Hi, my name is Joseph Kyle. I am 42 years old and I write about music and art on my website, The Recoup. I have Aspergers Syndrome. As part of this, I am affected by an issue known as stimming. It makes life different and difficult and beautiful and weird and awkward all at the same time. I wrote a piece over the summer that introduced you to my issues with stimming, and people liked it, and I’ve wanted to share another piece about it, but I just cannot sit down and write a piece about the experience; it has to come directly out of the combat experience of my daily life, and that is exactly what happened to me today. I hope you enjoy it.
Hi, my name is Joseph Kyle, and this was my afternoon……
“Frogs,” The Flaming Lips. at least 20 listens in 95 minutes
So I’m standing at the bar of the green-sealed Sumatra Satan, eagerly awaiting my cold creamy coffee concoction, I’m playing it cool, though, because hey, this is a public place, the server girl is extremely cute and very generous with the smiles. Then suddenly, I feel it. There’s something stinging the back of my neck, the back of my back, and straight into my heart.
I turn around and see this stinging-source, and she is beautiful, she is looking right at me, and she is smiling. And I am smiling right back. Is it because the intense therapy session I just had is putting me a place of openness towards the inhabitants of this planet (not mine)? Is it the blood loss from a doctor’s visit earlier in the day? Or is it kismet, cupid working his magic at 3 PM in the afternoon in Tyler, Texas?
I quickly look away. We mustn’t stare, Joseph. (How do people meet one another on this planet? I’ve not the foggiest, though the Seinfeld answer of “Alcohol” sure makes sense to me.) I am elated that this beauty has even acknowledged me, period. I’m feeling chuffed, and good about myself–which never happens.
And then the unthinkable occurs.
I hear it.
In my head I hear Jonathan Donahue’s insane heartbeat croaking guitar lick, and I know I’m screwed. I remember I’m inside and in public so I curtail my urge to start singing aloud to the melody in my mind, but damn it, it’s hard. “There you are, infected with your water strain,” those words, they are so perfect for this emotion I am now feeling.
I try to hide right then and there and disappear into myself but I know I can’t do that, so I do the next best thing, I turn my back to her, wait for my order, then proceed out the door. She watches me as I leave, and I see her watching me walk to my car. I tip my hand to her, she smiles and waves, and that is that and I don’t care because I have way, way more important things on my mind.
I have to hear that song, and I have to hear it now.
But I’m screwed. I am fifty miles from home, and to complicate matters, I have a brand new cell phone with no Spotify or digital files on it. Complicating matters further, my cell phone is flat-out refusing to download the Spotify app, stalling out at 2% downloaded.
This is not good. This will not do at all. I feel the beads of freak-out beginning, and so I start soothing myself by singing the chorus, “I’m looking at the sun, I’m waiting for the rain, I’m waiting for the frogs to fall down on me” and it gives me a bit of relief, though truthfully I’m wanting to hit Wayne Coyne in the present head for writing such a wonderful song that is now inflicting something unpleasant on me. All the while I’m praying to Ronald Jones that the beautiful woman who is still watching me doesn’t decide to take my unintentional delay as the opportunity to come up and speak to me. A beautiful, friendly woman wanting to talk to me? Horror of horrors!
Revelation! Youtube. Luckily, it works fine and I queue up the video. The sound quality sucks but it plays about five times in a row and I start to feel a bit better as my mind runs through the melodies and the lyrics spool through my head. I’m feeling better, until I go out of range.
I pull over at the first convenience store I see, and take a deep breath. Everything I have in my car to listen to, I don’t want to listen to. I want to listen to that song, and just that song. I try to download Spotify again’ thankfully, this time, it quickly downloads and installs. I make a playlist with “Frogs” on it, download it for offline listening, and I then hit the road again.
Getting uninterrupted, repetitive plays of “Frogs” is unbelievably soothing, and as I always do in these situations, I start to evaluate the situation. A beautiful young woman was being friendly to me and checking me out, and not being repulsed. Always a reassuring feeling. But why was I so sensitive? Was it because I caught my therapist fidgeting and rolling his eyes while I poured my heart out in this hastily planned session after yesterday’s amazing breakthrough? Was I was forcing myself out of my shell and seeing that on this odd planet I inhabit and which constantly confounds me, someone might actually find me appealing? So much to process, so many potential outcomes, no wonder I sought escape into a song relating to lust and impatience by referencing a biblical plague!
But I know why it was that song, though—or at least I think I do. It’s because that frog croaking sounds a helluva lot like a heart beating, and my heart was most definitely doing that. I LOVE Wayne Coyne’s voice. He can’t sing in tune. I can’t sing in tune. He’s gotten better, but on this track, it’s all about the creaky voice going along with the croaky frogs and all the things that go along with it.
But there’s something more at play. Frogs can be terrifying. Seriously terrifying. Really, if you’ve ever been around them at night, then you know what I mean. The sounds they make are ominous and weird and intentionally confusing. Done in part to distract their natural predators, they engage in an almost natural surround-sound experience, being able to throw their sounds in such a manner that confuses those who would seek to eat them. This clip only hints at their loudness; a large gathering of frogs can result in sounds up to 90 decibels in loudness.
But I digress. What happened today, I am really not so sure I understand. I do get why the sound appeals to me—I understand it to be a form of self-defense for my psyche that, I must honestly admit, suffers from oversensitivity. I bruise a lot. I find faults that often aren’t there. I don’t always like myself and I cannot fathom the notion of a young woman finding me worthy of being check-out-able. Mainly, though, I was taken off guard by this emotion, and I liked it, but it was just too much to take on at once. Furthermore, this intrusion into my spirit that comes and goes on its own volition and never consults me about it until after its too late was most unwelcome. Sorry, pretty lady, but that’s how my mind rolls.
It’s a lot to take in, really. Was I seeking the comfort of frogs out of self-preservation from the “predatory” nature of a beautiful woman who appeared to be flirting with me, because I couldn’t handle her right then and there? Was it because I was vulnerable in nature and all alone outside of my comfort zone, being encroached—at least in my confusing, whirly-gig mind—by someone intruding on my emotional boundaries? Or was I just a scared asshole who didn’t know what to do and so hopped at the chance to be distracted by the first thing that came to mind, which, for some god-knows-why reason, happened to be “Frogs” by The Flaming Lips?
But you know what the best part about it was? Singing that song nearly twenty times in a row, as I drove home. It never got old. Not once. I had fun singing about those amphibians and the bizarre but wonderful metaphor of an Egyptian-like plague-like incident evoking the falling of frogs. I would say I’d love for that to happen again but I don’t really want to tempt God and have him call my bluff. Some things are much better left alone.
To the young woman with whom I enjoyed a quiet, unspoken flirtation waltz…. thank you for the dance, however brief. I’ll never see you again, of course, nor will you see me, and that is perfectly okay with me. Sometimes dalliances with the unknown, the unobtainable, and the unfulfilled make the best feelings and memories. You made me feel good about myself today, at a time when I was particularly vulnerable, edgy, and in need of feeling good. Perhaps you felt something similar. That’s all I could ask for, really.
I pondered these things all the way home, and just as I thought I was coming upon a very good answer, I pulled up in front of my house, got out of my car, turned off my cell phone, and went inside. Interestingly, that’s all I needed to do; the spell was broken. I didn’t need “Frogs” any more. Well, I still love the song, but for the purposes of the afternoon, it was no longer necessary for me to rely on this song to feel better/calm down/focus my emotions/whatever the hell this mysterious thing does to me when it takes over my soul.
So I forgot about the song, went inside, and took one of my medications for anxiety. I put on a CD by The Platters, I turned on my computer, and I started to write the first words that came to mind…
Hi, my name is Joseph Kyle, and this was my afternoon….
Sidebar from sanity after writing this note: When you have issues with stimming, you simply cannot turn the urge on and off. it must be dealt with, or else you will have…problems…until you do. I should also note: stimming is not the same thing as OCD. The actions performed by people with OCD are done involuntarily, while stimming is a mostly self-aware behavior done as a reaction to stimuli, or as a defensive mechanism to cease fear, anxiety, or overstimulation. To assume one is the same as the other is to fundamentally misunderstand the complexities of Autism Spectrum issues. For the spectrum individual, not doing something to counter overestimation can lead to one of two incidents: a meltdown-a form of very, very intense anxiety attack that can be mistaken for a psychotic episode–or a shutdown –a complete and sullen withdrawal into self that can be deep, last for hours, and literally causes a person to stop communicating or even functioning until they feel safe. Fortunately, I’ve never been a meltdown guy; in these situations, I shut down completely. It’s not fun, either, because you find yourself with simultaneously an empty mind and a fast-running process of thoughts.
Part of the reason I write about these things is because I want to relate to you, the neurotypical world, about what it is like to be an adult with this misunderstood, often distorted condition–(frog) warts and all. I hope it was helpful.