As I’ve perhaps mentioned, I belong to the demographic group known as Generation X. Most of my NT peers from High School and College are grown, successful career men with children. Some of them even have teenagers of their own by now. I look at their contemporary faces on social media like Facebook and can hardly believe how they’ve aged. I recognize the faces on some level, to be sure, but they are the faces of middle aged, successful career men. I look at my own face in the mirror and apart from thinning hair and a receding hairline, I still look more like I did when I was younger than not…at least to my own eyes. It’s something we’ve noticed among our little group of Aspies…while hardly a statistically relevant sample size, every one of us in our group has a more youthful appearance than our peers. We look younger than we actually are.
I also know that on an emotional level, my maturity has not advanced much beyond my teen years. My raw intelligence has grown by leaps and bounds, but emotional maturity not nearly so much. I look at my peers today and on some level I just can’t relate to them anymore.
I still remember their youthful selves and their youthful idealism. While I was a young Reaganite proto-fascist they were earnest young (if naive) liberals. Fast forward to today, and after lots more education and personal learning, I endorse their youthful idealism and worldview, while they themselves have stepped away from most of that…some even declare themselves Republican and religious today. I mourn the loss of their youthful selves. I think they were right then and I was wrong then. Today I think I’m right (or at least less wrong than I was) and they are now painfully wrong. There’s a glib saying that if you’re Republican before 18, you’re heartless, but that if you’re Liberal/Democratic after 40 (or some other age of reputed wisdom), you’ve got no brain. So by that rubric the author of this post is both heartless and brainless. Hmm. I suspect part of it is that my peers are now successful financially and more concerned about their net worth, the market value of their property, and the future financial security of their families and are focused on that largely uncaring of the society around them. They believe in the rectitude of their own contemporary hyper-individualism, justified by their material and social achievements thusfar. I do understand this, I just think it’s rather selfish, self-congratulatory, and unfortunate.
In psychology, they say that many people with low self-esteem at one time or another suffer from a phobia, an internal fear of being exposed as a phoney or a fraud…even if objectively they are actually competent. The worst part of my recent past, with the loss of not one but two professional positions in the library world is that it feels as though this internal fear was realized, that I really HAVE been exposed as a fraudulent phoney. The reality more likely is that I while I am competent as a library professional, I’ve been a victim of discrimination…but in my darker moments if feels horrifically as if the “fear of being found out and exposed as being a phoney” actually came true in my life. It can be hard to shake that feeling.
When I look at all the paperwork my parents mull through just to keep their household running smoothly and efficiently, it all seems so mentally overwhelming. I shudder to think of myself trying to manage all of that. I worry about their passing one day and all that crushing responsibility landing squarely on my own shoulders one day. It feels like although I have lived independently on my own for a few years here and there, holding down a job, paying rent, etc., it was all as though it was just for show, just pretend. Faking it, somehow. That I was just a teen boy in an oversized set of clothes playing at being an adult rather than actually feeling like a mature, confident adult.
On the other hand, I’d like to believe that I retain a certain spark of spontaneity, humor, goofiness, zest for life, etc, that my peers have long since lost. I still relate better to people in their 20s and early 30s than I do to my own peers.
What makes me different from the fictional character of Peter Pan is that he willfully refused to grow up, whilst I’m neurologically unable to. He made an apparent choice; I did not. I’ve done the best I can with the tools I have. I’m also glad that so far I’ve never worked in any job where I felt ethically compromised or ever felt like my success came at the expense of someone else’s misfortune, and, knock on wood, hope that I never do.
I recently finished a biography of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., the science fiction writer, and some collected letters of Richard P. Feynman, the famous physicist. I can’t help wondering if these men were at least a little bit on the ASD spectrum. I would bestow upon them the distinction of being “honorary Aspies”, even if they were not actually diagnosable as true autistics. I still regard them as icons and personal cultural heroes…men who marched to the beat of different drummers, as the cliche has it.
When I was genuinely younger I maintained a very active reading life because I felt as though ideas mattered and that with enough knowledge and passion I could help change the world. In the intervening years, I just feel so beaten down by life and the pervasive sense that nobody really cares…or that while ideas & struggle and all that may be important, that has all passed on to the younger people and that people like myself should retire from the field. The upshot is, I don’t read nearly as much as I used to. I do make time for light reading, like Japanese manga translated into English, and I do read mostly nonfiction audiobooks in my car on my daily commute to work…but it’s rare that I find or make the time to curl up with a print-edition non-fiction work dealing with serious ideas in a serious manner and reach some epiphany of higher understanding, or a genuine “eureka!” moment the way I used to in my mid-to-late 20s, say. My overall outlook on the human condition remains largely pessimistic, though I try not to slip into outright cynicism, at least not for long. Right now I feel as if humanity, or at least human civilization as we know it is careening towards destruction between the Scylla of increasingly chaotic Global Climate Change and the Kharybdis of the utter economic collapse of high tech industrial civilization in a post-Peak Oil production world of increasing resource scarcity, or “Peak everything”, in the words of Richard Heinberg. Population overshoot & dieoff. I feel really bad for the horrors that the children of today will have in store for them long after I’m dead and gone. I do hope I’m wrong, of course, but I don’t think I am, or at least not wrong by much. We’re always only a generation or two away from utter barbarism should our educational institutions fail, etc. Progress is possible but not inevitable. Knowledge must be produced and reproduced on every successive generation or else we as a species will decline and fall. I’m far less sanguine about the future than many of my peers who wax about an even more amazing high tech future that we can scarcely imagine. But in the meantime, I do plan to continue to enjoy my own life as much as possible, and do what I can to brighten the lives of others around me, come what may. We know eventually the sun will extinguish all life on this planet long before it extinguishes itself in the vast cosmic night. All we have is now. Carpe diem.