Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Guilty Pleasures

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about “guilty pleasures.” The term makes less sense the more I think about it. Unless it’s illegal or is hurting anyone (animals included, of course), why should you feel guilty about something you enjoy? And why should anyone have the right to make you feel embarrassed about it?

So you collect potato chips shaped like characters from The Wizard of Oz, like the way peanut butter feels between your toes and think the Twilight movies are the greatest example of American cinema since Citizen Kane…that’s your right. You’re not hurting anyone. If someone catches you dancing to the greatest hits of Milli Vanilli, are you going to turn red and tell them it’s a guilty pleasure? No. It’s a pleasure, plain and simple. There’s no reason to feel guilty about it.

If you’re on the other end of the exchange, shut up. You don’t have to like Milli Vanilli, but you do have to keep yourself from being an ignorant asshole that makes fun of their own friends. It’s one thing to politely express an opinion. It’s another thing entirely to be a dick about it.

Let’s recap, shall we? Serial killer who murders homeless people because it’s fun = guilty pleasure. Cartoons and crayons after puberty = pleasure, no guilt. Be it a brain, an athlete, a basketcase or a princess (but not a criminal), just be you and be proud.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


I don't have anything clever to say and I have to go to bed because I have to work in the morning.  

Instead of a proper post, here's Henry Cavill in leather pants.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ninja Gets Bullied

Bullying has been a hot topic lately, as the consequences of leaving it unchecked come to light more and more. It’s a subject that I have a personal interest in, as a victim of bullying when I was younger. The worst of it came from an older girl on the school bus when I was in junior high. At the urging of Dr. L, I located and reached out to her online. I made my peace and forgave her. We’ve conversed some and she is, from what I’ve seen, very different from the girl I remember. She’s kind and considerate. I’m grateful for the chance to move on.

Then came the new that Ninja (my nephew and fellow Aspie) was being bullied. By an older girl. On the school bus. In junior high. Here we go again.

Understand that this is not the type of boy to hit back and, even if he was, he’s not going to hit a girl. Not even a girl who is older than him and is verbally and physically attacking him. I can’t even put into words how angry I am. The whole family is furious, but I’m taking this personally. I hate that this poor kid, who is so much like me, is going through the same thing I went through at his age.

I love the “It gets better” project and I believe it can get better, but only if something is done about it. If parents and teachers and EVERYONE ELSE can’t step up and tell kids that bullying is not acceptable, things will never change. Not only do we need to pass that message on, but we also need to make sure everyone understands what bullying is.

You don’t have to be physically hurt to be bullied. You don’t have to be slandered online. A bully can be anyone…a friend, a relative, a teacher. Just because someone follows up a cruel joke at your expense with, “I’m only kidding. You’re too sensitive.” doesn't mean what they did wasn’t bullying. Sure, we can all pick on each other from time to time but, when it hurts, it’s bullying.

It has to stop now. Enough is enough. It won’t get better on its own. We have to make it better.

Monday, October 10, 2011

World Mental Health Day

Dr. L (my therapist) said there’d be days like this. I’m careening rapidly toward a major meltdown. I didn’t sleep well, I have a headache, we’re short-staffed, I forgot to refill my Prozac and the phones will. not. stop. ringing.

Naturally, this makes it the perfect time to talk about World Mental Health Day. I’m grateful to live in a country where people are encouraged to seek help and that my insurance covers most of my care. I can see a therapist every two weeks and generic Prozac is fairly inexpensive.

Yes, my insurance company makes me jump through hoops to get the care I need and I can’t go as often as I’d like, but I’ve got it pretty good. Things could be much, much worse for me and I’m gateful for what I have.

I blog for World Mental Health Day

Sunday, October 9, 2011

New People (EEK!) Part 2 and an Anniversary of Loss

I stressed all week about being faced with new people.  I knew, being the driver, that I wouldn't be able to even have a drink or two to loosen up.  When the ceremony ended, I think I looked pretty calm on the outside, but that's when the panic really set in.  I think my exact thoughts were, "Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit..."  Turned out that I didn't need to freak out at all.

The wedding was perfect.  My friends looked more in love than I have ever seen them look.  My table at the reception was the Chicks, one acquaintance (a sweetheart I had only met once or twice), her husband and son and two women I hadn't met before.  The Chicks sat on either side of me as a buffer, but it turned out it wasn't needed.  We were all friends by the end of the night, even piling (all 6 of us women) into the photo booth at one point, with an open umbrella.  I've never felt more at ease and I know I owe it to my girls' sensitivity to my issues and the bride and groom's desire to put us at a table where we would be comfortable -- table 4 was the PLACE TO BE.  I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a party at all, let alone as much as I did last night.  Congrats again to Cap'n Emo and Private Crumb on starting a new life together!

On the other end of the life event spectrum, today is the 1st anniversary of the day my sweet friend Chris lost her battle with cancer.  She was like no one I've ever known and I can't help but wonder if she wasn't an undiagnosed Aspie, herself.  Regardless, she was someone that everyone loved, even if they didn't like her.  A year out, and her Facebook page is STILL more active than mine.  Just because she's not physically here, doesn't mean she stops being our friend.  I'm grateful to have known her and, now that I'm older, I wish I could be more like her.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Steve Jobs is gone. I’ve never been a full Apple convert…I love my iPod and want an iPhone, but I also love my PC. Regardless of my position on Apple products, my heart aches for his family and for the tech world. I’m a total gadget nerd. New innovations excite me to no end and Jobs was an innovator like no other. Last night on Twitter, someone called him “our Edison”. I couldn’t agree more, though he was not the “Wizard of Menlo Park” but the “Pirate of Silicon Valley”.

For those of us who struggle with being different and those of us who are proud to be unique, Steve Jobs was a role model. Sure, he was aggressive and temperamental, but he said what was on his mind. He turned a box of wires and chips into art and made it possible for people to carry their entire music libraries in their pockets. The futuristic tech we dreamed of as kids exists because of people like him.

He was a highly quotable man and he delivered a moving commencement address at Stanford in 2005. I wanted to post this here, more for myself than anyone else. His advice is exactly what I need to remember every day.

June 12, 2005

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky – I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation - the Macintosh - a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me – I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I retuned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

New People (EEK!)

I do not adapt well. I know this. I hate change. Unfortunately, this makes my job an endless source of stress for me. In the ten years that I have worked here, the manager has changed SEVEN times. Three of those changes have happened in 2011. Three times in ten months, I’ve had to explain what Asperger’s is and why I have to have my office door closed and my iPod on to get things done. I’ve had to get used to a new person’s voice and habits. I’ve had to get them used to my therapy schedule. Having an RA flare-up, I’ve also had to explain that, while also dealing with the changes in my routine that come with a flare-up.

For my NT friends and family, meeting new people is normal, even exciting sometimes. For me, it’s terrifying. The desire to fit in and do the “right” things is overwhelming, as is the fear that everyone is looking at me and judging. The idea of embracing who I am and not trying to conform to what I think people expect is still new to me. One day, maybe I’ll be comfortable. For now, encountering new people is traumatic for me.

There’s also the issue of social situations. I avoid them at all costs unless I’m going to know 90% of the people there and I know it won’t be too chaotic. This Saturday, two of my friends are getting married (Yay! Congrats to Captain Emo and Private Crumb!) which means getting dressed up, driving to an unfamiliar place and being surrounded by strangers. Normally not my scene, but I’ll make an exception for such a special occasion. I’m going to talk to my therapist tomorrow to see what kind of tips she can offer for getting through the reception without stressing myself out.

Back to the topic of embracing who I am or, as I call it, embracing my weirdness. I think I need to make more of an effort to just be myself…or rather, less effort being someone I’m not. I’m unusual. That’s not a bad thing. All right, enough navel gazing for now. I’ve got Letters To Cleo playing on my iPod, a stack of work orders to process and toilets (yes, toilets) to order. Oh, the glamour.