“Am I in the right place?”

If you are looking for the website of “The Wig Lady”, you are in the right place.

If you are looking for the website of “The Writer/Artist”, you are in the right place.

If you are looking for the website of “The Weirdo from Oakhurst who Ate Strawberry Yogurt Directly off the Carpet in 3rd Grade”…

…you are in the right place. (I didn’t want to waste food, okay?)

So, really the question you should be asking is, “How are all of these people the SAME person?” The answer to that is a little harder to explain, but if you are interested in getting a peek into how a brain like mine works, read on.

Although I have met and talked with countless people throughout my public career, you’ve probably never actually met me. You’ve met Kaede.

This is Kaede, and she really needs a sandwich.

Kaede is my coping mechanism for dealing with stressful social situations. “high functioning” (please don’t use that phrase…) autistic women are often difficult to spot, because we’ve perfected the art of camouflage, or “masking”, to fit in. Kaede is pretty damn seamless by this point, but maintaining her for long periods of time is both emotionally and physically exhausting. It suppresses my immune system, and I become more prone to injury. (And I’m already a mega-klutz to begin with.)

So why would I do this to myself? Because I have to if I want to maintain any amount of success in my public work. As a teacher, as a celebrity, as a “normal human”, I have to try to fit in.

Now, before you take offense to the thought of me being “fake” when you met me at a convention, sit your ass down for a big bowl of education first. Masking isn’t lying. In fact, one aspect of my autism is the fact that I’m too honest or too literal. I’ve never been “fake nice” to anyone I’ve met in my entire life. I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to. But Kaede allows me to do some basic things I normally can’t do, like:

  • Maintain eye contact. (Sort of, I’m actually looking directly below your right eye, or at the bridge of your nose.)
  • Talk to strangers in an audible tone of voice.
  • Receive/give hugs.
  • Have my picture taken.

These simple interactions are something I’ve had to work on for years, and for most of the people I know, even outside of work, this is the “normal” they’ve come to expect. But when I get too tired, my mask slips, and then people think I’m totally whack-a-doodle-doo.

“You don’t seem autistic.”

Really? Because I don’t seem like the media-popular version of an autistic person you’ve come to expect? A young boy, bobbing back and forth in his chair, twirling his hair around a finger, staring at the floor, repeating the same phrase over and over? I agree, that’s not me. The boobs would be the first clue, I’d think.

The publicly familiar version of people on the spectrum focuses mostly on a very specific presentation of symptoms, and resources and information for those of us with the less visible symptoms, especially women, are scarce. Most will be misdiagnosed, or just go through life with this feeling of “weirdness” and no idea what it means or why.

For me, it’s like everything finally clicked into place. My weirdness score has been high my whole life, and as more “oddities” started to manifest, I couldn’t possibly think they might be related to one another. It didn’t make me feel special, it made me feel strange. Like I had an eclectic list of useless superpowers.

  • “Steel Trap” photographic memory, going all the way back to age 2.
  • Ridiculously strong senses of hearing, smell, taste, and touch.
  • Highly auto-didactic: both with knowledge and movement

Then the accompanying list of difficulties..

  • Sound hurts and sometimes enrages me. I constantly have to wear earplugs when I’m in public. (Which make my ears bleed from my latex allergy.)
  • I have to wear sunglasses in public, even when it’s not bright outside. My eyes feel scared without them. (I don’t have a better way to describe that.)
  • Certain smells that others find pleasant or completely undetectable cause pain, or make me vomit.
  • I can taste things other people around me can’t, which has made them think I’m picky, or being “dramatic”, but really, carbonated water makes my tongue feel like it’s being electrocuted.
  • There are some materials/fabrics/textures that I can’t touch. If I touch them on accident, I yank my hand back in disgust.
  • I experience motion sickness in places most people don’t.
  • I don’t process drugs normally, so anesthesia and painkillers are always a crap shoot.

Then there’s just the “weird” stuff…

  • I perceive some letter sounds as “bright” or “dark”.
  • If I see numbers on the clock or odometer in sequential (12:34), repeating (55555) or palindromic order (140041) I have to make someone else “witness” it.
  • I give everything a voice and a name. This includes inanimate objects, animals, food, body parts, whatever. I regularly carry on conversations where I voice multiple participants.
  • When I remember something, I see my exact location in the exact scene, and will use my hands to “reach” for other people’s positions in the scene as if I’ve actually been transported through time and space.
  • I create sounds for motions that normally wouldn’t have them, and repeat the sound every time I do the motion. (For those of you who are familiar with my wig work, you may recognize this as “scoop, scoop, scoop” or “tap, tap, tap”… I have hundreds more.)
  • I dream in full color, full sound, and often lucidly. I also remember all of my dreams, including songs I have written while asleep.

And finally, the things that make it difficult to fit in…

I have zero tolerance for dishonest behavior. That might sound like a good thing at first, until you review your day and think about how many times you told a “white lie” or did something even a little shady at work. If you were working for me, and you lied about something like taking someone else’s lunch, or spreading a rumor about another coworker, I’d straight up fire you on the spot. That’s not an “if”, that is something I’ve done multiple times. When the shoe is on the other foot, and I’ve encountered a manager or boss who lied, I had to quit ASAP because continuing to work there made me physically ill. (I quit a 65k a year job because of this very reason.)

I don’t understand, and can’t duplicate superficial behavior. Seriously. I’m really, really smart, and I understand a lot of psychological concepts and social phenomena, but I have never been able to understand the “why” or “how” of the shallow. As a side effect, I can’t make small talk, and that leads people to believe that I just don’t want to talk to them. From the outside, I’m perceived as cold or shy, when in reality, I just have no interest in talking about things I have no interest in. Unfortunately, most people don’t feel comfortable talking about anything deeper than a kiddie pool, so I’m sitting by myself at the deep end.

Because I don’t forget anything, I end up having the exact same conversation hundreds or THOUSANDS of times. It’s the Groundhog Day effect on a small scale. I’m the only one who remembers the conversation, but the other person doesn’t, and sometimes, it’s a topic that I really don’t want to discuss another time. (Like a recounting of abuse or another painful memory.) They don’t understand why I’m agitated or short, and it takes a tremendous amount of energy to hold in the screaming.

I can’t multitask, but I also can’t stop working. Some people have mistakenly described me as “creative”, and only one person has ever caught just how wrong that is. (Thank you, April.) I don’t create because I want to express myself, I create because I need to keep busy, and the world doesn’t keep up with this need. I literally have to make things that never existed before just to keep up with my brain. I can’t sleep until I’m exhausted, and even then, my dreams keep me busy too.

I have to have rules, order, and routines. I’m very good at planning and organizing complicated events, but I get visibly enraged when someone tries to alter the course mid-stream. From the outside, this is seen as intractability or being a “control freak”, but internally, I’m upset because I’ve put a lot of careful time, thought, and energy into creating an interconnecting pattern, and changing one aspect could cause others to collapse.

I don’t “get” social media. I understand, from a business standpoint, that keeping an open dialog with fans and customers is important, but I can’t understand why anyone would possibly care about anything I have to say outside of updating them about events or new products. I don’t feel like I’m important, and I don’t like attention, so the whole concept of posting things just for the sake of posting is insanely narcissistic. So why am I bothering to post this? Well, that brings us to the meat of the issue.

“It might help someone else.”

When I first began to see the pieces finally clicking into place, it was because I discovered another author who experiences many of the same things I do. Then I found another. Then a bunch more. All of them were successful, intelligent, well-spoken women (at least in printed form), who had the same “weirdness”.

So maybe I can be another link in the chain to someone else, and maybe by reading about my experiences, and how I’ve learned to cope and manage, they’ll find some useful tools to help them in their own journey.

And for everyone else, I’ll have plenty of poop jokes.

It’s a Pandemic Halloween with Ding Dong Dress-Up!

Image shows a banana wearing a tuxedo jacket on an orange background. There is a folded kerchief in the tuxedo pocket in the colors of the transgender pride flag.

We’re celebrating the eBook release of Ding Dong Dress-Up with a special Pandemic Halloween contest inspired by the events in the story. Scratch that costume making itch in the safety of your own home for a chance to win cool prizes, including a signed copy of The World of Wigcraft, or dice sets from Cloudborne Mercantile!

Contest is open to all ages, and the deadline to submit entries is 12 Midnight PST on October 31st. Winner will be announced on November 5th.

Contest Rules

Instead of human models, contestants will be making a costume for any fruit or vegetable. Any materials may be used, and multiple “models” can be included in the photo.

  1. Only fruit and vegetable models can appear in the photo. No human or animal body parts can be visible.
  2. “No Costume = No Costume”: The model must be wearing something in order to be considered for the contest. (Paint or glitter does count as “something”.)
  3. Contestants can submit multiple entries, but may only win one prize per household.
  4. Photo editing (photoshop) is allowed, and models can be superimposed into scenes or backdrops.

Post your images to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter with the hashtag #DingDongDressup, and send a link to The Ulysses Project Facebook Page.

100% of eBook royalties from Ding Dong Dress-Up support The Trevor Project: the premier organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ teens and young adults. Learn more at TheTrevorProject.org.

Be a Person, Not a Persona

I’m not going to start this with “2020 sucks”. We’re all here, and we all know that. I’m not going to talk about race, or wealth, or religion, or education, or ablism, or entitlement. The labels are out in force this year, and the negative impact of their dividing nature is ridiculously self-evident.

I’m not going to make you laugh today, even though we all need it. I’m not going to tell you about my latest improbable mishap, or post photos of the entire cup of coffee I spilled yesterday morning.

What I’m going to talk about is you, the actual you, not your pitch, or your promo, or your hustle, or your SoundCloud.

I’m sure you’ve heard the unanswerable question, “Who are you?” posed by armchair psychoanalysts before. No matter what answer you give, it will always be discarded as a “role”, and not the real answer. Your name is a label… so is your job, nationality, your marital status, your gender, your sexual preference, your political affiliation, your choice in sport teams, your hobbies, and your music tastes. Literally anything you think to “define” yourself as is a marketing point, not your identity. The question is designed to frustrate you, but also to illuminate the fact that, by default, you can only describe yourself in relation to someone or something else.

Daughter, Sister, Mother, Wife, Girlfriend, Employee, Boss, Cripple, Coach, Fan, Creator, Goddess, Fool.

So how do you figure out the “right” answer? How do you pull yourself out of a marketing algorithm that is intentionally molding you into a more loyal and unquestioning consumer? How do you break out of a system you were born into, when you can’t even see the walls? (I promise, this isn’t The Matrix.)

Believe it or not, this year, through its chaos and strife, has been your best opportunity to give it a go. We’ve all been forced to make changes this year, even the people who claim they haven’t because they’re too afraid of being afraid. For some of us, there was too much change, too fast, and we bucked it. For some of us, the only real difference was that other people were getting a small glimpse into our everyday lives.

When under sustained stress, and facing questions of survivability, it’s easier to see what really matters, and what we can do without. It’s easier to see the difference between wants and needs when resources are limited, and a lack of practical skill becomes obvious when the other people you had paid to do those skills are no longer available. This is a learning moment. This is a time to look at who you are, not what you are.

If you strip away your job, your family, your friends, your interests, what keeps you going? What motivates you? If your only motivation is to get those things back, are you nothing but nothingness? A hollow, pointless void? For some, the answer is yes, and a lifetime of consumption is enough to keep them just on the edge of existence: almost real, but leaving no gaps with their departure. Those people never made it to this paragraph, because their infinitesimal attention spans expect the answers to precede and outnumber the questions.

But for you, the one who still remains, think about this: after all of this chaos has choked or calmed, regardless of whether you rode the storm or sheltered against it, other people will have seen who you are, not what you are. They will have learned where you stand, where you bide, and where you fight. They will have witnessed how you treated yourself and others when you were cornered or confident. Ask these people who they saw, and you will finally meet yourself. – K