Category: books

This post contains spoilers for the plot of the computer game To the Moon.  If you don’t want to be spoiled, play or watch the game!  Otherwise, keep reading.  This post looks a bit more at one of the game’s most interesting characters, River.  (“River” is a popular name in sci-fi, isn’t it?  You also have Firefly‘s River Tam and Doctor Who‘s River Song, both of whom are also very interesting people.)

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Earlier, I wrote about how I was afraid that becoming a teenager would turn me into a rebel and make me fight with my parents.  That didn’t happen.  But my thinking did change.  Looking back, I think that was when I first started dealing with “the voice.”

It was a voice that would remind me of all the times I had messed up, when I had looked silly, when I had hurt someone’s feelings.  Being reminded of a mistake felt like reliving it– even years later, I would look back and shudder about the smallest misunderstandings.

It was a voice that told me to pause before speaking up, reaching out, or taking action.  What if I made a mistake?  Better to stay silent and hidden.

It was a voice that told me whenever something bad happened, to assume it was my fault.  “I’m sorry.”  I felt like I needed to apologize for everything– it probably was my fault somehow.

It was a voice that told me to compare myself to others and that I wasn’t ready for the challenges ahead– I didn’t know how to drive (or want to learn how), I didn’t have a job, I didn’t like to go out with friends, I’d never had a girlfriend, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after I graduated.  And before I knew it, it would be too late to learn.

I want to be clear about this– when I talk about hearing a “voice,” I don’t mean the sort of voice that a person with schizophrenia might deal with, where you can’t tell for sure if what you’re hearing is a real sound or coming from your mind.  (Also, I know almost nothing about schizophrenia aside from the fictionalized portrayal of it in the movie A Beautiful Mind, so my concept of it may not be very accurate.)

See, I knew that the critical voice that plagued me came from my own mind.  It was my own voice, the voice of my fears.  As I said in an earlier post, part of growing up was that I became more aware of other people, and of their awareness of me.  And that caused me to be more careful about what I did and said.  But my rule-oriented mind took it to the extreme.  And it tended to create a vicious cycle, because the more I hid from potential failure and embarrassment, the more I feared that I was leaving myself unprepared for the world by not trying.

To greater and lesser degrees, every day since then became a fight against that voice in my head– usually subtle, but sometimes exhausting.  I could fight it by distraction, or by applying myself to a task that I really enjoyed.  Better still, I could fight it with other voices– the voice of God’s Word telling me that I was forgiven, my sins had been paid for, and God was in control of my future.  The voice of the Holy Spirit assuring me that I was a beloved child of God, and the voices of my family echoing that same unconditional love.

One of the greatest things about God is that he is so near.  I don’t have to make a journey to talk with him.  I don’t have to go through a series of mental exercises to make my thoughts acceptable to him.  He is as close as my own thoughts at all times.  Just by remembering that he is there, I can turn any time of distress and doubting into a prayer.  This didn’t make the struggle go away, but it meant I never had to struggle alone.

Hopefully this post makes some sense; I don’t intend for it to be a “woe is me” post.  I’m trying to be honest about how I see my life and development.  My next post will be on something more fun and less serious.

I’ll finish with a couple of quotes from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis that hint at how this struggle will end.  If you’re not familiar with The Screwtape Letters, they are written as a collection of letters from a demon named Screwtape, whose nephew Wormwood is assigned as the tempter for a young man.  These sections come from the last letter, in which we learn that the young man was killed in a bombing raid, and Wormwood has failed in his task:

“How well I know what happened at the instant when they snatched him from you!  There was a sudden clearing of his eyes (was there not?) as he saw you for the first time, and recognised the part you had had in him and knew that you had it no longer.

Just think (and let it be the beginning of your agony) what he felt at that moment; as if a scab had fallen from an old sore, as if he were emerging from a hideous, shell-like tetter, as if he shuffled off for good and all a defiled, wet, clinging garment.”


“Defeated, out-manœuvred fool! Did you mark how naturally—as if he’d been born for it—the earthborn vermin entered the new life? How all his doubts became, in the twinkling of an eye, ridiculous?

“I know what the creature was saying to itself! ‘Yes. Of course. It always was like this. All horrors have followed the same course, getting worse and worse and forcing you into a kind of bottle-neck till, at the very moment when you thought you must be crushed, behold! you were out of the narrows and all was suddenly well. The extraction hurt more and more and then the tooth was out. The dream became a nightmare and then you woke. You die and die and then you are beyond death. How could I ever have doubted it?’

“As he saw you, he also saw Them. I know how it was. You reeled back dizzy and blinded, more hurt by them than he had ever been by bombs. The degradation of it!—that this thing of earth and slime could stand upright and converse with spirits before whom you, a spirit, could only cower. Perhaps you had hoped that the awe and strangeness of it would dash his joy. But that is the cursed thing; the gods are strange to mortal eyes, and yet they are not strange.

“He had no faintest conception till that very hour of how they would look, and even doubted their existence. But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realised what part each one of them had played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not ‘Who are you?’ but ‘So it was you all the time.’

A lot of what you read about autistic and Asperger’s personalities tends to focus on their typical weaknesses, like social awkwardness and difficulty connecting with other people.  There’s a lot written about how traits like introversion can be a hurdle for autistics trying to fit in to a workplace or to form relationships.

But it’s a huge mistake to dwell only on the negatives.  Let’s ask a different question:  What are the strengths of an Aspie personality?  Can a person with Asperger’s or autism be a good coworker, a good friend?

I believe that the answer is yes, without a doubt!  People with autism, Aspies, shy people– have a lot to offer, especially if others are willing to listen and be patient with them.

I think that the character of Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series is a great example of some of the strengths of an Aspie personality, and the way her friends accept her is a great example of how to treat others who may seem a bit different.

Speaking as an Aspie, it tends to be hard for us to talk about our strengths because we are so constantly aware of our weaknesses, but I think it’s a little easier to point out the strengths of a fictional character like Luna.

With that in mind, here are five positive character traits I see in Luna that I think she shares with a lot of Aspies:

1. The fruit of time spent alone in thought.

Aspies tend to need a lot of time alone to sort out our thoughts.  It’s not that we are smarter or deeper thinkers than anyone else, but we are more easily distracted by all of the sensory data bombarding us from every angle and the conscious effort it takes to participate in the give-and-take of interacting with other people.

In some ways, the magical world of Hogwarts seems like it could be a nightmare for someone who is prone to sensory overload.  It has all of the noise and busyness of a school, with people headed every direction all the time.  But I think the most annoying thing would be the pictures.

All of the paintings on the walls at Hogwarts are enchanted, so the people and things in them can move and talk.  So you can be walking down the hall by yourself, and one of the pictures might try to start a conversation with you.  If have a light on late at night, they’ll all start complaining that they’re trying to sleep.  Sure, sometimes it’s funny, but I think it would get annoying feeling like you’re always being watched.  (And then even if you get away from the pictures, you still have to deal with the ghosts!)

Luna grew up in this sort of magical world, so maybe it doesn’t bother her that much.  On the other hand, it’s not that different from having to contend with blaring advertisements in a crowded mall or airport in the real world.

But she does seem to appreciate time alone.  In Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter finds her in the forest feeding thestrals, the silent winged creatures that are invisible to most people.  When Harry asks why no one else seems to see them, Luna explains that she and Harry can see the thestrals because they have seen death– Luna lost her mother at the age of nine in an accident, and Harry was orphaned when he was just a baby.  Just months ago, Harry also witnessed a friend and classmate being murdered by the killer of his parents, the dark lord Voldemort.

At this point in the story, Harry is feeling isolated from his friends and ignored by his mentors.  He knows that Voldemort is about to strike openly and try to seize power, but the authorities are in denial.  They refuse to even speak Voldemort’s name and have published stories in the “respectable” papers portraying Harry as a liar.  Some of the people that Harry thought were his friends are avoiding him, and he has started to avoid them.

Luna quietly observes that perhaps Voldemort wants Harry to feel isolated.  “If I were You-Know-Who,” she says, “I’d want you to feel cut off from everyone else. Because if it’s just you alone you’re not as much of a threat.

This isn’t the sort of insight that occurs to someone without the benefit of a lot of time spent sorting out her thoughts.  Who would expect a shy little girl to have spent time considering the strategy of a ruthless enemy?  It’s an insight she has arrived at only after a great deal of thinking quietly by herself.  Luna, too, has felt isolated, because of the teasing of the other students and the fact that she has experienced a loss that most children her age can’t relate to.

It turns out to be the insight that Harry most needed at that point in his life.

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Let’s go back to the scene in the carriage from early in Order of the Phoenix.  After getting off to an awkward start, Hermione tries to recover the conversation by commenting on Luna’s necklace.  “It’s a charm, actually,” Luna responds, then leans forward.  “It keeps away the Nargles.”

There are a few seconds of silence that seem uncomfortable for everyone but Luna.  Finally, she pronounces, “Hungry.  I hope there’s pudding.”

The scene that just unfolded is actually a good example of what a conversation with an Aspie can be like.  (Or at least, I can certainly remember having conversations that went that way with classmates my age.)  It may not seem like it, but I think Luna is trying her best to politely participate in the conversation in this scene.

It can be a challenge to keep a conversation going with an Aspie.  Hermione actually started out really well by commenting on something literal and specific, Luna’s necklace.  The intense focus on details that tends to come along with Asperger’s means that, as long as the topic is something I have “data” about, my mind almost instantly brings up a catalog of information to answer with.

It’s a lot trickier to come up with an answer to a question that’s more open-ended, like “What’s going on?” or “How is your day going?”  (First, I need to remind myself that these questions usually don’t literally mean that the other person wants to know everything that’s going on in my life.  Then, I need to select an answer that matches the level of depth the other person actually wants.)

Assuming I’m not stumped for something to say, there are still a couple of pitfalls that can derail a conversation at this point.  One is to give a response that answers the question but doesn’t suggest anywhere for the conversation to go.

For example, suppose someone messages me on my computer asking “Hey, what are you doing?” and I respond “I’m going to watch a movie.”  I have answered their question directly and fully.  If it were a question on a test, I should expect full credit.

But look at it from the other person’s point of view.  Now they don’t have anything specific to respond to!  They could try again with a different question, but at some point they will start to wonder whether my closed-ended response really means “I don’t want to talk right now.”

A better response might be something like “I’m going to watch Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  Have you ever seen that one?”  Providing more information (and especially asking a question) tells the other person that I want the conversation to continue.

The other extreme can happen if the conversation turns to a topic that falls under an Aspie’s specific area of interest.  “Finally, we’re talking about something I love!” I think, and a ten-point lecture begins spilling out in a burst of enthusiasm.  This has a tendency of scaring the other person away.

Getting back to the scene, Luna’s special area of interest is magical creatures, particularly ones that most people don’t know about or don’t believe exist.  She spends a lot of her time thinking about them.  In explaining the purpose of her necklace, she brings up the topic of Nargles, which she could surely spend quite some time talking about.  (She suspects they have been stealing her possessions.)

If I had to guess, Luna has already discovered that most people aren’t interested in hearing about creatures that they think are figments of her imagination or made up by her father’s silly tabloid.  It’s part of why they tease her.  Even though she could surely regale Harry, Ron, and Hermione with all sorts of fascinating facts about Nargles, she holds back from saying more.  I think this is either because she has been made cautious by previous experiences of trying to share about her strange obsession, or because she is trying to be polite by not dominating the conversation.

In either case, Luna’s caution proves justified, as none of the others is interested in hearing about more creatures that quite possibly don’t exist.  They’re uncomfortable saying any more because they don’t want to hurt Luna’s feelings by letting her know how strange she seems to them.  And so the group falls silent.

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My family recently finished watching through the Harry Potter movie series, and I thought I’d write a bit about my favorite character in the story, Luna Lovegood.  As far as I’m concerned, Luna steals every scene she’s in.

In case you’re not familiar with the series, Luna Lovegood is a wizarding student attending Hogwarts one year behind Harry Potter’s class.  She isn’t introduced until the fifth story in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  It’s not difficult to believe that we never saw her before year 5, though, because she mostly keeps to herself, and no one wants to talk to her because she seems very strange.

Luna’s mother died when she was nine, and her father, Xenophilius (literally “lover of strangers/strange things”), is the editor of a paper called the Daily Quibbler, which is the magical equivalent of those tabloids they used to have in supermarket checkouts with front-page stories about Bigfoot being kidnapped by flying saucers.

No one takes such things seriously, except apparently Luna, who is always talking about magical creatures that no one (not even wizards!) has ever heard of and making other observations that seem to come from nowhere.  She tends to speak in a soft monotone and stare with a distant, almost expressionless gaze.

Luna (Evanna Lynch) introduces Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) to a thestral.

Does it surprise you when I say that a lot of Harry Potter fans with Asperger’s syndrome or autism can see a bit of themselves in Luna?  She is often mentioned in discussions online about fictional characters who may be “Aspies.”

Such discussions almost always become quite tricky.  Even moreso than with a real person, a fictional character is shaped by the reader’s own perspective– he or she originally exists in the author’s imagination, but then each reader’s imagination “fills in the blanks” in its own way when picturing a character.

J.K. Rowling did not explicitly write the character of Luna Lovegood as a person with Asperger’s.  But because she is a good writer, she created a character with a distinct personality that is also familiar in many ways.  It’s an interesting balance– Luna seems like someone you might meet in real life, in large part because she is entirely different from any specific person– just as every individual is unique.  (I told you it was tricky.)

The nature of Asperger’s syndrome itself makes the prospect of “diagnosing” a fictional character even more nebulous.  Asperger’s itself is just a label for a set of traits that are often observed together– actually, not unlike a story.  It defines a rather blurry category, but the traits themselves do not describe any person exactly.  Nor does every person with Asperger’s look, think, or behave the same.

All of this is meant to explain that I’m not trying to argue that Luna Lovegood has Asperger’s syndrome.  I think that people in a lot of different situations can identify with her.  What I’m more interested in is describing the aspects of Luna’s personality and behavior in the movies that I identify with as a person with Asperger’s (and perhaps also a fairly quiet/shy person).

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On Friday evening, we returned to the train station and set off on an overnight trip to Berlin.  This was the first time I had ever been on a train that had sleeping cars.  Our path took us through Belgium, so I guess you could add that to the list of countries I have been to, but I don’t think it really counts, since I was on the train and probably asleep at the time.

As with the other cities, we started our time in Berlin with a guided tour.  We stopped at the Reichstag Parliament Building, which was famously damaged in a fire in 1933 that the Nazis used as an excuse to suspend civil liberties in order to go after their opponents.  We saw the Brandnburg Gate, and we saw the site of U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963. (“I am a Berliner!”)  In honor of the speech, a few of my classmates then bought jelly doughnuts, also called “Berliners,” from a street vendor, and we shared them.

(A commonly told story is that JFK’s speechwriters used the German article improperly, and as a result, the President ended up stating that he was a jelly doughnut rather than a citizen of Berlin.  I have since read that is not true and they in fact got the statement correct.  Still, the jelly doughnuts were good!)

We could also see a small remaining part of the Berlin wall, every square inch of it covered with colorful graffiti.  I remembered the world atlas from my childhood, with the separate countries of West and East Germany, mirrored on a smaller scale by the city of Berlin.  I had seen the tearing down of the wall on the news, and I was impressed at the importance– this meant the maps would all have to be changed!  (Yes, I admit that I was a bit obsessed with maps.)

Berlin was full of history as the other cities had been, but there was a difference.  Whereas London and Paris were dominated by centuries-old buildings, the center of Berlin had more modern skyscrapers, a little more like an American city in some ways.  Our tour guide told us that this was because so much was destroyed during World War II.

We saw a very moving memorial in the public square where the Nazis had burned thousands of books written by Jewish authors, or that were deemed contrary to Nazi ideology.  The memorial is a plate of clear plastic set in the cobblestone ground, easy to miss unless you stop and look down.  Through the window in the ground, you can see rows of white bookshelves, all empty.  Our guide pointed out that, in the early part of the 20th century, Germany produced many Nobel Prize winners, great scholars, and scientists.  Many of them were suppressed, killed, or driven away because of the Nazis (some to America)– it is impossible to calculate how much was lost.  Then there is the memorial’s engraving, a quote by poet Heinrich Heine (loose translation): “Where they burn books, they will one day also burn people.”

The overall sense I got from the tour was of a city and country determined not to forget the lessons of its history, but also not to dwell on them.  Other countries, like my own, can very easily fool themselves into thinking “Well, something that bad could never happen here,” ignoring the many bad things that greed or the desire for power brings about in every country in the world.  The memorials in Germany are a reminder that it can, and did happen.  But at the same time, Berlin did not strike me as a depressing place.  On the contrary, there were lots of new building projects going on and a healthy sense of city and national pride.

Germany is a beautiful country, and there is even some country inside the city!  At one point we were riding the bus through Berlin, when suddenly we entered a dense forest.  I figured that we must have left the city, but our tour guide told us that we were still within it.  There is a huge forest inside the city limits of Berlin– pretty neat!  We would get to see more of the German countryside later on, as we were set to visit a couple of other cities.

The rest of our time in Paris was spent mainly at two landmarks– the Louvre and the palace at Versailles.  The interesting thing about the Louvre is that it is at the same time a museum and a historical artifact chronicling the history of France.  The very oldest parts of the Louvre date back to the 12th century, when it was a fortress.  There’s really only one connecting passageway left from that time, and you can walk through it on an elevated platform and see the rough stone walls on all sides.

The building was added to and remodeled many times by various kings over the centuries; it was transformed from a fortress into a dwelling place, and then a palace.  With the Renaissance came changes in architecture, and as kings continued to add new sections to the Louvre, the building became a record of architectural history.  It was also home to an ever-growing royal collection of works of art, and in the 18th century, kings Louis XV and XVI started using it as an art gallery.  It became truly public for the first time during the French Revolution, but that didn’t last long.  Napoleon added more sections, as did 19th-century rulers.  During World War II, the art had to be cleared out and hidden from the occupying Nazis.

The newest addition to the Louvre was completed in 1989– a pyramid made of many small triangular panes of glass.  Visitors enter the museum through the pyramid and take escalators down to the new underground entrance section.  Not everybody was sure that the pyramid fit with the centuries-old stone building, but since the Louvre is already a conglomeration of many different styles, I think it makes sense to give modern art a chance to be represented.

Once again, I stuck close to Dr. B., taking pictures of the artifacts he pointed out and keeping track of them with a notepad.  I really liked having someone to follow around through the enormous museum rather than simply being told to wander around.  It also meant that I got to pay attention to and read about some of the smaller artifacts that most people would walk past because there’s just so much to see.  We spend most of our time in the antiquities section of the museum, since we were looking for Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Babylonian, and Assyrian artifacts.  It wasn’t crowded where we were at all.

The funny thing is that I ended up not seeing the work of art that the Louvre is probably most famous for– Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.  I wonder how many other people have been to the Louvre but not seen the Mona Lisa!  My classmates told me that the Mona Lisa is smaller than most people imagine it, and that it is painted on a piece of wood, not on canvas.  It’s amazing how practically every movie and TV show gets these things totally wrong.  How many times have you seen a story about art thieves trying to steal the Mona Lisa by tearing it out of its frame and rolling it up?  You can’t do that; it’s a piece of wood!

I did see the Venus de Milo (a Greek statue of the goddess Aphrodite), though, which is not bad as famous works of art go.  It made me wonder if it was more or less famous because the arms are broken off, and whether the artist would be annoyed that everyone thinks of it as “that statue with the arms broken off.”

The garden of Versailles

Anyway, the other amazing place we got to visit was the palace at Versailles.  Versailles is a little over 10 miles southwest of southern Paris– I think we took the subway to get there.  It was where the French royalty ruled in luxury for most of the 18th century.  During my freshman year, I had read a book for class about Voltaire, Rousseau, and other French philosophers who were part of the Enlightenment movement, and for background it gave an overview of what was going on politically at the time.

I wish I had a better memory of what I read about; as it is, I am sure I have made plenty of mistakes in my recounting of French history.  The gist of it, though, is that during the time that the royalty lived at Versailles, the monarchy went from Louis XIV, the “Sun King,” who reigned for 77 years and took the monarchy to the height of its power, to Louis XV, who mishandled the nation’s foreign affairs and wealth while his court became known for decadence, to Louis XVI, who was driven from Versailles and executed by guillotine in the midst of a bloody revolution.

As I toured the palace, I thought about how it used to be that only the nobility and well-connected would have ever gotten the chance to see the things I was seeing.  There was room after room of ornate furniture, grand windows, gilded statues, and paintings large enough to cover an entire wall.  Some rooms were rich with portrayals of Biblical scenes; others were full of the gods of Greek and Roman mythology.  The windows gave you beautiful views of the garden, which went on for acres with hedges and fountains.

As pretty as the palace was, there are a whole lot of things that “common people” in many parts of the world have today that Louis XIV couldn’t have dreamed of.  Like air conditioning, for one.  Tylenol and aspirin also come to mind.  Clean food you can prepare and eat in minutes.  Not to mention libraries and the Internet.

The garden outside the palace was the favorite place I visited during my time in France.  It was big enough that you could wander around and find places that weren’t crowded; find a bench somewhere in a quiet corner and just look at the beauty of God’s creation.  On our day of free time, a few of my classmates and I went to the store to get food (I bought some chicken salad sandwiches) and had a picnic on the grounds of Versailles.

I guess if I had to sum up my impression of France, it would be with that picnic.  A place that had been built for royalty only was now open for anybody who wanted to come and enjoy.  Freedom is a wonderful blessing.

It’s interesting how some things stand out sharply in my memory, while other things are a complete blur.  For instance, the names of almost anyone who went on the trip with me.  (Sigh– I don’t know whether it’s faceblindness or self-centeredness or both.)  I really did have a great time with all of the classmates who went with me on the trip, and I’m so thankful for them– it’s just that, with a few exceptions, I cannot remember their names.  Isn’t that awful?  I even have a list of them, and I can’t remember who’s who.

Other things have blurred for me, such as what day things took place on.  I talked about getting caught in the downpour of rain on Saturday night, but based on what I wrote on the postcards I never got around to sending, that actually happened on Sunday night.  It’s strange that I seem to be able to remember things from early in life better than I can remember things from ten years ago.  There are several possible explanations for this, of course:

  • My memories from early in life consist of the most memorable events over a period of several years, while my memories of this trip come from a period of just two weeks.
  • My brain became overwhelmed by input by the time I was in college, and it dealt with this by not bothering to store things long-term.
  • My “hard drive” ran out of memory about when I turned 18.

Anyway, classmates with better memories are welcome to dispute the details of when we did what.
: )

Monday was mostly a “free” day; I think the only thing on our schedule was a visit to the British Library.  Among the items on display there were the Codex Sinaiticus (a 4th-century copy of the Old and New Testaments in Greek from before lowercase letters OR spaces were used!), the Magna Carta, the Gutenberg Bible, and some of Shakespeare’s writing.  All of them much older than my entire country.  Pretty amazing!

Here’s an example of how awesome my classmates on this trip were.  When we were on the bus tour, they noticed that the Palace Theatre was advertising Broadway musicals like Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, at prices that you would never see in the U.S.  Several people in the class were interested in trying to go, though it didn’t seem likely we’d be able to get tickets during the short time we’d be in London.  But my classmates stopped by and got tickets to see Les Miserables on Monday evening, the night before we were to leave for Paris!

I was excited; I loved the story and had a CD with all the songs on it.  It’s one of the most powerful portrayals of Christ-like love and mercy I’ve encountered in art.  Our seats were up in the balcony, but the view was fine.  The seats cost only 10 pounds, which was about $15.  And the performance was terrific.

A few other random memories of London:

  • The pavement near the crosswalks had “LOOK RIGHT” written on it in big letters to keep people like me who are used to cars driving on the right from instinctively looking the wrong way and stepping out in front of traffic.  That was considerate.
  • I liked the simplicity of using the London Underground (the subway) to get around the city.  It kept me from ever getting totally lost.  I also liked the famous simplified underground map, which I would eventually study as an example of efficient technical communication.
  • The British one-pound coins were my favorite coins from the trip.  They have a nice thickness and weight that feels good to hold in your hand (appropriate for a coin worth more than a dollar).  Like all British coins, the “heads” side has the queen on it, but there were a lot of different designs for the “tails” side.  My favorite was a dragon– unfortunately, I don’t think I managed to hold on to that one, because I needed it for a bus ride back to the hotel.  It occurs to me that this was before the U.S. started making a quarter for every state in the union; the different designs may not have made as big an impression on me otherwise.
  • We walked through Harrods, a famous department store with all sorts of things much too expensive to buy.  I noticed a chess set there with an American Revolution theme, with Washington and his blue-clad colonials facing off against the British redcoats.  I remembered the old rule “white on the right, and queen on her color,” and looked closely at how the pieces were set up.  Sure enough, the red queen was on a white square, making the British the white pieces and thus the forces of good in this chess game.
    : )

I’ve been wanting to continue posting about what I was like growing up, hopefully to help people understand Asperger’s syndrome better.  But I’ve been a little nervous about writing this part, because it feels a bit like bragging.  It’s honestly not my purpose to boast, though, and I hope it will make sense once you’ve read the rest.

Hans Asperger described the children he studied during the 1940s as “little professors,” because they tended to study a specific interest in great detail, and then repeat the facts they had learned to anyone who would listen.  They would use formal language as if they were delivering a lecture, an effect that can seem comical coming from a young child.

I definitely had the “little professor” trait.  I learned to read when I was quite young– I honestly can’t remember not being able to.  My favorite sort of books to read were reference books that used pictures and symbols to communicate information along with words.  I would spend hours reading these books over and over again.

What sorts of things captured my interest?

  • Road maps.  A long while ago, I posted a funny story about how one year I said my favorite Christmas gift was a Philadelphia road map.  I was fascinated by the symbols used on maps for different types of roads and the names of the roads themselves.  I could watch for the road names on signs when I was riding in the car and figure out where all of the places we visited were.  At home, I would spread the map out on the floor and use highlighters to trace paths on it.  When my youngest brother Andrew was born, I told my grandparents how to get to the hospital when I went with them to visit my Mom for the first time.  I was four years old.
  • The states in the U.S.A. and the countries of the world.  I had an old atlas in my room that I turned through until the pages were falling out. I liked how each country was marked by a change in color and had its own flag.  Finding all of the countries on each map was like a game, especially in the case of tiny ones like Liechtenstein.  Before long, I could draw a map of state or country borders from memory.
  •  The bones and organs of the body.  Another of my favorite books was a human anatomy book; it was like a map of the inside of the body.  I liked learning all of the strange names for bones– vertebrae, phalanges, scapula, femur– and I could feel where they were inside me.  I read about the path that food takes through the body after you eat it.  I learned about the circulatory system (heart and blood vessels) and respiratory system (lungs).  I liked how I could ask my Dad, the doctor, any question, and he would know the answer to it.
  • Astronomy.  I loved learning facts about the planets.  Each one has its own day (Jupiter’s is 10 hours; Venus’s is 243 days) and its own year (Mercury’s is 88 days; Pluto’s is almost 250 years).  On some planets, I would weigh just a couple of pounds; on others, I would weigh a ton.  Then there were the constellations– 88 of them, just as many as there are keys on a piano.  I had a wonderful book by children’s author H.A. Rey that taught me how to recognize the brightest constellations in the sky, but I wanted to learn about all of them, even the ones without any bright stars, like Lacerta the lizard and Camelopardalis the giraffe.
  • Math.  Before I was old enough to start school, I did math workbooks for fun.  Really!  I enjoyed books that taught arithmetic by lining up rows of circles or squares so I could see what 9 + 5 or 3 x 10 looked like.  I would spend hours drawing squares so I could see what a hundred looked like– then a thousand.  (It didn’t occur to me until just now that I seem to have been a very visual learner.  Strange, because I’m actually diagnosed as having a non-verbal learning disability.  Are diagrams and maps considered verbal or non-verbal information?)

I’ve been thinking about why children with Asperger’s display the “little professor” behavior.  Some of the writing I’ve seen on the subject argues that these children are merely “parroting” information they’ve heard or read and don’t really understand the complicated subjects they are talking about.

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I feel like my thoughts are just tumbling around over and over in my head right now.  I spend way too much time listening to my own thoughts, but it’s kind of hard to get away from them, you know?

Since I can’t untangle what I’m thinking about now, I figured I would try to go back and continue something I was writing about a while ago, a response to reading Tim Keller’s book, Prodigal God.  Since my church is currently working through another of Keller’s books during adult Sunday school, some of these issues have continued to be on my mind from time to time.

As I said in my earlier post, Keller sees the two brothers in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son as representing two basic ways that people relate to God.  The younger brother rebels against his father very openly by breaking all of the rules.  The older brother keeps all of the rules, but in the end, his refusal to honor his father and come into the party shows that his obedience has really been rebellion all along.  Just like the younger brother, he wants the father’s riches but not the father himself.  In fact, at the end of the parable, the younger son is restored, but the older son’s outcome is left hanging:

“Although the sons are both wrong and both loved, the story does not end on the same note for each.  Why does Jesus construct the story so that one of them is saved, restored to a right relationship with the fathe, and one of them is not?  (At least, not before the story ends.)  It may be that Jesus is trying to say that while both forms of the self-salvation project are equally wrong, each one is not equally dangerous. […]

Because the elder brother is more blind to what is going on, being an elder-brother Pharisee is a more spiritually desperate condition.”

This is the scariest thing about the story for me– the idea that you can be deceived your whole life, thinking you are in a right relationship with God, only to find in the end that you have missed it totally.  It may not be a logical reaction to a character in a parable, but as I read Keller’s statements about the older brother, I find myself trying to defend him, asking if it is fair to judge him by one statement he made in anger.  The older brother says,

“Look!  All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.  Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

Not only do these words condemn the elder brother just as surely as the younger brother’s actions did– they also reveal all of the elder brother’s obedience throughout his life to have been selfish and worthless.  It’s very scary.  Will I some day come to a point that reveals my faith in God was empty?

I am really at Jesus’ mercy.  It is not the strength of my faith that saves me– if Jesus were not upholding me every step of the way, I would have no hope.  One of the things about Jesus that can be both comforting and scary at the same time is that he knows the weaknesses of our hearts.

Once, a rich young ruler came to Jesus.  Like the elder brother in the parable, he thought that he had kept all of the rules perfectly.  Still, he wanted to be certain.  He asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life.  You would think that for something like eternal life, no matter what Jesus told him to do, he would at least try to do it.  But Jesus said, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  And the man went away sad, because he was very wealthy.

That was all it took to make the rich young ruler give up on eternal life.  I’m sure there are things Jesus could say to me that would make me give up– I am not that strong.  If he wanted to, he could make me walk away.  But thankfully, he is merciful, and he has promised to keep me through to the end.  It may seem precarious from my point of view, but in fact, Jesus’ grace is the surest thing there is to rely on.

I have lots more to say about Keller’s book– the frustrating thing is that it seems to cause me to doubt, and I have to keep reminding myself that my salvation is because of what Jesus did, not anything I did.  Maybe that’s what it’s meant to do?  I don’t know.