Bright lights, big City

I think this is an Aspie thing, based on conversations with other Aspies, but I’m not overly fond of really bright lighting inside rooms.  I don’t “freak out” at humming neon gas lights the way some Aspies do, thank goodness.  But all things being equal, I find I’ve always preferred “subdued” lighting.  In my dorm at college I would illuminate my room by a solitary desk lamp and nothing else.  I’ve always been a fan of low-key “track lights” (but don’t see myself ever being wealthy enough to install track lighting in any of my actual living spaces).  Inevitably, it seemed, NTs would invade this quiet, contemplative, subdued space and say “it’s too dark in here”, and flip on obnoxiously bright lighting and temporarily blind me like a vampire being exposed to harsh daylight.

It was probably not good for my eyes, but for a stretch of time when I was giving teaching a try, I would read a specific kind of graphic novel format nonfiction series by candle light on Friday nights, with ethereal mood music on softly in the background, and often with an incense stick burning away with a thin column of smoke rising in the candle-lit air.  It was relaxing and peaceful, especially after a hard week of trying to educate stuck up, obnoxious suburban High School kids.  My night vision is uncannily good, so I’m much less averse to low-light environments than other people.  I’ve always thought “dimmer” switches were cool and I would always lower the setting on a “dimmer” switch to a more subdued level, almost by instinct.  We’ve never had a “dimmer” switch in the house or in any apartment that I’ve ever rented, but I’ve always liked them.

I don’t do the candle & incense thing anymore because my mom doesn’t like the ash & wax mess it creates, and I can’t say I blame her…it is kind of a pain to clean up and keep tidy, etc.  But for a very specific stretch of months in my life it was very relaxing and contemplative, and I sought (usually in vain) to re-create those experiences later in life.  I eventually just gave up.  I might return to the practice in later life, but right now it’s not compatible with my lifestyle.

That said, when I do read at night before bed, I actually prefer stronger lighting now so there’s less strain on my eyes when reading.  But even still, when it’s just me futzing around on my computer, like now, if it happens to be at night in my bedroom I will only turn on my desk lamp so I can see the keyboard if I need to.  The rest of the room is dark.  Funnily enough, if I am restless and my mind is racing and won’t let me sleep and I need to write, I do have a pair of cheap sunglasses on my computer desk to shield my eyes from the sudden flash of light from my screen when the computer leaves “sleep” mode, and also to help ease the adjustment of my eyes when I flip on the desk lamp I do dislike typing in the dark, lit only by the computer monitor for some reason.  It makes no sense, I’m a perfectly competent typist, but I just feel more at ease when I can see the keyboard if I need to.  It’s more of a mental security thing than an actual visual need, I think.

At work, in situations where I get to control my light levels, I tend to prefer them subdued as well.  My cubicle has lighting, but I rarely feel the need to use it during the day, and I’m not there at night (we work 8 to 5, like a normal office).  The only time it comes in handy is when the main power gets knocked out and the cubicle lighting goes to auxiliary power.

One of my favorite watering holes in College Station, Texas, called Duddley’s Draw, used to be a very low-lit place with a rustic, wooden interior, which gave it an old-timey charm.  Nowadays, in more “family friendly” College Station, it’s super brightly lit, like “last call” brightly lit and I can’t stand it.  It throws a harsh, unflattering light on everything and robs it of that rustic charm completely.

I remember once at Rice University, we were down in Valhalla (Grad Student & Alumni Pub) and the power went off on campus.  The bartenders improvised and put out little candles all around the bar and lit them.  They kept selling beer, recording transactions on paper, and another bartender produced a battery-driven boom box and played mood music.  It was a surreal experience and very very nice.  I commented we should do it this way more often, but people thought that was a weird thing to say.  Valhalla is a very cavernous space (under the front steps of the old Chemistry building) and seeing it lit only by candlelight made it feel like we were magically transported several centuries into the past.

Another time I was in Antigua, Guatemala and the locals recommended to us Norteamericanos that we buy at least one candle for our rooms.  I soon found out why.  Electrical service in Guatemala can be a spotty thing.  “La luz, se fue” is a phrase you hear often (“the lights are out”).  It helps to have a spare candle to read/study by, if you have an unexpected power-outage in the evening, which happens often enough to justify having a spare candle or two.  I once did my Spanish language homework by candlelight one evening.  It similarly produced a feeling of having become unstuck in time and getting transported back to an earlier age.  I had also done my Spanish homework working for AIG in Houston in the late 90s by candle light in my apartment, with a copa or two of cheap Sangria at hand, and instrumental nuevo flamenco music going on my sound system.  Good times indeed.

The music in question was sometimes on CD, but back in those days I was a fan and frequent listener to programs like “Hearts of Space”, which was carried by NPR, and played all kinds of interesting instrumental electronica and “mood” music.  I also listened to “Musical Star Streams” on KNTU 88.1 FM The One in North Texas, which carried a similar vibe on Saturday mornings, and rebroadcast late on Sunday nights, if I recall correctly.  Nowadays it’s all internet radio and streaming that’s all the rage, of course.

I also have a Lava lamp, which also produces a low-light kind of subdued glow that’s very pleasing to me.  Yeah, it’s retro, and my mom makes fun of me for having it, but I don’t care.

Anyway, light sensitivity can be an issue for a lot of Aspies, and I just wanted to share a few experiences with our readership.


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