover about autistic people into a pathology. You could almost say they are pathological about it.

Addenda

  1. There is a poster who is taking issue with the webcomic, essentially arguing that its a misunderstanding of the language of scientific literature, as if scientific language is immune from bias Because Science. There is inherent bias and harm in using the term “healthy” to describe the non-autistic subjects. There is inherent bias and harm is saying that autistic subjects “overestimated” consequences rather than consider that maybe the “healthy” subjects underestimated them. The argument is that language itself—yes, scientific language too—has a moral component, intended or otherwise, that should be exposed and exploded.
  2. Call it the moral quandary of colloquial runoff. The poster in question doesn’t see it. I presume that once upon a time researchers studied homosexuality and referred to something akin to a ”healthy control subject”, and I assume we’d take issue were the term used in that context today.

I blame the killjoy.

It’s exceedingly rare that Real Life publishes something I don’t bother to read, but this week’s newsletter perhaps should have been one of them. In it, the anonymous letter-writer seems to think they’ve discovered some sort of nascent fascism in crowds at a baseball game.

I had never directly seen how a wave got started before, and it gave me an ominous, unsettled feeling. People suddenly seemed that more conditioned to obey. Those who are initially indifferent or even annoyed eventually just go along with the crowd. The fact that the individuals who initiate these events blatantly have no other purpose than gratifying their ego and proving that they can command others is no deterrent. People obviously like to have leaders uncovered in their midst and submit to them. […]

In the midst of it, I was transformed from an average ordinary home-team fan, cheering and booing at the appropriate times in response to the action on the field, to a conspicuous abstainer, a potential scapegoat, an easy target for whatever inchoate violence was aimlessly being stirred up. The wave wasn’t a containment operation, dispersing the energies of the crowd; it was showing them instead what mark they could make if they concentrated their energy and focused it just on that, getting itself noticed. I clung to the game as if it could protect me. But there are riots after teams lose and riots after teams win.

To be clear here, we are talking about the wave, not The Wave (or even We Are the Wave). Also to be clear, your average baseball game prompts nothing even close to a riot. More than anything else, this particular Real Life missive reads as nothing so much as what we might term the thoughts of a leftist killjoy.

Pair with Arthur C. Brooks (I’ve linked him before, less than flatteringly) writing for The Atlantic about sports being pointless, and therefore great. Brooks, like me, inherited his baseball fandom from his father (him the Cubs, me the Red Sox).

But that is precisely what makes it ideal for forming relationships. In a transactional world, our relationships with others tend to become part of a web of useful alliances. But such alliances make for the least satisfying relationships. If you are finding that your closest bonds of friendship and family leave you feeling empty, the solution is not to make your relationships more practical. It is to organize them more around things that aren’t useful at all—like baseball.

If sports are pointless in the way Brooks describes (which is to say, not entirely), then the wave for sure is kind of stupid, but it’s not about some sort of crowd submissiveness to a take-charge leader. It’s more like a weird sort of swarming behavior, and I can’t help but wonder if murmurations of birds or fish (do fish murmurate?) aren’t in fact experiencing a similar sort of endorphin-fueled elation.

So, no, anonymous Real Life letter-writer, the wave isn’t “a parable, about the instability of crowds maybe or the opportunistic nature of the will to power”. It’s a harmless nonsense in the sense of not being entirely nonsense after all, but rather a somewhat ridiculous expression of what Brooks calls “a common love for a third thing”.

It is late and it is getting late.

So it’s after 11 at night on a weekend and as I’ve been trying to manage Willow’s regression since Wednesday night without decent veterinary feedback before the weekend hit (I did try), trying to wing it on figuring out pain med schedules and a reduction of appetite and trying to make sure she isn’t constipated and for the first time in 24 hours she comes out from under my bed meowing her way across the apartment to get to the litter box and she’s suddenly back to a more floppy ataxia instead of her more recent just-stiff-back-legs thing and what the fuck am I supposed to do and why is it that every time she needs more care or I need more advice/feedback it’s the weekend when I can’t get any. My hypervigilance since Wednesday has now become knots in my shoulder blades and really what I need to be doing is getting to bed and getting to sleep. Inquiries to potential places to do a special-need rehoming all are coming to naught, because everyone already is overextended, but clearly this regression is demonstrating the degree to which caring for her will result in bad consequences for my own health and sanity. Even if I had the money to do another weekend trip to DoveLewis, and even if it was money that covered not just immediate needs but also all the additional diagnostics, they would end up having to call an ambulance for me because without question I would drop from sheer exhaustion. It is nearly midnight and if she’s currently in additional pain I can’t even give her more pain meds for another two hours. She finally at least has managed to eat something, I think because we finally got the first mirtazapine tablet into her since Thursday, and right now she’s grooming herself, but at any given moment she could turn back to plaintive meowing I don’t know how to address. Both of us are knots of (di)stress and we are alone.

Addenda

  1. Of course, she then calmed down with pets and she and I managed to get to sleep for the night.

A profile in Carl.

Carl, who is a goat.

Since we’re in another sort of doldrum here, I thought I’d just upload a photo. This is Carl, of The Belmont Goats. Last weekend I took my D5300 out, reset everything back to Ken Rockwell defaults, and then shot monochrome JPG in-camera. The only adjustments I made in Lightroom were applying the B&W Punch preset, which helped accentuate some texture and brightness on the subject, and then reducing highlights all the way and exposure by half in order to compensate for the slightly blown-out background. It is the best photo of Carl I’ve ever taken.

Come a violent roar.

On a Monday already slated to be a stretch of my physical and psychological resources because I can’t go back to sleep for very long after getting up at six in the morning to give a cat her twice-daily pain meds, and then wait while both cats have breakfast since I’m already up but can’t leave the food out, because I have to take one of them to an acupuncture appointment, half an hour before that alarm a roaring sound erupts in my bedroom scaring me out of a dead sleep and my bed.

At first it seems like the cadet heaters in the wall somehow are supercharged but, no, it’s that the floor registers from the old furnace system have suddenly and mysteriously come on and are blowing air, which they have never done, and I’m scrambling to text my landlords and suit up go to the basement and hope there’s a fuse box switch or something, and now my entire fucking nervous system is on fire.

In the kitchen to grab some latex gloves before heading to the basement to touch who knows what I notice that inexplicably there is a fair snowfall outside, which neither of my weather apps had forecast, because apparently I’m not disoriented enough by the cold air roaring out of the long-dormant vents in my floor.

Scrambling to get down to the basement through the trap door and steep steps without killing myself because I’m both violently awake and cognitively half-asleep, and don’t forget the dyspraxia, I dodge the remains of my old bed frame which I’d thrown into the basement having had no way to have them carted to the dump, I head directly to the fuse box, hastily-grabbed ear defenders keeping the furnace fans noise at bay, and find two different switches labeled for the furnace. Shutting them both off, the furnace roar ended, I return upstairs to find all the power off. It’s back into the basement again to figure out which furnace switch in the fuse box actually isn’t for the furnace.

Several times in all of this I close the trap for only to realize I hadn’t shut off the basement light, so more dangerous early-morning, nerves-shot clambering around the steep stair-ladder to the basement.

At the end of all this, after firing off an email to my therapist saying that I thought I might be about to crack, although I couldn’t say anymore or at this point whether it’d be mental or physical, I go to write up a version of that email for this blog—what eventually becomes this post—only to find that the backend won’t load. Sites appeared to be loading, or at least pages with caches; but anything that required a truly new request just hung. I couldn’t even access the server through my provider’s web console. It’s nearly an hour before I can access anything.

I’ve not been able to get back to sleep. I’ve canceled the appointment at the vet, because I can’t in good conscience subject either the cat who is on pain meds or myself who is not to a trek in what will still be temperatures in the 30s and precipitation of one kind of another.

Of course, by this time, there’s little to no chance of getting back to sleep until the adrenaline and whatever other stress chemicals subside. There is only the slowly-increasing additional strain of being forced by my own body to remain awake.

Welcome to a yet another brand new week of the relentless routine of being beaten up on the regular.

The neuroergonomics of being autistic.

Emily Willingham writing for Aeon on so-called “neuroergonomics” ends up with one of those pieces that should be required reading for anyone who doesn’t really understand what the big deal is with being autistic, even though she’s not overtly writing about autism here.

Just about every parent will have a personal version of this scenario, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic: it is evening after a long workday. You are getting dinner started, but it’s like trying to cook in a blizzard. The children are crying, the spaghetti’s boiling over on the stove, your phone starts buzzing with a long-awaited call after a job interview, the doorbell just rang, and you’re the only adult in the house.

Now imagine someone came up to you in the middle of all of this and said: ‘Hey, I have some chocolate here. I can give you this chocolate right now with five bucks or, if you wait a half hour, I will give you the chocolate and 10 bucks.’ As you gently try to peel a toddler from your lower leg while reaching to turn off the stove burner, you say: ‘Put the chocolate and the $5 on the counter and go away.’ Making this quick decision means you have one less thing to think about – and one person less in the kitchen. You don’t have time to make what looks like the better choice of just as much chocolate but twice as much money, if only you could wait.

You’ve experienced this, but now imagine experiencing it every day, with possibly everything that happens to you along the way, on a hairier trigger than is the case for you. That’s pretty much being autistic.

The brain, Willingham explains for those still not quite clued in, “has a finite capacity, with access to a finite amount of energy”, and the “deliberative system” at issue is the prefrontal cortex which when under a sufficient degree of stress can suffer “a decision-making collapse”—leading to “more impulsive decisions when we’re overloaded, unable to apply the deliberation we’d like”.

This is as good a description as any of why I’ve grown increasingly insistent that people give me time and space for answers and decisions. It’s why, even before the revelation of my diagnosis, colleagues at a nonprofit used to let me go for a walk before I weighed in on a suggestion or idea. It’s why I agreed to a job coach’s suggestion that I pursue a job placement in our first session, rather than first working through the usual weeks-long job development process. It’s why I prefer teletherapy to in-person sessions; the familiar environment of my own home produces less strain on more than just my prefrontal cortex, leaving me room to explore the things that are actually before us.

In addition to noting the uses of technology to take some of the cognitive load (e.g. the ways in which my bookkeeping, calendar, and reminders apps keep my budgeting, bills, appointments, and prescription medicines on track) Willingham describes some aspects of neuroergonomics that would be pretty familiar to any autistic person.

We can also adapt daily tasks to diminish the cognitive load they impose. Pinpointing ways to reduce high-demand activities to something more rote is one tactic, such as having the same thing for lunch every day. Another strategy is limiting the number of high-demand activities that must be done at once, such as choosing next-day clothes the night before, instead of when we’re also trying to get children out the door to school. One of the most straightforward neuroergonomic accommodations we can access is allocating tasks into uncrowded time windows so that they don’t pile up all at once. If making the week’s dinners on an uncluttered Sunday afternoon saves you from five evenings of the ‘overwhelmed in the kitchen’ scenario, that could be an adaptation worth making.

Emphasis mine. These basically is what some autistics refer to as samefood and (in the case of simply limiting one’s wardrobe instead of picking the night before) sameclothes. These aren’t merely a matter of what neurotypicals might deem rigid tastes or preferences but in fact are cognitive adaptations that keep us from getting derailed by decision paralysis over normatively “simple” things like choosing what to eat or wear.

The autistic need for structure and predictability in an uncertain and sensorily-buffeting world whose intrinsic field pushes us to “conform and perform” essentially is an innate sense of neuroergonomics.

Sometimes they are the inhumane society.

What follows is the transcript of voicemail left by Oregon Humane Society, and two emails I sent in its wake.

Voicemail from Oregon Humane Society, March 31, 2022

Hi there, I’m calling from the Oregon Humane Society, and I got the personality profile that you filled out for Willow, and I actually went ahead and got the vet records from Cathedral vet and spoke with our medical team, and unfortunately we’re not able to take ataxia on at our shelter, so we would not be able to assist with placement for Willow. Depending on you know her quality of life and her just ability to function day-to-day we might be able to offer end-of-life services if that something that you would be looking to pursue, but unfortunately we would not be able to assist with placement for her. I’m very sorry that we’re not able to assist, and I’m sorry for the sad news.

Email to Cathedral Animal Hospital, March 31, 2022

OHS is a firm “no” on even considering Willow for re-adoption services.

At this point I don’t know what I am supposed to do. DoveLewis wants to end her, OHS wants to end her, and until we got her back on meds, it even seemed to me like the only option after this past weekend.

But as we know, I can’t afford diagnostics and I can’t afford treatment. I don’t even know for much longer I can even afford meds, even if we revert to just the gabapentin and the mirtazapine.

She eventually needs to be somewhere that doesn’t have hurdles of anxiety, executive dysfunction, and OCD that will interfere with her care, especially as litter box issues increase, and for whom affording medications isn’t a constant battle. And somewhere where she can actually get into the f*cking windows so she can engage with a world other than the floor.

What am I supposed to do here.

Email to Oregon Humane Society, March 31, 2022

Very disappointed in OHS. There’s absolutely someone out there who is ready and willing to care for my cat Willow, if only someone like OHS would help me find them. She’s not in an end-of-life situation. I just cannot either financially or psychologically be her person for much longer. It’s heartbreaking that OHS considers her of no value simply because her current owner is poor and disabled and she requires some special needs care. I expected better of you all.

I don’t have it in me.

This might be the fastest I’ve ever burned out on blogging. I’m throwing this into a hiatus again. I’m also trying to pare down my non-book reads, and focus on my ever-expanding pile of books I want to read, so anyway there won’t be as much to prompt me having thoughts in need of public exorcism.

A filler vignette.

Saturday night at DoveLewis, a lone police officer walks in and explains to the front desk that they’ve been receiving repeated 9-1-1 hang ups from there that appear to be coming from a fax machine. My two suggestions to nearby pet owners: that either a fax machine has become self-aware and the AI apocalypse has begun at a veterinary hospital, or somewhere in the back rooms the rescued hummingbird from earlier in the evening desperately is trying to call for help via fax. The latter seems to gain more traction.