The Life Autistic: How we’re People within People, with Masks upon Masks

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The last interesting person around—magician Ricky Jay—passed away a short while ago.

There’s a New Yorker profile of him that has one of the best opening anecdotes I’ve ever read. But it also stands out for this sobering gem of a quote:

Those most familiar with his idiosyncrasies realize that there are at least three Ricky Jays: a public persona, a private persona, and a private persona within the private persona.

I’ll never relate to Ricky Jay’s skill, patter, or duende.

But I definitely relate to there being Hunters within Hunter.

In The Life Autistic, many relate as well.

Many of us have resorted or otherwise phased into “masking” – a way of passing as normal, skirting our obvious idiosyncrasies, and working hard to make it seem like we’re naturals at social interaction.

There’s that phrase people use: “once you get to know them, they’re —”

I wonder what people think once they feel they get to know me. 

There is that polished, fine-tuned, clever professional persona, my H2 — one of my greatest creations.

After a while, people think they get to know ‘Hunter.’ They do, genuinely so. I step out of the armor, one layer removed.

Yet even beyond the veneer, when I hear people think I’m funny, engaging, or otherwise a normal, bright, sociable creature beneath the professional and personal . . .

There’s a Hunter further down, working hard to craft the jokes. Predicting the way conversations could go. Practicing every word so as not to offend with unintended brusqueness. Plotting my timing. Putting my empathetic response into overdrive to make sure I know I can show I care.

Many folks are OK getting to know H2.

Then sometimes those folks stick around, and they’re fine getting to know Hunter.

But then I worry, what comes of getting to know the Hunter beyond that?

 

 

The Life Autistic: Go Until You Stop

Imagine living a week pushing against your walls, comforts, depths. To jump in unblinking, then keeping your arms out, elbows locked, and palms pressed against the ON button.

In The Life Autistic, that’s a doomsday scenario.

But it wasn’t.

For these sorts of events, where I’m beyond my element, I stay close to home base. Plot things out. Venture out with those I know.

But I didn’t.

I found brand new co-workers, strung together a network of fabulous people from all different parts of my business. And I had a blast with “fast friends,” enough to where I didn’t even see my team for days.

For the conference itself, I had each day mapped, plotted to a tee, keeping things open only enough as a fallback. Gotta be predictable, right?

But I wasn’t.

The plans I woke to were not what happened. Whether opting out of sessions spontaneously for lunches or flipping the script on my day, I—*gasp*—went with the flow.

On Wednesday, Tableau hosted Data Night Out at the Superdome – 17,000 people strong – crowded, cacophonous, chaotic. That should have counted me out.

But it didn’t.

I was halfway serviceable on throwing footballs, but pitiful kicking field goals. But I tried. Even professionals miss there! And the entire time in line, I got to chat with a data analyst for the FDIC for 90 minutes solid – strangers to start, “friends” by the end.

But.

On the day before I was to leave, my batteries ran beyond depleted. I’d confided with others who said the conference was tough. They, too, were introverts – and they couldn’t fathom me being one as well. I shared my secret:

“You just go until you stop.” 

The plan was hang out Thursday, leave Friday.

But.

I thought about staying in this hotel again. Out of my element. Voice getting more hoarse. More and more dead time. I thought about my office. Colorado. Home. My family.

I stuck it to the plan and called for a trip home.

I’m Hunter Hansen, autist-in-residence. I know what I’m about. I burned bright, burned quick, but totally burned out.

But I grew myself, and not just from 50lbs of oysters. I practiced making fast friends on the draw. I tried spontaneity for a while and enjoyed it for others’ sake. I didn’t let my being twice out of my element ruin it for others.

Go until you stop.

Then go a little bit further. Be strong. Stretch the boundaries – if just by a little. Or stretch them a lot, melt down, then reforge.

But go.