On the Appalachian Trail back in 2005 there were numerous times when I wondered why I chose to do this to myself. There were moments of intense physical comfort, anger, frustration, and the sensation that it would go on forever. Nobody was forcing me to complete this journey and sleep in deplorable conditions in all types of terrain and weather. But I chose to continue because the journey would have a means to an end. The obsession and shame that would come from failing would surely last forever. This is a question that I often ask myself when obsessively trying to complete as many Chanukah and Christmas cards as possible. Not to mention the New Year’s cards when at least some of the belated Christmas/Chanukah letters have to transition into New Year’s greetings. It is downright impossible to contact everybody who has made a difference in my life with a long, handwritten card. The process also takes a lot longer than the average person considering I write from top to bottom and on the back of each card with a message that is mostly original for each recipient. While I am not attacking anyone who sends out mimeographed letters or a photograph display to save time, it is not my style. I want the card filled completely instead of a two sentence, cliched message with empty white space all around. So much emptiness and so much potential that was squandered, in my opinion. But it takes so much time and energy to write so many different individuals. Inevitably, I always wait until the beginning of November and am locked in a feverish race against time to get them out with enough of a grace period before Chanukah and December 25th. I also worried about those cards and packages that will be just-barely, on-time, but will be late anyways simply because of the fact that lots of people are traveling on Christmas Eve if this is when my card and/or gift is scheduled to show up in the mailbox. For at least a solid month I was stressed out and angry with myself that the cards were not started much earlier such as in August. Even if I had created one per day that probably would have been more than enough! I ask myself why I choose to do this to myself beyond the obvious reasons that most people appreciate these gestures of Holiday Cheer and the time it takes someone to compose such a message in our rush-rush world of text messaging and instant gratification. It does not take very long to understand why I do this to myself year after year. It is not fair to be expected to let go of everything. There has to be at least one lone survivor especially in the world of Asperger’s-related perseverations that are harmless with wonderous benefits most of the time.
Halloween is gone, and this was always very important to me. While most people would not find this to be a genuine accomplishment, the fact is that I was proud of the fact that I milked out the dance long after my fellow millennials had put away their plastic goodie bags or pumpkin containers. I insisted upon going trick-or-treating until the age of 31 years old. At age 32 I compromised and went to a Halloween celebration at the Village in New York City with my girlfriend at the time. At age 33 my cherished tradition was decimated by having moved to Albany where I knew that it would not be wise to push the envelope by knocking on strange doors as a 30-something year old man without a small child in tow. Carving Jack O’Lanterns is also no longer practical because it is not practical in the adult world to take an entire day off and carve intricate patterns during the height of my anti-bullying talks and work-related responsibilities. If I have an important speech to prepare for around Halloween that is a little more important than indulging in a special interest even if it is just once a year. But I am obsessive about making sure there is enough candy for the trick-or-treaters and spent forty dollars worth of candy this past year after having been haunted by running out of the Halloween treats in 2018.
I have also been forced to let go of other things because of being at the mercy of the free will of others. Even today I am still wrestling with the bitterness at having been rejected from many schools as a substitute teacher in my home community back in 2006 as well as unexpectedly losing a human service job that was my entire world at the time. Both setbacks seemed like the end of the whole world as the one thing keeping my spirits propped up was pursuing the small odds that enough accomplishments would rebuild all that was lost in the exact same venues so it would all feel like a bad dream. Sometimes “friends” from the past decide they no longer want me in their lives. This does not make any sense and never will. How could someone’s level of tolerance be so miniscule that someone from their past reaching out to them once a year is too much to handle. There are people I went to school with twenty years ago who I have little to nothing in common with anymore. If they were to reach out to me once in a blue moon I would not exactly be performing cartwheels, but I would still be polite and go through the motions even if I were taken aback by the random attempt to reestablish contact especially if they were not being overbearing. (I think not contacting me for two decades should count as “backing off!” There is a woman in my life who once turned my universe from black-and-white into Technicolor with her friendship. She was hardly the model of consistency, reliability, and consideration. One time she invited me to an event and not only flaked out by failing to show up, but ignored my desperate phone calls asking about whether she is still coming. I brushed off moments like this because they did not happen all the time and could not bear losing her in my life due to sporadic bouts of a psychological condition that is referred to as, “assholitis.” The last message she sent me was how I should visit her and her husband in their new home followed by severing contact out-of-the-blue without any explanation. This couple terminated contact with many others, too. I was not the only one who heart was broken, and I know that it has nothing to do with me. But it still hurts so much and trying to convince her to be reasonable or compromise is like battling with the oceanic tides. I cannot control it and will never have control over her free will. She is gone, and this could go on forever. When something like this happens I may not give up, but at the same time I “back off” enough to the point where I am not overstepping any legal boundaries and have stayed out of trouble for a very long time! (Note to my peers on the autism spectrum: The law does not care if your feelings are hurt or what is your side of the story or if the other person broke your heart on your birthday or Christmas morning. If someone does not want to be contacted then that boundary has to be respected. (But if you are someone who cannot let go but do not want to get into trouble, perhaps you could compromise and only reach out in increments of six months to a year if nobody can talk you out of dropping the matter forever.) Now…back to the subject of the cards.
The reason I send out the cards aside from putting a smile on the faces of others is because it is my choice. In a world where things change all the time, it is satisfying to have at least one ritual that remains the same. Sending out the cards may occasionally make a person uncomfortable if I am not a close friend or family member, although such reactions have become extremely rare. If the address is correct the card always reaches its destination within three days or less. The post office is like a machine fueled by the power of a lone stamp. The cards are appreciated and forge the path toward human connection. The adult world has sadly pruned many of my beautiful habits and harmless neuroses. For example, I used to have a practice of only responding to emails in increments of nine at a time. It felt amazing to send out the responses in multiples of nine, eighteen, or twenty-seven. But it soon became impossible and not fair to make people wait and inevitably someone would call just as I was sending them my response, which made the composed email useless. I wanted to yell on the phone, “How could you do this to me?! You were part of the chain of nine emails. Now I have to compose a new email to compensate for the one that is now useless. You ****ed with my mild OCD!” I knew that one day I would react this way or would lose out on an important opportunity due to this time-consuming ritual. Another reason for writing the cards is to stick it to the handful of individuals who made my life miserable due to the fact that my cards made them uncomfortable. I still think they were wrong and intolerant and cruel and bullies. The manager at CVS once accused me of “stalking” her on-shift supervisor for sending her two cards in addition to a recent misunderstanding. She said, “If it happens again we are calling the police!” In all honesty, I was proud of myself for “backing off” considering that I had only sent her two cards over the course of about 15 months.
The cards, however, are written during a time when there is more freedom to focus on them. Other people may not write a much as myself, but it is not weird to mail out Holiday greetings around the Yuletide and Chanukah season. I have made a choice to belong to the adult world and understand that I cannot control so many things and change is going to happen like a tidal wave at times. Fortunately, I have been able to hold onto my position at Living Resources, Inc. and not added any more items to a Garden of Obsessions in addition to the disastrous year of 2006. But during the Holiday Season there is also the gift of time considering that there are seldom public speaking engagements, and a lot of people take time off this time of the year. If the cards get out-of-hand I may take a day off to pound out the most important of the packages coupled with extremely lengthy cards.
It is a reality, however, that the cards and packages definitely rob time from other priorities. It does not mean that I am going to let it go. Perhaps it just means I have start them in July next year! Whether or not someone has Asperger’s syndrome, it is critical to choose at least one or two Golden Gems that are at the mercy of the free will of you!
Attached is a photograph of the last of my 40 Chanukah cards that were sent out with enough of a grace period to reach every destination before the end of Chanukah. (Actually...I had to scratch that plan because of the fact that someone's mailing address and my return address is visible in that particular photograph. So here is a photo of someone else's cards as a stock image from the Internet!) Unfortunately, the only person who suffered was my first cousin, Michael who had recently moved and unfortunately I was not aware of his new mailing address. But I felt an enormous sense of satisfaction that things had gone nearly perfectly this year once again. Next year I am going to do better. And the year after that. If someone says it is weird, imposing, overbearing, creepy, and so on…their hatred will encourage to push the cards forward with more passion.