Sept. 26, 2012

Camping Sept. 25

Camp at Horn Canyon/Thacher School, Ojai, California: Screaming (a rabbit?) and low growling (bobcat?) at 5:30 am in the brush to my left. Rats jumping around me, mostly crepuscular (at dawn and dusk). I am interrupting their lives so, after 3 nights in that spot, I’ll return to the Pratt Trail camp tonight.

Coyote hunters apparently (also) use a call that sounds like a rabbit screaming.

Last night was very chilly. I used my space blanket and had the tent rain fly (the only part of the tent I’ve kept) over me as well as under me. I was warm though noisy (the space blanket makes a racket whenever I move!).

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas writes about “The Old Way.” She learned about this during her childhood years with hunter-gatherers in the Kalahari Desert. I want to learn more about this. Apparently, the Kalahari people are very tough; they can endure a lot of pain (like animals). Thomas writes about how soft our population has become.

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I enlarge the social playing field here in the US by pushing boundaries. As someone with a history of mental illness (1975 suicide attempt and subsequent two-month incarceration in Napa State Hospital in California) and homelessness (irrelevant that it’s by choice), pushing boundaries is easy. Life-long social outsider status has made my skin thick and my boundaries wide. I can push boundaries all day almost without even noticing I’m doing it! It’s normal to me.

It’s so important to “question authority,” as we used to say. So many  lies are passed on as fact. Elizabeth Thomas writes about this in The Hidden Life of Deer: as a kid she was told lots of lies (misinformation) about nature (e.g., about deer). It wasn’t until she was in her 20s that Thomas began to question the things adults had told her, and she began to realize how much of it was just bullshit.

Lots of misinformation is circulated because it benefits someone or some group. For example, the lie that women past menopause lose interest in sex and the lie that old women are not sexy; these lies benefit men, especially older men (who then have justification [though they don’t require it; they have social privilege] to date young women and ignore us oldies).

Now that I am empowered and liberated, I can date whomever I choose (as men have done for a very long time). And I also (like men) choose young people (young men, in my case).

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Asperger Syndrome

“If we could eliminate the genes for things like autism, I think it would be disastrous,” says Wilhelmsen. “The healthiest state for a gene pool is maximum diversity of things that might be good.” from “The Geek Syndrome” by Steve Silberman in WIRED (online news magazine)

From the same wonderful article:

The (Silicon) Valley (in California) is a self-selecting community where passionately bright people migrate from all over the world to make smart machines work smarter. The nuts-and-bolts practicality of hard labor among the bits appeals to the predilections of the high-functioning autistic mind. The hidden cost of building enclaves like this, however, may be lurking in the findings of nearly every major genetic study of autism in the last 10 years. Over and over again, researchers have concluded that the DNA scripts for autism are probably passed down not only by relatives who are classically autistic, but by those who display only a few typically autistic behaviors. (Geneticists call those who don’t fit into the diagnostic pigeonholes “broad autistic phenotypes.”)

The chilling possibility is that what’s happening now is the first proof that the genes responsible for bestowing certain special gifts on slightly autistic adults – the very abilities that have made them dreamers and architects of our technological future – are capable of bringing a plague down on the best minds of the next generation. For parents employed in prominent IT firms here, the news of increased diagnoses of autism in their ranks is a confirmation of rumors that have quietly circulated for months. Every day, more and more of their coworkers are running into one another in the waiting rooms of local clinics, taking the first uncertain steps on a journey with their children that lasts for the rest of their lives.

In previous eras, even those who recognized early that autism might have a genetic underpinning considered it a disorder that only moved diagonally down branches of a family tree. Direct inheritance was almost out of the question, because autistic people rarely had children. The profoundly affected spent their lives in institutions, and those with Asperger’s syndrome tended to be loners. They were the strange uncle who droned on in a tuneless voice, tending his private logs of baseball statistics or military arcana; the cousin who never married, celibate by choice, fussy about the arrangement of her things, who spoke in a lexicon mined reading dictionaries cover to cover.

The old line “insanity is hereditary, you get it from your kids” has a twist in the autistic world. It has become commonplace for parents to diagnose themselves as having Asperger’s syndrome, or to pinpoint other relatives living on the spectrum, only after their own children have been diagnosed.

High tech hot spots like the Valley, and Route 128 outside of Boston*, are a curious oxymoron: They’re fraternal associations of loners. In these places, if you’re a geek living in the high-functioning regions of the spectrum, your chances of meeting someone who shares your perseverating obsession (think Linux or Star Trek) are greatly expanded. As more women enter the IT workplace, guys who might never have had a prayer of finding a kindred spirit suddenly discover that she’s hacking Perl scripts in the next cubicle.

One provocative hypothesis that might account for the rise of spectrum disorders in technically adept communities like Silicon Valley, some geneticists speculate, is an increase in assortative mating. Superficially, assortative mating is the blond gentleman who prefers blondes; the hyperverbal intellectual who meets her soul mate in the therapist’s waiting room. There are additional pressures and incentives for autistic people to find companionship – if they wish to do so – with someone who is also on the spectrum. Grandin writes, “Marriages work out best when two people with autism marry or when a person marries a handicapped or eccentric spouse…. They are attracted because their intellects work on a similar wavelength.”

(*Hey, that’s where I grew up!)

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THOUGHTS in my regular “Two-shots of espresso, please” (“That’ll be $2.95.”) morning hang-out, The Ojai Coffee Roasters:

(By the way, Ojai is the kinda place where you only have to know one thing in order to successfully socialize: how to be/act snooty.)

1.)     Eccentrics = contentment. Song: “Takin’ the Easy Way Out” (rather than, like most folks, wanting to influence others and gain power over them). I notice it when others try to influence me.  Nature is about relaxing (Nature takes you as you are); City life is hyperactive (no one takes you as you are). Gaia (the earth/nature): no emotion.

2.)     Article on pg. 1 og “Late Extra” in the L.A. Times: “Stressful at the top? Not really: A study finds low anxiety among executives and other leaders”. This article says people with “a sense of control (over as many others as possible [the more the better]) are content and relaxed (more than people “below” them who are fighting for power and not sure they’ll ever get it. This is all within a framework of “hierarchy” and involves people “enjoying control over their schedules, their daily living circumstances, their financial security, their enterprises and their lives.”

I THOUGHT about this while sipping my espresso out of a sweet little cup. I have felt this kind of relaxed control for 36 years… ever since I got on SSI (thank you Napa State Hospital). My income is low, but it’s not going anywhere (it’s secure). I choose what I do everyday; no one tells me what to do. I can indulge my creativity to any extent I choose. My life is a pleasure, and I am fulfilled, happy and relaxed.

Maybe feeling a “sense” of control and feeling just plain “in control” of one’s life give a person the same kind of relief from stress. What then is REAL “control” over one’s life? All control is an illusion. The idea of social status though is real; Thomas goes into this in The Hidden Life of Deer.: high status deer control access to food and good sleeping places. So what is “high status” in the human realm? I think I have very high status since I have left behind (“dropped out of”) the competition for money (and possessions and territory) and the struggle for class position and power over others. I guess really those two things, money and class position/power over others, are the same thing or amount to the same thing.

To me, contentment means not fearing or desiring anything. Including money, class position, and power over others. Is this an illusion?

Sept. 26

I thought about this issue at camp last night, and I realized what the fly in the pudding is. It is wrong to control others (whatever their species).

As Elizabeth Thomas relates in her …Deer book, even mice strive for control in lab experiments. (“Mice and rats… are our closest relatives in North America,” she writes. She also relates the fact, observed by many people including herself, that mice sing!) Every living creature wants control over their own life. And this is why it is arrogant and wrong for people to be relaxed because they are in a position of CONTROL OVER OTHER PEOPLE. They are finding succor in a basic tenet of American society: it’s OK to compete and get in a superior position in the social hierarchy, even if that means control over other people or any species. Taking away the freedom of any living thing to control its own life is just plain unethical and immoral.

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From May 2011 Discover magazine:

What’s the News: In another glorious reminder of how weird nature really is, it’s time to get ready for the swarm: This May, after spending 13 years underground, huge populations of cicadas will emerge in the southern U.S. to molt, sing their riotous mating tunes, and breed. It’s a brief coda to their long adolescence in burrows 30 cm beneath the soil—by July, they will be dead, and their children will be beginning their years of exile from the surface.

What’s the Context:

  • While there are plenty of cicada species that send a generation to the surface every year, cyclical cicadas (of the genus Magicicada) come out en masse after 13 or 17 years. Scientists believe that this strategy evolved as a way to overwhelm predators—when there are so many cicadas around at one time, a good many of them will probably survive.

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I am aware that I prefer being a witness to good things that happen rather than seeing the bad things. Watching bad things happen is very hard. Most people would agree with this. But it’s still cowardly. I have to be stronger and not turn away; I can look at bad things and then write about it.

I realized this (that I avoid the bad) when I was reading Elizabeth Thomas’ …Deer book: she writes about seeing a deer hit by a car — a deer she knew from her long, daily observations of wildlife around her New Hampshire house — and then watching the thoughtless cruelty of two men (her neighbors), dragging the deer (bumping her head and pulling on her broken legs) for 50 feet, away from the little kids who were there watching, and then shooting the deer (“to put it out of its misery”). I would not have wanted to see any of this, and I know Thomas didn’t either. But she did, and then she wrote about it.

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The poorest state in America is Mississippi, data released from the US Census Bureau from 2011 found, with median income there reaching only $36,919.

 By comparison, the nation’s richest state, Maryland, had a median income nearly double that of Mississippi, $70,004,

Read more at http://www.inquisitr.com/342884/poorest-state-is-mississippi-also-the-fattest/#TpzkR24bdRS7i4P6.99

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I wanted to create a new paradigm for living. Most people, including really smart people, just do as well as they can WITHIN the social context they have inherited (i.e., their society and their culture). They stay “within the box”; they may succeed really well within the box; they may get to the top (a controlling position) within the box. But they are still within the box.

I found another way to live. I created it out of my dreams. It has morphed continuously since I’ve been practicing this new way of life, which is about camping out in the woods alone (with or without a tent) and traveling around the world, usually using the website Couchsurfing.org.

The Old Way Elizabeth Thomas writes about has its roots and reasons things that are “lost in time.” The Old Way is passed down through the generations, from the Older and Wiser ones to the Young and Dumb ones. But then along comes someone like me with Asperger Syndrome, and we see the paradigm, the Old Way, in a new light. We change the dimensions of our lives; we don’t just accept what has been passed down to us.

I think our American culture is deeply flawed; if I didn’t, what would be the reason to change it? I would find contentment, satisfaction and fulfillment in living in the Old Way. Our society, however, needs a deep overhaul and a massive infusion of new perspectives.

But the Old Way Thomas is writing about is really deeper than any surface changes I or anyone else may make. American society doesn’t even scratch the surface of the Old Way.

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Thomas opens her book with the poem “Camping Alone” by Howard Nelson.

My friend Antler spends weeks alone in the wilderness every fall…

He says that every year he leaves a little more of himself in the woods,

And that someday there will be more of him out there than here—

I think it may have already happened.

Someday, maybe—I’ll go to some lonely spot and pitch my tent

and spend my days doing what one does when alone in the woods

and sleep night after night under the ten thousand stars….

The solo camper, Antler, that Nelson writes about is different from me. He goes out into the “wilderness.” I go into woods at the fringes of the wilderness and the fringes of the town. At the border, in no-man’s-land. I like it there; were I with a friend, I may go deep into the wilderness, and someday I might do that. I have camped, years ago, with some people, and we went way back into the New Mexico woods to a spot called “Turkey Creek.” It was 6 miles in; Seth was with me (he was about 7 years old), and he walked all the way in, too.

What I like to do is go out into the woods around 5 pm and spend the night out there. I read and watch the life around me from whenever I get there at the end of the day until it’s dark. I watch the birds and squirrels settling down for the night around 6 pm. Early in the morning, around dawn or a little later, I head on into town. I socialize, though I am a loner and often I don’t talk to anyone all day. But I am not a hermit by any means, and I don’t know if I would enjoy being out in the woods, alone with the animals and trees (although I do love them) all day without other humans and stores and coffee, etc.

But I do love spending my nights in the peaceful woods, with other species all around me. Am I an unwilling exile from human society, forced out by my differences and outsider status? Or am I a voluntary defector who has found a solution and a salve for some of the modern ills of society?

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I try to avoid ego and courting social respectability. I try to not flatter others’ egos (especially men’s who, in a male-dominated culture, have big enough egos as it is).

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