Exiting “Quarantine”

I have been incredibly fortunate throughout this pandemic. I have had a job that was more than willing to let me work from home, the transition to working from home was pretty simple – I had already been working remotely two days a week prior to Covid. And, on top of that, I have been incredibly fortunate that my company continued to have business success during the pandemic, this wasn’t true for all workers who were able to shift to remote.

But, now, a year and a half later, with vaccines rolling out and the reduced spread, it is becoming quite apparent that we are now going to be expected to “return to normal”. Whatever that is.

Outside of traffic hours, I live 25 minutes from my office. During traffic hours.. I live between an hour to an hour and a half away (and have had times where that commute took 2 hours thanks to accidents). I find it odd that people would even remotely be willing to put up with these kinds of commutes again as we return to “normalcy”.

Personally, I have thrived with working from home. Even when I am struggling to exist because I’m getting burnouts (commonish for me, unfortunately, I’m someone that is kind of a workaholic and really good at not listening to my own self telling me that I’ve pushed myself too far) I can still do some work at home. In the office I’d also have to deal with those social shenanigans and I would typically just call in sick for my own sanity.

I’m dealing with a pretty pervasively awful burnout at the moment, it comes from doing honestly insane amounts of work with no time off since October (other than company holidays, and again, my own choices there). I know that if I take time off I’m just offloading my work onto my small team and/or I’ll have a ton of work when I come back, so it usually seems far less stressful to just overwork myself than to try and take time off.

And now, I’m trying to imagine a world in which I go back into an office.

There are benefits, for sure. It’s nice to be able to overhear conversations and learn thing that I wouldn’t otherwise learn just by hearing people talk about interesting problems or predicaments. It’s nice to occasionally get invited out for a drink after work, you know, the typical things that happen.

But generally I’m just thinking about how I don’t get to wear my comfy clothes, I put up with horrific traffic, have to deal with the constant buzz of conversation and keyboards as people get their work done, fluorescent lights, random noises, people bringing in their “emotional support” animals, and just so many conflicting sensory activities and I already don’t want to deal with it.

I enjoy being able to shut my door to my home office and just focus on the work I need to get done until it’s done. Not getting people making dumb jokes about how I was lost to the world because I didn’t hear them call my name because I was in my work. Not having people make fun of one of my most common self-stimming behaviors (running my hair across my lips) because let me tell you about how funny the joke/question/statement of “are you eating your hair?!” is after the 300th time.

After a year and a half of not dealing with a surplus of stimuli, it seems overwhelming to even think about going back. This whole rush to return to “the before times” seems like some people are caught up in a nostalgia trip instead of realizing what we gained from the pandemic. And, a quick rush to go back to ableism and exclusionary behaviors.

Manic Pixie Dream Girl Trope

We all know this trope, right? And can agree that it’s tired, hopefully.

If you’ve been living under a lovely rock for the last couple of decades, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a girl who basically exists to help make sure that the male main character can continue to develop his character in better ways.

She’s different and quirky. She is somewhat naïve and youthful, while also being deep and thoughtful. She is blissfully in her own world and above all of the tragic makings of standard youthful life. Sound familiar? Yeah, it does, because a whole lot of autistic women also fall into this kind of category.

Sweet! Right? Positive association with autistic women and all? Nah, not really. The problem is that this character is a half-assed character that never actually exists as anything except to make the dude better. She’s a fantasy as much as pretty much any other trope commonly seen in the media is a fantasy.

On top of that, she is completely unrealistic, since, you know, she isn’t a full person and pretty much only exists to act as a counterpart to the male lead.

While this trope is, thankfully, mostly dead, the damage has still been done to autistic women everywhere. So many of our peers saw these films with these dream girls and as a result, so many of our male peers began to see these traits as desirable in partners. Doesn’t sound too bad, overall, until you remember that the dream girl isn’t real. She has all of the fun-loving “quirks” of an autistic woman with none of the reality of an autistic woman.

It put so much of a responsibility on the autistic woman to be the magic key that fixes everything that was wrong with the jaded boy without paying any attention at all to the fact that the Manic Pixie has her own issues, and her own troubles and she can’t really afford to be some dude’s everything that pieces him back together.

Hell, I fit this mold so well in my younger life that even I embraced it, despite how much harm it was doing for me. I helped inspire and be the muse for past lovers, pushing them to better themselves and embrace their dreams, all while I was doing drudging crap like working at a Starbucks (which, no shade, I honestly enjoyed) instead of following my own dreams.

It was what I was supposed to do, right? Help my lovers grow into better people?

The problem is that at the end of the day, after helping change view points or follow their dreams, there was hardly any energy left for me. And that’s typically why so many of those relationships were so short lived.. Just like this trope is portrayed on screen. She flits in to make things better and then peaces out when the man can handle things on his own — just the ideal way to make her something worth missing.

Perhaps, it’s why that one line from Rent came to mean something to me:

Life’s too short, babe, time is flying. I’m looking for baggage that goes with mine

I spent so long being “forced” by my lovers into a role that was impossible to play, that I struggled so hard to play, that I had forgotten to take care of my own shit.

Eventually I learned to put up some boundaries, to remember that it’s not possible to be the Manic Pixie because she’s not real. And that my role in life is not to stand quietly (albeit in my own quirky way) behind a man empowering him, but to empower myself and find a love that will be empowered through my own power.

Big Name is on the Spectrum

So, this week, we had some “shocking” news about how Elon Musk has Asperger’s. I mean, basically the entire internet assumed as much already, but the context in and of itself was pretty tragic.

“Sorry that I’ve been a right ass, y’all, but it’s because I’m autistic”. Which, honestly, just seems like a fake apology.

I won’t really get into the love him or hate him (I suppose its obvious from the above how I feel about him, but that’s really beside the point). I keep reading about how we should be thrilled because some generally well-regarded famous billionaire is autistic and it might change people’s perspectives on autism.

Alright. So, Anthony Hopkins wasn’t good enough? Hannah Gadsby? There are plenty of famous autistic folks out there. And this particular form of autism is neither shocking nor really that great a vision of autism.

I think most autistic people can handle someone else knowing more about them about things well outside of their areas of expertise without calling them a pedophile repeatedly, afterall.

But, really, yet another socially inept, white, tech-driven, arrogant, asshole. Is that really a “positive” association with autism? Yeah, socially inept is definitely a trait of autism, and it shouldn’t be frowned upon as hard as it is, but you can be socially inept without your ineptitude mostly coming from a place of arrogance.

Perhaps I’m just being a total negative nancy, and what people will really see is that autism can lead to a strong desire to expand our space-faring abilities and work in some fashion to improve the global conditions (making electric cars cool and some bad-ass solar panels). Maybe they’ll focus on how, in spite of his practically nonexistent social skills his ability to focus on his special interests led to him becoming top of the line in his field?

But, I think I fear that people will mostly focus on his twitter snapbacks and general attitude and take it as the end-all and be-all of autism, and that those of us on the spectrum who display it in a very different way will now receive even more disbelief.

“But you don’t act like Elon Musk!”

All I really know is that I’m hoping we can get some much more varied figureheads for the autistic community. Hopefully not one that wants to create an implantable chip to cure us as if we are malignant to the world.

The Characters that ‘Get Me’ Pt 1 – Temperance Brennan

Temperance Brennan is an interesting character, because, of course, like most characters of her era, she is never actually diagnosed with anything. Fans say she is autistic, the creator says that they chose not to diagnose her because they didn’t want any bad mojo to impact the show because of people’s prejudices, and that she based the character off of someone she knew with Aspergers (supposedly, I’m not real hip on following Hollywood or TV news, honestly, but this was sorta what I gathered during some of my research, feel free to correct me if you know better!).

To back up a wee bit, Bones first aired in 2005, and I first watched Bones in probably 2009 or 2010. I was definitely immediately drawn into the entire show because of Temperance Brennan. Never in any show have I ever related to a character half as well as I relate to this lovely character.

Can she be overwhelmingly annoying at times? Hells to the yes. She definitely puts entirely too much emphasis on IQ being almost an actual measurement of a person’s value, which is just incredibly obtuse. But, I’m known to be a little bit of a know it all and don’t always know when to stop talking and when it is really better to just let the mild differences between what someone said and what I think or know to be true just slide on by without saying something, so who am I to talk?

In the early episodes, Temperance is brusque but damned good at her job (the best in the world, as she’d love to remind you). Her inelegancies are more than made up for by the fact that she is literally unmatched by any other forensic anthropologist in the world. And of course she is a beautiful and somewhat naïve woman, albeit very liberal in her views on romantic dalliances.

Throughout the many seasons of Bones, Temperance makes very few good first impressions on anybody (unless, of course, it is men who want to sleep with her, because you know, it looks good on TV). She puts people in their place, corrects them, often bluntly and somewhat rudely. She has no patience for fools or inaccuracies or well, pretty much anything that is irrelevant and takes her time away from doing things that actually matter (like, you know, her job).

Learning about her is a little bit of a love story in and of itself, its a slow burn. You don’t get to know her just by watching one season. You learn that as a teenager she had a special interest in anatomy and would perform dissections in the basement of her high school with road kill and that all of the other kids would bully her for it. She had heaps of family drama and spent some time in foster care (because her dad was on the run.. it’s TV drama y’know).

Over time you get past the prickly exterior and the brusque outer shell and you learn to see the inner workings of a character with an inner wealth of empathy. A woman who has untold depths of empathy for kids who are in foster care and the challenges they face and have to endure. A woman who has to be cold and look at the facts because if she stopped and saw the bones on her table as a person she would never be able to find their killer. A woman who almost never understands her best friend but always stands by and supports her anyway. A woman who comes back multiple times from once in a lifetime anthropological finds to help someone else’s career and who helps save a former intern and friend held hostage in Iraq.

Watching her deal with romance was even more enlightening for me, as it was like holding a mirror to myself. Some things came easily for her, others not so much. Letting down her guard and actually allowing herself to fall in love? That was definitely in the “not-so-easy” camp.

Somewhere in the middle of the seemingly never-ending amount of seasons, Temperance and Booth nearly have their moment for a serious relationship. Booth tells her that he is the gambler and he knows that she is the one and he wants to make this work. Temperance tries to brush it off with a casual, “No, the FBI won’t let us work together” because she doesn’t even know how to process this moment. But Booth won’t let her do that and pushes back and she breaks down and tells him that all of this time he thought she was the one that needed protecting, but the truth is that he is the one that needs protecting — from her.

Special Agent Seeley Booth : Protection from what?
Dr. Temperance ‘Bones’ Brennan : From me. I don’t have your kind of open heart.

Bones – “The Parts in the Sum of the Whole” (Season 5 Episode 16)

She’s crying, and I’m crying because I can’t even tell you how much I relate to that line. I remember every single heart I have broken in my time. Each one takes its toll on me, because many of them I didn’t want to break and I don’t know how I did it or any way to prevent it. Breaking them was like breaking a piece of my own heart and each time I would get sick afterward. I started trying to come up with ways to protect people I cared about from myself, because there must be something wrong with me. I had convinced myself for a long time that I must not be worthy of love because it seemed like all I ever wrought was pain.

Over time and throughout the seasons, she slowly opens herself up to the family she created with her friends, the love she wanted but was afraid of, and even to the family she yearned for but felt she didn’t want her (her father and brother). We watch her grow and develop skills that were missing in the early seasons while still keeping her sometimes oafish blunt edge about her.

I’ve basically already written an entire book about Temperance at this point, but there are two more major quotes that I really think that pretty much any autistic person can likely relate to, but I especially do.

After the years of slowly opening herself up to the hurt that other people can (and will) cause her, Temperance realizes that she has grown beyond what she was and how she perceived herself.

For so much of my life my intelligence was all I had. I may not have had a family, but I understood things that nobody else could. My brain, the way I think, is who I am. Who I was.

Temperance Brennan – Bones – “The Final Chapter: The End in the End” (Season 12 Episode 12)

This entire quotation hits me in a way that is hard to explain. For so much of my life if you had asked me what the best thing about myself was or what my strengths were, you would pretty much only get one answer – “I’m smart”. Being smart was pretty much my identity, even though I tried very hard not to rub it in people’s faces (which is hard when you’re a know-it-all-type). And it’s true. I am smart. I have had so many people comment on it, call me smarter than they are, all of that lovely jazz. But it’s not all that I am.

I am extraordinarily compassionate, I am slow to trust and loyal to a fault, I will fight your battles for you when you aren’t sure you are strong enough to fight them anymore. I have a knack for pattern recognition and a fantastic memory, sure, but they aren’t what make me a good mother for my child, they aren’t what make me a good spouse or a good friend.

And, when her father dies, Temperance’s friends are doing kind friend things where they keep trying to check up on her. Lovely people and all.

Angela: How are you?
Brennan: Everyone keeps asking me that, I don’t know how to answer that question.

Bones – “The Final Chapter: The Grief and the Girl” (Season 12 Episode 8)

Hearing this quotation, even in the context of the episode honestly made made me laugh because I have pretty much literally answered that exact same thing verbatim in similar types of situations. It’s such a complicated thing to answer in such hard situations but people expect you to be ready with something on the go.

I definitely need time to process everything and I would be much happier if people would just let me do my thing and come back around when I am ready and have processed what I feel (and maybe figured out what I feel) instead of trying to hound me about it.


So there you have it, honestly, probably a bit too in-depth, but it is what it is. I definitely love Temperance Brennan and have spent way too much time thinking about her in the universe she lives in and how I relate to her.

There are definitely more of these to come, as I have a couple of these “probably autistic” characters that have always been super close to my heart.

Perception and Intent

With (very late) respect to Autism Awareness month, and also with a lens cast on my own personal history, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on a sentence that I read on reddit quite recently.

“I learned to take people at their intent rather than their words”

The context was heartbreaking in and of itself, but the sentence itself hit me like a freight train. I have learned to live my life by an entirely different motto.

Perception matters more than intent

I spent nearly every waking moment of my life thinking about all of the ways that my words or actions might be perceived differently than I intended them to, and that it matters much more than my intent did. I have basically gaslit myself into believing that the neurotypical world is right and I have to adjust.

So hearing someone say something that basically just shows that people actually can sit there and show the leniency to understand each other?

The context, by the way? Her daughter died. So she had to deal with people saying ignorant things like “I know how you feel, I lost my dog” and the like. So instead of being angry she chose to understand that they likely knew that they couldn’t truly relate to her immense grief, but the closest they could come to it was losing a pet. So they were trying to relate to her. They were showing a kindness in a pretty ignorant and rude way, but still a kindness.

I still, in a lot of ways, agree with my life motto. If I hurt your feelings, it really doesn’t matter what my intentions were, your feelings are hurt and no amount of me doubling down on my intentions is going to make this situation better. The best solution is a heartfelt apology, deep communication, and finding ourselves a new common ground.

But I didn’t learn to live by this phrase because of having difficult arguments with loved ones, or needing to remind myself to put myself in others shoes (I’m overly empathetic and compassionate — but don’t worry, I still show the very stereotypical autistic lack of skills at showing the empathy and compassion the way the “normal” humans expect). I taught myself to live by this motto because of the number of times I had people react to my statements of fact as though I were being bitchy and rude.

Because of the number of times I’ve had people tell me that I’m “sassy” and “feisty” and “don’t care what other people think about you”. Which was just not even close to the truth. I said what I thought or felt as I thought it or felt it. It usually ran through my filters, I tried to imagine a way to make it neutral. And I still came out like a bitch to so very many people.

Even recently, my husband revealed mine (and my child’s) diagnosis to his sister – a teacher. She had a lightbulb go off and said “Oh, that makes sense. She is super smart but not very friendly”. We’ll sidestep the stereotypes there just for the sentiment of the statement.

I am now a fairly well-oiled machine. I have been living this motto for nearly a decade. I have practice and years of phone and chat customer support under my belt to give me the practice of at least sounding friendly and approachable in short bursts as needed. I can quickly run through options of phrases and think about all the potential ways that my statement could be misinterpreted.

But… Imagine if I hadn’t had to spend so much time and energy learning how to fit into a world that wasn’t meant for me? If there were social ramps for those of us sitting in a social wheel chair who really can’t take the stairs.

Friendship Break-Ups can be so Rough

I recently had a situation with a friend unexpected blow up in my face and she basically told me that I was no longer welcome in her presence. The details aren’t particularly important in the context of this post, it’s pretty standard life stuff. Conversation (in text, of course, because it always is) on a topic that we weren’t necessarily seeing eye to eye on. It was already pretty tense for me because I felt I probably offended her because I had started the entire thing in a pretty judgmental voice and she apparently disagreed with me and I respect her and didn’t want to insult her.

Conversation continued and was slamming against me in wave against wave and before I even knew it, I was in waters too deep for me to handle. So, I did the rational thing.

“It seems I may have hit a nerve here and you may potentially be upset and it doesn’t seem like this conversation is going to be productive, so I think it’s better if we just stop here”.

And here is where I got the bomb that I never expected (and probably should have).

“I thought we were just having a friendly conversation but now you’re saying that I’m angry”

No, that’s literally not what I said. You can read it, it’s right there in writing. I said what I meant, I meant what I said. I don’t feel that I can productively partake in this conversation if we continue so I need to stop. I am out of my depth and need to stop.

But now I’m the bad guy again. For things I never said.

So I try to make it right, right? Because I’m autistic and that is my curse, I do not know when to stop even when I already said I need to stop. And you just said that I said something that I didn’t say.

So here I am correcting you on what you said that I just said. And here I go doing that thing that ends friendships because people don’t understand it.

“No, I didn’t say you were angry, that’s why I intentionally used the word potentially. I did not feel that this was a friendly conversation and I respect you and wanted to leave this in good feelings and as such I wanted to leave this conversation because I’m out of my depth. Go figure that the autistic lady has no idea what the other person in this is feeling”

“Not interested”

“Go chat with <other people> somewhere I’m not”

So there I was, thirty something years old, immediately crushed and sobbing like I was 10 years old in elementary school again. I don’t understand what happened. I can analyze it and begin to see what she felt but I really don’t understand what happened and why me literally telling her what I meant is bad.

It’s a huge reminder that this is the first time I’ve broached making close friends in a long time. And why I haven’t really. It makes you vulnerable. And when shit like this happens, it makes you feel lost and worthless. It reminds you that you really aren’t “normal” whatever in the fuck that means.

And everyone just listens to me and can’t tell me what I did wrong. They just tell me that they understand both sides. I sobbed for 2 hours over a friend rejection over something absurdly dumb that should have been resolved as a miscommunication. Instead, I’ll think about this for weeks and probably never be able to really be myself around this person ever again, even if she ever speaks to me again, because I will not be the one reaching out. She made it clear that she does not want me in her space.

“Real Autism”

The title of this blog is a phrase I have now heard a few times from friends of mine who have been involved in education. At least one of them has been involved in educating autistic youth. The others mostly teaching mainstream or specials classes, so loosely involved in autistic education.

This always gets brought up as a talking point along with “autism is the new candy diagnosis, everyone has it”. “Everyone has autistic traits now! If you don’t like loud noises and prefer to be by yourself, then you must be autistic!”. It’s the new catch all diagnosis like ADD was in the 90s!

Rolls eyes.

Yes, “rates” of autism are “increasing”. That happens when your understanding of a disorder increase and more studies are conducted and you realize that you have actually missed people from being included in the diagnosis. The inclusion of Aspergers into ASD increased the rates for one. Further studies into women with ASD is doing this as well. Further studies into the now bad-form “high-functioning” label are also increasing the rates. This is a good thing in so many ways. It means that people will feel accepted and they won’t feel alone.

Personally, the label was like a giant weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I cried from the relief. There are people out there who actually know what it feels like to be like me. People who actually understand me? Increased understanding and knowledge is what led to this moment of relief and people deserve to have this moment for themselves or to grow up understanding why they aren’t quite fitting in or being understood.

“Real autism is isolating”

As if we need to gatekeep Real Autism™ to only those with nonverbal autism who need higher amounts of assistance in school/work who may stim in most “normal” environments.

It is absolutely infuriating to hear someone trusted and loved diminish my own existence and feelings with “real autism” because I look normal from the outside. Because she respects me and sees things in me that make her envious. Because I fit the mold that people are supposed to achieve in life. I have a job that I worked hard for, I hit the success mark, a husband, house, kid, pets, the whole nine yards. I’m doing alright, everything is fine, right? Autism is just some weird label that they give to people who are extreme introverts now, after all.

Autism is isolating. Extremely isolating. I cannot speak for everyone on the spectrum, because the spectrum is vast and we do not all share all of the same traits and experiences but I can speak for my experiences. I come from a family that made it clear I was not to ask for help, that it would not be given and I should learn to stand on my own two feet. No support network. I had two best friends in grade school. Both of them stopped talking to me before we graduated. I stopped talking to literally everyone else pretty much as soon as I graduated. The door was shut so let’s move on, so to speak.

I have no one I could call to go for a beer after work because of a stressful day. Might be able to convince some co-workers to go to a local nearby bar after work, but that’s not the same thing as a trusted friend to blow off steam. I wouldn’t even begin to know who to call if I had to unexpectedly get someone to watch my dogs for a weekend emergency (I’d pay extra for a kennel or take them with me).

I worry because if some freak accident happened that killed or incapacitated both myself and my husband while my daughter was in school who would even pick her up while her godparents were traveling to be able to take care of her?

This isn’t to say that I’m totally friendless. I do make friends, but making friends comes at a cost that it seems neurotypicals don’t quite have to pay? I moved to a new city in early 2017 and I have focused on career advancement. I have done amazing things with my career — gotten certifications, degrees, promotions, and landed my dream job! But it came with switching companies and teams and being exorbitantly busy and socializing fell drastically to the wayside. How do normal people manage to do the career push while still gaining and maintaining friendships?

There was a time in my life when I felt like I had the most “normal” experience. I fit in, had a nice group of friends. I found my people. I still talk to people from that group regularly almost ten years later even though I don’t even live in the same state any more. I can’t even tell you what spell I cast to have this happen, it just seemed to fall into my lap. I also wasn’t chasing a career, I was complacent at my call center job.

“Real autism is debilitating.”

Again, with the gatekeeping. I don’t think I really need to point out that it’s not really for people who aren’t experts in the whole spectrum disorder to really be trying to gatekeep what autism is. It’s definitely not for someone who isn’t on the spectrum to be telling someone who IS on the spectrum that their experiences aren’t valid enough to be classified as Real Autism™.

I am soon to be 32 years old, and still slowly untangling the webs of mess of years of masking and trauma that came from not even knowing what and why I was different. Realizing that I have had so many years of training to just be the perfect paper doll of whatever anyone wanted me to be so that our interactions were easy and simple and could go away.

I was pretty much always taught as a kid that I had to avoid and resolve conflict and it was expected that I would give people the answer that they wanted, so I basically learned to do this with everyone, in all situations (guess how fucked up this gets in a lot of questionable situations…) I’ll just put on a new mask for any situation and be a perfect little chameleon as a survival instinct to get through pretty much anything.

I also realized that there are people who know and intentionally seek out autistic individuals because we are more naïve and trusting and take them based on what they say more than their actions. They are manipulative little jerks who will use you for their own gain and do not care about the harm they do in the process. It only takes one of these people to do some untold damage to a psyche.

Autism is real, no matter the support level needed. No matter how real it looks to you on the outside, from your curated exhibit view of their life. Just because you can’t see someone freaking the fuck out in the shower because they landed their dream job and that is terrifying. Or because they are driving in the rain and their husband is snoring in the passenger seat and the sound of the snoring and the rain on the car roof is causing a sensory overload that is making them want to scream and run away and pull their hair out. Or because you don’t realize that the normally verbal person is incapable of getting the words out right now and there is an entire paragraph screaming and beating against their brain burning to get out that they literally can’t let out and its tearing their brain and entire body apart. Just because your curated view looks intact and fine, doesn’t mean that it’s not Real Autism™.

Quick Personal Update

I almost hesitated to even really write this. It seems kind of silly, overall. But, y’know, autism, and I struggle to see why it matters or why this is important to anyone.

But January I started a new promotion which is basically my dream job and super, amazingly exciting. And also takes up mental energy while I’m getting used to the new flow of things. In the land of an autistic brain, it also means that I struggle to exist more days than others and as such, I look at my drafts I have half written and can’t even figure out how to even add another word or make sentences happen.

Then the whole events of January 6th happened. That was frightening and disturbing, and the general lack of accountability for many people involved is still disturbing, but we don’t need to really press into that too much.

I can barely recall what happened to the rest of January after that?

I am in Texas, and last week was yet another failure of a government to properly look after and prepare for its people. I do not want to bring politics here beyond that statement: but people froze to death from not having power, I couldn’t sleep from worrying about providing basic needs to my daughter, and I still don’t have water that I don’t have to boil available in my home despite the fact that we are now five and a half days post thaw and nearly every other water utility provider nearby has removed the water boil notice. This was categorically a disaster.

My kid’s school has extensive water damage from burst pipes, they still aren’t letting kids back into the campus until next week at the earliest. There are other campuses in the district with extensive damage as well, and it looks like it is going to cost the district a hefty amount of money to fix this all (which they are hoping will be reimbursed by the state.)

Silver linings on the horizon! Little Miss has her sixth birthday this Friday. She is very excited because we will be making a dinosaur cake that I bought a pan for many moons ago and haven’t used yet, so she has been dying to use it.

The Current State of the World

I’d be lying if I said that the current state of the world didn’t make me want to shut down a little bit. It’s been hard.

I don’t want to get too political, that’s not what this space is for, but this entire situation has been strange and scary. The holidays were interesting at home, and then there was a bombing. That’s enough to make me want to shut down a little bit already.

And then it just.. got way worse?

Things seem a little bit scary and uncertain right now, it seems to be all anyone is talking about, and I had to tune out. I wasn’t able to keep my focus on anything important while I was thinking about insurrectionists and gallows and explosions.

So I took a step back. Focused back on the smaller things in my life that I actually have some power over. A small sense of normalcy is returning for me even though a chunk of myself is telling me that I’m just the cartoon ostrich sticking my head in the sand.

Do what you need to do to keep yourself together in trying times. We all need to do it. Take care of yourself.

Questions to ask in an Interview

The interview is wrapping up, you’ve (hopefully) dazzled them with your thorough knowledge of your subject matter. Maybe cracked an appropriate joke or two and built up a nice rapport with the interviewer, this has been going great, right? Now we’re in the last little bit and we’re down to the last leg. Here comes the dreaded last mile of the interview “Do you have any questions for me?”

This is one of those things that is autism adjacent, but can really help anybody. While autistic individuals are more likely to not understand this entire song and dance, it’s definitely a challenging experience for anybody out there.

I used to really hate this section of the interview when I was younger. It seemed so silly and pointless. I read your job posting, I generally have a high enough IQ to read between the lines of a job posting to understand what a day to day role in this position will look like (especially as a young adult when most of my jobs were retail or barista related, are you serious?). I don’t have any burning desire or strong opinions on companies so long as you keep up your end of the bargain, why am I supposed to really have questions for you?

Honestly, I don’t really know if my lack of questions here ever necessarily cost me a position, but over the years I have come up with a few good ones that I have gotten good responses from, both in the way of hearing hiring managers say “Oh, that’s a good one, let me think about it” and also because they help me continue to interview the company to decide if it is some place I’d really like to work.

I have read so many different versions of questions to ask in an interview and honestly hate most of them. They sound so trivial and cliche. “What’s the day to day look like in this position?” Well, it’s a chat help desk position, so you sit at the desk and wait for a chat to come in, then you ask the person what’s going on, and solve their issue or escalate.. etc. It just seems kind of absurd to ask that question for a wide variety of positions out there, I’d honestly expect that most people can use critical thinking skills to extrapolate the day to day expectations of the position if they have done something similar before.

So here’s a list of some questions that I feel aren’t quite as cliche and obvious and might actually be somewhat useful while not taking up a whole heap of time at the end of an interview. There will usually only be time for one or two at the end of an interview, so I usually recommend just preparing a few that speak to you personally, or asking any that naturally come up during the interview itself.

“What is your favorite thing about working for {Company}?”

I ask this question to everyone, starting from the recruiter call all the way through any interview I have with the company. As many people as I can get to answer it as I can. Red flag answers to this question is if multiple people answer some variant of “the people I work with”. Not necessarily a hard stop, but it can definitely suggest that the company is generally not a great place to work, if the best thing about working for them is that the coworkers are pretty okay.

Things I generally look for as an answer is a broad array of answers. In a recent bout of interviews I did, I had one person tell me that they liked that they felt like there was a lot of transparency involved and they felt like their opinions were actually listened to by the C suite for development and improvements. Another person I spoke to loved that there were a lot of product changes and that as a result there were so many challenges that would come into play from it. Yet another person I spoke to mentioned that they loved that it was easy to move between a variety of departments in the company because they had so many products so they could switch things up as they felt they needed.

Super different answers that really showcased that the company was meeting a broad variety of needs for different people. If everyone that I ask gives me the exact same answer, I find that worrisome.

“What do you find the most challenging about working for {Company}?”

Similar basic concept as above, honestly. Except it’s a little bit harder for people to effectively sugarcoat issues. This is the one that I’ve had a lot of good feedback from hiring managers about when I ask them it. I think it’s a really good way to get sneak peek into the real company culture without all of the sugar coating they try to sell you on during the interview process.

I have asked a few variants on this question, sometimes its about the current role, sometimes its on the company itself. Red flags will be generally people trying to say that there are no issues whatsoever, because, well, we all know that’s generally not true.

I love the answers that I get for this question. It generally has helped me decide on what kind of roles I want to take. I have had interviewers be very transparent with me that a certain position would be incredibly narrow and would become incredibly boring (and they wouldn’t enjoy doing it) and imply that I likely wouldn’t enjoy doing it for very long. I have had interviewers tell me that the most challenging thing in their environment is that things change so much and that while it can be stressful, they love the challenge and how much it pushes them to grow.

Are there opportunities for professional development?  If so, what do those look like?

I am personally someone always looking for opportunities to learn more and grow new skills, so I love finding companies that are enthusiastic about empowering their employees with the opportunity to develop new skills.

Even better if they aren’t caught in only the old-school versions of “development”. New things like development funds that aren’t tied solely to tuition reimbursement (e.g. can be used for classes that aren’t solely provided by universities/colleges, online classes, books, boot camps, etc). Companies that provide stuff like PluralSight and LinkedIn Learning. Opportunities to shadow and mentor with other departments are also fantastic opportunities.

Basically you want to hear that the company is willing to invest in employee growth and understands that existing employees are assets that can be developed.

What type of employee tends to succeed here? What qualities are the most important for doing well and advancing?

This one is just kind of an idea to help you know if you are the kind of employee that would be able to succeed at the company. It will also help to see if they give you a super general answer or if they seem to give you a pretty well tailored answer that sounds like they are describing some specific individuals that were recently promoted.

I think it can be helpful to kind of hear what kind of qualities a team likes and views as successful. It’s always important to remember that you are interviewing them as much as you are being interviewed. If they aren’t a great fit for you based on any of these answers, it may be wiser to opt out of the company.

Things I personally don’t ask:

I will almost never ask any of the standard stereotypical questions about “anything on my resume you need me to clarify” as, in my experience, this usually gets addressed during the interview process. I’ve had quite a few interviews where they’ve had my resume in front of them and actually said “I see that this is on here and I actually had a few questions about that” so I just didn’t feel like it was worth wasting any air or time on a question that seems to have mostly already been covered.

I have tried the often mentioned “Is there anything that we covered in this interview that perhaps I didn’t answer as well as I could have that I could perhaps clarify for you now” on a few occasions and haven’t ever really had any stellar results from it, so I personally don’t recommend it above any of the questions listed above. It might require a certain personality trait that I don’t exhibit while I’m interviewing.

I have also seen so many recommendations to ask about “when will I hear back” or “what are the next steps” but, in my experience, this is pretty much all covered through a recruiter for pretty much all positions that aren’t retail, so I just don’t waste the time on them at all anymore.