Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian With Practical Advice for Aspergians, Misfits, Families & Teachers

BOOK: Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian With Practical Advice for Aspergians, Misfits, Families & Teachers
ads
Praise for John Elder Robison’s
Look Me in the Eye

“There’s an endearing quality to Robison and his story.…
Look Me in the Eye
is often drolly funny and seldom angry or self-pitying. Even when describing his fear that he’d grow up to be a sociopathic killer, Robison
brings a light touch to what could be construed as dark subject matter
.… Robison is also
a natural storyteller and engaging conversationalist.”

—Boston Globe

“Of course this book is brilliant; my big brother wrote it. But even if it hadn’t been created by my big, lumbering, swearing, unshaven ‘early man’ sibling, this is as sweet and funny and sad and true and heartfelt a memoir as one could find, utterly unspoiled, uninfluenced, and original.”

—A
UGUSTEN
B
URROUGHS

“Deeply felt and often darkly funny
,
Look Me in the Eye
is a delight.”

—People
(Critic’s Choice)

“A fantastic life story told with grace, humor, and a bracing lack of sentimentality.”

—Entertainment Weekly

“Not only does Robison share with his famous brother, Augusten Burroughs (
Running with Scissors
)
,
a talent for writing; he also has that same deadpan, biting humor that’s so irresistible.”

—ELLE

“Robison seems likable, honest, and completely free of guile, qualities well served by writing that is lean, powerful in its descriptive accuracy and engaging in its understated humor.…
Emotionally gripping.”

—Chicago Tribune

“John Robison’s book is
an immensely affecting account of a life lived according to his gifts rather than his limitations
. His story provides ample evidence for my belief that individuals on the autistic spectrum are just as capable of rich and productive lives as anyone else.”

—D
ANIEL
T
AMMET
, author of
Born on a Blue Day:
Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant

“This is no misery memoir.…
[Robison] is a gifted storyteller with a deadpan sense of humor and the book is a rollicking read.”

—Times
(London)

“Robison’s lack of finesse with language is not only forgivable, but
an asset to his story
.… His rigid sentences are arguably more telling of his condition than if he had created the most graceful prose this side of Proust.”

—Chicago Sun-Times

“I hugely enjoyed reading
Look Me in the Eye
. This book is
a wild roller-coaster ride.”

—T
EMPLE
G
RANDIN
, author of
Thinking in Pictures


Look Me in the Eye
is a fantastic read
that takes readers into the mind of an Aspergian both through its plot and through the calm, logical style in which Robison writes.
Parents of children with Asperger’s or other forms of autism may find it inspiring that a fellow Aspergian overcame a difficult childhood to lead an exciting, fulfilling life like Robison’s
. But even if you have no personal connections with Asperger’s,
you’ll find that Robison—like his brother, Burroughs—has a life worth reading about.”

—Daily Camera
(Boulder)

“An
entertaining, provocative, and highly readable story
by a great storyteller who happens to have Asperger’s … By the time Mr. Robison’s story is finished,
you will rethink your own definition of normal
, and it may spark a new appreciation of the untapped potential behind every quirky, awkward person who doesn’t quite fit in.”

—T
ARA
P
ARKER
-P
OPE
, “Well,”
NYTimes.com


Look Me in the Eye
is
a wonderful surprise on so many levels: it is compassionate, funny, and deeply insightful
. By the end, I realized my vision of the world had undergone a slight but permanent alteration; I had taken for granted that our behavioral conventions were meaningful, when in fact they are arbitrary. That he is able to illuminate something so simple (but hidden, and unalterable) proves that John Elder
Robison is at least as good a writer as he is an engineer, if not better.”

—H
AVEN
K
IMMEL
, author of
A Girl Named Zippy

Also by John Elder Robison

Look Me in the Eye

Copyright © 2011 by John Elder Robison

All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Crown Archetype,
an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of
Random House, Inc., New York.
www.crownpublishing.com

Crown Archetype with colophon is a trademark of
Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Robison, John Elder.
    Be different : adventures of a free-range Aspergian with practical advice for Aspergians, misfits, families & teachers / John Elder Robison. — 1st ed.
    1. Asperger’s syndrome.   2. Difference (Psychology)   3. Marginality, Social.   4. Individual differences.   5. Robison, John Elder.   I. Title.

    RC553.A88R63 2011
    616.85′8832—dc22

2010053205

eISBN: 978-0-307-88483-1

Jacket design by Whitney G. Cookman
Jacket photograph: Courtesy of the author

v3.1

For my son, Cubby
,
the very embodiment of being different

Contents
Introduction

M
ADISON SQUARE GARDEN, 1979.
The New York concert was the high point of KISS’s Dynasty tour, and we kicked it off with a bang and a flash. The band played loud enough to make your ears bleed, and our pyrotechnics would burn your eyebrows off if you got too close. We were five songs into the set. “Firehouse” had just ended. We killed the spotlights and got to work. Buzzes and clicks from the sound system suggested activity up on the blackened stage. The applause was over, and low ripples of noise washed through the audience as they waited for the next song
.

We had less than two minutes to make the change, and I’d prepared all day so I’d be ready to go when the lights went down. The crowd was calm; no one had started chanting. Yet. I had no intention of letting that mob of twenty thousand fans get restless, so I moved as quickly as I could. It was only a short jump for them to move from lighting matches and chanting to lighting the place on fire, so I finished up fast, before anything else could happen. I scampered off the edge of the stage as the musicians took their places in the dark
.

I turned around just in time to hear a pop followed by a flash of hard white light from stage left. The opening chords of “New York Groove” barked out as Ace Frehley turned to face the crowd. The main stage was still dark; a single spotlight illuminated KISS’s lead guitarist as he stood alone to play the opening riff. He’d been using an ordinary black Les Paul guitar for the past few songs. Now he held something different—something alive. The face of his instrument had transformed into a mirror glittering with a thousand lights. They moved and rippled in concert with the notes he played, a pattern of light that reached all the way to the back of the Garden
.

It was a guitar unlike any other. Even the sound was different. It had a hard metallic bite; and the sound of the strings was punctuated by ticks as the lights flashed beneath them. No one had seen anything remotely like that before
.

The crowd went wild as Ace’s light swept over them in time to the music. The traditional order was suddenly turned upside down. At every concert before, spotlights had illuminated the stage. Tonight, a musician made his own light, and threw it out over the audience. For that brief moment, in the face of all of KISS’s rock-and-roll thunder, simple radiance had stolen the show
.

It was my light shining from that stage. I had created that guitar, and many others, while working with rock-and-roll bands. I was twenty-two years old
.

That is a memory I cherish; one I know was made possible by Asperger’s syndrome, a difference inside my brain. I developed the skills to create that guitar only because of those differences.

I love to think back on my time touring with KISS, but I have many other, more painful, memories that I’ve pushed to the back of my mind. I’ve moved on from my anxiety-ridden childhood, a time when I wasn’t sure if I’d ever “make it.” In the years since, I’ve proven to myself and to the world that through hard work, patience, diligence, and good fortune I could overcome the obstacles life, and my Aspergian brain, put in my path. I grew up to be a master musical technician, a business owner, an author, a father, and, most important, a functioning adult who is valued by his family, his friends, and society.

Repressed memories of tougher times and the emotions associated with them may still come flooding back unexpectedly, spurred by an episode or event. That’s exactly what happened a few years ago as I watched
Billy the Kid
, a documentary about an undiagnosed Aspergian sixteen-year-old in a small-town Maine high school.

In one scene, Billy moves warily among his classmates. As he walks the halls, you see his eyes dart from side to side. Constantly. Looking for threats. Like a lone deer in a forest filled with wolves. With a pang, I recognized his look the moment I saw it. That was me, in tenth grade, at Amherst High. Seeing his face, I experienced all the worry and anxiety of that time in my life in an instant. I knew exactly how he felt. Alone, scared. Sure no one around him understood him; not even sure if he understood himself.

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