Academic Aspirations

So I’ve decided to take the leap. I’m going to start making preparations…to apply…to eventually enter graduate school. It’s a slow-motion leap, since the application deadline is all the way in January of next year, and I’ve got several things to do to get ready. But I’m hoping that after one more year taking undergraduate classes, as well as taking the GRE and preparing a solid application, I’ll be a good candidate for the program I’m looking at.

And that program? It’s a doctoral program in sociology. Gulp. I had initially discounted the idea of aiming for a PhD, feeling that it was too long a road to start down in my forties, and unsure how I would be able to pay for such a thing. But this department offers assistantships and tuition credits, so not only could I have my studies paid for, I could essentially have paid work in the department while I study. Sounds like heaven to me.

So, yeah. Sociology. I’ve been realizing that I am strongly drawn to social science research and writing, and I would love to explore sociological theory as it applies to the autistic experience, as well as areas related to disability, gender, and stigma. And this particular sociology department sounds like a very socially-conscious one that seeks to use its research to influence public policy in various areas, and that sounds like a great combination to me.

But it’s going to take some work to get there. I’m hoping to take the GRE this summer, which will take some preparation; I’ve always been pretty good at test-taking, but a lot of the relevant knowledge has atrophied since my original college years. And I want to put together a really great writing sample that showcases my interests and writing ability; I actually have an idea for a project that grew out of some planned blog posts that kept growing in scope until they really deserve to be a longer piece.

And that brings me to my current academic advisor, who is awesome. I had a meeting with him last week to register for next semester’s classes and discuss my eventual goals. He’s always been very encouraging of my plans, and after actually having me as a student in two of his classes this semester he has become even more enthusiastic about my plans for grad school. So when I told him about my plan to produce this research project as my writing sample, he offered his advice and support in refining it, and proposed that I work on this project in place of some of the future assignments for one of his classes.

So I am off and running on putting that together. And I’m very excited to be moving forward with a plan. I’m still very nervous about several things, of course. What if I don’t get into the program? Or what if I do, and it all ends up being too much to handle? But I’m remembering how much I really love academics when I’m studying something I’m passionate about, and I am very passionate about this.

And autistic passion can make things happen.

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An Active April

I’m sure I’ll write more about April as Autism Awareness/Acceptance/Appreciation Month at some point in the next thirty days, but…not today. Today I am planning and prioritizing all of the various things I need to do during April, many of which have to do with everybody’s focus moving onto autism for the month.

The first priority is my upcoming webinar for young autistic adults interested in starting their own business; that’s coming up this Wednesday. To to fair, its timing wasn’t specifically related to April, as it’s part of a webinar series that has been going on since (at least?) February. But I ended up with a date in April, so it happens to be right at the beginning of the all-autism-all-the-time frenzy of the month.

Then two weeks later, I will be participating in a panel discussion at my local community college on the topic of being a student on the autism spectrum. I’ve been in communication with the coordinator to help streamline some of the questions and make sure the focus isn’t entirely on areas of difficulty. I’m really looking forward to this event, actually, and I’ll be curious to hear what other students have to say about their experiences.

At the end of the month I’ll be attending the Annual Autism Conference put on by Autism Connections in western Massachusetts. One of the keynote speakers will be Steve Silberman, whose book Neurotribes is still one of my favorites on the subject of autism (and definitely my favorite by a non-autistic author). I’m not sure what else to expect from this one, but I’m curious to see what the overall tone of the gathering is, and how inclusive the organization is of autistic perspectives.

During all of this, I also have to get through the last full month of my spring semester, do all of my software-testing work, and keep up with my responsibilities to my coaching clients. Oh, and try to expand the contents of my Etsy shop, get some writing done, and have some kind of family life with my husband and dogs.

It’s a lot, but it’s manageable. It’s all about prioritization and tracking. Calendars, checklists, and to-do apps are my friends—actually, they’re way closer than friends. Todoist is pretty much my constant companion these days, and I highly recommend it, especially for recurring tasks that need to be done every day, week, or month. And I recommend including self-care and “recharging” activities on to-do lists, because they’re important, too. There’s something particularly satisfying about getting that feeling of accomplishment from checking something off your list when that something was itself relaxing and rejuvenating. “I got so much done today, including taking a break!”

Speaking of which, it’s looking rather nice outside. I think I’ll go enjoy it.

Webinar: Starting Your Own Business

I have an exciting announcement! I will be hosting a free webinar on April 4, 2018, as part of a series by the Asperger/Autism Network (AANE). The series is aimed at autistic young adults (age 17-24) with an overall theme of fostering independence, and my webinar in particular will be about starting a business. Here are the details:

Starting Your Own Business: Turn Your Passions Into Profits

April 4, 2018
1:00 – 2:30 pm EDT
Free

Have you ever thought about starting your own business, perhaps turning a passionate interest into paid work you love to do? It might sound intimidating, but it’s not as hard as it sounds. If you’ve ever wanted to work for yourself, either full- or part-time, but didn’t know where to start, this is the webinar for you. We’ll explore the pros and cons of self-employment, as well as practical tips for getting started.

Topics will include:
• How to decide if self-employment is for you
• Defining your business and making a plan
• Understanding business structures and funding options
• Selling your own or others’ products
• Selling your services as a freelancer
• Marketing your business
• Accounting and tracking your finances
• What you should know about taxes
• Resources and tips for getting started

Starting Your Own Business: Helene Grogan is a late-diagnosed autistic woman who works as an AANE LifeMAP coach, helping other adults on the spectrum reach their goals for independent living. Over the years she has started businesses selling crafts, doing freelance computer consulting and web design, and publishing her own writing. She also worked for ten years as the office manager for a small internet-based company, which provided a great deal of insight into running a small, home-based business.

You can register for it here.

Queerly Salient

It was International Women’s Day that did it. All the articles, memes, Facebook posts, etc., talking about women’s strengths and achievements were valid enough, but the more of them I saw, the more I realized that they didn’t refer to me. I do not feel like a woman.

I’ve written about this before, especially in two posts about a year apart: A Long, Weird Ramble About Autism and Gender, and Non-Binary. I had included some musings about it on my About page, but I’ve removed that text for now, because my understanding of my gender has been evolving. For example, it’s not really as “fluid” as I initially thought it might be when I started really assessing it; I actually have a fairly stable sense of gender—and I don’t feel I have no gender at all—but it’s just not one of the usual ones. So I’m feeling like “genderfluid” isn’t the right term for me after all.

Genderqueer, as a word, really resonated with me when I first heard it, and so I find myself going back to it now. It’s non-specific in the sense that it doesn’t try to specify where exactly on the gender continuum I fall, but it’s also (to me) more evocative of a certain way of being than “non-binary,” which I feel is a more general descriptive term that covers a lot of different genders.

So I’ve been thinking about the ways in which I am “not quite this or that” when it comes to gender, and how often that feeling comes up. In my social psychology class, we discussed how people tend to be most aware of the aspect(s) of their identities that are different from those around them; a man in a room full of women, as one example goes, will likely be more aware of being a man than if he were in a room with other men. In this example, gender becomes more or less salient depending on the context.

But what I have been realizing is that gender is always salient for me. It may not be evident to those who feel aligned with the gender that other people attribute to them, but a great deal of human discourse contains an endless barrage of gendering phrases, whether in reference to individuals or when making observations about society as a whole. Even being in a group of all (presumed) women, someone will make note of that fact that “We’re all ladies here.” Meanwhile, I’m cringing.

And it’s not just about words, of course. Thinking I’m a cis woman, men treat me as different even when I feel the same, and women treat me as the same even when I feel different. Up until now, I haven’t really been able to explain why they’re both wrong, and it’s still difficult to do when I’m still working out how I feel and how to convey that to other people. Writing about it here has been really helpful, as has reading other people’s experiences of being non-binary. So, thank you to everyone who has been part of that, and thanks for reading!

Anti-Social Media

I have something of a love-hate relationship with social media. I mean, it’s got the word “social” right there in the name, so that’s probably no surprise. I do use it, but I tend to use it in very specific ways, depending on the platform.

Twitter: I have a few different accounts on Twitter, which I use to organize various streams of information. The one I use in connection with this blog, for example, is pretty much “all autism, all the time.” This is the primary one I post to, while the others are mainly for informational purposes.

I’ve been engaging with it less lately, however. I find Twitter to be both valuable and problematic; the short format makes it easy to skim posts to find things of interest, but it also does something…scattering to my brain. The short format also seems to lend itself to statements that are absolute and unequivocal, which tend to rub me the wrong way. Overall I tend to come away from it feeling on edge, if not outright pissed off.

Instagram: I use this to share my photography, and to follow other people’s photos from around the world. I follow both people I know and people I don’t on this one; if you follow me and your postings look interesting, I will follow you back. If you’re posting all selfies and pictures of food, I probably won’t.

Pinterest: Honestly, I don’t really use Pinterest in a “social” way at all. I use it to unwind and look at beautiful pictures related to several of my many and varied interests. I save images of potential craft projects, as well as pictures related to nature, animals, and geekiness. I think I’ve followed one person I know on there; otherwise I use this to connect with images and ideas, not with people.

Facebook: I use Facebook primarily with people I know. It allows me to keep in touch with relatives and friends in a way that I otherwise wouldn’t, given my aversion to frequent gatherings and dislike of phone calls. It’s ironic, though, because on the one hand this is the platform where I connect with people who actually know me in person, but on the other hand, it’s also the one where I feel the most constrained when it comes to sharing my opinions and activities. I have learned over the years that I DO NOT like long comment-conversations on Facebook, even if they are positive and not contentious. (If they are contentious, I will literally lose sleep due to stress.) And frankly, I have never seen a Facebook conversation actually sway someone’s opinion. I’m sure it happens, somehow somewhere, but I have only ever seen people dig in their heels, or just ignore the arguments presented.

And here is where I have a huge peeve with social media. It is true that many of these platforms are perfect for sharing one’s views on current events, and for helping to motivate activism. But that is not how all of us use them (or we might use some platforms this way, but not others). It annoys me to no end when I see people taking others to task for not posting about this or that thing, or equating “not posting” with “not caring.” What I always want to shout back at them is, “Not posting about it here does not mean I am not a) talking about it elsewhere, b) deeply concerned about it, and/or c) actually taking concrete action about that thing.”

So…I don’t know. I have thought several times about disconnecting from social media altogether, but I keep having second (and third, and fourth) thoughts. I really do feel the need to reach out to people sometimes, to share things going on in my life and see what’s going on in theirs. But I also know that it stresses me out, and it’s often just a distraction when I want to be focused on something else. And then there are the privacy issues, media manipulation, and deliberately-addictive qualities of social media outlets that are just flat-out problematic. Am I talking myself into quitting them now? Maybe. Let me go see what my Facebook friends think.

Work But Not “Work”

I realized something while I was driving to school for classes this past Thursday: I work really hard. Like, really hard. I had two journal entries, two longer papers, a test and a quiz due this week, and I got them all done early. This was on top of actually going to class, putting in all of my work hours, making progress on my novel, taking karate classes, working on crafts, and spending at least half an hour per day on my spiritual practice. Oh, plus walking the dogs and spending time with my spouse.

I actually do find time to relax; I played a video game for about two hours this afternoon, and I usually unwind with a movie or a good TV show in the evening. It’s just that there are a lot of things I like to do, and so I tend to get a lot of things done. But it takes a lot of work.

I am constantly, relentlessly, aware of the next thing that I need to do, prioritizing and reprioritizing as things come up during the week. (This is one reason I hate for my plans to be interrupted, or to have things scheduled at the last minute; it’s hugely disruptive to the map I already have in my head.) When I had that realization in the car on Thursday, my mind felt like steel: tempered and honed, cutting through unnecessary distractions. And I realized that it’s like that a lot.

So I work really hard, and I’m good at the things I do. But I am finally coming to terms with the fact that I am vastly unsuited to having a full-time job, or even a part-time job that takes a significant amount of energy. I haven’t had a full-time job since I burned out around the age of thirty; I cut my hours to part time before finally leaving that job, and I’ve only worked part time since. And even that stressed me out before I found my current remote position, which at least allows me to work from home and have some control over my hours.

Part of the problem is that both my energy levels and my ability to focus vary during the day, and from day to day during the week. That’s one reason I enjoy doing a lot of different things: when words are flowing, I can get highly absorbed in writing; when my brain is tired, I can make something with my hands instead. Working at a job where my hours are set and I need to do the same thing every day regardless of how I’m feeling or where my interest is focused is just…exhausting. Add to that the sensory and social aspects of an office environment, and it’s no wonder it’s a recipe for burnout.

What I’d like to do instead is build up ways to support myself with my own projects (really, for my husband and I to support ourselves with all of our various projects, since he’s also very creative and hard-working). It’s just slow going—and additionally hard when you throw in the need to have some kind of job(s) in the meantime. We need alternatives to the current structure of “work,” to be honest; whenever I try to think of ways to improve the employment experience of autistic people, it always comes down to, “Well, work just shouldn’t suck so much.” And that would be better for everyone.

Non-Binary

Yeah, I’m thinking about gender and sexuality again. I feel like, at least in the everyday language of mainstream society, people just have to make a binary out of everything. Male or female, gay or straight, cis or trans.

It’s that last one that struck me during the past week. Even when people try to get past the gender binary by acknowledging the existence of trans people, they still tend to default to a binary: if you aren’t cis, you’re trans. But what happens if you’re neither? That’s where I am — my gender identity is neither the same nor the opposite (and doesn’t that concept itself reflect the binary all on its own?) of the sex I was assigned at birth due to my biology. It’s…overlapping.

And then, if I’m neither cis nor trans (or possibly both-and), does that make me straight or gay? I’ve always felt I was theoretically bisexual; I’ve never been in a romantic or sexual relationship with a woman, but I’ve always felt it was possible. (The bigger hurdle is starting a relationship with a new person of whatever gender, so I haven’t been in too many to begin with.) But even though I’ve only been with men, they’re not the “opposite” gender from me, because my gender doesn’t have an “opposite.” So what’s the word for that?

I realize that within the LGBTQ community, people bring a lot more nuance (and a lot more specialized vocabulary) to the conversation, but it seems hard to bring that nuance, that non-binary thinking, into the mainstream. And yet I don’t know how to approach queer spaces, either. I feel like there probably is a place for me there, but I also worry about stepping on other people’s toes, or maybe taking on a label that I don’t deserve to have. I actually do like the word “queer,” as well as “genderqueer,” because they strike me as descriptive but vague enough that maybe binaries can be avoided.

I am actually planning on going to part of a conference next weekend, the Five College Queer Gender and Sexuality Conference in Amherst, MA. So I’ll probably be writing more on this topic in the near future, as I reflect on how that goes. Should be interesting!