Monday, September 29, 2014

The FYI File: Honesty, Grace, and "MAD"-ness

Today marks six months since my last post, a new record for lengthy absences since I started blogging three years and three months ago. Resuming this is not “something that has slipped my mind”. It’s been on my mind constantly, and my failure to do so has illustrated the inertia and creative frustration that has dominated my life for most of 2014. Hence, a no-frills entry to bring us up to the present.

My feline son, Toby, looking especially angelic on 08/22/14.

Just Checking In

This past Spring, after I posted the clunkily titled "I Honestly Know Me: An Evaluation of an Evaluation", I found myself freaking out that I had just revealed way too much about the daily failures of my adult life and sunk into the scariest territory of all: humorlessness. At the time, I was writing down a lifetime's worth of experiences that lead to my self-diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome, all part of massive preparations, several months in advance, for scheduled neurocognitive testing in July. I was reading John Elder Robison’s Be Different: My Adventures With Asperger's and Rudy Simone’s Asperger’s On The Job at the time, books that were crucial to my self-understanding and self-empowerment. I was inspired by these incredible Aspergian authors to record my own experiences and put them aside for future use in a book. I hoped that fearlessly yet humorously delving deep into my personal experiences, as John Elder Robinson and Rudy Simone had done, might just help fellow undiagnosed Aspies identify and appreciate their uniqueness, as opposed to the more commonly realized experience of suffering in silent confusion. (This is not to suggest that all undiagnosed Aspies endure such struggles: I suspect that most successful people in the entertainment industry, including nearly all of my favorite artists, are fellow Aspies.) Due to a desire to save what I was writing at the time for the potential book-to-be, I found myself without anything to say on the blog. And my drive to find something fresh to write about quickly dissipated when a close loved one was diagnosed with cancer.

In the months since, I have witnessed incredible bravery and strength and sacrifice as my extraordinary aunt has fought valiantly against terminal illness with her sister and children beside her every step of the way. It has been a truly awesome demonstration of humanity at its finest, one that I have been honored to witness. But I would still give anything not to have seen such exemplary integrity, and to instead be in an alternate reality without cancer constantly striking the world's bravest and most inspiring people. My beloved aunt continues her battle, and in the months since it began my family and I have said goodbye to a young friend who died in a matter of days after finding out he had cancer. His loss was felt the world over, for he lived and touched lives on nearly every continent. These past few months also saw the passing of my Mother's Mother. Though just a few months shy of eighty-nine years old, my grandmother's death blindsided all of us who expected her to be with us for another decade, at least. My grandmother was a deeply spiritual person, as am I, and I have felt and continue to feel her near ever since the time of her passing. But this blessed comfort does not change the radically altered landscape for all of us, and particularly my Mother, who have only ever known this world with our beloved Nana in it.

09/20/11: My mother, her parents, and their beloved dog, Blinky, on my happiest of birthdays.

I went into 2014 predicting a year that would be profound and beautiful and a happy end to seven years of bad luck that plagued me since I graduated college in 2007. I cannot say that this year brought with it the euphoria that I hoped for. But it certainly has been profound, and I cannot deny that it has been beautiful, for I have learned more about appreciating life in the present tense than I ever have before. It was not until I was sixteen years old that Madonna’s Ray of Light album/era introduced me to the notion of “living in the moment”. And it would take another sixteen years before I truly understood the vital, urgent importance of taking that approach to my and loved ones’ journey here on Earth. The moments shared with my loved ones in 2014 are among my most cherished moments of all. And each has made me realize how incredibly blessed I am.

"MAD" About Her

Despite the sadness, I would also like to celebrate how many happy times there have been in the six months since my last post. Among the most purely and unoforgettably enjoyable of these experiences was being interviewed for Matteo Maccarinelli’s MAD For Madonna, an upcoming documentary about Madonna’s passionate global fanbase. I was honored beyond words to partake in this film thanks to the fan popularity of my "Vogue Boy" video, because I knew it would give me a chance to speak from the heart about the artist who has had the greatest singular impact on shaping my creative output. 

I spent weeks preparing for my film debut, fearing how I would come across to people who had only ever seen me as the child in the video, worrying I would let them down with how I had turned out. I simultaneously feared that in my state of anxiety I might forget something important I wanted to convey, or just blank out altogether and make myself, and in turn my allegiance to Madonna, a joke. I was so worked up by the day before filming that I couldn't sleep that night. But twelve hours before the interview, I saw a shooting star overhead while outside listening to Madonna’s “Superstar”. And about eight hours prior, a single leaf fell from a tree and glided down near me as I watched the sun rise. I felt the Universe was letting me know that things would play out just fine. And indeed, they did. 

I only got about two hours of sleep before the cameras were to roll, but my adrenaline was pumping and the filming itself was even more enjoyable than I could ever have imagined. The dialogue prompted by the wonderful interviewer/co-filmmaker, Madeline Herec Poirier, yielded a number of unexpected insights that were as beneficial to my understanding of my relationship with Madonna as they were, hopefully, to the film itself. In deciding what I would wear onscreen, I unearthed my favorite Madonna t-shirt, from The Confessions Tour, which I had retired in 2010 after being photographed in it when I met my OTHER favorite living artist, Dario Argento. I opted to resurrect and immortalize this t-shirt on June 6th, 2014, an incredibly well-timed day for filming as it was exactly three years after I uploaded my childhood video to Vimeo. I’m obsessed with dates, and with fate, as anyone who’s read this blog for long enough knows. And filming my interview three years after "Vogue Boy" brought the experience full circle in the most divine way possible.

My sister Jen took this post-filming photo, perfectly capturing the elation of that beautiful June 6th!

There But For A Goddess Named Grace

Speaking of dates and divinity, today marks three months since I began to (also) worship at the altar of Grace Jones. I’d deeply respected her since I discovered her in the '90s and much later became enamored with several of her singles after I fell in love with her in Richard Wenk’s vastly underrated Vamp. But this past June 29th, I decided to finally take a long delayed, well-worth-the-wait dive into her discography. I was inspired by the artwork of one of my favorite blogs,, to start with her 1982 album Living My Life. By the time I reached the closing track, “Unlimited Capacity For Love”, which has since become my favorite, I knew I was about to become a HUGE Grace Jones fan. Ever since that fateful summer evening, Miss Grace Jones has become my most-played musical artist of 2014, dominating my use of Spotify and YouTube for the entire summer before I was fortunate enough to be gifted several of her albums and the DVD of her One Man Show for my birthday on September 20th. I was not surprised to find that the music of Grace Jones is so brilliant, but I was surprised to find that it is so spiritual, and indeed the combination has been key in making her body of work the soundtrack to an unprecedentedly monumental year in my life. This is not to suggest that I’m not still constantly listening to Madonna, Donna Summer, Diana Ross or ABBA. But if Grace has overshadowed these long-time favorites in 2014, it’s because I’ve got a lot of lost time to make up for. And making up for it has been an utterly sublime pleasure.

Jump to 3:05 to witness the overpowering energy that obliterates inhibition and arouses empowerment in everyone who comes into contact with Miss Grace Jones!

Just Like Starting Over

And now, I close with a confirmation: I have Asperger’s Syndrome. 

Of course, you probably don't need me to tell you this if you’re a longtime reader of this blog familiar with the passions, obsessions, and/or writing style of "Aspies". But if you’re not, or if you’re someone like me who can’t rest easy without the validation of a medical professional, I’m happy to say that my diagnosis is official. Following up on several hours of neurocognitive testing at a top Boston hospital on July 10th, an incredible neuropsychologist told me on July 22nd that she agreed with my self-assessment and formally diagnosed me with Asperger’s Syndrome and co-morbid anxiety disorder. (Anxiety tends to go part and parcel with ASD, but my anxiety is severe enough to warrant a separate mention.) Out of respect to this incredible doctor who inspired and empowered me, I’ll withhold further details except to say that it was an entirely positive experience. Insurance challenges notwithstanding, I urge anyone who suspects they are an undiagnosed Aspie to pursue neurocognitive testing: my neuropsychologist's report was, without a doubt, the single most accurate assessment of me that has ever been written. 

I never thought that, at thirty three years old, I would be living with my family with a dusty college degree and no money, no job, no experience, no prospects, and no idea of how to change all of that. I struggle with severe impairment in executive functioning and long-hidden learning disabilities that were revealed in my testing, the combination of which, along with my anxiety, has left me reclusive, afraid to drive, and struggling to function in society as a normal adult. I share all of this in solidarity with others like me on the autistic spectrum, (once) undiagnosed adult Aspies who are, in my neuropsychologist’s words, “incredibly bright” yet unable to apply the gifts that they possess the way everyone around us seems able to.

The gift that I possess, which has kept me from being swallowed up by the inevitable depression that comes from such grave realizations, is the ability to write. For months I have felt robbed of this ability, paralyzed by medical and financial crisis and overwhelmed by fear and confusion. But after six months, I am determined to find a means of taking this gift that I have been given and utilizing it. I have to believe that I can still pull myself, my partner, and my family out of the rut I ended up in after years of living my life as an individual with undiagnosed autism spectrum disorder. With the support of my incredible loved ones and, I hope, a return to regularly writing for this blog, I think I might just have a shot at turning the challenges that haunt me in 2014 into the salvation that defines me in 2015.

My all-time favorite performance of my 2014 theme song:
"NEVER stop the action!"

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