Changes

Kage Baker disliked change.

Oh, everybody claims to dislike change, I know. Except the ones who claim to thrive on it. In actual fact, though, most people just kind of thrash helplessly in the competing currents of change and inertia, hoping that an appropriate whirlpool or backwater will materialize as needed. They like change when they’ve thought of it (which is not often, really) and they dislike everything that is imposed on them from outside (which is most things, most of the time).

Kage, though, could become utterly unhinged by change. Given sufficient time, she could learn to cope with most things, like anyone else; unlike most people, though, she not only needed a lot of time but was aware of it. Once she got old enough to realize what uncontrolled change did to her emotional equilibrium, she actively, stubbornly avoided it except on her own very precise terms: because once she was a grown up, she reasoned, why should she put up with having her mind blown by everything else’s instability?

This is a common aspect of being on the autistic syndrome, of course. And Kage had Asperger’s Syndrome, commonly believed to be the “mild” end of that spectrum. It’s well known now, and parents with any shred of responsibility take great pains to learn how to help their kids cope. Half a century ago, when Kage was first discovering the world – and deciding it was a maelstrom of uncontrolled chaos – all a caring parent could do was decide their child was “sensitive”, and devise coping mechanisms ad hoc and impromptu. Since Kage inherited her iron will from her mother, Mamma did a damned fine job of helping her “sad little pine tree” – as she called Kage.

I too learned how to simultaneously protect Kage, and insist on her exercising her emotional immune system. For instance, when our beloved high school, Immaculate Heart, was mostly torn down and rebuilt, Kage refused for several years to even look at the altered site. As we lived in the Hollywood Hills and the school is at the corner of Franklin & Western, I had to drive a lot of strange routes to protect her shrinking eyesight from the devastation: even after the new building was up, and it no longer looked like a bomb crater. But Kage gradually learned to just shut her eyes so I could drive in straight lines again, and finally she could gaze unafraid on the intruder walls and still recall the old crumbling battlements where we had matriculated. She managed it just in time for our niece Annie to attend IHHS. Which was handy.

The point was, given some time, she could adjust. Most Asperger’s people can. The problem with this sensitivity to change, for Aspies, is that their time scale for adaptation tends to be glacial, where non-Aspies are emotional mayflies. They are still better off than folks with autism, whose rate of change adaptation is comparable to geologic time … imagine if it took a week, a month, a year for your eyes to adjust to bright light or darkness: you’d stagger blind through both day and night, squinting through closed eyelids, with your hands clapped over your face.

That’s how change can affect people on the spectrum. Knowing it’s going to effect you like that doesn’t actually help, either; any more than knowing a knife will cut you can ward the blade from your flesh. You have to learn how to deal with the injury. Kage did that by mostly trying to avoid change altogether – and she had specific coping rituals to handle the stress when she couldn’t. They were mostly bandaging techniques, something to slow down the emotional bleeding while her soul manufactured spiritual platelets.

But it worked. You do what works.

I kind of like change. At least, like most people, I think I do … lately, though, things have been happening a little fast even for me. Evicting my long-time enemy, my kidney, has been a relief – but the process has been arduous. The scars were literally not quite healed when I fell down and fractured my damned ankle. I spent the last week in a splint, learning just how inconvenient and clumsy perambulation could be – and then today, I got a brace and a walking boot. The first thing I learned from that is that I had no idea how difficult it could be to walk at all.

The brace is basically a foot corset – it laces up my foot, and then Velcro straps wrap around everything. It’s like walking with your foot in an octopus. Das Boot is even worse: knee high, armoured and stiff with high-impact plastic stays, with 5 Velcro straps that wrap around my leg from ankle to knee. It looks like something an especially butch dwarf would wear to war. Or it might be a Klingon greave. I’m thinking of gluing metal claws to the front of it – which extends 2 inches past my toes,  just to keep them safe and make me look even sillier.

On the other hand – the stitches came out of my other hand today. It’s easier to type, and I can almost get my greave on by myself. And my new mouse pad arrived! Ouija boards were a long time joke between Kage and I, from back in the days of slumber parties … so it’s a good memory and a bright spot on my desk, even if the changes are a pain.

But they work. And, as Kage taught me from hard experience, you do what works.