A Series of Very Short Open Letters Addressed to People Who Make Me Feel Bad

To my father, who recognized several autistic behaviors in me when I was young and told me, “If you keep doing that, people are going to think you’re autistic!”: fuck you. Okay, this only happened once but somehow it stuck in my mind, even though I had no idea what autistic was and he declined to explain why rocking and repetitively rubbing my legs would make people think I wasn’t normal.

To my psychiatrist, who heard my talking about how I had done a lot of research and come to the conclusion that I was probably autistic, who heard how excited I was about this, and told me, “You might have the tiniest little smidgeon of Asperger’s”: fuck you. It doesn’t only manifest one way (8 year old white boy autism is the standard, I believe), and some people have gotten really good at hiding it, and just because someone wants a specific diagnosis does not automatically mean they’re faking it.

To my roommate, to whom I happily revealed that I was doing self-exploration and thought I was autistic (this was before I knew her very well) and told me, “I’ve met autistic kids before, and they’re not like you. You’re not autistic.”: fuck you! You’re not even a doctor, I don’t know why you think you’re more of an authority on this than the actual person whose brain is concerned! Also, stop coming into your own room and breathing and moving around, it’s offensive.

To my friends who are Better At Being Autistic than me: not fuck you. But sometimes you just existing makes me feel like I’m faking.

To those who have it harder than me: your existence also makes me feel bad, but that’s not the issue here. Stay strong and hopeful and brilliant. Keep surviving and helping each other.

I can’t, because I have a personality disorder that makes me pretty much unable to value or relate to human people. I’m so stressed and tired and I keep having anxiety attacks or something that doesn’t have a name, and I cannot build myself a support system because of what I am. I am alone, but not all of you are. You shine.

Scotland Adventures Denouement and a discussion of juju

We got up early, at 0530, and ate some hasty bran before taxiing to the Glasgow Airport. The flight to Amsterdam was nominal and not at all unpleasant; the flight back to the Twin Cities was considerably more taxing, for obvious reasons. We still had a lot of biscuits from the lot we bought for train journeys, and on top of that I decided (perhaps in a temporary fit of insanity) to take the attendant staff up on their offer of ice cream and orange juice. Orange juice does not particularly agree with me at the best of times, and so I alighted from the airplane feeling like my head had been stuffed with hot and subpar porridge. Thus I decided I would like to refrigerate my head somewhere humid, dim blue, and very quiet. MSP will insist on playing thumping pop music, though.

At the point when I post this, I have been awake for approximately 24 hours straight, although my circadian clock stalled for a long time in the sunny afternoon above the Arctic Circle. For this reason I wasn’t very sleepy at midnight GMT, but I ended up nodding over my book on the flight to Colorado. Of course, as with all airports, there was a lot of tedious rubbish with bag-fetching and shuttle-wrangling, and finally we arrived home, where I collapsed gratefully into my own bed.

My parents were, for some reason I have not yet determined, miffed when I sat in a seat somewhat distant (directly kitty-corner) from where they were in an airport waiting area. The reason for my placement was that the nearby chair where I wanted to sit had a lot of crumbs all around it (and thus very bad juju) and the other nearby chair had bad juju for some unspecified reason. I only at that moment decided that juju is the best word for it.

Let me explain in more detail: juju is a personal term for the irrational uckiness I feel about some things. Sitting with my back facing a room; drinking from a glass someone has accidentally used (but not one they have used on purpose); the existence of feet; some chord progressions. They’re utterly illogical, and they just make me feel bad in a sort of obsessive-compulsive way. Often after I mitigate them I can then feel bad about indulging the juju compulsion, because it’s socially weird and sometimes inconveniences others.

As for the terminology, I haven’t done any research into its origin–I have a vague feeling it might have something to do with hoodoo, but originally I heard it used as a phenomenon similar to cooties. At this point I’m using it to mean essentially a vibe I get from something. I don’t know how much explanation this actually needs… In any case, I’m curious as to whether any of the few Best Beloveds who read this have similar problems, or any solutions.

Scotland Adventures 9

Good news: the worry shell is working nicely! I worry about it almost constantly unless I have it in my hand. More germanely, we all liked today’s hostel much more than the Portree hostel. It has a relaxed, friendly atmosphere; is bright and colorful; is clearly run by people who love running a hostel; encourages guests to help out, including making their own (very cheap) breakfast and washing their own dishes; and has fine plumbing, which has been of great concern. We scrounged some free coffee and tea, and then went down the road to get pasties “handmade in Cornwall,” leading me to conclude that the pasty shop is, in fact, a Cornish embassy.

Our pre-lunch target was another little cemetery on Friars Street, and on the way we visited an exchange business. We also stumbled on an apparently magical book shop with no name, where the book my brother was looking for was on the first bookshelf inside the door–one of two books from a series of fourteen in stock–and the one I’d been wanting was directly under it, with three copies of that and one of another by the same author (Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett, for the curious). Pretty mystical, huh?

Well, the cemetery was nice, although we were a bit rushed as we had a lunch engagement directly afterward. The food was okay, I suppose, although everyone else enjoyed it much more because I didn’t have room for any food due to the enormous vegetable pasty from a few hours ago. Afterward we went to buy some more whisky, as my father is some kind of whisky maniac, and headed for the train station. It’s quite as nice as the Glasgow station, and using the toilet only costs 20p.

The train ride wasn’t so interesting or pretty, since we didn’t go through the highlands, but I had a good time reading. We arrived in Glasgow around six, spent about an hour kicking around in a Wetherspoons, and met Dave and Rosie at a pizzeria a block away. We had a great good time chatting up our Estonian waitress, who was so very excited about America until she heard that we don’t have deep fried pizza–she looked heartbroken on receiving this news. We also discussed tablets, a horrible butter and sugar brick that the Brits take with tea. Not in tea–it’s almost completely insoluble in water. They just… take a bite of this awful thing and then have some coffee. Rosie was nonsensically offended when I started experimenting on mine to see if I could dissolve it.

After dinner we got a taxi back to Kenny’s guest house and I, relieved, got to go to sleep. Good afternoon, Americans, and good whatever-time-it-is to you non-Americans!

Scotland Adventures 8

We rushed to a little café to take away scones and coffee, then drove off north to Quiraing, a geologic area of craggy black rock rising out of mounded ground and valleys. We stopped at the top of a pass to hike along the side of a ridge. The grass in Quiraing is strange, looking like rippling ocean water. We think it’s because occasionally the ground gets oversaturated with water and slumps downward, resulting in bizarre wrinkles. Also, there was a frankly astonishing amount of sheep and cow poop. It must never disappear.

We drove around the peninsula on the northern tip of Skye, passing many crumbling hill forts and cottages, sheds with thatched rooves and flapping tin rooves weighed down with large rocks. As we passed through Uig on the Little Minch (which separates Skye from the Outer Hebrides) my brother turned on the radio and we got to hear some spoken Gaelic. It sounds an awful lot like someone speaking in a Scottish accent, but every other word is backward because of the profusion of glottal stops. Then there was the way that the host kept… buzzing. Maybe it was laughter? Every once in a while he stopped saying words and emitting a long string of Zs.

We passed through Portree briefly, happy to avoid the traffic coming in from the south for the Highland Games, and lunched in Broadford. I thought it was a bit expensive, but I did get to try a godawful orange drink called Irn Bru (they weren’t allowed to put the word ‘iron’ in the name) that tastes like Pixie Stix and Circus Peanuts, and the best sticky toffee pudding I’ve ever had. Oh, it was so molassessy. In a caramel cream sauce. Apparently Scotland is one of the very few places where Coca Cola is not the best selling drink–outsold, somehow, by Irn Bru.

After lunch we found our way to the bridge that crosses to Kyle of Lochalsh and went to visit Eilean Donan Castle, which we didn’t have time to tour but we did photograph. Luckily, tide was out so I got to walk out to the little humps of rock filled surrounded by kelp and tide pools. I picked up a very pretty green and yellow spiral shell that turned out to be colored by green algae; now I have a little worry shell for my pocket.

I cleaned it up on the train ride from Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness, about two and a half hours and quite pretty. We also got a deck of playing cards each featuring a different Scottish king or queen, which we carefully ordered by date (using quicksort). Inverness is a pretty cute town, though the buildings are a bit dingy. I was disappointed to see that the castle is not, in fact, high on a mountain-top above the bay, surrounded by lonely pines and howling wolves, as I had been lead to believe (please check out “The Fourth Tower of Inverness,” my very first and very favorite radio play, by ZBS Media; there’s an entire series starring Jack Flanders and including all sorts of exciting mystical and weird adventures). In fact, I am given to understand that the castle contains the city chambers, and is a reddish sandstone building with lovely sharp corners and a pristine, efficient look.

Just up the street, overlooking several gothic-ish churches, is our hostel, a charming little place with currency from all the homes of the guests taped to the walls. My father went on a walk while the rest of us sat in the lobby, revelling in the first wifi we’d seen for several days. The hostel seems to own a guitar, so my brother played The Rake’s Song while I sang. We had a good time watching him pick out Los Angeles I’m Yours as well, and now it is thoroughly stuck in my head.

We walked in a leisurely way through the streets, into a craftsmen’s/Frasers’ cemetery, and over the River Ness on a swaying footbridge that my brother insisted on jumping on, to our restaurant. It’s right on the river, and the food was quite good if a bit overcomplicated. Now we are back at the hostel and I’m about to go to bed and read in the dark for a while. Lit screens are such a beautiful phenomenon.

Scotland Adventures 7

The full British breakfast without any kind of meat is mushrooms and tomato on tattie scones. I ordered some toast to go with it, and apparently it was quintessentially British toast because it was cold and dry and came in a toastrack.

Our first action of the day was to tour Talisker Distillery, also in Carbost. A fluffy little black and white cat lives in the parking lot, and the history of Talisker House is interesting and somewhat bloodthirsty. I learned a lot about how whisky is made (malting! peat smoke! wort! head, heart, and tail!), and also some things whisky sellers do not like to tell buyers, like the fact that they have to distill quite a lot of times to get rid of methanol, AKA the stuff you have always been told will make you go blind. Also propanol, isopropanol, butanol, and other fun yeasty biproducts. We got to taste their ten year whisky, which was okay by my standards and by my father’s, although for very different reasons.

Then we visited the Fairy Pools, a lovely series of cascades over wonderful climbing rocks. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, my brother and I went down to the river for my favorite sport, rock-hopping logistics. We hopped all the way up to the bottom falls and did some excellent rock climbing, collecting scrapes, wet patches, and spider web all the way (yes, I stuck my head directly into a spider web and apologized to the spider as I pulled it out of my hair) and now I have quite damp boots. It was definitely worth it, even if I can’t take off my boots until they dry because they’re leather.

For lunch we drove to Portree, whose population is about one quarter of Skye’s total, and a quite pleasant little town. It is a seaside town, like all towns on Skye (counting towns on sea lochs) so we went to a seafood restaurant on the harbor. I had a toastie with soup, which I only mention because I love to say the word toastie. Scottish food nicknames are really charming.

After this, we went to check in at the hostel where we’re staying–whose lobby is the exact awful shade of chartreuse the toilets at the last one were; whose beds are all sheeted in pink and purple; and in whose lobby a group of college-age adults were watching the Disney animated Robin Hood with rapt expressions–and I finally got to do some laundry. I had thought we were staying away from home for a little less than a week, and it turned out to be a little bit more, so I was quite relieved. Meanwhile, tired from hopping all morning, my brother slept on his very pink bed.

We got extremely lost on the way to dinner, due to Portree’s terrible signage, but we made it there eventually: another seafood restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Seafood is popular on Skye, seeing as it is an island and everywhere worth going is on the coast. I’m used to it by now (my main course was cheese. Just cheese.) but the dessert was wonderful. Fruit Charlotte, vanilla/passionfruit parfait, and clootie dumplings. Think of them as a steamed bread pudding-fruitcake cross held together with animal fat. So delicious. Well, it’s time to sleep now–early start tomorrow and the other hostelry are winding down. I say good night with midge-bitten head and damp, clammy feet.

P.S. Deepest regrets for not posting sooner, but wifi has been scarce. In the lodging of day 6 it was absent in all but name, The hostel in Portree charged three pounds for each hour of internet, if you can believe it!

Scotland Adventures 6

First thing in the morning we taxi’d ourselves to Glasgow Queen Street Station to get the train to Mallaig. The ride took five hours, which were beautiful, green, and very damp-looking. We saw many tiny cascades and many miles of grass that could have been moss. Northern Scotland is so lovely.

Mallaig is by the sea, and when we arrived it was idyllically sunny (what a disappointment!). We went to a chippy (what some Scots call fish-and-chip shops, hilariously) and I ate more potatoey chips and more chickeny chicken than I had ever had before. Very fresh stuff! After we had tea for some reason, and then got on the ferry to Skye. The ride over was lovely, but extremely windy and my ears started to ache after a while.

We landed in Armadale to the sound of bagpipes, which we thought had been hired by a tour bus but was in fact produced by a ten-year-old boy in a football jersey surrounded by dogs with his case out for money. We rented a car (with a warning about clingy hitchhikers who will use the unwary Samaritan as an alternative to Skye’s terrible public transportation) and set off along the coast. Signs in the northern section of the mainland are subtitled in Gaelic, but every sign on Skye is in Gaelic first and then English. We enjoyed looking at how different the spellings were.

Eventually, after a bit of napping on my part and a lot of gorgeous scenery and sheep, we arrived in Carbost, where we’re staying at a bunkhouse. We haven’t yet figured out what local tradition prompts residents to put scarecrows not only in the fields, but also on their front lawns in deck chairs with sharpied-on faces. Pretty sure there are no crows to scare on the entire island.

Well, we checked in and immediately found that it was time to go for dinner, so we began the tortuous drive to Elgol. Let me explain, in my mother’s words: the Brits drive tiny cars on tiny roads, and they go super fast. The default speed limit on Skye is 60 mph, for whenever you don’t have a good reason to go slow. Also, nearly all the roads on the island are narrow one-lane affairs with barely room for a motorcycle to pass a car, so the roads are littered with passing points every fifty meters or so. Add to this the windiness of all mountain paths and one begins to see why driving on Skye is such a pain.

Anyway, we managed to get to Elgol an hour early for dinner, so we drove into town and inspected the delightfully boggy little stream, whose banks were populated by many species of moss, grass, oaks, and what we think was heather. We followed it down to the harbor, whose beach is covered with quite large rounded rocks, and walked along it a little way to a truly magnificent cliff with Swiss-cheese holes worn into it by wind and water. Sadly we didn’t get to see much more because it was time to eat.

The Coruisk House has lovely food and a lovely owner (who kind of looks like Joyce Summers from Buffy) who told us some interesting things about local geography and had an extremely detailed survey map of the area. Incidentally, Coruisk House is named after a loch nearby surrounded entirely by mountains, and was also the name of the ferry. Ah, anyway, at this moment we are driving home in the cloudy drizzling dark, and my father the designated driver is looking forward to getting sloshed at the Old Inn’s associated pub. Cheers!

Scotland Adventures 5 and supermarket miscellany

Today we took the train into Glasgow center and walked around aimlessly for a while until my mother felt like having a coffee: we stopped at Caffé Nero, a popular chain with decent coffee and several quite silly very sweet drinks. After this, emerging from an alley containing a melancholy street clarinetist and a clothing store whose window displayed hundreds of old sweatshop sewing machines, we found ourselves conveniently located by the Gallery of Modern Art. I quite enjoyed myself, but I don’t think the rest of my family likes modern art as much as I do. There was a lovely black-acrylic-as-lineart-over-watercolor arist; a colorful-powerful-ladies-and-lively-sculpture artist; and a man who was obsessed with the French Revolution and did very nice slick graphics and wordplay. Those were my favorites, anyway.

We lunched at an Andalusian tapas restaurant (the food was so very good) and then took the metro to Kelvinhall and immediately ran into a marching band with drums and fife, which we followed into Kelvingrove Park, and walked along the Kelvin to Kelvingrove Museum of Art and Other Stuff. On the lawn in the sunshine a lot of people were playing some kind of bocce-like bowling game that my brother said might be called blackbowl? Well, we went in and it was a super excellent museum! I was expecting a boring classical sort of collection, but it had all kinds of art from different parts of the world and–o wonder of wonders–an exhibit on the history of violence against women. It was the emptiest exhibit in the entire museum, but it’s certainly not their fault.

After this we went back to downtown to visit the necropolis at the cathedral, which stands on an impressive hill overlooking the city, bristling with obelisks and clusters of mausolea and statues. At the very top stands a monument, possibly to all Protestant reformers. It was a bit unclear. The entire day it was sunny, and the sunlight was beginning to turn red at this point, painting the tombstones, columns, and little bushes growing out of them in lovely vivid color.

We walked back to the center of downtown with sore feet to a little Indian restaurant with stunning chicken tikka, and here I sit with leftover biryani comfortably reclining in the refrigerator for tomorrow’s breakfast.

A few days ago Dave took us to the grocery store and I noted some differences. The most ridiculous thing is how much meat the Brits eat: there was easily three or four times as much meat in the frozen section–in the form of sausage rolls, meat pies, et c–as in the States. And then there was another aisle lined on one side entirely with refrigerated meat. I was never able to figure out why it’s so ubiquitous, since at least in Scotland there are many kinds of wonderful vegetables, but Dave and his family become strangely fanatical about meat whenever it is [erroneously] mentioned that I am vegetarian.

My father was more surprised than I to find out that ‘biscuit’ does not translate literally as ‘cookie’ when we got some biscuits for appetizery cheesy purposes. They were the most biscuity cracker’s I’ve ever eaten, and I wish they made more like them in the US. Biscuits are delicious. Oatcakes, however, are terrible in the UK because they are not sweet. Just vaguely salty, dry, and extremely bland, and I’m not entirely sure under what circumstances one is supposed to eat them. There was also some debate on why Mars Bars do not exist in the US, since Mars Corp is clearly alive and well (what do you think those Ms stand for?). I was disappointed to find that they’re essentially 3 Musketeers with caramel in. No word as of yet on how they get the surprise into Kinder Eggs.

Essentially they have a lot of the same things in different brands, but there’s an entire aisle for alcoholic drinks. And then another one. Huzzah for a low drinking age! The last thing I’d like to say here is that the United States really needs to get on selling bags of chewy toffee in convenience stores. Toffee is delicious and I never get to eat it.