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

Posts tagged ‘Language interpretation’

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?

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A Question of Interpretation

A few nights ago after supper my parents and I hung around the T.V. not watching anything in particular. I asked to see if I could see the guide on the screen to see what was on and to pick something. Dad said no. I kept insisting for a few seconds and he kept on saying no. And then Mom said something like, “Oh come on, J.C., he’s only joking. Look, he’s holding it right out.” I looked at his hand and sure enough he was holding it somewhat out (although even if I saw that he was I don’t think I could’ve known he was joking).

This is just an example of a situation that comes up sometimes in my life. I can’t always tell just how seriously I should be taking people’s words. Often it’s a piece of cake because of the context, but there have been circumstances, like the one just described, where I sometimes get it wrong. It’s in these circumstances when it just isn’t clear, at least to me, from the context. In the example of the T.V., sometimes my parents are indeed trying to watch something and so I don’t get a say in who channel to watch. Another reason why I can’t sometimes tell is that there was no announcement that we were going to be joking around. It’s not as if we all decided to spend a certain amount of time not taking each other seriously. The incident with the T.V. wasn’t part of anything like that. It was isolated and had come out of left-field. And then there are the after-effects afterward, such as feeling foolish in not realising the other joking around.

And it’s not just incidents where I take people too seriously that my literal mind has a problem with. Whenever someone says something to me that isn’t to be taken in the full literal sense, there’s always the risk of misinterpretation. An instance of this is when there’s a hidden qualification. When someone says statement A, but it’s supposed to be interpreted as ‘A if B’ or ‘A as long as B’ where B is just some statement that the speaker takes for granted that applies to A in some manner.

Let me a share a couple of examples. On a bus ride up from home to university, I was at a bus terminal. I was about to get on the bus I was to take to university, when the driver asked where I was going. I answered that I was going to the town my university was in. He asked me again and I answered with the town again. He might have asked yet again, I’m not sure. Then he asked me if I was going to some specific place in the town that wasn’t the university and I answered that, no, it was the university I was going too. He seemed a bit annoyed that he had to go through all this trouble to get the answer he was looking for. He could’ve asked where it was I was going to in the town. Another example is when I was in my first year at university. In an English course that year, we had the option of doing a creative writing exercise from Stephen King’s On Writing. The exercise entailed an imagined scenario of a woman trying to hide from her ex-husband who’s escaped from jail to hunt her down. King then suggested that the reader continue the scenario, but change the sexes so that this time it was the woman hunting the man down. After I got my assignment back, even though I wasn’t deducted points for it, the professor was surprised that I changed the character names. Apparently he had expected me to keep the character names that King created in that book Dick and Jane. Not to make such a big deal out of this, I just wanted point out that nowhere in the exercise did King say to keep the character names. Yet it was assumed that I would do so.

I don’t take everything I see at face-value. I just seem to take more at face-value than what a non-autistic does. And given that it only happens once in a while, I don’t feel a great motivation to do much about it (if anything can be done about it). Besides, I think trying to improve it isn’t what’s important. Or at least it isn’t nearly as important as getting others to accept that misinterpretation can occur. There’s no reason to get annoyed like that bus driver. As soon as we’ve managed to understand each other, we can all go on our merry way.