Thoughts and illustrations on living on the autism spectrum.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Awkwardness Unzipped

Awkwardness Unzipped is the name of a fundraiser in Portland, Oregon to benefit children and youth with disabilities. I love the name of this event so much, I made it the theme of this week’s post.

What does it mean, “awkwardness unzipped?” I say it’s not to worry about hiding one’s awkwardness. To accept a certain amount of clumsiness in who you are and what you do. Particularly in whether you’re breaking sacred social codes. Everywhere I look, it seems, I see examples of this.

This week, career management blogger and Aspie Penelope Trunk wrote a stunningly candid post that begins, “I smashed a lamp over my head. There was blood everywhere. And glass. And I took a picture.” The rest of the post was framed as helpful tips for readers on how to bounce back from a setback. However, most readers couldn’t leave the intro alone, and urged her to seek help.

“I wish there would not be so much feeling sorry for me,” Penelope responded in the comments. “Lots of people go through times like this. It's okay to show it while it's happening. The world is a lonely place if everyone hides this stuff.” Later, it seemed she was listening to the advice, as she tweeted that the payoff for posting the photo was, “I can crowdsource mental health strategies in my blog comments.”

The episode was more than a bit awkward to witness. Was Penelope right to blog about such a personal situation to 60,000 readers? What if she’d put her pride first and kept the incident “zipped up?” I don’t know the answer. I wish her the help and healing she needs.

Elsewhere, nonprofit marketing blogger Kivi Leroux Miller announced she would begin posting daily, on the advice of Seth Godin. “It doesn’t matter if anyone reads [your blog],” says Seth in the video, “What matters is the humility that comes from writing it… the meta-cognition of thinking about what you’re gonna say. How do you explain yourself?”

Kivi explained why she welcomes this kind of self-exposure: “I love how blogging lets me advance my own thinking on topics, one post at a time. I love hearing what you think about what I think, even when you think I’m completely wrong.” Sure enough, some readers chastised her for her decision, urging her not to become a “McBlogger” who sacrificed quality for quantity.

But Kivi has not been dissuaded. She sees a benefit in her daily posting that outweighs the risk of awkwardness. So far, her experiment seems to be going well, as I’ve noticed no drop in quality.

In my own life, I, too, feel I’m unzipping and allowing for more awkwardness. Those of us who are different are pressured to hide our differences, thinking they’re defects. But the more I see my Asperger’s traits as differences, the less pressure I feel to cover up.

I worry less about the way I walk. I worry less that I’ll mess up what I’m trying to say on the phone. I doodle on my notepad in meetings, even if people can see. These things may be no big deal to you, but they always made me feel awkward. Lately, I feel I am growing more assertive. I put myself before others. I allow myself more imperfection, and I get more done.

My blogging has certainly taught me humility. I’ve written about topics I never expected to. I’m never entirely satisfied with how my cartoons turn out, but if I kept redoing and redoing them, I would never finish. At the same time, I don’t ever plan to make this blog a tell-all expose, or a daily.

This week, a reader left a comment on this post thanking me for my help with an “A-ha!” moment, and then she “skipped happily away in a state of gleefully glad-to-be-me silliness.” I think that sums up what you find when your awkwardness zips away.

Moments like that are my payoff for putting myself out there. I write about my own awkwardness in the hopes that I can help you feel gleefully glad about yours. And if we’re all comfortable being awkward, then none of us is really awkward, are we?

It feels good to unzip. It feels honest, and healthy. You might sacrifice a little humility, but you might solve your problems faster. You might find friends you didn’t know you had.

So don’t be afraid. Go ahead, unzip! Let your awkwardness hang out!

Erm, metaphorically speaking, that is.


  1. I totally agree-I have stopped hiding the things that I do as much as I did so that I appear normal-it really takes a lot of energy to keep them hidden-you do get exhausted-some may have a problem with me and maybe other aspies,one who actually does-but I am who I am,it really doesnt hurt anybody and as a coworkers says "nobody died".

  2. Good for you! And you're right, it takes needless energy to keep things hidden. If "nobody died," then how bad can it be?

  3. I was fascinated by Penelope's post, but didn't really know how to deal with it. Thanks for this.