Between the ages of about ten and sixteen or so, I was desperately unhappy.
There were many reasons for this, and most of them, honestly, are no one’s business. Or they’re other people’s business, but not mine to divulge.
But a lot of it had to do with coming of age and going out into the wider world, and finding that I didn’t quite fit in. I don’t think I’m the only one who reads int his blog and thinks this. Because we are odd.
Do I belong to the autist creed? Well. It manifests differently in women than in men. In fact, i read an article — which I can’t find right now — that explained convincingly that a lot of what are considered transgender/masculine traits in women are a manifestation of autism. It’s possible.
I’ve also heard it said that every one in science fiction is on the spectrum, somewhere, and that sociologists and psychologists go to science fiction gatherings to study us because of that.
<shrug. I don’t now. I know I had the sensory issues that are part of autism until I was about fourteen. (To some extent still have them, but they’re negligible now.) And that there’s an overlap between those issues and “math brains” which I have despite digit dyslexia.
Friends who research the brain have been known to go on at length about brains that re not quantitatively different, but qualitatively different. I.e. brains that create more internal connections and are slower to prune them. This seems to have a covalence with autism. (And the terrifying idea is that the profound autism that manifests as mental retardation might be nothing of the sort, just brains so alien they can’t communicate properly.) And it seems to have a correlation to either not having normal instincts or not allowing them to operate because you “think too much.” (And yes, I got tired of that accusation by the time I was 12.)
Anyway, we know all sorts of things about people like us, including that other kids tend not to like us much, unless they are like us. (I don’t know. Is our behavior perhaps Neanderthal? ;))
So, by the time I started hitting puberty (hard, like one hits a wall) I was acutely miserable. The ever changing curriculum, (because revolution) and the fact that most of it was bullocks didn’t help.
But there was nowhere I could go. I dreamed of going, without having any clue where. (Okay, from the time I was eight I wanted to go to Denver, and be a writer. But that was not only not a plan of action but, considering I thought Denver was by the sea, it was a stupid and slightly insane dream, with no chance of coming true. (Look, I can’t explain it. Himself and His foreshadowing, okay?))
Mostly I escaped into books. As much as I could.
For all I knew, all that lay ahead was a life of living with my parents and getting old, probably teaching English to recalcitrant children, and never fitting in.
I read a lot, and because I was mostly broke (I hoarded my birthday money like a miser, and used it to buy books. Well, except when mom took it to buy me boots, because she thought not walking around with holes in my shoes was important or something. No, I still don’t get it) I read a lot of books five ro six pages at a time, standing up in a bookstore, ready to run when someone said “Miss, this is not a library.”
And I re-read a lot. Everything, really. If it came into the house, it was mine to read. And hiding it was no protection, because I could smell where people hid books.
I think my French and English got good because my brother started buying books in those languages, so I wouldn’t read them, if they were mildly (and I mean mildly) racy.
Oh, and I raided friends’ libraries. And their parents’ libraries. And considered standing on street corners holding up a sign that said “Will work for books.”
The problem is I read really fast, until concussion and eye issues slowed me down about 18 years ago. I’m still not that slow. But I got to the point I read six books a day.
And you just can’t keep up with that. Not on virtually no money.
Yes, I did have a relationship entirely based on borrowing someone’s books. And I’m not even sorry. Look, his parents bought him ANYTHING on condition he would read it. And he didn’t like to read. So I told him what the books were about and gave him lists. It was…. nice while it lasted. (And he turned out okay, I think. Despite being a weird-non-reader.)
So what do you do when life is terrifying and boring (and if you think it can’t be both, you didn’t live through 2020 and aren’t reading this in 2021) and you can’t get enough story?
I’d already started writing, but when I was about 12 it went weaponized. I had entire worlds, and I wrote about them, to remind me of what stories to write set in them.
Mostly science fiction, though I suppose some fantasy. It’s hard to tell, because I wrote this stuff before I knew there was a difference.
And I more or less lived in these worlds (I am, for the first time, now, at 58 writing space operas set in those worlds I created. Or at least writing them in English (I have no clue what happened to my notebooks of fiction in Portuguese) and in coherent form. That is what Schrodinger worlds — I swear coming soon — is about. All those worlds.) I drew house plans. I wrote notes on technologies. I wrote biographies and histories. I lived there at least as much as in the world in which my body happened to be.
Look, it wasn’t healthy. It was too much. And at some point one has to make a choice, to engage with the real world and learn to survive in it.
Which I did, more or less cold turkey at 18. And then I became an exchange student and met my husband…. which is weird since he was a character in my stories when I was 14. (Himself has a really weird sense of humor, okay?)
But I never completely discarded the dreams and the stories. Even when I thought there was no hope of ever being published, I’d dive into my imaginary worlds for a respite from the crazy world around me. Always.
There were two extended periods when I couldn’t do it, couldn’t day dream. The six months right after 9/11, and most of 2020.
It’s coming back, though. Which is good, because I need escape.
Which brings me to one of the first times I shared my fiction with a school friend. I let her read this story where some kids (I was about ten, I think) stepped through a time/space portal into another world where they had adventures.
This girl promptly scolded me and told me that I was bad for writing about people escaping instead of staying here and “solving the world’s problems.” Like, you now, at ten, I even knew what the problems were, much less could solve them accurately.
It will surprise no one to find that this woman grew up to write various books on serious “social problems” right? No I haven’t read them. I have no intention of. They’re YA books about people who are horribly mistreated and stay that way, from what I gather from the blurbs.
But the truth is that escaping does help, sometimes.
I’ve had fan letters about people who found relief in one of my books while sitting by a death bed; while they were themselves ill and immobilized, or simply while living through whatever fresh hell these days throw at us.
Sometimes escaping, even if momentarily, allows us to go on living or cheers us up, or even, after a sojourn in a place of the mind, gives us the solution to our current problem. Or puts it in perspective.
In fact, the older I get, the more I think that people who insist all books must be about “real things” and that escapism is wrong are people who want to control everything you do and think and allow you no escape.
In fact, the only people who object to escapes are jailers.