A blog advocating autism through my own personal experiences and insights.

Archive for September, 2011

Life Courses

I initially thought that I’d do my next post on my first week at the University of Waterloo where I’m doing a masters in pure math and my experience of it thus far, but I thought of something else instead, which is an extension of my philosophy posts. Besides, given that classes haven’t started yet, it would probably better to wait a few days before I report how I like Waterloo (I am managing fine if you are curious). Also, given that school is starting up again, I may not be able to post as often as I did during the summer. I will, however, try to get in a post every two weeks if not every week (depending on how inspired I feel and if I have a lot to report, particularly on my Waterloo experience).

The perspective that I want to share today extends off of my idea of the importance of personal self-satisfaction in one’s life. I’ve already said in my previous posts of how much I’m solely relying on personal self-satisfaction to the things I do in my life and how “external” rewards (praise or rewards from other people) for a job well done are not nearly as important to me. This attitude
has brought on a whole new outlook to my life.

One way is that the various dramas that have played out in my life that have taught me many things I view as my Life Courses. I call them ‘Courses’ because I believe that the knowledge and experience gained through such dramas aren’t really inferior to the knowledge and experience I’ve gained through ‘official courses’ i.e. University courses or more generally school courses. Even though my transcripts and resumes show that I have a solid undergraduate background in mathematics and philosophy, as well as a few other courses in physics, English, and computer science, I have also taken various other courses during the time I took these ‘official’ courses. I took courses in (and am still taking courses in) Loneliness Management and How to Make Friends, Perfectionism Management, and Coping with Changes in Passions. And the list doesn’t stop here either. I’ve also taken How to Date, How to Manage Fear and Anxiety, as well as everyone’s favourite How to Not Procrastinate. I’ve also taken a lot of ‘courses’ in the writing of fiction!

You might think I’m being cute in looking at my experiences this way. Certainly if I’m going to look at my life this way, these Life Courses aren’t exactly the same as ‘official’ school courses. For one thing we have little choice in a lot of these courses. A lot of them just come into our lives. Besides, we don’t even know all the courses we are taking at any one time. I’m probably taking a lot of ‘courses’ right now that I don’t even know I’m in. I had very little idea that I was in a course on Perfectionism Management until I entered university. The other thing that separates these Life Courses from ‘official’ courses is that they come with no grades. Unless you’re stubborn enough not to do so, you will learn something out of each Life Course. But if you don’t from a particular ‘course’, than that ‘course’ will force itself upon you again much like how you have to retake a school course again if you fail at it the first time. Other than this, however, you can’t really give a grade to a Life Course.

But here’s why I call such experiences ‘courses’. I call them ‘courses’ because I feel like I’m not doing justice to them in simply calling them ‘life experiences’. Let me explain. We have words like ‘normal’, ‘abnormal’, ‘official’, ‘unofficial’, ‘job’, ‘hobby’, ‘course’, and ‘life experience’ for denoting how important something is in our lives and whether it’s appropriate to denote an activity with a certain measure of importance. After being associated with the English language for over two decades, I’ve felt the implication behind using certain words. When I say, write, or think of the word ‘hobby’, I can’t help thinking that it represents something inferior to something that represents the word ‘job’. Now we all know that having a job is much more important for survival purposes than merely having a hobby, but I’ve gotten so used to using both words for their respective definitions, that I would be uncomfortable if they swapped definitions (would you?).

This is why I often don’t like the word ‘hobby’ to be applied to my fiction writing passion. Since I ‘feel’ the inferiority of using the word ‘hobby’ to describe this huge passion of mine, I feel like I’m not doing complete justice to it by calling it so. How successful I am with it is irrelevant since personal self-satisfaction is good enough for me. Besides if I continuously thought of my fiction writing passion as simply a hobby anyway, the majority of the time I’d spend writing would simply be cut out because I feel less drive to work hard at something I feel is ‘inferior’ to a job.

Ditto for my life experiences in general. They’re my Life Courses. Calling them such is my method for accepting them as they come into my life even if how I learn them isn’t all that pretty. Calling them ‘Courses’ reminds me how important they are.

You may disagree on my word choice ‘Course’ for life experience because I do realise that not everyone likes school as much as I do. You might feel that ‘Course’ makes it too official sounding or reminds you of a lot of bad experiences you may have had at school. That’s fine. You can still apply this technique by thinking of a different word or phrase to describe it just as long as that word or phrase has a feel of importance about it at least for you.

But if we can ignore semantics for a moment what Life Courses have you taken?

Figurative Interpretation

My parents were driving me up to grad school to the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario a few days ago. Besides being excited at being a graduate student in mathematics at one of the best (if not the best) university for math in Canada, I would like mention an incident that happened on our way up. It was a long drive (I’m from Nova Scotia) and we stopped at two places on the way up. On our second day, we were stuck in the car for twelve hours going from Fredericton, New Brunswick all the way to Brockville, Ontario! Anyway, we were on the highway and at some point we got behind a big line up of vehicles that were going slower than they should’ve been, and Dad made the comment that there was probably some clown at the very front of the parade of vehicles that had decided to go slow and was holding up the traffic.

At this point, I just felt like laughing out, but did my best to keep it under control. I do realise that traffic situations like these can have bad consequences (someone could do something silly) and aren’t exactly laughing matters. Nevertheless, I found Dad’s comment hilarious because of how I interpreted his comment. While I realise that the person in front of the huge lineup probably wasn’t literally a clown, the way I interpret figurative language first involves picturing the literal meaning of the statement in question and then applying it to the situation. So here, for example, when Dad said ‘some clown’ was holding up the traffic, I first pictured a clown at the front of the line who had decided to go slow. I pictured the clown as being dressed in colourful clothing and having the white makeup over his face as well as coloured make up around his mouth. I pictured him without a care in the world (certainly not caring about holding up traffic) and it was this picture that mainly gave me the desire to laugh.

When someone uses figurative language like this (even if I know what they’re saying isn’t to be taken literally), I do picture it in my mind when comparing it to the situation at hand. In the above example with the clown, once I have the literal image of a clown, it is easy to make the comparison between it and a person who makes a senseless decision.

Another example I’ll use is the old expression, “It’s raining cats and dogs.” First I picture cats and dogs falling out of the sky. And then a split-second later, I picture the combined mass of all those cats and dogs being converted into rain drops and I can tell that the rain is extremely heavy! When I was very young (less than five years old), I remember thinking that the statement meant it was raining on cats and dogs. I think this was because since my mind has a tendency to take things literally, the only realistic scenario involving both animals and rain was that it was raining on the animals. Later on I found out this wasn’t the case though.

The same goes with other common expressions such as “barked up the wrong tree” and “take a hike”. Sometimes I even forget what the figurative context means (why I just looked up both of these expressions on the internet just now to remind myself!). I have a precise and logical mind, which is why it’s easier to picture the literal meaning first and then compare it to the figurative meaning second (even if these steps happen each in only a split second).

Just like how I analyze the social conventions of the society that I happen to live in with rigor (which I’ve done many times in this blog), it’s how my brain works.