Please Excuse my Autistic Obsession with Title 18 USC Section 241

A hand holding an ace of hearts playing card.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

I’d like to apologize for my current autistic obsession with Title 18 USC Section 241.

I know that in general I’m not supposed to play the autism-card, but I really don’t see how else to explain it — and this is not for lack of trying. I assure you, I have tried repeatedly and with numerous people to explain this obsession so that it makes sense to to them, but so far even the friendliest responses have been — however politely so — implacably skeptical. I’ve reached the point where really the only thing left is to throw up my arms and say “oh, well, autism strikes again!”

If that seems like a cop out, well, I’m sorry for that too.

To be honest, and only in a strictly rational, dryly intellectual sense, even I can see that Title 18 USC Section 241 is probably the last thing I should be obsessing about. Back in October I found a great new job, with a great company, and which allows me to make a decent living writing and fixing computer programs — really the only thing I’ve ever tried to do  professionally that ever showed any stable-career potential, even though I have never actually been able to fulfill that potential.

And the really cool part is that I can do this full-time from home!

It was incredibly lucky for me to get this job. For my family and me it was like winning the lottery. It’s really the first dream job I’ve ever had, and it’s perfectly obvious to everyone in my life, and even I can see quite clearly — again, in a strictly rational, dryly intellectual sense — that I really ought to be obsessing about my new job, instead of Title 18 USC Section 241. Even worse, my obsession with Title 18 USC Section 241 is distracting me from my work and making it difficult to focus, thus threatening to eventually add this new dream job to my long list of career failures.

But that pit bull in my skull doesn’t seem to care about any of that.

I mean that figuratively, of course. I know that this “pit bull” is just me. In fact, I’m actually being somewhat disingenuous in talking about it like that, as though this imaginary animal’s motives were somehow inscrutable even to me — somehow not my own. But that’s not quite right. To be perfectly candid, I really do think I understand exactly why I’m so obsessed about Title 18 USC Section 241 — why it has become the most important focus of my life right now, why I think that even if it does eventually fuck up my current job, then, well that’s just too friggin bad — this law is simply more important than that. I have no problem whatsoever explaining this to myself. Within the confines of my own skull, it all makes perfect sense to me. Furthermore, and believe it or not, despite my many attempts and consistent failure to do so, I even still think that I might successfully explain my reasons to others — to you, even — if only I would just keep trying, and trying, and trying.

Which, of course, is exactly why I keep writing about it. Because from where I’m standing — given my own unique and admittedly autistic perspective on the world — I can see quite clearly just how utterly important this law actually is, even if the rest of you cannot…yet.






An Eddy In My Stream of Consciousness

Illuminated Blue and Green Water Vortex

Image found here.

I’ve been repeating myself a lot lately.

Yup, just saying the same basic thing, over and over.

I don’t use exactly the same words each time, of course, but the gist of every utterance remains essentially identical.

It’s like my stream of consciousness has gotten trapped in a thought-eddy, and my efforts to swim free only wear me out and leave me wilted — a leaf floating, spinning in an endless circle, round and round.

Really, it’s a little surprising in its predictability, and there have been moments, say, at the hopeful beginning of what seems to be something different, where I think I become aware of some long awaited change of topic, but then just when I’m about to smile with relief, I pounce back once again into my rut, and wind up saying that same damn thing that I know I’ve just said way too many times already…

Yup, been repeating myself a great deal….

Thought Furnace


Image found here.

The first time somebody remarked to me explicitly about how much thinking I do I was 16 years old. It was a sunny, hot afternoon in June, the Summer before my senior year in high school, and Renée [not her real name] and I had been lounging and chatting in the swimming pool of an inn owned by her parents. I had just achieved completion of the sort of relentless, protracted, exquisitely detailed, unwittingly rude, professorial monologue we aspies are known for when she grinned and said “Wow, you really think a lot!”, followed up a couple of hours later with an unexpected “I love you”. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that last surprising announcement, so after a clumsy hug we said goodbye, and then she climbed aboard a bus to New York City and disappeared from my life.

She didn’t die or anything like that, but we never spoke to each other again. And although I’ve always thought it was simply one of those things that happens, it has really just now occurred to me that it may actually have been my own fault we lost touch. I know I never contacted her after that, and since I hadn’t told her that I loved her in return, she may have felt too vulnerable to risk contacting me. That sounds a little tragic, I suppose, but the birth of my twins a few years ago caused all my regrets — about losing Renée and in fact anything at all — to evaporate, at least all those that had accumulated prior to their birth; because had any of it been different (due to the Lorenz butterfly effect of chaos theory), they almost certainly would never have been born. Yes, of course, perhaps I would have had different children, but I’m in love with the particular children that I have. So if losing Renée played even an infinitesimally tiny role in bringing them into this world, then I’m quite at peace with that. In any case, over the years I have thought now and again about Renée; and I recently learned from a mutual Facebook friend that she’s still alive and well out in California somewhere, in fact running a world-famous annual art festival. That makes me feel happy for her.

Too Much Thinking

Over the decades, one consistent reminder of her has been the occurrence about once per year of roughly the same remark, made by some new person in my life who has finally gotten to know me well enough to bear witness to the fact. Although it’s usually stated more bluntly — something like, “bro, you think too much!”

And it’s true, at least sometimes. On occasion I can get so deeply absorbed in thinking that I can hardly do anything else, or at least, anything else that requires thinking. When that happens it’s like I lose total control over my own mind. I use different images to convey what this is like for me.

Sometimes I say it’s like my mind is a pit-bull, in that once it gets its jaws clamped around some topic, idea, or problem it’s nearly impossible to pry those jaws apart. Sometimes I say it’s like my mind is a locomotive, or maybe a horse that has busted out of the barn and is racing across a field. I think my favorite image is that of a furnace — ablaze between my ears, which blasts and roars and broils over whatever idea, topic or problem my brain has selected for cooking that day.

Generally speaking, if I’m not sleeping then it’s a good bet that I’m thinking more or less intensely like this about something, and in the rare moments where I’m not, even then I’m obsessively shopping around for my next obsession.

Losing My Marbles

Every so often my mind’s pit-bull latches its jaws onto a topic with unusual ferocity, in which case I describe it as “losing my marbles”, and I believe these more extreme manifestations qualify as autistic meltdown, although my own meltdowns differ somewhat from the traditional version in a couple of ways. For one thing, it seems I retain full executive control over most of my own observable behavior — which is to say there is really almost no particular observable behavior that I feel irresistibly compelled to do (rock, scream, bang my head against a wall, pee on the floor, etc.). I think the only exception to that rule is the actual thinking itself, which really feels to me like it’s just happening automatically, and even though I can force myself for brief moments to think about something else, the moment I relax my guard the horse is off and running again across the exact same field and in the exact same direction (so to speak).

Also, autistic meltdown is typically described as an intense response to feeling overwhelmed by sensory stimulation (sights, sounds, etc.), but for me it’s different. Although I do recognize in myself a couple of mildly anomalous patterns of sensory experience, those never provoke meltdown.  For me meltdown is an intense response to feeling overwhelmed by a problematic situation. What happens is that first I detect that I’m trapped in some no-win predicament — “between a rock and a hard place”, as they say, with no path to success, “doomed to fail”, etc. — and then what happens is that “my thought-furnace ignites” and I begin to think, and to think a lot, as Renée put it that day in the pool, although she had only ever observed a relatively mild form of it.

Solution Cooker

And what is all this thinking about? Well, generally speaking it can be about whatever happens to engage my sense of curiosity at that time, but when it comes to a true meltdown event, the topic at hand is quite specific: I am trying to figure out how to rescue myself from the predicament that provoked the meltdown. For me, autistic meltdown is fiercely goal-directed. When my thought-furnace cooks, it is cooking up solutions.

However constructive it’s hoping to be, when I look back at the flotsam and jetsam that pollutes the wake of my life’s course, I’m forced to admit that all of this thinking can be quite destructive.  For example, in recent years such intense thinking has caused me to forget to give my daughter the anti-seizure medication she needs to take twice a day. I’ve also forgotten about running bathwater, only to be reminded of it 45 minutes later, after 100 gallons or so had already spilled out into the hallway. And numerous times I’ve had to quit jobs or even been fired because I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about something long enough to get any work done.

But even my everyday, non-meltdown, baseline autistically obsessive thinking can be destructive, at least over time — something like the way a river running over rock can eventually carve out a canyon — because unless the people in my life wish to talk about whatever it is my brain happens to be focused on at that particular moment, then I find it quite difficult to concentrate on whatever he or she imagines we are discussing. Pretty much everybody who relies in some way on my being able to shift my attention to their needs has to struggle with the fact that I’m usually lost in thought, living in my own little autistic la-la land, and that can take it’s toll on any relationship.

I think sooner or later Renée was going to realize this about me, and I probably would have lost her one way or another. And actually, now that I think of it, maybe that’s what she was trying to tell me in the swimming pool that day, and why I never heard back from her.