Book Recommendation: The Journal of Best Practices / David Finch

I like to read, and early on in my diagnosis I made time to read a number of books about Asperger’s, including some moving personal accounts.  I’ve had more trouble keeping up with more recent releases, like The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to Be a Better Husband by David Finch.

I first began to read Finch’s memoir upon checking the book out from my local library system.  I read a good bit of the first chapter, but kept putting it aside and life kept getting in the way.  I next resolved to buy the Kindle edition and read a little bit before bed.  I progressed a little further but eventually found that Bookworm (the iPad game) held my attention more that late at night.

So I finally broke down and went to a format I have long relied on, namely audiobook format.  The audiobook for The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to Be a Better Husband is produced by Tantor Media (which seems to specialize in nonfiction works) and is read by the author.  It is an MP3 Disc, which meant I had to rip the audiobook’s contents to my iPod touch.  Although I have an aux cable and thus could have listened in my car via the iPod touch, I was already listening to other nonfiction works in the car and didn’t want to interrupt that, so I brought the iPod touch to work.  Due to the repetitive nature of a lot of my work, and my overall lack of direct interaction with the public due to my department’s location, I’m able to pop in headphones and listen to music or podcasts at my leisure already, so I made time to dedicate myself to listening to and finishing Finch’s book, which I managed to do over the course of 2 workdays.

I’m so glad that I did, because a lot of what Finch writes, I can strongly identify with as a divorced (since 2004) Aspie.  I was completely undiagnosed at the time of my marriage, so we were stumbling around in the dark a lot, metaphorically speaking.  My Ex suspected maybe adult ADHD but the campus medical clinic ruled that out.  It was a good guess, and a common misdiagnosis or even comorbid diagnosis with A.S.  But I did not receive my formal diagnosis until years after my failed marriage, in 2010.  Finch is very lucky to have gotten his diagnosis while he was still married.  Unfortunately in my case, I don’t think an early diagnosis would’ve been enough to repair that relationship.  In my case, I’d been infatuated with my ex-wife’s high intelligence but neglected the fact that we differed radically in our basic worldviews and value systems.  We were united by what we were against (The Iraq War, George Bush’s policies) but failed to see that our opposition to these things were for vastly different reasons.  Plus she was in the middle of a “crisis of faith” with respect to her religious convictions, while I am utterly without religion.  She accepted my atheism at first, but over time became increasingly not okay with it.  My ex resolved her “crisis of faith” by doubling-down on her religious commitments, which spelled the beginning of the end of our dysfunctional marriage.  We found ourselves no longer able to respect each other as human beings.

But enough about me; I do encourage our readers to go reach Finch’s book in whatever format works for you.  *sigh* Okay, maybe a little more about me–I cling to audiobook format because reading for me is a chore and though I love it, it’s often painfully slow going for me.  The audiobook format is always the faster consumption method to me, so it was quite surprising to me when one of my professors in graduate school turned up his nose at audiobook content, stating that he could read the paperback edition much much faster than having to sit through and listen to the audiobook, which was tedious for him.  This just seems like a magical ability to me.  Audiobooks have been a constant companion for me, especially non-fiction audiobooks, which are a very very niche market.  The vast majority of produced audiobooks are works of popular fiction; only a few select titles of popular science and current affairs books are tapped for audiobook versions by the publishing industry.  I’ve been listening to non-fiction audiobooks intensely since the mid 1990s, as cassettes, then later books on CD and MP3 CD-ROM.  I’ve resisted thusfar as I’m not a fan of their subscription + discount model for 100% digital content.

Back to Finch; One of the things that struck me most about reading David Finch’s work is how he conveys rather perfectly the pervasive anxiety and uncertainty and frustration that comes with being an Aspie.  This constant shadow of self doubt, this repeating cycle of self-loathing, of saying things (perhaps objectively unfairly) to yourself like “Damn, I’m such a raging asshole”, in a moment of unwelcome apparent self-revelation.  I totally get that because it happens to me, too, and I definitely felt like I could identify with Finch’s pain & anguish and frustration(s).  I also appreciated Finch’s evidently zany, off-the-wall, outrageous sense of humor from the very start.  He sounds like a fun and funny individual I’d love to hang out with.

He also betrays the same young-at-heart nature that has its downside in emotional immaturity…he berates himself as being a “man-child” more than once.  I’ve said of myself that while I may be in my 40s, I still feel like at best I have the emotional maturity of a well-adjusted 19 year old NT, and at not-so-best, more like a 14 year old middle school student.  That’s the range of my actual levels of attained emotional maturity, and it makes dealing with the rest of the adult NT world that much more difficult.  I can manage, but at times only just barely.

Finch’s memoir is revealing and helpful to other Aspies by way of example.  His efforts are not in vain, and basically describe an ASD person attempting, intellectually, to construct brain macros for themselves to compensate for empathy perception deficits.  He is brutally honest about himself, even when describing himself in an unflattering light.  He is constantly making little rules and guides for himself that a neurotypical person “knows” via natural intuition.  He even becomes a little obsessive about his “Journal of Best Practices” (the unifying title he bestows upon this collection of notes, sayings, reminders, etc) and has to pull back and realize that not everything can be codified as a best practice.  It is okay to stop and smell the roses and turn off the analytics every once in awhile.

Some of Finch’s insights are not new to me, and are things I too have learned in 40+ years of actual life experience among other humans on planet earth.  Some things that are a positive revelation for Finch are things that “Yeah, I figured that out some time ago.”, I find myself saying.  Still, for Aspies in their early 20s or 30s, say, Finch’s book is going to help you a great deal more than it can help me.  For me, it’s mostly seeing with greater clarity through the rearview mirror back at my life up to now.  My own marriage, while brief, as very gratifying while it lasted, and I’d never trade the emotional intensity of love for another person that I got to experience for anything else in the world.

Whether or not I would remarry, or have kids remain very open questions for me.  If I found the right woman, I suppose I’d not necessarily be automatically opposed to either.  But I will admit the idea of having and being responsible for kids does terrify me a little.  In David Finch’s story, when he stepped up to try and be a more hands-on father, he sounded completely overwhelmed and out of his depth at first.  He candidly recounts, too, his wife’s pervasive post-partum depression, which his own Aspergian nature must have exacerbated.  He (like many men, I suppose) subconsciously expected his new wife to fill the exact same domestic roles that his dutiful mother had filled when he was growing up, and had to wrestle with his own frustrated expectations when this turned out not to be the case.  A large section of the book deals with David and his wife explicitly re-negotiating the terms and conditions of their marriage.  I also appreciate that David’s wife also took time to learn more about Asperger’s syndrome and find acceptance of her husband’s differing neurology.  It helped her become more objective and less judgmental and see her husband in a more humane & forgiving way.  This is a couple that definitely put equal work into their marriage on both sides and I do wish them continued happiness for the rest of their remaining years.

Even if you haven’t had a serious girlfriend or boyfriend yet, this book has serious insight that will help you sustain even a non-marital intimate relationship once you’re in one.  As with employment, getting the girl, like getting the job, is the easy part.  It’s the keeping it going part that’s the real challenge.