The Journal of Academic T-Shirts

ShirtDesignI’m agonizing over another silly decision, but it’s gotten me to some pleasant nostalgia and another reason I identify with Sheldon.

The decision is I’m going to need to buy a shower curtain.  My original plan was to furnish my new house all in 21st Century Thrift Store (except for the new bed and new recliner) but when I thought specifically about the shower curtain, the idea of getting a Periodic Table one like Sheldon and Leonard’s came to me.  Wouldn’t that be too cool!  But that’s not really me, now.  If I’m not going to go with Thrifty, I’m more inclined toward Colorful.  Or, if I really want to indulge, ooh, I just love things that match!  I’m starting with an empty house that already has everything matching, so I’m tempted to splurge and buy new things in matching sets.ontogeny_recapitulates_phylogeny_biology_tshirt-rf4f42413d17244c89a17826f8f340875_804gs_512

Oops, that’s not where I meant this blog to go.  I was planning to go to the Periodic Table t-shirt I used to have.  Although none of Sheldon’s t-shirts are the same as any used to have, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them appeared in future episodes.  Some of mine came from SF conventions, but also there was a mail-order company called the Journal of Academic T-Shirts.  I had a little weekend business, Starship Enterprises, selling at SF conventions, so I bought those t-shirts wholesale, and retailed them.

PH-2I have no pics.  That was the 80’s before digital cameras.  I don’t think I took pics at conventions.  I thought surely an image search would turn up art from those t-shirts, but while I can find some that are close, none are exactly the same.

In looking for these, I found other people blogging the same nostalgia.

Literal Mindedness

iu“Children with AS may have an unusually sophisticated vocabulary at a young age and have been colloquially called ‘little professors’, but have difficulty understanding figurative language and tend to use language literally.” —

This is frequently the basis of Sheldon jokes on The Big Bang Theory.  Recently I responded to a friend’s comment on FB and he informed me that he was being sarcastic.  I should have asked him to hold up a sign next time.

But I don’t think I have much trouble anymore with interpreting figurative language or sarcasm.  I’m more aware of the times I’m being sarcastic and other people take me literally.  That happens especially when I say something I think is obviously sarcasm because no one could be that dumb.  They sometimes think I really am that dumb and explain it to me. I’ve given up correcting them.

But this brings up something that keeps getting to me when I’m researching Asperger’s online.  Most of what I find is aimed at parents of kids with AS, things written by AS or non-AS, explaining AS for an audience of non-AS.  I can’t find much of anything to help me understand the way non-AS folks think.

It’s little things that get to me.  I recently tried to find out from my therapist how people can use the word “tomorrow” in an email when they don’t know when that email will be read.  What are they thinking?  Of talking to the person in real-time, and then just writing what they would say in that situation?  Are they unaware that they’re writing an email?  Or of thinking when it will be read?  I would have said that I never use that word in emails, but a search of my Sent file found exceptions.  Looking at the context, however, I notice there’s always some reason I wanted to use a relative term, such as using “I’ll do it tomorrow” as short-hand for “I wasn’t able to get to it today, but I will tomorrow.”  But I would not be capable of writing an email, especially in the evening, saying “I’ll see you tomorrow” which I noticed her doing twice.

I guess I’ve always assumed that everyone wants to speak clearly and could speak clearly if they tried.  Maybe they’re dumb or lazy and unable to speak clearly themselves, but if I’m careful to be clear, surely they’ll understand me.  I’ve tried to figure out the exceptions, the special codes.  For example, if I ask a question like “Where did you put . . . ?” they don’t think it’s a question, but a criticism.  So I guess I need to find some other way to ask it.  Or maybe preface it with an explanation of some kind.  Mostly when I ask a question and the other person is obviously interpreting it to mean something else, all I can think to do is just keep asking the same question in different words until I can figure out the answer from their response.

And in emails, the rule seems to be the only response I can expect is to the last sentence.  Any questions before that are invisible.

But do you see my point?  Even if I figure out what they mean, I still can’t figure out how to get them to understand what I’m trying to say.  I know what I’m trying to say literally, but when I say it that way, they think it means something else.  How can I put it into their non-literal code?  With experience, I’ve learned some of the code, although it’s difficult for me to speak in it, but for so many things, I have no idea how to make people understand me when being literal doesn’t work.

Let me brag about a recent accomplishment, silly as it probably seems to anyone else.  I recently said $1400 as “Fourteen hundred dollars.”  To me, that feels all wrong.  When someone says that to me, it’s like hearing something in the metric system and having to translate it in my head to understand it.  It should be “One thousand, four hundred dollars” and I always used to have to say it that way.  But I managed to say “Fourteen hundred dollars” the other day, because I know that’s how everyone else says it. That’s the right translation into their code.

Even when I was working on the theory that there was something different in my brain wiring, something I thought of as my having a defective “herd instinct” gene, I still couldn’t do things like that.  Somehow, now that I’m thinking of it as part of Asperger’s — part of something that makes sense and fits into a pattern — it’s easier to accept and, ironically, to compensate for.  It doesn’t make me say “I have a medical excuse so you have to accommodate me.”  I don’t have to avoid thinking about it because it’s too crazy.  I can just deal with it.

Brave New Big Brother World

keep-calm-softt-kitty-shirtOne fun thing about being an elderly SF fan is remembering when “1984” and “Space:1999” were visions of the future and marveling at how differently things turned out.

Did anyone ever write about a future where Big Brother’s intrusion into our lives was in the form of advertising?  I remember a few with all-pervasive advertising, but not so personally targeted.

I’m not spooked when I get on Facebook and see ads related to searches I’ve run on Amazon, ebay or Google (although it was funny to see what came up after I did some searches for a friend) but is Big Brother reading this new blog of mine?  That’s the only reason I can think of to keep showing me an ad for this shirt.

My Big Bang Theory Labeling Theory

The Big Bang Theory has helped me straighten out some separate but overlapping labels. Here’s how I figure it.

Tradition crew and the only pic I have of me in uniform (front left)
Tradition crew and the only pic I have of me in uniform (front left)

Sheldon and I share these 4 labels: 1) Asperger’s Syndrome 2) Geekiness 3) Excessive Intelligence and 4) Science Fiction fan. Leonard, Howard and Raj share 2-4. Amy and Bernadette share 2-3. Stuart shares 2 and 4.

I define “Geekiness” as an interest in something most people find boring. Most often it’s Science Fiction, computers or science, but there are geeks who are into art, history or poetry, too. What crosses the line into an Asperger Special Interest is a desire for exhaustive knowledge of a subject, which can get confused with obsession. The difference is that obsessions are fear driven; an escape from something else. A Special Interest is pleasure-driven; it’s a lot of fun. Yeah, it’s weird because anyone else would find it boring, but it’s fascinating to us.

I figure, if you like Star Trek, it just means you have good taste.  If you REALLY like Star Trek, you’re probably a Geek.  If you memorize Star Trek episodes, watch it at every opportunity, and lip sync the words, that sounds like AS.  That was me once.  It drove my mother crazy.  I don’t think I could do that anymore, but I was watching Blake’s 7 yesterday and lip syncing, which reminded me.  I’m not much into SF anymore, but I have an annual B7 marathon. We once played a Star Trek trivia game with me vs. the rest of the Tradition crew.  At a convention, I won a Blakes 7 Trivial Pursuit Ship tournament. I may still have the certificate.

concertinaI don’t know how typical this is for AS, but, in addition to long-term Special Interests, I have a lot of Sporadic Enthusiasms. Before the internet, they started with an interest leading me to read every book my library had on the subject. Some of mine were one-time things, lasting a few years, some keep flaring up, but then disappear for years. Only Science Fiction fandom and animal rescue have been long-term, continuous interests.

Another test I use is: Can I bore everyone to death talking about this topic? If I can find other geeks who would find me interesting, that’s geekiness, not necessarily Asperger’s. But you’ll regret it if you get me started on animal shelter statistics, media adaptations of books, or the early Roman Empire.  My current thing is variations of The Sweet Trinity.

I’m an Antique Geek

From my high school yearbook, Class of '76
From my high school yearbook, Class of ’76

My mother used to tell people that, when I was 13, I disappeared into my room and didn’t come out again until it was time to leave for college. Ironically, the rumor at my high school was that I lived in the Math Lab.

I find it hard to believe now, so I don’t expect you to, but when I was in high school, our entire school district had ONE computer (a PDP-11) and we accessed it by phone and acoustic couplers, from school Math Labs.  Once I got on after school, I didn’t want to get off.  The teachers would go home early and let me lock up.  And I was there waiting when they came to unlock it so I could get some work done before school.

PDP-11 Looks like a prop from a cheap SF movie, doesn't it?
PDP-11 Looks like a prop from a cheap SF movie, doesn’t it?
Acoustic Coupler
Acoustic Coupler

One of my first programs was to check Spock’s math.  On Star Trek, when all the tribbles fall on Kirk, Spock says that there are 1,771,561 tribbles.  He was right.

But my masterpiece in high school was an attempt to recreate ELIZA, 1966 computer program designed to simulate a therapist.  It really cracked me up when Leonard on Big Bang Theory describes how he built a hugging machine for himself as a child.  Guess I was trying to build my own therapist.


Yesterday I shared a recent blog with a FB group I started for my old ST club, the USS Tradition, with an apology if anyone was offended at being called a Geek.

trad senior officers 1984One response was “I was and I am still proudly GEEK!” and I responded “Me, too. But then, I proudly call myself a Crazy Cat Lady, while some CCL’s consider it an insult.

And, of course, lots of people use those terms meaning to be insulting.  I keep thinking of lines from the Big Bang Theory, such as Leonard’s explanation of why he plays the cello. “My parents didn’t think naming me ‘Leonard’ and putting my in Advanced Placement classes was getting me beaten up enough.”  I thought that was funny until someone I once liked said about BBT “Why would I want to watch a show about the kind of people I used to beat up in high school?”

Let’s think about this a minute.  Why would any of those things make someone want to beat you up?  But we all know they would, right?

I just saw something debunking products parents buy to try to make their kids smarter.  My first thought was “Why would parents want their kids to be smarter?”  To get better grades and make more money, that I could understand, but do those really correlate with IQ? And smarts alone are not something I’d wish on anyone I liked.

Why do I imagine the Big Bang Theory writers know me?

I lived in Southern CA from about 1982-1998.  I ran a Dr. Who club (FRED-Friends who Really Enjoy the Doctor), and a Star Trek club (USS Tradition — I was Capt’n Lisa) (when meetings combined, we were “Tread”).  The Dark Shadows group never really got off the ground.  I had a little weekend business selling buttons, t-shirts and Dr. Who scarves at SF conventions called Starship Enterprises.  It never made money, but I got to deduct my convention expenses from my income tax for a while.

Tread landing party at Griffith Observatory
Tread landing party at Griffith Observatory

So, when episodes of the show sound like conversations I’ve had at meetings or conventions, it seems more likely that one of the writers was there than that it’s a  coincidence.

Although there’s an even better explanation.  The more I read about Asperger’s, the more I think Science Fiction fandom has been a Support Group for AS since before Dr. Asperger describe it in 1944.  And for Geeks.