On the spectrum

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Act I:

I recently hosted a social event at my house. I noticed, with some dread, a familiar name on the attendee list. It was a person I’d met at a prior workshop. They repeatedly inserted themselves into the class, each time raising the same only-marginally related topic, to the disinterest of the rest of the class and the annoyance of the facilitators. Unconsciously, I had filed them away under the label “jerk with an agenda”. And here they were, signed up for my social. Sigh. Oh well.

People arrived, including the attendee in question, some period of chit chat happened, and the event began in earnest. This time, the person’s introduction included the self-identification of “autistic”. As the event continued, I found I had a completely different perception of the person. This was no longer a “jerk with an agenda”; this was someone with a special interest that they found fascinating (so of course, everyone else found it fascinating too, right?!) and who was blind to some of the social cues that convey, “This is the wrong time; you’ve lost your audience.” In other words, “Oh. This is a complex, flawed human being, trying their best and not always succeeding.” Just like the rest of us.

That simple label changed my impression of the person. It made them real and multi-dimensional in my eyes. I felt like I had much more empathy for where they were coming from. If I’m honest, it was also a little annoying. It was so easy to dismiss the other person as a “jerk with an agenda”. It was neat and tidy and it meant I didn’t have to spare any more thought or effort towards that person. Now I was aware how deeply dismissive and simplistic of a label it was. 

Act II:

I noticed that Olivia’s calendar had an invite for a class on Kink and Consent, taught specifically for a neurodivergent audience. I expressed an interest in attending as well, though I confessed to feeling a little awkward about it. When Olivia asked why I felt that way, I responded that attending felt a little disingenuous for me, as a neurotypical person.

Olivia cocked her eyebrow the tiniest bit and said with a neutral voice, “Oh? Do you self-identify as neurotypical?”

That reply brought me to a full stop. Sensing that there was something large here, I said, “Do you have something you would like to share?”

Olivia came back with a line that was so smoothly polished, I imagined she had been practicing it for some time. “It is my observation that you sometimes exhibit behavior that is consistent with the behavior of people who have been diagnosed on the Asperger spectrum.”

“Oh”, I believe was my eloquent reply. I didn’t know much about Asperger’s Syndrome, but I don’t think it had occurred to me that I was anything other than boringly neurotypical. By most any objective standard, I was successful in my personal life and had been very successful in my professional career. I frequently joked that I was “playing life on easy mode”. Geek that I am, I started doing some internet searches on Asperger’s. Olivia helpfully suggested an online test that was reasonably well regarded, and I plunged into it. Sure enough, I scored well into the “red” of Asperger’s.

The more I read, the more I felt puzzle pieces click into place. Aspects of my personality that I had always considered small quirks were being described with a disturbing clarity. Yes, I’m pretty introverted. I struggle with small talk in social circumstances. I do much better in social settings if I have a role to play or a task to perform. I am very uncomfortable with strong negative emotional displays. I distrust my own emotional reactions, and sometimes have to wait for my inner emotional storms to pass before I can decide how I want to proceed. Processing large emotions takes me longer than it seems to take other people. I have trouble making new friends. I have profound difficulty reading non-verbal cues. I am capable of focusing deeply on a topic, in a way that can shut out the rest of the world around me. I am detail oriented and very attached to finding algorithms or rubrics for handling problems or situations. I greatly prefer factual information over abstract or emotional data. (I could go on and on.)

I soon found Olivia had been strongly considering the possibility that I was on the autism spectrum for several months, and she and Melody had been actively talking about it for the week prior, as I was struggling with some recent emotional upheaval. Both of them had some apprehension about how I would react to finding out I was on the spectrum.

Thankfully, I didn’t have a negative reaction to it. If anything, I found it a bit of a relief, and more than a little illuminating. Suddenly, I had access to a wealth of information about people with ‘quirks’ like mine, and a variety of tools for dealing with them. Seemingly random and unrelated odd aspects of my beliefs and behaviors could now be viewed as symptoms of a common theme.

I did briefly wonder why I didn’t stumble onto a label like this earlier. Oh, right. Practically my entire adult life was spent in the software industry, and then later chasing a math degree. By the standards of those groups, I hardly stood out as unusual at all. No wonder I had thought of myself as boringly “normal”. I also developed an appreciation for the many positives I had experienced from various of my Asperger traits. Arguably, a great deal of my professional and academic success was related to my ability to focus obsessively, block out distractions from the rest of the world, organize all the factual data into a structured and consistent format. I am very comfortable that if there were a ‘cure’ for Asperger’s, I wouldn’t take it. In many respects, the diagnosis has felt like it reveals as many positives as negatives; there are superpowers in it, as well as some specific and challenging vulnerabilities. I have no interest in a ‘cure’; I’m content to have tools and insights to help smooth off some of the rougher edges in my experience.

I continue to read more about it, finding some materials I loathe and some I really appreciate. I skim a reddit community on Asperger’s, and find much there that I recognize, and also a fair bit that doesn’t seem to apply to me at all. It’s a very broad umbrella, and not all of it applies to all people on the spectrum.

Like the story at the start of this essay, I’m finding that simply having the label is significant and empowering in some deep ways. I have a better framing for some of the struggles in my life. I’m finding more patience and more tolerance of myself when I’m in situations I find challenging. 

Act III:

With this new label, I am discovering awareness of things that I thought were universal human experiences, that are in fact not at all universal, but are pretty specific to Asperger’s. For instance…

I did attend the “Kink and Consent for Neurodivergent People” class that initiated this discovery. As you might imagine, the class had attendees that were all over the spectrum, and there were several people whose challenges appeared to be much greater than my own. After the event, Melody made a comment that as we were going around the room doing introductions, mine seemed so comfortable and fluid compared to a majority of the attendees. I said, “Well sure, I practiced.” She was confused by that response, so I explained. Whenever I am in a situation where introductions will be called for, the second I realize it, I start mentally rehearsing what I’m going to say. How I’ll introduce myself, what key information to include, in what order, even what words to use. “No, don’t say that; that will sound stupid. Oh, include that! Not that order, say it in the other order. Leave that out. No, that would be weird. Say this, not that!” That runs through my head over and over again until it’s my turn and I can recite my carefully chosen and mentally rehearsed introduction. And then I can exhale and relax and pay attention to everyone else again. No wonder I am so bad at remembering names and faces at these events! I’m so focused on my own experience, I can barely pause to think about anyone else in the room. Melody, by contrast said, “I don’t think I know what I’m going to say until I open my mouth. It just comes spilling out.”

Now that I know my experience is not at all universal, I know to spell it out for my people. This gives them more insight into my experience, and a better appreciation for why some things are easier for me and some things are harder. It feels like a real learning experience for all of us.

Snark, self deprecation, and self esteem

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I’ve reached a place where I’ve started calling out my friends and loved ones when I hear them use self-deprecating humor. When someone goes for the easy laugh with some obviously false line about how they are stupid, or incompetent, or unloveable, I’m not buying the narrative, and I tell them so. I’m increasingly convinced this is a big deal, and it took me a long time to get here.

Stage 1:

I grew up in a family that deeply valued biting humor. I am the youngest of three boys, and each night at the dinner table was a raucous rugby scrum of conversation, with everyone trying to get heard, vying for the spotlight. The easiest way to get everyone’s attention and praise was with a funny line, and nothing was funnier than a savage put down. A cynical, sarcastic gibe was the coup de grace that ended one topic and cleared space for the next one to begin. As the youngest, I was often the target of these barbs. As I grew, I learned to give as good as I got.

The lessons learned in youth tend to stick around, and I clung to that form of humor as I became an adult. I had a deep love for cynical one-liners. I thrived on the razor-edged humor of Dorothy Parker and the cynical snark of David Letterman. I struggled to make friends, but those I found used humor in a similar fashion, and they rewarded me for my efforts. Even in the midst of a mean-spirited bon mot, I still loved my friends. I told myself, “They know I’m kidding. They know I don’t mean it. They know how I really feel about them.”

Stage 2:

In my later 30s, my mother died. She died quite unexpectedly, from a massive heart attack, at the terribly young age of 57. In the year prior, my cousins had lost their father (my uncle). In the aftermath of those deaths, a curious thing happened. Conversations and phone calls with my cousins changed. The cutting one-upmanship fell away. There was no discussion about it, we didn’t make any resolutions about it. It just happened. Instead of trying to verbally undercut each other, we leaned into sincerity and affection. On some level, I think we were all thinking about how short life can be, and how each conversation you have with a person might be the last conversation with that person. Suddenly, every phone call with my cousins ended with a simple, heart-felt, “I love you. Take care of yourself. Be good to yourself.” It was a dramatic, abrupt change. And it felt good.

Stage 3:

In my late 40s, I went through a particularly challenging break-up. As is often the case, this presented me with the opportunity for self-reflection. I spent time thinking about the things I had done wrong, the things I did right. I gave considerable thought to what I wanted my life to look like moving forward. I don’t recall a specific seminal moment that started me meditating on this topic, but I started thinking deeply about my love for the witty one-liner, the biting line that could lay waste to my target. I found myself wondering, “Do I really believe that when I say such things, that none of it ‘sticks’ with the recipient?” Is it really possible that 100% of the time, with 100% of the recipients, they knew I was kidding and the witty, cutting, barbed one-liner just rolled off their back? I thought about my own experiences being on the receiving end of such ‘wit’. I can still remember being the target at the dinner table when I was about 6 years old. Over 40 years later, I still remembered. So yeah, some portion of those remarks stick. Let’s be incredibly generous and say that only 0.001% of such comments stick. How many times did I fire off a smart-ass line at someone else’s expense? Even a very low percentage accumulates over time. Like a slow build-up of dental plaque, like barnacles on the hull of a boat, it grows without notice. It builds until the recipient starts believing it. It builds until those cutting comments start being a significant contributor to a person’s self-image. It builds until it becomes a sizable portion of the story that person tells about themself.

So I resolved to change my ways. I made a decision that at the end of the day, at the end of my life, I would rather be known for being generous than being savagely witty. I would rather be remembered for my kindness than my put-downs. If I am contributing to the emotional plaque that accumulates on my friends, I would rather it be a veneer of love and affection, instead of doubt and insecurity.

It wasn’t an instantaneous change. Old habits linger, and I caught myself backsliding many, many times. When I noticed it in the moment, I would try to apologize and correct myself. When I noticed it hours or days later, I cringed and resolved to do better. When I started a relationship with a new partner, it was part of the explicit terms we discussed, of how we wanted to make that relationship work. We both agreed to help “call out” the other when we erred. It continues to be a work in progress, but it has gotten much, much better.

Stage 4:

Fast forward a couple of years, and I had gotten dramatically better at avoiding the snark. It still slipped in occasionally, but it was the exception, not the rule. One day I found myself saying something witty and cutting, and did a lightning fast mental check-in. “Crap, I’m not supposed to be doing that any more. Oh, wait. That wasn’t aimed at anyone else, that was aimed at me. That was self-deprecating humor. That’s okay. That’s still allowed, because I’m not hurting anyone else.” For whatever reason, this time the mental check-in went a little further. If the witty, cutting things I said about other people accumulated over time (even if at a mere 0.001%), do I think the witty cutting things I said about myself accumulate too? Fuck. Yes. If I’m honest about it, I suspect the mean things I say about myself ‘stick’ even more than the mean things other people might say about me. Fuck.

I’ve resolved to try to be kind and loving and generous in how I speak to total strangers. Shouldn’t I treat myself at least as kindly as I want to treat total strangers? Sigh. Yes. Just like that, I knew I had to give up on self-deprecating humor too. As with eliminating snark towards others, changing how I talk about myself didn’t happen over night. I still slip up on occasion, and when I do I try to ‘own it’, correct myself, and move on. It’s a work in progress. Further, it means I have to resist deflecting attention when someone else says something complimentary or flattering to me. Just last night, my partner was openly talking about how pretty my legs are, admiring the muscle tone and definition. It was awkward as all fuck to hear, and I had to struggle against denying it, deflecting it, or distracting with an abrupt change of topic. Somehow I managed to accept it with a simple “Thank you”. Which feels, to me, like considerable progress.

Stage 5:

Being mindful of my own use of self-deprecation, I’ve started noticing its use in my circle of close friends. And I’m starting to call it out when I see it. If I was in a gathering of folks where someone started running down an absent friend, I wouldn’t sit silent. I would speak up and let people know how I felt about my friend. I would talk about the ways in which I find them awesome and why I am enthusiastic about spending time with them. Why shouldn’t I do the same when the person running down my friend is my friend? When a friend uses self-deprecating humor, I’m not laughing along. I’m pointing out that ‘my mileage varies’, and actually, I think they are amazing.

Such honest affection is often met with deflection. I get it. It’s easy to believe that you’re hiding the worst parts of yourself deep inside, and if only someone knew what a hot mess you are, they would run away screaming. I can identify. We all have a streak of ‘imposter syndrome’. “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”, said Bukowski. Have your doubts; I don’t think I would trust a person who didn’t have some self-doubt. I only ask that my friends be open to hearing that an external observer, someone they know and trust, thinks they are wonderful. Maybe the inner critic is so enormous because it is mounded with the accumulated plaque and barnacles from years of snark and self-deprecation. It’s possible to turn that around. Take that first step.

Growing gills

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If you grew up with a passion for comic books and dreams of flying…

If you were a science fiction kid with fantasies of alien planets and otherworldly landscapes…

If you imagined being an astronaut and turning somersaults in zero gravity…

… then I cannot encourage you strongly enough to check out scuba diving! Hovering at a depth of 60 feet in front of a massive reef wall, watching fish of every color, eels sinuously writhing in and out of the landscape, crabs, lobster, sea turtles, feather dusters, orange barrel sponges big enough to swim into, vase coral with brittle stars hiding inside it, rainbow parrotfish in shimmering pastel colors. I’ve done seven dives in four days, and already have two more dives scheduled for today.

My only regret is that I don’t have a camera that is up to the task. I borrowed a friend’s disposable underwater camera that is rated for 60 feet, but I might have pushed that rating a little, as the case had traces of water in it when I surfaced. We’ll see if any of the pictures came out. When I get home, it will be time to start shopping for a camera solution.


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This morning, Melody and I did the first half of our official “open water dives” as part of getting our scuba certification. As we drove to the dive shop, I said, “We still don’t know how our ears will handle the pressure as we descend in the water. I gotta say, I’m feeling anxious about that.”

Melody responded, “I’m choosing to interpret that feeling as excitement.”

Which was such a brilliant reply, I wanna take some time to talk about it.

Within the last couple of months, Melody and I have listened to a long podcast on emotions and how they operate, and then went to a #ScienceOnTap lecture on emotions (different professor, unrelated to the podcast).

Both sources raised a really good point that I hadn’t previously encountered. I will attempt to convey it in my own clumsy words, with zero citations. Caveat Reador.

Emotions are often a person’s attempt to put a label on a set of bodily sensors that are firing at that moment. I’m going to meet a friend, my heart is racing, my breathing is fast, I’m moving with speed and a light step; I must be crushed out on them. I’m waiting for a phone interview, my hands are sweaty, I’m fidgety, my muscles are tense and trembly; I must be anxious.

The thing is, a number of emotions can be associated with a specific collection of bodily sensations. Which emotion you choose to glom onto in a given situation can be influenced by your culture, your past experiences, your current frame of mind, all kinds of things. But if you really pay attention to the bodily sensations, sometimes you can manage the trick of reinterpreting the signals your body is giving you into a more productive label. As in my case this morning, Melody pointed out that I had decided to label my somatosensory feedback (fancy phrase, eh?) as anxiety, but I could just as easily view it as excitement. Fair enough. The worst possible outcome (shark attacks notwithstanding) was that I would find out scuba wasn’t for me. Bummer, but hardly a huge deal. I could reframe the feeling as excitement, use that as a way to get pleasantly amped up for the experience, and leave the fear/dread/anxiety behind me.

That was a really powerful observation (thank you, Melody) and one I expect to utilize more in the future.

PS: Oh, I suppose I could share the outcome, huh? We survived the experience! My ears were challenging enough that I had to descend exceedingly slowly, equalizing my ears often and in a variety of ways, but I finally got down to 40 feet. The second dive was roughly the same depth and I got down there a bit faster, without quite so much work. I’m am choosing to believe this is the sort of thing that will get gradually better as I do it more.


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This past Summer, a carnival rolled through Portland’s waterfront and Melody & I decided to bike over and check it out. We wandered the fairgrounds from end to end, and eventually decided to ride just one ride, then head home. The ride was a favorite of mine, one I’ve ridden a dozen or more times. You enter into a circular room (often shaped like a UFO), lean back on sloped ramps along the wall, and when the room starts rotating, centripetal force sends the ramp (and your body) sliding on rails towards the ceiling. It’s a very simple ride, but quite playful, and I used my time lifting my head against the g-force of the ride to get double extra dizzy. Fun!

As we were leaving the ride, I was a little unsteady on my feet and laid a hand on Melody’s shoulder to steady myself as we walked. A little dizzy, but hey, that’s what you ride carnival rides for, right? That’s the whole point. My head soon righted itself, we got back on bikes and pedaled home. We stayed in that evening, a mellow relaxing night. At the end of the evening, as I slid into bed, I had a wave of vertigo as I went from standing to sitting on the bed. I gave it little thought, laid down flat, and fell fast asleep.

The next morning, I awoke with a full bladder and headed to the bathroom. I was so dizzy and unsteady on my feet I had to trail a hand along the wall to stay upright. Making my way back to the bedroom, I made myself so dizzy that I fell back into bed and promptly threw up from nausea. Melody sprang into nursemaid mode, I slept a lot more, and had a very undemanding day reading in bed. At this point, I still wondered if I had caught a flu and that was making me light headed.

The next day I was vastly improved, doing chores about the house and yard, feeling energetic and (mostly) steady on my feet.

The following day I was dizzier than ever. Just standing still in an upright position was enough to make the world tilt sideways. At this point, I was beginning to freak out a little; this wasn’t a flu! I had an appointment downtown to get a suit fitted. Melody had to drive us downtown; there was no question about me doing it. As we walked from the car to the store, I kept a hand on Melody’s shoulder to help guide me. That was the intention, at least. Instead, I leaned into her through my arm hard enough to nearly guide her path right into the street. Repeatedly. With equal measures of worry and amusement, we somehow got through the suit fitting and returned home. As I relaxed in a horizontal position in a darkened room, Melody got to work Googling my malady. Like you do in this DIY-healthcare world we find ourselves in. She found “benign paroxysmal positional vertigo” (BPPV). In very crude terms, the semi-circular canals in your ear have these structures called “otolith organs”, and those contain these little crystals. For any number of possible reasons, these crystals can get dislodged and float about the semi-circular canal. In my case, the carnival ride probably helped jar the crystal(s) loose, and that rattling about in my inner ear was causing the vertigo.

Further research led to a potential fix for BPPV that you can do in your very own home! It’s almost like science, except with none of the safeguards. There is a sequence of head movements the patient follows. “Turn to the right 60° and then wait 60 seconds. Then tilt your head back and wait 30 seconds.”, that sort of thing. The guidelines we settled on suggested the movements could be done on a bed or exam table. “Hey, I’ve got a massage table upstairs! It’ll be perfect! Let’s use that!” So we walk and unsteadily totter upstairs, I lie flat on the massage table, and Melody holds her laptop balanced in one hand while she narrates the steps for me to emulate. The movement pattern is uni-lateral; you do it one way for the right side, then the mirror-image movements for the left side. Since it’s not clear which ear has dislodged crystal(s), you arbitrarily decided what side to start with. I started with the right.

Melody narrated each step. Turn this way, wait 60 seconds. Turn that way, wait 60 seconds, several stages. It culminated with “… then roll onto your left side. Wait 60 seconds. Now slowly, gently push yourself upright to a sitting position.” I sat upright with poise and confidence… and immediately pitched over backwards nearly failing off the side of the massage table, and Melody juggled the laptop while trying to restrain me. Okay, so apparently my problem wasn’t in the right ear! With much hilarity and leaning, I finally got laid back on the table and Melody kept a hand on me this time as I went through the mirrored movements for my left ear. “… then roll onto your right side. Wait 60 seconds. Now slowly, gently push yourself upright to a sitting position.” This time I sat up and held reasonably steady! It was a very clear, significant improvement, probably 60% of the vertigo vanished. With some excitement, I laid down and we repeated that set of motions for the left ear again. Further improvement, and we decided to leave well enough alone for the remainder of the day. The next day I felt markedly better and started moving about tentatively. The following day I was at full speed and the vertigo hasn’t been an issue since.

BPPV. Crystals in your ears. The more I learn about how our bodies work, the more amazed I am that they work at all.

Assuming Responsibility

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On the first day of the Canadian Roadtrip Part Une this year, Melody looked over at me with a big grin and said, “We’re going on an Adventure! Are you excited?!”

I took a moment and gave the question serious consideration. I was excited about the trip, but… it was a cautious, tempered excitement. When I plan a trip like this, there’s a certain amount of anxious nervousness that goes along with the planning. Did I pick good campgrounds? Will we enjoy the planned activities? Are my directions going to be adequate? Is the RV in good shape for the trip? Did I allot enough time (or too much) for driving? Will customs be a hassle? How is the cat going to cope with the RV? (I could go on and on and on.) The questions and uncertainties around a trip I’ve never done before leaves me with a low-lying level of fretting that gets in the way of me being fully relaxed and excited about what lies ahead.

By contrast, the Canadian Roadtrip Part Deux will revisit some places I saw and loved on a trip in 2004. For this adventure, I am genuinely excited and much less fretful, in no small part because I have a much better idea what to expect, what lies ahead. I know the landscape is stunning, the activities will be a joy, and I have far fewer questions occupying the hamster wheel in my brain.

I’ve longer been aware of that vacation conundrum: what’s better, repeating a previous vacation that you’ve loved, or striking off for new experiences and fresh adventure? I absolutely do not want to be one of those stodgy people who follow the same rutted routine year after year, but it’s fruitless to deny that I like an occasional taste of the tested and familiar. Keeping those two choices in balance will take some mindfulness.


Sitting and meditating with these thoughts over a few days, combined with some other discussions I’ve had lately has tied this to another issue. I have a tendency to feel responsible for things that I shouldn’t, to an extent that I shouldn’t. If I suggest a new restaurant and it turns out to be mediocre, that’s my fault. If the campground I picked has no privacy and nothing to see or do, I’m to blame. If the route I picked has horrible traffic and lots of delays, I should have anticipated that and picked another route. If I try out a new recipe and it’s lousy, I should have made something else. (Again, I could go on and on and on.)

I don’t have a clear answer for where that impulse comes from. There’s cheesy pop psychology around being the youngest child, and how those people tend to be the people pleasers, the ones who look for the compromises and solutions that will make everybody happy and maintain the peace. As much as I want to dismiss that as unsubstantiated bullshit beneath even undergrad psychology, it certainly resonates with my personality and the role I fell into in my family of origin. I have also been the fulcrum in three polyamorous V relationships, dating back to my high school years, and I think that has been a significant contributing factor. Trying to keep one girlfriend happy can be enough of a challenge; trying to keep two girls happy simultaneously can be an exhausting effort, weighing each of their (very) individual likes and dislikes, preferences and needs, weighing all of that and looking for the solutions that will satisfy each and keep the peace. And then if you have a relationship that is some degree of codependent, that might result in trying to take on too much ownership of meeting your partners’ needs *cough* whims. If you have a partner who isn’t very capable about taking responsibility for her own emotions, perhaps with a dose of narcissistic personality disorder, you might find yourself getting a substantial amount of external feedback that blames you for how she feels and encourages you to take responsibility for the things that upset her. You know, hypothetically speaking.

Okay, so there might be some reasons I got to where I am today. That doesn’t mean it’s a reasonable or healthy place to be. It’s something I want to be more aware of and look for opportunities to grow out of it. Thankfully, I am in a relationship presently with an amazing person, someone who is very good about owning her own emotional issues and very thoughtful about not pushing those off onto other people. She is also deeply perceptive and terribly kind and gentle about noticing my own foibles and giving me the opportunity to move past them. She has boundless patience for talking through such habits and is extraordinary about giving me reflection and feedback as I look at the habit from multiple vantage points. As is true with some many issues, simply developing an awareness of the issue and attempting to be mindful about it in the moment is the majority of the battle. It becomes something we can note in passing, “Look at you, trying to take ownership of something entirely out of your control”, and the more I can see it, the less hold it has on me and the more I can start leaving those habits behind me.

Memphis, day 5

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We woke up a little earlier than would have been ideal, still slightly hung over from the wedding reception the night before. With a brief shower to restore us, we ventured out for a day with my Dad and his partner. We started with breakfast at  place on Mud Island. Yes, Memphis has a site on the banks of the Mississippi River named “Mud Island”. SMH. In a stroke of luck, we caught my brother and sister in law before they left their downtown hotel room and they joined us for a leisurely breakfast. Everyone was delighted with how the wedding and reception had gone, and Melody and my sister in law commiserated over how sore their feet were from dancing. It turns out my niece and her mother had done a great deal of the work putting the wedding together, so there was also a certain amount of relief at simply having the event done at long last. 🙂

After breakfast, my brother and his wife departed and the rest of us headed down to the marina where Dad keeps his houseboat. We met a bunch of people in the tight-knit community of the marina, toured a bunch of house boats, and generally sat around and visited and swapped stories. We puttered about a bit in a guys’ deckboat (a boat descriptor I hadn’t heard before), and played with a recently acquired six-week-old puppy! The marina was having a meeting of their board, punctuated with an honest-to-goodness catfish fry. I don’t think I’ve been to a real fish fry since I was about seven years old, so this was an extraordinary treat for me, and I ate an immodest amount of catfish and hushpuppies. Ahh, Southern bliss! Aiieee, my waistline! Because of all the people and festivities, I didn’t quite get the extended deep-and-real talk with my dad that I might have liked, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

In an amazing stroke of fortune, my best friend from high school saw my recent posts about Memphis and it turned out he was also in town for the first time in about eight years, so we arranged to meet up for dinner. (My lord, all we have done on this trip is eat!) I met Lance and his eventual wife Lisa when we were all kids in junior high, and stayed fast friends through high school and at UT Knoxville. I hadn’t seen Lance in 29 (!!!) years, when he and his wife graduated college and departed for North Carolina. They are practically the only people I’ve stayed in touch with since high school, first through very occasional letters, then emails, and now from watching each others’ Facebook posts. We talked about where we all are in life today, I got the update on Lance’s three boys and Lance and Lisa’s career. It was fascinating to see small mannerisms that I so very clearly remembered from Lance as a teenager; the way he held his fingers to point at something at the menu, the tilt of his head as he listened closely. I also took a moment to say explicitly to Lance how much his and Lisa’s friendship meant to me in that time of my life, and how very much I needed and appreciated that. Now that I’m coming to terms with what can only be called my retirement, I’m embracing free time and travel in a big way and we will definitely be using that to visit Lance and Lisa in NC next year! We met and parted with enthusiastic and heartfelt hugs.

For the first time on this trip, we got back to the condo well before 11 o’clock and had a relaxing evening to unwind. Monday morning is also currently unscheduled, and then we head to the airport mid-day.

The last thing I will say before I close this little travelogue is how wonderful and amazing and delightful Melody has been. She has cheerfully been at my side every step of the way, meeting a barrage of total strangers, hearing endless stories of people she’s never met, fulfilling family obligations, taking photos, buoying me up, and looking effortlessly amazing while doing it. It is almost comical how many of my departing hugs with family members included being pulled extra close and told, “She is amazing!” or “This one is a keeper!” or “Don’t let her get away!”; I heard this from both of my brothers, my sister-in-law, my aunt, my dad’s partner, a cousin, the other cousin’s wife… Melody charms everyone she encounters. If I ever come back to town without her, I will not be nearly so warmly received. I am fortunate beyond measure to have her. She is my boon companion and my dearest love.

Memphis, day 4

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The wedding ceremony started in the early evening, so we had a day free for a change! Rather than load in more family time, Melody and I took a trip to the Metal Museum in Memphis. I didn’t even know this place existed, even though it opened while I still lived in town, back in 1979. It was unexpectedly delightful! There were lovely grounds and gardens with larger metal artwork, atop the bluff on the banks of the Mississippi River. The museum included a working foundry and blacksmith, and two historic buildings with a broad variety of smaller metal artwork.


We sheltered from the worst of the afternoon heat in the dark cool condo, and finally showered and suited up for the wedding. Living in the casual Pacific Northwest and being ungainfully unemployed for the past several years, the last suit I wore was for Mom’s funeral, 13 years and 50 pounds ago, which meant that suit was completely… unsuitable. For this occasion, it was decided that a new suit was called for. I went high end and got a very nice Italian suit, black, lightweight enough for Memphis in June. I’m not the best judge of these things, but Melody seemed to be entirely pleased with the result. Apparently, I clean up quite nice. And, it should go without saying, Melody herself looked staggeringly lovely with what seemed to be the most minimal of efforts.

The wedding was held in a trendy boutique hotel in downtown Memphis. The service itself was held in the hotel basement in a converted bank vault. From where I was seated, a number of the photos I could take were shot through the bars of the bank vault. I’m not saying that’s a metaphor for the institution of marriage, but…

The ceremony was very short, and soon thereafter everyone moved to the roof of the hotel for the reception. By the time we got up there, the weather had started to cool a bit, the sun retreated behind clouds, there was a soft breeze blowing off the Mississippi, and we were treated to a lovely sunset. My brother and niece did the traditional Father and Bride dance to Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”, which was the point at which I couldn’t resist tearing up (and neither could they). The groom and his mother danced to Guns and Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine”, which the crowd responded to very enthusiastically. I had only met the groom’s mom the night before and I instantly took a liking to her. After the dance I told her how much I loved the unconventional choice, and she told me the song was a hit when she was pregnant with her son, and she used to sing it to him as an infant. Whew, did that make me feel old!


The food was diverse and lovely, but of special note was one dish; sweet potato biscuits topped with a medallion of pork tenderloin, an overt homage to my mother’s cooking, since we all grew up eating her sweet potato biscuits with country ham. So there was yet another excuse to tear up joyfully.

The DJ mix was outstanding and playful, running from Kool and the Gang to the Jackson 5. Melody danced enthusiastically with more than a few people, including my sister-in-law and brother, and after more than a couple of glasses of wine, I danced several songs with her, in my own talentless but enthusiastic way. It didn’t take very long before the dance floor was crowded with people, including my cousins and their partners. We were silly and playful and it was terribly lovely. I can’t recall when I’ve had such a good time.

The only sad and hard part of the night was seeing my middle brother Allen at the wedding. Allen has a host of physical and emotional health issues, compounded with a history of substance abuse. He looked very rough, with a suit that didn’t fit, an unkept mane of hair, and a slurred mumbly voice from several missing teeth. After a lifetime of trying to help Allen, or trying to put him in a position where he could help himself, and countless burned bridges, the family seems tragically sad and resigned to the present state of affairs. It was more than a little heartbreaking.

We finally left the reception a little after 11, walked through downtown back to our condo, and fell into bed.

Memphis, day 3

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Last night was another late night, this morning was another slow, lazy morning. We emerged from the condo about 10:30 to head out into Millington (a city north of Memphis) to meet my aunt and two of my cousin’s kids for lunch. The conversation was easy flowing and light hearted. It was a relief to see my aunt was in pretty good shape and seemed to be in good spirits. We talked about trips we had all done recently, about one kid’s first year in college, and generally laughed and grinned and hugged. After Melody said how much she enjoyed seeing how much my family so evidently cares for me. I think that’s something I have a hard time seeing or recognizing in the moment, so it was really welcome to “see” that through a fresh pair of eyes.

The weather in Memphis is turning hotter for the remainder of the trip, breeching 90° F with unrelenting sun and an uncomfortable blanket of humidity. I know all too well that it’s not nearly as bad as it could be, but it’s still kind of intense after my years in Portland.

Early evening we went south of Memphis into the northern edge of Mississippi to the house of the parents of the groom for a rehearsal dinner. Well, not exactly a rehearsal dinner, given that we’re not members of the wedding party, but more of a mingling of the two families. I saw my niece (the bride), and offered my congratulations, and chatted a while my oldest brother Bill (father of the bride) and his wife. I even talked a bit with the groom, Travis, and compared notes on shaving one’s head (him) versus buzzing it very short with a beard trimmer (me). I can barely bring myself to shave my cheeks; I did for this trip, but the previous time was a 2009 trip to Hawaii so my beard and mustache would not interfere with a snorkeling mask.

I also got a few minutes to talk seriously with my cousin Tim about his health; I was terribly relieved to hear he is handling his MS extraordinarily well. The medication he is on is working very well, with little side effects. While he is still a big man, he is about 100 lbs below his maximum weight and being very thoughtful about his eating.

The gathering ended early and Melody and I returned to the condo, switched to more casual clothes, and walked down to Beale Street again. Despite it being Friday night, the crowd was considerably thinner than Wednesday, and we didn’t feel like hanging out in a terribly loud bar to listen to one of the bands playing, so we returned the condo and bed at a modest hour (for a change).

Memphis, day 2

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Memphis, day 2

The previous night, we didn’t get to sleep until after midnight, and so we enjoyed a leisurely morning and slept in. We finally emerged for lunch with my dad and his girlfriend Faye at a very nice place adjacent to a lake in the far eastern part of the city. We had a lovely time, and Dad and I filled two hours with catching up and swapping stories. Mentally, my dad seemed sharp as ever, but physically he is really showing his age in a way that I haven’t seen before. He’s about to turn 80, so I guess that’s to be expected, but it was still hard to see and contemplate how much (or rather how little) time he may have left. As we were driving back to the condo afterwards, I asked Melody for her impressions. The main thing she mentioned is Dad’s emotional reserve. We talked a bit about my dad’s childhood and upbringing, and the ways in which he isn’t particularly comfortable showing affection. It’s something I’ve seen my whole life and don’t think particularly think about, so it was interesting to examine that through fresh eyes.

We stopped at a market and bought a small pile of supplies for the grocery, mostly soda water and coffee. It seems as though every social gathering on this trip will be over meals, so neither of us are feeling much call for having food available at the condo.

On that note, we had dinner with my cousin Tim and his girlfriend Christy, and my cousin Mark and his wife Tammy. The original plan had been to eat barbecue in a Memphis suburb called Germantown, but the destination had about 30 people milling outside waiting for a table, so I opted for an old favorite place of mine with a really nice creole-influenced menu. My cousins are both Memphis firemen, good ole boys who love hunting and fishing, very conservative politically, religious without any interest in church. We have very little in common, and yet have such a close shared upbringing that I love them both deeply. We sat out on the patio of this restaurant and laughed and told stories and ate wonderful food. Melody got to hear me called “Bobby” and even “Little Bobby”, which tickled her greatly. I don’t know how aware my cousins were that we spent so much time talking about people who aren’t with us anymore; our grandparents, their father, my mother, etc. When we left, my belly was overfull and my heart was overflowing. I’m still hoping to get a little time with Tim later this trip to talk about some more serious issues. I’d like to know how his MS is progressing, and the relationship with his girlfriend seems very serious and there are hints towards marriage, and I’d like to hear where his head is on that.

Much of the day was spent driving through some better parts of the city, which was vaguely reassuring. It lightened my dire prognosis for the city slightly, and I could see how people might make a happy life here. The extraordinarily nice weather certainly helps in that regard, but the temperatures are about to jump ten degrees and I expect there is some sweltering in our future.