A Bit of Weird Science

I am pleased to announce that my Amazon Affiliate Store has made its first dollar.  One dollar and sixty-five cents, to be exact.  It’s a small amount of money but, when I look at it, I try to see it in relation to something specific.  For example, for around $1.65, I could buy a steel-bristle brush with which I’ll remove rust from parts and improve the van I buy.  So much in life comes down to perception, and so much of our perception is a matter of choice.

As the coronavirus saga continues, I find my curiosity triggered almost daily.  Something I have been wondering is, why is washing hands with soap and water so effective against COVID-19?  More effective, in fact, than hand sanitizer.  The answer is pretty cool.

Essentially, the “skin” of a virus is made of lipids (fats).  Normally, fats and water don’t mix.  Water alone will just run over COVID-19, leaving the virus untouched and active.   Soap attracts both fat and water, which means that soap bonds with the water AND the fat, pulling the virus apart and rendering it inert.  The virus is literally destroyed, its pieces washed away by the water.

The problem with alcohol-based sanitizers is that they are only effective if the alcohol content is at least 60% by volume.  If you use a minimally effective product, one that is just barely at the 60% mark, any sweat or other moisture on your hands can dilute the thin layer of sanitizer, bringing its alcohol content by volume below the effective 60% mark.  Science is cool.

And how about copper?  Yes, good old copper.  Believe it or not, copper is fantastic at killing microbes.  When a microbe lands on a copper surface, it is bombarded by copper ions that punch through the outer shell of a virus and interrupt its basic life processes.

Copper’s benefits have been recognized since ancient times when people noticed that water carried in copper vessels retained its quality longer.  This is not to say that wearing a copper bracelet will protect you from COVID-19.  But it does mean that if you are in the market for some new doorknobs or drawer handles, copper is worth spending a little extra.

Switching topics, I was recently asked for clarification about what I intend to do once I have a van.  Happy to answer.

Keeping in mind that COVID-19 has put a new twist on a lot of people’s plans, I am still eager to take WeirdWanderer.com on the road.  That’s the primary goal of all of this.  I expect that getting a van and fixing it up for travel will take at least a few more months.  Hopefully, by the time the pandemic has run its course, I’ll be just about ready to get going.

When I do take this show on the road, my intention is to just explore.  I don’t want WeirdWanderer.com to be a vanlife blog.  Just by the nature of my plans, I expect vanlife will be part of it, just not the focus.  Autism will likely also play a major part in my story, because it has for almost half a century and it’s not going to just stop.  But the primary focus, the overall theme of this thing I’m trying to build, will be my exploration of a category of people, places and things I label the “mirific world”.

Mirific means having to do with things miraculous, marvelous and magical.  Folklore and the paranormal have been powerful interests of mine for a very long time.  I love discovering new stories, new lore, new magic.  I love stories about mysterious creatures, hidden places and obscure cultural practices.  There’s something extremely powerful about knowing, about getting a peek behind the curtain, so to speak.

When I was much younger, I had the idea of buying a van and doing travel journalism.  Things got in the way.  I allowed distractions and the judgement of others about the “reality” of such a career to sway me away from my dream.  This was before YouTube, before reality shows, back in the long, long ago when the idea of someone just traveling around and sharing what they discovered along the way was still a rare thing.

I spent some time as a professional writer, but it was not enjoyable work.  How much enjoyment can you get from writing fluff pieces about man-cave furniture and interviews with bank execs.  My writing career did not endure, however.  But my love of story, of research and investigation, most certainly did.

WeirdWanderer.com is my way of getting back to my dream, of learning and sharing and walking a path I set, instead of one set for me by others.  I hope that clarifies things somewhat.

If you want to help support WeirdWanderer.com, please make use of my Amazon Affiliate Store when doing your Amazon shopping.  It’s cool because even if you don’t buy an item from my store, so long as you navigate to Amazon through one of my links, the next purchase you make within 24 hours will help.  Everything is handled through Amazon.  None of your personal information is shared with me or any part of this website.  My store is, essentially, just a link to Amazon.  You can also check out my Facebook page

Stay safe and always… EMBRACE YOUR WEIRD!

Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes, Turn and Face the… Weird

My wife and I have been doing our best to practice social distancing.  For me the concept of avoiding people is nothing new.  It’s actually kind of my jam.  One of the newest benefits of autism is that my natural aversion to crowds and unfamiliar environments fits right in with the new social paradigm created by the virus.  For my wife, an NT, it’s more disruptive.

She’s a teacher and has been ordered to work from home.  It will likely be many weeks, if not months, before face-to-face classes resume.  The subject she teaches is one in which some physical interaction with students is fundamental.  It’s going to be a difficult transition for everyone, but there are some benefits.  For one thing, she figures she’ll save around eight hours of commute time per week.  We also get to spend a lot more time together, which is awesome.

We went for a drive, something we haven’t done in a long time.  We saw a twelve-foot-tall metal chicken, half an airplane someone with a sense of humor had put in the ground tail up and a church that called itself a “Cowboy Church”.  We also discovered the longest dead-end road I’ve ever seen.  What we did not do is get out of the car, even to take a picture with Mecha-Chicken, though the temptation was great.

Can one be both part of and apart from the world at the same time?  This is a question many need to start answering.

There is a theory, one I like for obvious reasons, that autism may not be a disorder, but rather an as-yet-incomplete evolutionary process.  The first objection to this usually revolves around the fact that autism, at first glance, does not seem to provide any evolutionary advantage.  But that discounts context.

When most people think of evolution, they think of things like opposable thumbs, walking upright and the physical size of the brain.  But those sorts of gross, physical changes are not the whole picture.

There is a saying in neuropsychiatry – “Neurons that fire together, wire together”.  Essentially this describes how neural architecture changes according circumstances, most obviously in forming habits.  You eat junk food, junk food makes you feel good, your brain links junk food to feeling good.  Repeat this often enough and your brain will physically “rewire” itself to create a permanent link between junk food and the release of chemicals that make you feel good.  Boom, you’ve just developed a junk food addiction.

Now look at society as a whole. 

Even before the coronavirus, social distancing was nothing new.  Technology was facilitating less dependence upon face-to-face gatherings.  The ability to focus on a single task for lengthy periods of time while blocking out external distractions was becoming an essential skill in many of the best paying jobs.  Education and even personal entertainment were becoming more individualized.  Social skills were shrinking in importance. 

Taken to an extreme, which we’re now actually getting to see, who will be better adapted to these changes, a neurotypical person whose fundamental nature requires social interaction, or a high-functioning autistic who would rather hyper-focus and avoid groups of people altogether?

Keep in mind, I’m not saying the autistics of today – myself included – are some sort of evolutionary paragons.  But the theory doesn’t say that the current iteration of autism is the end product of a new evolutionary process.  Only that it is one step on a new path. 

Another objection to the “autism as evolution” idea is that evolution requires millions of years, or at least hundreds of thousands.  But does it?  Neurons that fire together, wire together.  Thanks to research into neuroplasticity we now know that it is possible for the brain to change in major ways within a period of a single lifetime.

Victims of traumatic brain injuries have shown a remarkable ability to adapt so that functions once thought to be locked to a specific region of the brain can be taken over by other areas.  Even fundamental functions such as senses and motor control have been shown to be able to migrate to other areas of the brain.

We’re not talking about a muscle or a bone.  The brain is still largely a mystery.  Some theories suggest that memory and cognition operate on a quantum-scale.  Is it really such a stretch to think that such a marvelous device can change far more quickly than, say, a spine or a hand?

The theory holds that, at some point in the future, the evolutionary process of which autism is part, will result in a new kind of human.  A sort of hyper-cerebral.   Even in our time we can see an increasing number of autistics who’ve managed make their autism work.

The biggest problem with evolution is that it’s something that can really only be viewed in hindsight.  At some point in the future, will humanity look back on what we now call neurotypicals in the same way it now looks back on homo habilis?  I would not expect this idea to go over well in the current world.  Understandably, no one wants to be thought of as last year’s model.  Thinking that your version of humanity is on its way out is a hard pill to swallow.  But don’t worry, even if this theory turns out to have legs, it will still likely be at least centuries before Homo autisticus becomes a finished product.

As always, if you would like to support this blog, you can do so by clicking the “Follow” button below and also by liking my Facebook page on which I post notifications anytime a new blog post becomes available.

Also, please check out my Amazon Affiliate Store in the navigation bar at the top of this page.  Going to Amazon by clicking any of my linked products means that a purchase made in the following 24 hours sends a small commission my way, even if it’s not a product in my store.  It’s the easiest way to financially support WeirdWanderer.com and it won’t cost you a cent.

Stay safe and…
EMBRACE YOUR WEIRD!
Someday, Mecha-Chicken, someday.

Things Are Getting Weirder

Years from now an interviewer will ask me about the humble beginnings of my blog.  I’ll tell her how it all began back in 2020, during the Coronavirus outbreak.  She’ll comment on the oddity of having started a path that fundamentally required travel and getting into unfamiliar situations during a time when everyone was being told to stay home.

“Well,” I’ll say.  “It was always going to be a leap of faith.  I guess the universe wanted to make sure I was really committed.”

“I’ll bet it was a strange time,” she’ll say.

“No,” I’ll respond.  “But it was definitely WEIRD!”

COVID-19 is affecting everyone, and it’s creating some truly weird situations.  Stores are out of hand sanitizer, isopropyl alcohol, toilet paper, even milk and aloe gel.  Amazon, the king of mega-stores, has a wait list for these things.  Everywhere you look click-baiting, so-called “news” sources are psychologically profiteering from fear.  So, the first thing I want to say is, relax.  Relax doesn’t mean get complacent, it just means don’t freak out every time the infection numbers jump. 

Don’t rely on news websites, YouTube channels, etc.  They have agendas and their number one priority is to get clicks and views, this blog included.  That’s why I’m not going to go on at length about COVID-19 – I’m just not qualified to do so.  The only advice I’ll to give is to stick to good sources, such as the four listed below.  You’ll stay informed without all the fear mongering and anxiety profiteering.  I’m in the United States, which is why they are U.S. centric.

That’s my PSA.  Now, let’s get to the blog.

My journaling class is canceled.  It seemed a wise choice given the circumstances.  I’ve added links to my Amazon Affiliate Store for some tools I use to make things.  Remember, even if you don’t buy the exact item listed, if you buy nearly anything from Amazon within twenty-four hours of clicking any of my item links, it will still help support this blog.

Making things has always been a passion of mine.  I’ve recently been making boxes for tarot cards and decorating them using pyrography.  Pyrography (wood burning) is such a beautiful artform.  Personally, I enjoy making simple designs – which may also be a function of my skill level – but the works of some experts are just amazing, almost photographic.

It’s not uncommon for autistics to enjoy some form of art and/or craft.  Assembling something whether it’s a drawing, an engine or what have you, is often extremely calming and allows the autistic mind to hyper-focus without the stigma associated with “zoning out” or “daydreaming”.  It’s entirely natural for an autistic to hyper-focus.  But doing so has long been considered a negative aspect of autism, something to be “treated”.

Recently, forward-thinking companies have begun to recognize the intrinsic value of employees who can hyper-focus.  The quality control industry especially has recognized the potential of autistics.  Unfortunately, there are NTs who think it’s their job to tell businesses that they shouldn’t “take advantage” of autistics for profit.  While I prefer to think that these protestations on our behalf are well-intentioned, they are not required or even asked for.

Let me tell you a story. 

Decades ago, there was a popular form of entertainment called the traveling freak show.  Essentially, a freak show was exactly what the name implies.  People with some form of physical deformity, conjoined twins, dwarfism, something that made them abnormal, were put on display to be gawked at by the paying public.  Sounds terrible, right?

So, a bunch of “normals” began protesting the freak shows, petitioning to have them banned.  And it worked.  Freak shows across the country were told they could no longer exist.  But here’s the rub.  While of course there were exceptions, the majority of freak show owners treated their stars reasonably well, at least as well as any other employee, providing a home, a community and gainful employment for people who otherwise had nowhere else to go.

While the good-hearted normals enjoyed their warm, fuzzy feeling of having “helped” the poor weirdos, they never bothered to come up with an alternative form of employment for them.  Most of the former freaks simply couldn’t do a normal job, either because they were physically unable, or because none of the normals would hire them.  What happened to these “rescued” weirdos?  Most became homeless, ended up in asylums or prisons, and died alone, abandoned and forgotten.

The situation may not be exactly the same, but the moral of the story is this – autistics are more than just a cause for good-hearted NTs to get behind.  We’re people.  We have faces and dreams and goals and hopes.  Sometimes, if we’re very fortunate, we find a way to transform our autism into something useful, like I’m trying to do with this blog. 

But such a confluence of circumstances occurs so rarely that it can be like trying to win the lottery.  If I am very, very lucky it will still likely be years before I can actually make a living as a blogger.  If it weren’t for my wonderful NT wife, I don’t even know where I’d be.  Probably just another forgotten and abandoned weirdo, homeless or in an institution.  So, if a company is willing to employ autistics because they are autistic instead of in spite of it, don’t take that away from us.

Speaking of my wife, she is going to be working from home for the next few weeks on orders from her employer.  Lots of people have been ordered to do the same.  For decades companies have been slowly moving away from the physical office model toward a tech-assisted system in which people work in relative isolation from the comfort of their homes.  Do you think that COVID-19 will be the thing that finally tips the balance?  Will we become a majority telecommute economy?  Even more interestingly, will NTs have to adapt toward a more autistic way of thinking?  How weird would that be?  If you’re an NT and you find yourself having to suddenly handle a new work paradigm, just remember…

EMBRACE YOUR WEIRD!

#ActuallyAutistic

After some glitches, I believe I have the core site running stable.  I’m populating the Amazon Affiliate Store with items and I’m in the process of making a few videos for the YouTube channel, to which I’ll be posting a link when it’s operational. To start, I intend to post a regular blog entry every Tuesday, with possible extra entries if something wild happens and I can’t wait until the weekend to tell you about it.

On the 21st of this month – March – I’ll be running a class in journaling at Peace in the Forest in Wake Forest, NC.  Specifically, this course will be about what’s known as “free journaling”.  This is a semi-structured form of personal journaling that’s an excellent way to take what’s in your head and be able to look at it objectively.  It has helped me a lot.  Free journaling can be extremely therapeutic, often revealing aspects of our thoughts and feelings we wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.

On a personal note, this is an experiment not only as a possible income source toward getting the van, but also as a way to try and overcome some of the anxiety I feel about interacting with strangers, which is a common trait among autistics.  Fear of putting myself in front of an audience almost caused me to fail many classes in grade school.  I’d ace tests but when the teacher declared it was presentation time I’d fold like a napkin.  This was back way before IDEA and IEPs.

Back in my day – how old do I sound? – it was thought by most teachers, and certainly by the bureaucrats who made the rules, that the healthiest thing to do was help (read as “force”) a child conform.  The concept of neurodiversity wasn’t even a topic of conversation outside of obscure University research studies and graduate theses.  Only the most specialized psychologists were even starting to take a serious look at ways to integrate autistics into regular class settings without crushing them down to fit the accepted version of normalcy.

So, this journaling class is a big step for me.  I can feel my nerves starting to jangle as the date approaches, but, like this website, it’s a step on a path.  That’s what life is, really, just one foot in front of the other.

In other news, my blog was discovered by a very cool list of other blogs by autistics.  It’s called Actually Autistic Blog List and is a great resource if you want to take a deep dive into what being #ActuallyAutistic is really like.  And, if you’re an autistic, it’s a great list for not feeling alone in the world.

It’s an interesting thing, that hashtag #ActuallyAutistic.  It’s caused quite a bit of controversy.  Being a spectrum, autism is a hard thing to pin down.  It’s not as though there’s a blood test that can be run, the results of which are beyond question.  Autistics themselves can range widely in how symptoms present themselves.  It’s not like having the flu where you get a fever and have a fever regardless of if you are in a stadium filled with thousands or in a booth at a restaurant sitting across from just one person.

If someone is non-verbal, reacts to the slightest touch as though they’ve just been burned and requires constant supervision, no one is going to question it when their caregiver explains that he/she is autistic.  But what happens when it’s not so obvious?

I spent the first thirty-plus years of my life bodging together patches and masks to cover my oddities, what I later discovered were my symptoms of autism.  I’m smart and good with patterns, so I was successful – to an extent – at making casual acquaintances think that, while a bit weird, I was mostly normal.  This was easier to do in my youth because young people are supposed to be a little weird before they find themselves and settle into life.

But when I became old enough – around twenty-ish – people started to expect that I’d get my poo together and stop being weird, that I’d “grow up”, get a job and settle down – that I would normalize.  Of course, that didn’t happen. 

If anything, I appeared even less normal since I was now being compared to adults instead of children.  My quietness in crowds, my aversion to being touched except by people I have a certain vibe about, my odd ways of looking at things and the little glitches in my thought processes all became far more obvious as I aged and those early masks fell apart.

If you know something about autism, spend some time with me, really get to know me, you probably wouldn’t doubt that I’m autistic.  But that’s an investment most people don’t make.  Humans are, despite all the sayings to the contrary, a first impression people.  Early humans were the weakest animals in the jungle and had to evolve the ability to quickly assess potential threats.

Humans have only been the dominant species on Earth for, if we’re being generous, a few thousand years.  Even just a few hundred years ago humans were limited to little more than pointy objects as defense against animals and other humans.  The tendency to make quick judgements based on minimal information is still very much a fundamental feature of the human brain.  So, when I’m smiling and conversing with someone in what I feel is a safe, intimate environment about a range of complex topics, I don’t blame people for thinking I’m fairly normal.

But that’s the issue with making judgement calls about who is and isn’t “actually autistic”.  I believe that autism has been wildly over-diagnosed.  I believe it has become trendy because it is still so poorly understood that it can be put on and taken off like a silly scarf on a warm day and no one wants to be that guy who questions it.  I believe there are people who use autism as an affectation, part of a “look”, like wearing glasses not because you need them but because you think they make you look interesting. 

But that’s just my opinion.  It’s doesn’t qualify me to be the autism police.  It doesn’t mean I can be sure who is and is not actually autistic.  It’s even possible that, in the fullness of time, autism as a diagnosis may be discarded entirely.  As the spectrum is understood to a greater degree than it is now, science may discover that this thing we now call Autism Spectrum Disorder is actually a collection of specific neuropsychological conditions, each quantified and categorized individually.  But, until that happens, autism is the word we use, and I don’t think it’s wise to start calling people out on it until we can do so from a much more secure position.

It’s okay to be weird, actually autistic or not. EMBRACE YOUR WEIRD!

Welcome to the Weird

I was going to call this website The Van Project, but the name was taken.  If you’re reading this you probably know me, at least in passing.  Perhaps I handed you a card and said, “check this out.”  In any case, you probably have at least some idea of why I’m doing this, why getting a van is so important to me.  However, it’s traditional on blogs to offer up some context in one’s first post, so, here goes.

I was diagnosed as autistic in my mid-thirties.  That’s when a doctor wrote a word on a piece of paper and made it official.  But, of course, I had been autistic all along.  As a child, depending upon who you asked, I was strange, or odd, or difficult.  Sometimes I was even a problem.  I was smart, no one doubted that, but I was certainly not normal.  The most helpful thing about being diagnosed as autistic was that it meant that, while I still wasn’t normal, I also wasn’t alone.

My childhood, and a good percentage of my adult life, happened prior to what most people these days would think of as the Internet.  There were scattered bulletin boards that could be reached after listening to a dial-up connection sing its song and a warning was given to everyone in the household, “DON’T PICK UP THE PHONE!”  But nothing like the ubiquitous web of easily accessible information we all take for granted now.   I couldn’t just hop online, do a Google search and find a million stories about people like me, stories that might have assured me that I wasn’t the weirdest thing in the universe.  Everyone lives in their own world, but for a person with autism, growing up pre-Internet, it was a world with no stars in the sky.  I was a lonely child.

Even after I had my diagnosis and the Internet opened my eyes to a wider view, I never grew comfortable anywhere outside of my own head.  Most of my time was, and still is, spent in a book or in some other way learning about things most people don’t trouble themselves with, things on – and often a few steps beyond – the outer edges of normal.  My interest in things paranormal, occult, fringe and generally weird goes back a long way.  My desire to explore and have adventures goes back even longer.  And my love of story goes all the way back to my earliest memories.

It might surprise the average neurotypical – what we call non-autistics – to hear that being autistic can sometimes actually be great.  We see things differently than most people.  The world, to me, is full of stories, and every story is a pattern.  I’ve always been good with patterns.  I have a knack for them.  You might think such a knack would mean that I could apply it somehow to making a living.  But you’d be wrong.  After decades of trial and failure, I am forced to admit that normal things such as regular jobs are not within my power.  I’m not looking for a pity party, just stating a fact.

Maybe you get up in the morning, have your coffee, go to the office, do your eight hours, come home and collect your paycheck.  I envy that.  It may seem odd, but, to me, that’s freakin’ magic!  This thing that millions of people do every day and think it’s the most mundane thing in the world is simply beyond me.  Yes, it’s frustrating, but there it is.

As I said, I’m not looking for pity, so I won’t bore you with the difficulties of being a child with undiagnosed autism in an abusive home.  It was not a happy time.  Let’s leave it at that.  More important than my past, however, are my present and my future.

There comes a time in every life when one must figure out who they are and what path they are going to walk.  It’s taken me a long time, most of it spent taking other people’s advice and trying to be (or at least appear) normal, to realize that my actual place is to seek out and enjoy the weirdness in the world, and, perhaps even more importantly, in myself.  So, I intend to spend the remainder of my life in exploration of the weird.

My first step on this journey is to obtain the means to travel.  I’ve always liked vans, even before I was old enough to drive.  Autistics often need isolation, a safe place where we can get away from the massive amount of sensory stimulation that overloads our brains.  I never developed a desire to put down roots.  Staying in one place, no matter how homey it may be, just isn’t my thing.  So, the first time I saw a van, one that wasn’t full of construction equipment, paint buckets, dayworkers or missionaries, I was blown away.  It was a sensory haven on wheels!  How cool is that!

But it’s more than just infatuation with the idea of a van.  A van will serve a very important role in my weird wanderings.  Many roles.  A van will serve as transportation to vastly increase the range of my explorations, as a free hotel room to make those explorations financially possible, as a base of operations from which I can conduct the business of exploration and, of course, as a haven to which I can retreat when my senses are overwhelmed by the world.

 I’m not looking for anything terribly expensive.  I’m not picky.  If it runs and the roof doesn’t leak, it will do just fine.  My intention is to get a van that is structurally and mechanically sound and modify it to suit my specific needs as cheaply as possible.  I see lots of Craig’s List in my future.  I’ve created this website so that, if you’d like to be involved in my efforts, as many options as possible can be made available to you.

I’ve begun an Amazon Affiliate Store page with links to some products I think people who follow me might enjoy and find useful.  If you don’t know what affiliate marketing is, click HERE to learn more.  There are no sketchy third parties involved, and every transaction is secure because it all goes through Amazon.  The only difference is that you get to Amazon through a link on my site.  What’s really cool is that you don’t even have to purchase the specific product to which I linked.  If you make a purchase within 24 hours of clicking one of my affiliate links, I still get a commission.  Also, there are no extra costs.  You just buy something off Amazon and Weird Wanderer gets a commission.  Easy as that.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be adding more opportunities to be involved. I expect this site to evolve as my journey progresses. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Thanks for reading and always EMBRACE YOUR WEIRD!