Kage Baker was a shy person, intensely private. She didn’t like to share personal information with strangers – or, for that matter, to hear strangers’ revelations either. If she knew you, it was different, but she was definitely not Facebook material.
“Even I don’t care about the minutia of my morning routine,” she observed irritably once, observing random posts from friends over my shoulder. “I really don’t care about anyone else’s. Who cares what toothpaste someone uses, or what their breakfast looked like?”
“Oh, chill out,” I responded. “It’s just a way of connecting with people.’
“Don’t want to connect with anyone,” she grumbled.
Which was not really true. She loved her friends. But she had no gradations in her affection. If she liked you, she trusted you utterly and you were an intimate; if not, you were a stranger. There were no casual acquaintances for Kage. She learned to smile broadly and say “Good to see you!” when people came up to greet her at Conventions or at Fair, but as they walked away she would ask me, “Who the hell was that?”
“No idea,” I usually had to admit. But, courtesy being satisfied, Kage never gave it much thought.
She was sensitive about her eyes , and never looked people in the face until she knew them well. (Her left eye wandered, due to primitive eye surgery when she was two.) She wouldn’t let me tell anyone about her cancer until just the month before her surgery. But there was one subject on which she spoke freely and openly – to my astonishment. The first time she did it at a Convention, I dropped my knitting. I had to crawl around on the floor finding stitch markers while Kage glared at me from the podium …
Kage had Asperger’s Syndrome. And she talked about it. She started around her own birthday several years ago, because June happens to be Autism Awareness Month – and while not everyone feels Asperberger’s is a form of autism, it’s included on the autism spectrum in the DSM. Kage used to tell people she had an “autiform disorder”, which was accurate enough and also a nice piece of technical persiflage she invented herself.
Asperger’s is not autism in my opinion, either. I am entitled to an opinion; half the family has been diagnosed with it over the last 15 years, including Kage, Kimberly, and me; also, both Kimberly’s husband and son. As far as we are concerned, this is not a disease; it’s just a different way of being wired. Kage’s personal opinion is that it comes via our Neanderthal relatives. Of course, when she came up with that idea, no one admitted Homo sapiens had Neanderthal genes – but now it’s been discovered that, surprise! We do! And a lot of them are specifically about brain function … Kage was right about at least some of it.
If you asked her how she did that, she would answer solemnly, “I got the Sight. I’m psychotic.”
No, but she was an Asperger person. She had some problems with face recognition, though that was probably exacerbated by being unwilling to look into people’s faces in the first place. I can’t recall what so-and-so looks like, she might fret. Tell me when we see her.
If you’d look at her, you’d know!
I don’t care what she looks like, so why should I look at her? I just want someone to tell me when we see her.
Oh, screw you …
Kage had an uncanny focus on what interested her, and total disregard for what did not. She was linguistically gifted – while kids with autism are most clearly characterized by losing their speech, Asperger’s kids talk early, and well, and non-stop … they may make you nuts by their intense concentration on only what interests them, but by God! They can communicate!
I repeat: Asperger’s is not a disease and does not need a cure. That was Kage’s conviction as well. But it’s a difficult thing to come to terms with (mostly for your relatives, if they don’t have it) and the standard educational system doesn’t do well by kids with Asperger’s. A lot of the nightmare of Kage’s grade school years was caused by her teachers shouting angrily across an abyss they could not even see. So Kage talked about it, to bring it to people’s attention, to ask for help for the youngsters coming to terms with it, to encourage parents and children both to be tolerant of one another.
“After all,” she said one afternoon, holding up her own left hand, “it’s just another way of being wired, like handedness. Do we punish kids for being left-handed?” She mimed slapping her own knuckles, as Sister Edmond and Mrs. Goldberg used to do to her. “Oh, wait. We do.”
Kage looked out over the audience then and asked, “Don’t you think we should stop?”
Yep. It’s June, Dear Readers. Be aware of autiform disorders, and lend a hand to someone dealing with one. You’re all related to us, after all.