Some conversational strengths I have

Tonight, I had a choice. Study for midterms or write a long, random, rambling blog post. I am pretty sure from the presence of this post that you can infer all the good life decisions I am making right now. Good prioritizing… Also, I don’t know how people can do work all day from 8 or 9 to 6 or 7 and then come home and study more. I studied some in lab today during incubations and stuff so I am going to tell myself that counted instead. Anyway, grad school is all curved, right? So I just have to hope everyone else isn’t studying either… 

Small talk may not be my thing, usually. It often involves talking to strangers, which is difficult. And frequently it isn’t about all that interesting of stuff, once you get past the formulaic exchanges of general information and questions.

Except it does include talking about the weather, often. And boy, can I talk about the weather. I love talking about the weather. I can compare different weather patterns. Discuss different climates (and I’ve been hopping around universities the last four or five years, so most people have been a couple of places, so they have got things to share.) And also on how amazing lightning is. BECAUSE IT IS LIKE MAGIC NATURAL FIREWORKS. After a while, though, most people seem to get tired of discussing the weather, and the conversation will sometimes die off.

So I thought I would come up with a list of the other things that I can talk your ear off EASILY about, even if you are a stranger.

Animals. Especially farm animals. I have an unusually large knowledge of agricultural practices and different breeds of animals used for various things. Do I know all the breeds of goats in the American Dairy Goat Association? Why yes I do (admittedly, there are not that many.) (And I have strong opinions on the different breeds, too.) I used to have my Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds memorized. Chickens, too. I love talking about chickens. I gave a speech on them once for my high school speech class. It was the only speech I was not traumatized by. I think it probably helped that I have had boatloads of pets throughout the years.

These are my goat’s first batch of babies. Aren’t they cute? They were NOT eaten because these are NOT meat animals. They are dairy goats/pets and we love them all. I miss having animals.

This is an ok conversational topic. People like talking about their pets. They are usually interested in the fact that I have goats and chickens. They do not like the part of the conversation where I get into the meat part, which is why I try to avoid mentioning we had pigs and sheep, at one point, because then I tend to get into my meat-animal-explanation, which leads to interesting places.

Like this pig dressed up for a costume contest. (AKA this pig that we dressed up for a costume contest. In this case, we means my sister, admittedly. She always had much better ideas for things like this. Although, I generally had better methods for getting it to stay on the pig.)
Although, I am not talking about dressing up pigs like bikers/punk rockers/I don’t really exactly remember what my sister was going for here, I must admit. I am talking about the whole “where does food come from” especially meat thing, which can make people uncomfortable.
And then a special subset of my animal/agricultural discussion topics is prion diseases. I can talk for a VERY long time on prion diseases. Prions are so cool! I almost won our Knowledge Bowl at the county fair with my explanation of scrapies and prion diseases (they didn’t give us a time limit… they got to hear a lovely, 10-minute-plus-explanation on the science behind prion diseases and different research mechanisms and the Scrapies ID program and different molecular theories behind prions and the effect it has had on agriculture and even more… I think they may have rethought the wisdom of giving me a microphone.) (Scrapies is basically the sheep/goat version of Mad Cow Disease, btw.)
People are seldom interested in hearing about scrapies, though. And the people who are, have usually heard all of my information on it already.

Water rights. I know a lot about water rights and water regulations and drought management and irrigation to cities that don’t have their own proper local water source suitable for the number of people that live there (AKA the Southwest/Southern California).

I treated one fellow grad student to a very long monologue on this during orientation week, and he was very nice about it and acted interested and even asked questions. And maybe he even found it interesting, because people here seem to be interested in everything, which is awesome.

I also like to talk about droughts and weather patterns and water usage in different parts of the country.

Cheese. I really like cheese. I really like to eat it. I really like to talk about it. I like to discuss different types of cheese and different types of food that you can put cheese on. My friends in undergrad talked about cheese a lot, too, so it seemed like a normal thing. But maybe not.

But actually, it is probably more food in general. I like to list food that I like to eat. And things that I like to bake.

Stories.  I have lots of stories that I like to retell. Most of them aren’t my stories. They are family stories. I like to tell people how my grandparents met, how my parents met. About my mom and the quicksand. We have a lot of random stories that can come up surprisingly frequently in early-meeting-people conversation. I also have stories I’ve heard from my friends or stories boyfriend has told me and even sometimes one or two things that I’ve seen.

I have a set of stories. I don’t like to come up with new ones. I like to reuse the ones I have. They can usually be applicable, at least one.

Problems with this: I don’t remember who I have already told the story to. I also don’t always remember who the story came from. So sometimes I end up telling people stories that they told me. My friends are just amused by this, but more casual acquaintances might get upset. Also, people might not really be interested in hearing all my family history (but we have exciting stories! there’s a bank robber in there! people blow things up! someone gets stuck in quicksand!)

Dr. Seuss. I like to quote Dr. Seuss a lot. I tend to try to avoid this in small talk conversations, though because it can get weird really quickly.

Grocery shopping. I do this a lot, recently I have found. Where I start describing my grocery store routines to people. And figure out how they grocery shop. And compare grocery stores and grocery store techniques.

Or talk about different grocery store names. It’s so strange how they have such different names in different regions of the country. I’m used to Ralph’s and Vons and then all of a sudden I’m in the Midwest and I don’t even know what half of the stores people go to are called, they are just throwing out random words and how can I even tell if they are going to a store? But that amuses me, too. So I do like to discuss that.

~~~

Anyway, that’s a little random rambling from me for today.

~~~

P.S. I gave boyfriend a tour of the area I lived in, and basically it was me pointing out the bookstores and the houses that had pretty dogs. Because those were the landmarks I thought were important. (I’ve always learned the names of all the dogs I’ve walked past regularly, even if I’ve never even met their people. Over time, you tend to hear the people calling the name of the dog. And then you know.)

On social stress

Today I was making a budget.

Well, really, boyfriend was making me a budget and I was contributing helpful information like how much money I spend on shampoo and stuff when that was asked of me. And my roommate, who is also a business-y type person, came in and started discussing things with boyfriend because we all went to college together so we are friends. And they were talking about taxes (because of the weird way my stipend is paid, I don’t get taxes taken out automatically apparently, so I have to write a check at some point for estimated taxes at some point before actually filing taxes… apparently.)

And then since roommate and boyfriend both studied accounting and economics (but have rather opposite money-political-viewpoints, they got into a discussion about the economy and different things of that matter. And they were throwing around strange acronyms and talking about different kinds of money like M2 or what-not. So that was a bit confusing because I was still thinking about my budget and not really sure where this came in.

But then I started to get upset because the argument seemed like it was getting angry. So I went and hid in the pantry for a while. Because I don’t like angry.

And later reviewing it with boyfriend, he asked why I disappeared/seemed upset (because sometimes when they have boring conversations I just go leave and do something else.) So I told him I left because they were angry and fighting.

“No, we weren’t fighting. Why would you think that?”

“Your voices were loud and louder. And also your voice (boyfriend’s) was getting deeper and it gets deeper when you get angry.”

… neither of them were angry, apparently.

I asked boyfriend how I could tell, and he said he didn’t know. He just wasn’t angry and neither was roommate. So I don’t really know how most people tell if people are angry. (They generally don’t seem to have helpful solutions when I ask.)

But judging from this, (and other things my parents have told me), I think that maybe just maybe I think people are angry or upset more than they are. Angry or offended or sad or mad. And then I get confused and stressed when I am talking to them and they seem angry.

But maybe they aren’t angry after all.

Adventures in Apartment Living: Paying Bills and Talking to Banks

I don’t like dealing with money, especially in large amounts. Or paying bills. (Who does, though…)I cannot remember to pay bills on time. I can remember to have enough money in the appropriate amounts, which right now I am handling by the “avoiding spending money method”. So automatic bill payment is amazing.*

And grad school pays me quarterly, too, which means it is a very large sum of money, all at once. That I have to use over a period of 3 months. So I need to have an idea of how much to spend and when. Which I really have no concept of, whatsoever.

(Boyfriend is going to help me make a budget soon. And Mint.com is nice, too**, but I also don’t know really what to set as reasonable limits for my various financial goals, so I need an actual person. Who know my income. Which is why I am dating an accountant. Well, not really, but it is a perk.) But I like that it gives overviews of EVERYTHING including my student loans and various accounts at different banks (I manage to pick up credit union accounts at several different places that I’ve lived and I haven’t quite managed to close any of them yet, so I’ve got small amounts of money currently scattered through several banks across the country, which aren’t all really accessible, but at least I know how much is in them. And I suppose it is online banking so I can probably move money around and such.)

(And don’t worry, I know this is a privileged problem to have.)

Sometimes I need to talk to banks to figure out how to work things out. Like how to set up automatic bank payments. Because bank websites confuse me.*** And that is ridiculously stressful. Because phone conversations and me do not get along best.

But…

Now sometimes banks have this new wonderful feature.

At least Bank of America does.

It has this wonderful button. That says “Chat with a specialist”

Which means I can message a person. Nonverbally. Typing. And get an immediate response. Without really dealing with a person directly.

It is so amazing.

I can ask them when I forget how to find my routing number (I don’t have checks… so I can’t look at them to figure it out.) I just talked to them to set up automatic bill payment. It took 15 minutes, maybe less. It would have taken me hours to figure it out on the confusing website. And calling things wouldn’t have worked and would have ended in me having to hide for a while afterwards and be useless.

But this way, I can get questions answered immediately. Without talking. And it is amazing.

~~~
*Although there seems to be no way to automatically pay my rent, which is unfortunate.
**And also that’s why I don’t use cash because there isn’t a record of my spending so I have NO IDEA how much money I’ve spent. And then I just get confused and panicky and that’s no good.
***So much. It is a good thing I have so many accountant friends because I just cannot understand the numbers on the credit statement. Or how much I have to pay or how it works. But I can check that all the transactions are real, and then you can set up “pay balance in full” and then all is good.

Facial expressions

I am horrible at consciously controlling my facial expressions.

Is this an autistic thing?

There are exactly two faces I can consciously make.

One is a smile. I’ve had a lot of practice. My mom made me practice in a mirror. I can pretty reliably manage a passable smile at any given point.

The other is sort of a “Mckayla is not impressed” face (see below for reference, if you are unaware) except with one eyebrow raised.* It is a good one. It usually wins in the silly face making contest. I am not exactly sure what it conveys to people, but I generally use it when people say things that sound stupid/odd/confusing. Or to win staring contests.

But other than this, I can’t really control my face. 
If I try to glare at someone (without actually being mad at them), or try to make a sad face, or try to make any other face, it generally just turns into a confused face. 
Now, I apparently have an amazingly expressive face, and people can read things from it all the time with great ease. I just can’t really control these expressions.
~~~
*Raising one eyebrow: another thing I practiced a lot. Although I can only raise my left eyebrow independently. For some reason, I can’t raise just my right eyebrow.

On official friends

Something I have trouble with is telling if I have successfully made friends. And the process of making friends. And generally things involving other people.

I have a list on my computer of how to hang out with people and initiate social activities.
I have a tendency of telling my friends, “I like you/I like hanging out with you” because I can’t tell if other people want to be my friend, so I figure its nice for them to know. (Apparently this isn’t normal behavior either.)
When I went to college, I knew I was going to have to make new friends and that would be difficult. And I was going to a co-ed school, after years of being at an all girls-school and only really having female cousins and stuff, so I was going to have to learn to talk to boys. My goal was to make some male casual acquaintances freshman year, maybe talk about school with them. And then maybe sophomore year I could make an actual friend (quantified by being able to initiate communication with them).

So early freshman year, I had made a group of potential friends. I went to some social activities with one of the boys and even a hockey game.  I couldn’t tell the difference between him and one of the other boys in the group, but it seemed to be pretty ok, since I am used to that and he generally recognized me (since you know, normal people seem to have this facial recognition thing going on). And after we hung out and went to a movie on campus and did a couple of other things that weekend. So I was pretty sure that I was on my way to making a friend (maybe two, but it was probably just the one). One night he walked me back to my dorm after we had been hanging out. He talked a bit about how much fun we had been having hanging out that weekend. And then he asked if I wanted to make it official.

I was pretty excited. My first official friend!
And a boy, too! I was ahead of schedule with that.

Later, I was informed by a facebook relationship request (and a high school friend interpretting the meaning) that I actually had obtained a boyfriend. Several years later I was informed that people don’t make official friends after kindergarten much.

Anyway, that is how I met boyfriend and started dating him.

And 4 years and a bit later, it is still pretty awesome–actually a lot more awesome–and we have much better communication skills now.

Adventures in Apartment Living: The Food Edition

TW: I am discussing my eating habits and food habits and irregularities with them.

(1)

So, I have found some nice things about living in an apartment in a city. There are a lot of places with food nearby.  Delicious food.
And a lot of them will deliver.
And there is an app called Grub Hub.
Which means you don’t even need to TALK to people to order food. Or leave your apartment.
This seems like to me the best idea ever.
Although potentially financially dangerous.
But FOOD!

(2)

I’m also a grad student, so while I’m definitely still financially solid (assuming I keep track of my finances, which… may happen. Boyfriend is helping me make a budget soon. Because large numbers stress me out, as much as I love math. [But he is an accountant, so what I think of as “big numbers” are probably itsy bitsy ones compared to what he works with normally.] My current method is to avoid buying everything, which probably isn’t too sustainable.), I probably should cook my own meals and stuff fairly regularly.

Also, I like the food I cook.
Also, I basically ONLY like vegetables IF I make them.
Also, I like cooking.
So cooking really shouldn’t be a problem…

(3)

I used to be fine with grocery stores. I think I am still fine with the actual STORE part. Getting to the store though… that is tricky. (It shouldn’t be. I have a car. I can DRIVE. And I don’t mind driving.) Finding a time to go to the store is tricky. Getting in the car is tricky. Planning is tricky. I don’t have a set schedule with a set meal-planning time and a set store-time.

(4)

It’s strange that it is so difficult, because I used to have such an efficient method down. But I think part of the reason it worked so well was because I was team-cooking. My roommate and I planned all the things together. (That summer, we didn’t really have any other friends staying around school.) Now, planning meals is trickier. Really, it just hasn’t happened. And I’m a lot more tired when I get home. I just want to sleep.

(5)

We don’t have a dishwasher though. That makes me want to cook less. Because I do not like washing dirty dishes. Sponges are the worst. (Although I solved that dilemma by wearing gloves, so then my hands don’t have to touch the sponge). And actually this is a silly idea because if I cook, my roommate will do dishes.

(6)

Future goals:

  • Plan at least 2 meals a week. Make them big enough for leftovers. Leftovers are the best thing ever invented.
  • Also make food big enough that I don’t have to bring these sad turkey sandwiches I’ve been bringing to work to work.
  • Always have cheese and bread. Because then I can have grilled cheese which is always amazing and always makes me happy.
  • Streamline grocery shopping so I only have to go twice a month. (Mainly, for me, this means buy more milk. Milk is a very important part of my diet.)
  • Also, I really should eat breakfast because I am supposed to eat with my medication in the morning…but I don’t always. Because breakfast foods are gross. And eating in the morning is gross. I usually will at least drink milk though, so that is something. (Yes, I really do like milk.)

This is about me

This is a follow-up to “Being useful. Today is not me.

I was sad and upset and crying and hiding when I wrote that.
I was trying not to talk to or call boyfriend (because he was asleep and really wasn’t sure even if calling him would help either because I don’t really know if it would wake him up after a marathon or if he would be all that coherent.)
So I wanted to write to organize my ideas and get my thoughts written down and maybe ask for help just a little bit.

And it worked.

I’ve been thinking about Nattily and Autisticook’s responses.

And especially this one like from autisticook.

“Because so much of what you write is about others.”

And it is true.
So much of it.

That one sentence has stuck with me the most for days.

I talk about other people a lot, because that is where I get confused, I think.

I know generally where I stand, in regards to myself. If I could be in a closed system with just my family and a few close friends, I would be perfectly happy. (Well, I would like to have input of facts and information, but I would have no need to meet new people.) But I know that wouldn’t work, because most of my family and most of my friends would want other people in their systems.

I tend to have a person that I use to center my relationships with everyone else around.
In high school, I had one friend. There were other people we hung out with at lunch and did extracurricular activities with and such, and I had friendly acquaintances in a lot of my honors classes.
But even when I hung out with them, it was always with my one other friend.

And so I got in a habit of orientating my life around other people.Of having one person that I could fit my social life around. And who I could follow around. And center my (social) life around (not including stuff with family, which was really a large portion of what I did.) The organizational point of my interactions.

So college was weird when I had 4 equally good friends. Because I didn’t know how to handle those dynamics. (They still sort of confusing me, even though I’ve had it explained to me several times. Basically, it is that any combination of the 4 people can hang out and have fun. Which shouldn’t be complicated. But it is.)

And now, friendships are possibly crystallizing here. I’m not really sure. I know in college I missed the making-friends stage of time (I caught up, but it took a year). I am not going to do that here.

And so I base so much of my life around other people. Because they are the confusing element. But I like them. I need (some) people in my life. So I try to rearrange myself so that I fit into their life.

I’ve been trained to accommodate them. To fit my life around the least inconvenience. To try not to offend them. To inconvenience myself if it works out better for them. And I’ve been told that is ok, because it is polite. And the kind, helpful thing to do.

But it goes both ways. Other people (especially friends and family) sometimes inconvenience themselves for me, too. If I do it for them, it is ok for them to do it for me.

And I really should try and fit my life around me.

Especially here, in this space.

Because really, this blog is about me. If I want to, I can talk about myself all day. I can think about myself and be selfish. I don’t need to worry about offending people if I don’t want to not worry. It might become extremely boring and self-indulgent and obnoxious, but if I want to, I can.

Because this is for me.

And I still want to be able to help.

I want to be supportive.
When things go wrong, I want to be able to help make them right, just like you are able to.

But if I am crying in a ball on the floor, I really can’t be of any help to anyone else. So I need to take care of myself first. Because I need to be functioning in order to help.

So sometimes I will have to show my unhappy stims even if it means people will know I am unhappy or stressed. And trust boyfriend to know his immediate needs and when he is capable of taking care of himself and when he needs to focus on just himself or when he can help me too, even a little. (He’s probably good at that. He’s a pretty smart guy.)

Poetry part 2

Remember when I showed you poetry? Well, here’s another poem I wrote that has shades of autism in it. It’s much less straightfoward… (I think I wrote this while pretending to study for an evolution exam. But I’m not 100% positive. It’s probably not all that relevant, either.)

~~~

eggshell speckles
broken shells held together by membranes crumbling
and the amniotic shell
evolutionary advance
invasion of land by the tetrapods
amphibians
frogs
pollution
factory smokestacks spilling dark clouds of black that sinks down over the world like a blanket
or a chloroform-soaked rag
smothering the innocent
by a malevolent hand
see how easily my train of thought is derailed
by something as simple as word associations
or a penny, left on the track, for some reason I never understood
and I know that I don’t understand
how my mind works
or how any mind works
            Especially how other minds work
            I can find the connections and follow some strings
            connect some puzzle pieces
            find patterns at least
            correlation not causation only
            only with me
Because other people are:
            strange
            different (not from each other but from me)
            undifferentiable
            inexplicable

            unpredictable

The Incredible Coolness of Science

So right now I am working on a grant application for the NSF GRFP. It funds the first 3 years of graduate education, and will pay me better than grad school pays me (slightly). And it’s also prestigious and would help my general career trajectory and open up a lot of new resources for me. Because of course, what better to do than work on a grant proposal for the NSF when the government is shut down (and therefore it is impossible to actually submit the grant). So while working on this grant, and specifically the outreach part, I started thinking a lot about science education. Because guys, it’s really important. And anyway, while working on it, I came up with a whole bunch of extra stuff that didn’t really fit in my application. 

So I’m going to share it here.

And also because this is a nice happy switch from some of the other stuff.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

…But I think it is important that people have a basic scientific, (and specifically biological) base of knowledge. So many world issues are based on scientific understanding. See: global warming “debate”. People really should have a basic concept of the scientific method. (It’s also just a useful thing to know! I use it all the time in so many non-scientific circumstances.)

 Furthermore, a basic idea of scientific concepts and biological concepts I believe is important in having the ability to properly make your own medical decisions. In deciding whether or not to take medications, it is helpful to understand why they work. It’s a good idea to have a general sense of where the various organs are in your body.

 But also, science is absolutely amazing and I think it is just horrifically sad that some people never have to opportunity to see the full beauty and complexity in life. The minute details of a cell. The hundreds and thousands of processes that are going on at any given time.

 Sometimes I stare at my hands in wonder. Because there are thousands of cells there. And each cell has so much machinery moving around. You have cellular respiration. Vaculuar transport. Do you know how many molecules are involved? Did you know that clathrin can self-assemble into cages.The cytoskeleton is constantly adding and deleting and growing and changing. There are thousands of processes going on even before you consider cell-cell interaction. The amazing organization of cells into tissues. How cells specialize into tubes and hearts and organs and blood and neurons.

And they all contain the exact same information.

 It is just so ridiculously amazing to think about what goes into deciding to move your finger. Multiple muscle movements coordinated. Electrical impulses released. Calcium flooding the sarcomeres. The myofibrils contracting. The actin and myosin interactions. And there is so much known about the molecules involved. And that is just at the muscle level.

Not even looking at the neural impulses. The processes involved in making a thought.

Oh my goodness guys, what even is a THOUGHT!

And that’s just humans.

Did you know that virus particles can spontaneously combine if you dissemble them? (And that they look like alien spaceships?)

(From http://www.zyvexlabs.com/EIPBNuG/2005MicroGraph.html)

Did you know that there are simple animals that can self assemble if you dissociate all the cells? The cells all know how to get back together. All these cells have the same genetic information.


Did you know there is a bug who has legs that work basically the same as gears?

Did you know that scientists have EVERY CELL DIVISION mapped out in C. elegans? They know exactly what happens when and how each of the 959 cells in the body are made. And they know how many cells are in the body.

THERE IS SO MUCH COOL STUFF!

AND even though there is so much we know is going on, there’s even more to learn. There’s just this incredible vastness of potential that exists there. These ideas and theories and processes that are yet to be discovered. There are so many possibilities.

And this is just a small tiny fragment of biology. You have the chemistry and physics thrown in there and you can look even smaller. Thinking about what each individual molecule is doing. Knowing why your desk acts the way it does. Understanding the world. (And the beauty of math, but people have a tendency not to see that.)


The world is so beautiful and I just want everyone to be able to appreciate it.

Being useful. Today is not about me.

Today I went to a marathon.
Boyfriend ran it, not me.
And he was awesome.

Today I went and watched and waited.
And then was good and quiet.

Today is not about me.

Today is about boyfriend.

AND I NEED TO HIDE.

When the only help I can give is staying away.

Because other people upset makes me upset. Sometimes more upset. More tired.

And there should be days where it is about you.

And I want it to be oh so bad. And I want to be able to go and cheer for you. To go stand in crowds and yell and have signs. To meet you at the end and not end up curling up in a ball covering my ears in the meeting place while you were stretching.

I want there to be days about you, where I can help and stand in the background and support you. Where you don’t need to worry about me freaking out about the crowds. Where you just have to worry about getting your stuff done, and where I am there to take care of small tasks so you have even less to worry about.

I want to be able to help when you are upset.
I want to be able to help when you are tired.
I want to be able to help when you are sad.

I want you to, when you are hurt or sick or stressed, to only have to worry about you. To not debate about telling me or not because I might freak out and then that will be more work for you. I want to be able to help you the way you help me when I am hurt and sick and stressed.

I want to be able to help in a way besides staying away.

I want to be useful.

And I want to cry.
And I need to hide.
And I’m trying to hide my need to stim furiously, because you know my stressed stimming and my about-to-panic stimming and I don’t want you to know.

Because you are tired and you are awesome and today should just be about you.

And this is something I hate most about myself. The apparent inability I have to support others. The absolute panic and meltdown and freeze and mess I get into when it needs to be about them, not about me. I need to help when others are hurting or tired, not to just feel their pain and be overwhelmed and make everything worse.

But I mostly make it to my room ok and then I avoid telling you on the internet that I am so tired and melted. (Because YOU deserve the being tired after running 26.2 miles.) (It’s ok for me to be tired, too.) (But it’s your day, so it’s not ok for me to fuss.) But you read this blog, so you’ll know eventually.

But really, all I want is for you to know all the time, too, so that you can fix things and make them better and make it so I’m not crying in a ball on the floor.

But today should be about you, so I’m not telling you today.

Because you need to sleep, not stay up helping me. And I will be ok for tonight.

I want to be able to help besides just staying away. But I don’t think I can. So I’m just going to stay away for a while, and give you time to rest and catch up.