A new environment means adjustment.
Unfortunately, adjustment doesn’t come easily for yours truly, Larry B,
Back in 3rd grade, my teacher, Miss Hinsberger, clued the class in on what separates humans from other animals.
“Animals,” she said, “have to adjust to their environment in order to survive. Humans make their environment adjust to them, and thrive.”
Being young and smart and “maladjusted” (people weren’t throwing around diagnoses like “autism” and “Asperger’s Syndrome” back in that day), and totally crushing on Miss Hinsberger, I took this wisdom straight into my heart, and worked desperately to make my environment adjust to me so I could indeed thrive.
It didn’t work.
You can’t change people, especially if you fear them, and I feared everyone because, in keeping with my Asperger’s, every moment with other people caused me literal, physical pain.
Being with ten thousand people at a baseball game, or a dozen people at a family gathering, or even one person at home, made me feel the way a claustrophobic man or woman would feel trapped in a windowless room.
Absolute terror, distinguished by:
Shortness of breath.
A nose either stuffed fuller than a Thanksgiving turkey or flooding like New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
Complete loss of the ability to focus on anything, including relief from the fear.
School was a nightmare. The only positive moments I had during elementary school were when Miss Hinsberger gave me what I saw as a very special smile and said, “Good work.”
No way could I adjust the situation, nor could I adjust myself to it.
Finally, in high school, I found the “cure.”
And taught myself to dance the dance that would let me be like everyone else.
Okay, not everyone. The guy I faked being was James Dean.
James Dean the actor was dead by then, thanks to having crashed his Porsche. But his screen persona lived.
Quiet. Brooding. Untouchable by anything outside himself. Flashing that little smile at a joke only he understood.
On film, James Dean was the coolest guy who ever lived.
In real life, I pushed myself to become as close to that as anyone ever could.
I worked on my new personality for years. Added layers so I could interact with others more comfortably. Became a James Dean who told stories in life and on paper. Who talked quickly and cleverly and shared that little smile with people so realistically they all believed that I, the coolest guy who ever lived, truly was sharing myself with them.
This flattered the hell out of most people, and they became my friends.
The more friends I made, the more successful I became, professionally as well as personally.
The more successful I became, the less painful life seemed. And the more real my grafted-on personality felt to me. The false confidence and ease became genuine. So did the friendships. And loves as well. I continued growing outward, and a terrific thing happened.
I became the person I’d pretended to be. One step beyond Pinocchio, I was a real live man.
As a by-all-available-standards successful man, I was able to design my life to be as nonthreatening to myself as possible.
I was the boss, and what does the boss have to be afraid of? I worked exactly the way I wanted to work, on only the projects that appealed to me, and with only the people I wanted to work with.
I lived exactly the way I wanted as well. In the country — ranches in the L.A. and Santa Fe areas, even the Ozarks. Surrounded by beauty both natural and man-made. With people who loved me. I even had just the right pinch of “celebrity” and so was treated with what to me was the perfect amount of respect.
Then, to make things even more awesome for my family and myself, off I went to a totally new kind of environment. A small town. A street with neighbors who knew nothing about me, and whom I also knew nothing about.
Here I am, on serene Friendly Street, where everyone else knows everyone and says, “Hi!” and hangs together and —
And it terrifies me. The old familiar feeling of being totally out of it, not getting anyone, feeling invaded every time another set of eyes meet mine is back, full throttle.
So here I sit, back in elementary school, completely freaked.
Time to come up with another dance. One that’ll work where I am.
Watch me now.
Larry Brody is an author, veteran television writer and producer. He, his wife and their various animals divide their time between the Ozark Mountains and Puget Sound. The other residents of Larry’s mythical Paradise reside entirely in his imagination and any resemblance to actual places or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Tags: Asperger's Syndrome, autism, Cloud Creek Ranch, country life, country living, everyday magic, existentialism, Friendly Street, Larry Brody, lifestyle, Live! From Paradise!, Living, living with Asperger's, living with autism, Paradise Sound, the writer's life, Washington State, writing