“Birthdays are a social construct,” Bill said to me, at one of the very first Asperger’s groups I ever went to. Like so many of society’s conventions, a device invented by the NT’s as one more excuse to socialize, wrapped in the guise of honoring the birthday person. He went on to say, when his Aspie son wanted a special toy, and his birthday was 3 months off, he didn’t wait – he got him the toy as an early present. And 3 months later, they just had a party, and everyone was happy.
I think there is truth to what Bill said. Birthdays are rarely about the person having the birthday. Birthdays are for wall posts from people you haven’t seen in 20 years, and won’t see again, but hey look, we still keep in touch. Birthdays are for cake, because it’s called birthday cake after all, and it being a birthday, we have cake on it. Birthdays are for office parties, a nice excuse for us all to take a break, and more cake. Birthdays are for sending cards with dancing monkeys, and flatulence humor, and bug-eyed grinning dogs on them. Birthdays are for presents, perhaps socks or a CD rack or electric shaver cleaning cartridges, things the birthday person needs but would rather not buy for themselves, because the things they really want, they’ve already bought when the mood struck. In other words, birthdays exist so others can pay their respects to the birthday person, or fulfill a social obligation to do so, in the best way they know how.
Who am I to go against the social construct? I am not cynical about birthdays at all. I believe my birthday is a day to be celebrated, with thoughts of peace and reflection, and looking ahead. I often wish I could observe it by doing something meaningful and memorable, as if I truly owned my special day.
How would I spend the day if it were really up to me? Who would I spend it with? I haven’t really bothered to consider the question. This week, that morning, I went for an early walk in the park, through the wet grass warmed by the rising sun, with no one else around. It was the best moment of my day.
Now that the ritual is over, maybe I should have an unbirthday celebration. Or maybe a whole lot of unbirthdays. Just a day to be awesome, to spend as I choose with those I choose. Maybe it’s your unbirthday too?
How do you celebrate? What would you do, if it were up to you?
Night fell on a perfect July Saturday. I sat on the front porch as candles flickered in the dark, under a full moon, and listened to stories being told. Old stories, told by old friends, that were new to me.
In the back yard, we passed around sparklers, and ignited them in the flame of a tiki torch. We waved them like when we were kids, the sparks smarting our hands ever so slightly, before burning out. A long forgotten feeling.
I watched my own blog appear on a mobile phone screen, as I talked with a brand new reader about where my ideas come from, and comic books, and yeah, it would suck so much if we had to have 8-inch smiles like The Joker.
I laughed as a plot was hatched to snatch a hideous Christmas wreath that stays up all year. I laughed at a debate over whether a couch, discarded on the side of the road, should be taken into one’s home. And I laughed most of all as a lawn chair spontaneously disintegrated beneath its occupant.
Every July, my friend Basha and her husband host their Freedom House Party. This year was my first invite. We’d worked together for nearly ten years, but had never socialized much outside work. When I moved on to my new job, we’d agreed to stay in touch, and here was a chance to do so. This was no time for my usual social anxieties. I was happy to be asked, and happy to accept.
Basha has been an avid supporter of this blog from its beginning. That is her on the phone in my original cartoon, confounding me with sarcasm. She understands now why that doesn’t work on me. She has continued to want to learn about Asperger’s and what the world looks like through my eyes. I am so grateful for that. She invited me, knowing a party was outside my comfort zone, but wanting me to feel welcome and accommodated.
It was a wonderful time. I was incredibly social, for me. I didn’t try to be anything I'm not. I sat quietly and listened when I felt like it, and joined in the conversation when I wanted. It was all natural. As other guests danced the night away, and mingled, and drank wine, I enjoyed the night at my own pace, in my own way. And I couldn’t help but marvel at how we saw the same party through different eyes.
Basha was happy for me. “It was very courageous and cool for you to come,” she told me afterward. Maybe just a little. I confessed to an attack of nerves as I arrived, but I expected that, and I was prepared. I sat in my car for a few minutes, until I felt settled, and decided, “OK, I should go in now.” After that it was smooth sailing. The noise and the crowds never overwhelmed me to the point where I needed to get away. There was a dancing space, and a separate space to sit and chill.
Our conversation then turned to the movie Adam, in which the Aspie title character and his NT love interest grow to understand each other. She learned to talk to him literally, without figures of speech, and he learned to tell and understand jokes. Basha asked me, “Do you think you are changing? Do you think the way you think is changing since you learned about AS and started talking to others about it?”
Oh yes, I said. It’s been a year and a half now since I first disclosed. At the time, it was like revealing my deepest secret. I could stop being ashamed of it and actually be proud. I learned to accept my own limitations, like how I don’t remember faces. I began to share my experiences openly through my writing and cartoons. Most of all, I’ve continued to grow more comfortable in my own skin.
And I think that is why the party went so well for me. I didn’t have to pretend to be normal. I didn’t need any special accommodations. I was just another guest, taking part, enjoying good food and good times. And that is what I most wanted.
The Freedom House Party was a night I won’t forget. It was two weeks after the 4th of July, but in that house, Freedom was the word. Freedom to be myself, freedom to enjoy in my own way. Is there any better kind?
Greenawalt County is committed to preserving the quality of our community. Our guidelines are intended to protect you from menaces to society, such as unsavory or disagreeable animals, vehicles, properties, signs, pests, diseases, art, litter, viewpoints, public nuisances, and now, people.
A social society is a healthy society. You are receiving this notice for a violation of our Social Code of Conduct:
1. Smiles are to be maintained at a width of 8 inches or more at all times.
2. Greetings are to be returned promptly and cordially. Failure to return a greeting may result in charges of rudeness.
3. Eye contact is to be maintained for the duration of the conversation, with no less than 0.5 second interruption.
4. Interest in what the other person is saying is to be demonstrated by nods and eye contact. Lack of compliance will signify boredom and will be subject to a $50 fine.
5. Audible – Verbal speech must measure at least 70 decibels. Noncompliance shall indicate disrespect and/or mental deficiency.
6. Expression – Facial expressions that appear angry, sad, or intense are strictly prohibited. Natural facial expressions shall be at minimum, contented or neutral.
7. Respect – Police, security, and other authority figures are entitled to confront or intimidate you and receive prompt, verbal responses. Failure to comply shall be treated as disrespect and subject to criminal charges.
8. Stims and unusual noises are to be kept under control and out of sight so as not to incite fear among the general populace.
9. Emotional stability – Sudden, unexplainable outbursts are prohibited and shall indicate an act of rebellion or threat to the public at large.
10. Sociability – Humans are social creatures. The silent loner is undesirable by the mainstream majority. All citizens must supply proof they have not less than five (5) friends, as evidenced by regularly engaging in social activities with said friends.