Author Archives

Autist, writer, toucan collector. Stanford University, class of '23, if time still means anything. Can't read social cues, can read Russian.

  • #ActuallyAutistic Isn’t Actually About Autistics

    Last week, I wrote an article that appeared in the online magazine spiked arguing that Australian pop singer Sia is free to cast whomever she wants in Music, her film about an autistic protagonist. This controversy erupted almost two weeks ago when Sia released a trailer for the movie. The #ActuallyAutistic crew on Twitter had a lot of complaints…

  • Stopwatches, OCD, and Juliet’s Life Coach

    Mission: Leave my biology classroom, walk across one hall and three flights of stairs to the cafeteria, grab a plate of food, refill my coffee cup, then climb two flights of stairs and walk a quarter of the way across the building to an empty classroom, where I would be able to eat with one hand and copy French verb conjugations with the other.

    Time allotted: Five minutes.

  • The Endless Catching of Butterflies

    Katya* loves catching butterflies with other people’s hands. I know this because I met her father, Kolya*, on a language exchange site earlier this summer, as I anxiously searched for someone who might help me brush up on my Russian. I must have exchanged messages with at least seven or eight people, both French and Russian, but my partnership with Kolya was the only one that lasted. These websites are like a geekier version of social media: people post profile pictures and DM one another, and some of the users are more interested in flirting than learning. (Fortunately, I had a friend who looked at screenshots of messages people sent me and helped me figure out if they were hitting on me…this is the kind of thing I have trouble figuring out on my own.) Unfortunately, these connections tend to be fleeting. I would go back and forth with someone for a few days before they or I lost interest, and soon enough, I had started more conversations than I could possibly continue. Still, I was determined to figure something out because my Russian was growing rusty, and the last thing I wanted to do was to forget everything I’d learned during the school year.

  • Language Learning for the Socially Awkward

    I became fluent in Spanish for a ridiculous reason: my friend got a better score on a quiz than I did, and I was determined never to let that happen again. That wasn’t my only source of motivation – I grew enamored of Gabriel García Márquez and Octavio Paz, I loved speaking Spanish with the kids at the preschool where I volunteered, and I adored the sheer challenge of mastering the subjunctive – but competition was undoubtedly a part of it. When mastered, obsession can be a powerful force, and it constitutes the main ingredient in my efforts to learn French and Russian. The full recipes look something like this…

  • Celestial Navigation

    As a kid, I loved the movie Peter Pan. Wendy was my favorite, of course, with the pastel blue nightgown and butter-yellow curls, and the eerie clock ticking in the crocodile’s stomach and Tiger Lily tied to a chair and left to drown…it’s a little dark, now that I think about it. But when I was eight I didn’t care, and I was thoroughly convinced that if I flapped my wings hard enough, I would fly. Actually, I thought that if I drank soda, I would fly, because my parents never let me have soda. The only possible explanation for this was that they didn’t want me to know how to fly. A diabolical scheme, indeed.

  • Me and Emotional Manipulation

    Three or four years ago, I got called out for something I said about rap music: that I didn’t like it and that many musicians’ names started with “Lil” and were thus hard to tell apart.

    “Called out” is a gentle way to put it. “Viciously attacked” would be a more accurate description.

    It was a group conversation. Someone had brought up rap. I said I didn’t like rap. The caller-out asked me a question. In retrospect, they were probably eager for me to say what I said, to have the chance to pounce.

  • How I’m Staying Sane

    Values values values. At various points throughout my life, various people have refused to shut up about value. Thus, I have done many values exercises. In tenth grade, we had to work on a project that include – I kid you not – “chastity.” Not sure if any parents, administrators, or other teachers were aware of this. (I did great, in case anyone cares.) That was one of the worst. Better: an exercise that involved a tournament-style ranking of values. Instead of just crossing off the less important values, you pitted them against each other repeatedly until you had your top five, three, and one. I particularly liked this because I realized that certain values fit into others – for example, I see kindness as a huge part of both integrity and humor (keeps you from cruelty/harm). Now, I talk about values with my students when I help them with their college essays, and this might be my favorite iteration, because a successful essay identifies values in context: what do you think is important, and how does that inform your actions? Nevertheless, these lists invariably omit one of the most important values ever: sanity.

  • =

    Two people walk into a restaurant. They sit down at a table and order their food. The menu is written in small print, and Person #1 has low vision and thus cannot read the specials. The restaurant orders large-print versions of the menus, so Person #1 can now access the same content as Person #2. This is equality.

  • Words, Want, Matter

    About a year ago, my younger sister embarked on a mission to misuse the phrase “per se” at every possible opportunity. “I’m probably going to go to bed a little early tonight, per se.” “Do you think it’s, per se, going to rain tomorrow?” “I’m getting strong whiffs of”–long pause–“turmeric, per se?” After a few months of this, I couldn’t for the life of me remember how to use “per se” properly. Even now, I leave it out of my writing because my memory of the term is so muddled.

  • Seismology

    The summer before tenth grade, I tried to turn my bedroom into an ideological Petri dish. Used Post-Its and song lyrics as growth medium, pipetted my dreams onto sheets of graph paper, let premises and poems grow like bacteria all over the walls. Like a spinning top, I gained momentum without going anywhere, my lunacy filling notebooks and megabytes on my laptop. Sometimes when you’re moving really fast, everything outside you turns into a blur. You can focus on things in your frame of reference for a little while, but even then, they exist independently of any external anchors. You’re trying to be the best and do it all and crush the competition and you end up losing track of everything in the process. Thus, the departure of reason…