I need to do a limited skinback here. I’ve been mulling something over since Hank brought it up in comments last Thursday, when we discussed the strange case of Andrew Shirvell, the Michigan assistant attorney general waging a one-man war against Chris Armstrong, the gay student-body president at the University of Michigan. Hank said:
Someone I know, a high-functioning autistic man who would certainly know what he’s talking about in this regard, looked at the Shirvell interview and immediately diagnosed a fellow high-functioning autistic man. It’s what happens, he says, when the rigidity and obsessive behavior fails to find an appropriate outlet.
I’ve watched the video a couple of times since then, and I think he’s right. There’s something about Shirvell that’s not quite all there; he seems to have no idea why what he’s doing is at all inappropriate. (It’s hard to judge a person’s demeanor in one of these on-camera interviews, which do not favor amateurs — you sit in a chair, staring into a camera lens while Anderson Cooper yaks in your ear. You have no conventional feedback to tell you how you’re coming across; if you’re lucky you might get a monitor, but not always.) Turning to the wisdom of the crowd, i.e., Googling “‘andrew shirvell’ + asperger OR autism” turns up many other armchair psychiatrists who recognize the same traits they live with every day in a colleague or loved one with this condition. It’s good enough for me. While by no means excusing Shirvell’s behavior, it’s safe to say that outraged umbrage and gaydar jokes here are uncalled-for, and I apologize. Shirvell, meanwhile, has decided this is an excellent time to take a leave of absence. Wise move.
However, I’d like to use this as a jumping-off point for a subject that’s interested me for years — how we deal with, or don’t deal with, mental impairments/illness/less-than-normal brain functioning in our society.
When I was a columnist I wrote a bit about mental health, and I always liked to bat this balloon around with my sources, asking them how we draw the line between eccentric and crazy. “Not very well” was their answer, in a phrase. They often spoke of the frustration of dealing with, say, the very religious family of a schizophrenic patient, who couldn’t or wouldn’t understand things like brain chemistry and psychotropic drugs and 72-hour commitments, but had a very easy explanation in “demonic possession.” Sometimes a person’s symptoms fit very nicely into a particular culture’s drawer, and it takes a while before anyone figures out they have a person on their hands who needs help and support, not reinforcement.
I have no idea at all what sort of family or community Shirvell comes from, but it’s entirely possible that among his tribe, this is normal behavior, even admirable. It’s funny how the internet has made a certain sort of obsession — and what is a blog called Name of Person I Hate Watch but an obsession — not just acceptable but normal. And if people you hang with hate the same people you do, it becomes noble, a cause. And soon no one questions whether Andrew is getting a little too engaged in the cause, he’s just a man with admirable energy and focus.
Maybe we should all undergo a periodic life audit by a panel of friendly strangers with board-certified Common Sense ™. They’d go over a few key documents in our lives, we’d submit to a short interview, and two weeks later the report comes in the mail: Nice work on cutting back on your drinking and increasing your exercise, but you’re starting to become a bore about your vegetarian diet. Watch that.
And so another weekend vanishes in the rear-view mirror. I spent most of it in the kitchen. I’m experimenting with a new food this week — quinoa.
“May I have a pound of kee-no-ah?” I asked the girl at the store.
“I have some keen-wa right here,” she said, handing over a bag. Nicely played. So far I’m finding the Aztec’s magic grain interesting. Yesterday — cold bean salad with cherry tomatoes, mixed greens and quinoa. Today: Fried quinoa in the style of rice. I’ll keep you posted.
Bloggage: When you get to be my age, you’ve already been puzzled by at least half a million success stories, but the one that’s bugging me at the moment is that of Kathleen Parker, who always struck me as the ultimate media chameleon, one of those women who scored the “conservative” slot on op-ed pages back when female columnists were all Ellen Goodman clones, and then switched sides during the Bush meltdown, thereby earning the Strange New Respect award, and — funny how often this happens — a goddamn Pulitzer Prize, and if that isn’t a testament to how slim the pickings have gotten in the op-ed stable, I don’t know what is. Her column always struck me as content-free, I-was-just-thinkin’ culture-war musings on whatever was on the cover of Newsweek in any given month. But she had one thing working for her, something she’s always been willing to trade on. She’s very pretty. An early version of her website had a collection of photos of her, all taken at the same session, a little brainy pin-up gallery of Kathleen with her head cocked, Kathleen leaning her head on her hand and smiling, Kathleen twirling her reading glasses, etc. She once wrote that her mother died when she was very young and her father remarried something like four or five times, thereby confirming another of my long-distance armchair psychological diagnoses — another woman who, like Dr. Laura, could never get dad’s attention, so she grew up to be a men’s-rights advocate and good little defender of traditional gender roles. I may well be full of shit, and if so feel free to tell me so.
Anyway, speaking of puzzling success stories? Parker Spitzer, complete with a wet kiss for the launch by none other than Howie Kurtz. Break a leg, Katie.
Related, the disarray at CNN, from New York magazine:
“They do not recognize a reality that Fox and MSNBC recognize,” says a former senior CNN staffer. “You have to be real showmen and hook into America, which is blue collar and angry. The CNN culture is still very strange. You walk into that building, you think you’re the Jesuits and you’re protecting a certain legacy. They still look at Fox as a carnival—not Fox as a brilliant marketing entity. It’s weird. They’re decades into it, and they’ll protect it to the end.”
Finally I leave you with a recipe. Someone asked me for it and I copied it down, so I’ll share it with you. Never like to waste a good transcription:
This is from the Junior League’s Centennial Cookbook, and don’t draw any conclusions from that — I am as far from a Junior Leaguer as they come, but the book came to the newsroom a few years ago, and I was pleasantly surprised to find some of those skinny blondes could actually cook.
Anyway, this comes together pretty fast, and it’s one recipe where I don’t mind letting someone else do the prep work — butternut squash are such a pain to peel and dice, I generally buy them already prepped at Trader Joe’s.
Curried butternut apple soup
2 onions, chopped
3 T butter
2 cups diced butternut squash
1 tart apple, peeled and diced
3 T all-purpose flour
1 or 2 t. curry powder
Pinch of nutmeg
3 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups milk
Grated rind and juice of 1 orange (if you don’t have any, a splash of Tropicana is fine)
Salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar to taste
In a large saucepan, sauté the onions in butter until soft. Add the squash and apple. Sauté until the butter is absorbed, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add flour, curry powder and nutmeg. Cook for 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, milk, orange rind and juice. Simmer slowly uncovered for 20 minutes or so, until vegetables are tender.
Puree the soup with an immersion blender. Season and serve with a dollop of cream, if you like. Note: This soup improves with keeping. Prepare a day or two in advance if time allows.
Happy soup! It’s going to be soup weather for sure this week.