Saturday, December 29, 2012

Moving Forward

One of the most prominent characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome is the inability to “let go.” It is just one reason why the public sometimes vilifies this population even when they understand a little about the condition. Our passion for holding on tends to rage against both common sense and the essence of life itself. After all, life is all about moving forward and putting the past behind us. “Letting go” is the advice that composes most motivational books and negative terms are attached to my attitude.


As I grow older, it has become easier to justify my refusal to deal with life and letting go.  The need to hold on has led to a substantial number of life accomplishments.  I was able to complete the entire Appalachian Trail back in 2005 for a Pediatric AIDS Foundation despite having no hiking experience.  Furthermore, almost twenty thousand dollars was raised for the organization.  There were plenty of times when I probably should have quit due to constant discomfort and mental suffering…but I continued.  Whatever agony I experienced on the trail would be temporary compared to the obsessions waiting for me back home if I made a premature departure.  My inability to let go has, in fact, cured me of the most tenacious symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome.  It has offered me a future when there once seemed to be nothing but doom on the horizon.  There was a time during my younger years when I could not control whatever came out of my mouth.  It caused me to ruin two careers in teaching and human service after graduating college with consequences that still linger today.  Placing myself into a career where I did not belong and would most certainly lead to disaster solved this problem.  I chose to work in a funeral home where it felt like I had hit the “Asperger’s Syndrome Lottery.”  The main clientele did not react either harshly or negatively if I actually did say something inappropriate.  On the other hand, I did a lot of work with the families who came in to mourn their loved ones.  Such an experience caused me to become someone I was not by pursuing skills that were not inherent…someone better.  One does not have to accept their realities if they are unbearable and life seems more like a “living nightmare.”  I am happy that I’ve given myself a future by refusing to accept my weaknesses.

Pushing against my own boundaries has often led to success.  On the other hand, pushing against the boundaries of other human beings has not always had pleasant outcomes.  Others push back just as tenaciously.  With a lack of support services and mentors who also had Asperger’s, all of my life lessons had to be learned the hardest way possible.  It eventually occurred to me that people do not like to feel controlled regardless of whether the intentions are benevolent.  Not every acquaintance enjoys receiving a long birthday card from Jesse A. Saperstein.  And former relationships are going to end abruptly and remain severed irrevocably for a plethora of reasons.  I began to accept these realities and form compromises.  Sometimes I would even compromise on the original compromise.  I also mastered the fine art of “backing off” and putting these obsessions on a backburner.  With my sense of Asperger’s naivete, I expected the rest of the world to show mercy based on the efforts I was putting forth.  This did not always happen especially in the world of online dating where survival and an avoidance of legal trouble is dependent on completely “letting go” and accepting a lack of closure in most cases.

My adventure in online dating began at least five years ago after I had ruined my two careers and the best I could do was the twelve-hour night shifts at an IBM manufacturing plant in East Fishkill, NY.  During my breaks (or when the supervisor was not looking), I would troll around for potential dates on the popular singles site,  One day, I came across the profile of a beautiful woman who was not Jewish.  But that was the last thing that mattered at the moment.  She is a former special education teacher and, at the time, worked for Fox News.  I looked at her age and my mouth dropped open in shock.  The woman was a few years older, but did not look thirty-one years old in her profile photo!  It had to be a very old photograph.  But maybe she was just one of those individuals blessed with beauty that is not marred by age and/or the hardships of life.  My heart jumped when she consented to a meeting in New York City shortly after our first conversation.

The day I was supposed to meet this beautiful woman, our meeting was cancelled and never rescheduled.  Despite my disappointment, I tried not to take it personally.  (It is almost never personal when the rejection happens so promptly without provocation.)  I began to receive vibes that she just wanted to be left alone and had no desire to meet me in public.  Therefore, I made an effort to respect her boundaries and gingerly made contact in increments of a few weeks at a time.  Then it became six months.  And finally, I reduced my attempts to once a year in hopes she could handle that mild persistence.  There was more than physical beauty that promoted me to continue.  I always saw compassion and the hope she could see something special in me.  My most recent attempt to make contact was just a few weeks ago and this time I took a chance and let her know the main reason I continued to keep in touch.

I told her about my case of Asperger’s syndrome and how many obstacles have been surmounted over the course of five years.  And how much personal growth it took for me to “back off” in increments of one year at a time.  Even though I felt no personal shame in my past actions toward this beauty, I also apologized for doing anything that made her uncomfortable over the past five years.  Not only did she reply with a gracious letter, but consented to having diner with me in New York City.

For my peers with Asperger’s syndrome, I hope you see what may be accomplished through persistence and not letting go.  In six years, just about everything that was once destroyed by my inappropriate behavior has been rebuilt and I published a memoir with the second-largest publishing company on earth.  But it would be irresponsible to not discuss the dark side of persistence.  As my future date pointed out, persistence may also lead to police involvement, restraining orders, fears of being attacked, and accusations of stalking.  Knowing when to stop is critical.  When a person threatens to “take further action” or get the police involved, it is really time to stop…forever.  If not…try ”backing off” in increments of one year at a time and look outfor these signs to stop.  But judging from the events of the past week…a “responsible” amount of persistence may lead to persistently-wonderful memories.

It was possibly the most incredible night with a woman I have had in a long time.  I did not have to watch every word that came out of my mouth and offered the same courtesy to her, too.  If I said something that could have been construed as offensive, it was not held against me for the rest of the night like so many other dating experiences.  (When I claimed my lack of marriages and long-term relationships made me “pure,” I had to explain that I was not implying that she was contaiminated!).  The topics that were brought to the table were often negative and/or bizarre, at least according to the rest of society.  We also discussed our past romantic experiences (much of them negative).  Perhaps this night was the reward for all my suffering and freakish, bad luck.

There is a different kind of “letting to” that we should all try once in a while.  There is the “letting go” of all those who have condemned us as ‘damaged goods” and unworthy of a chance.  I would like to believe that I helped her along this path while talking about our favorite movies and countless other points of common interest.  I was also able to let go of the periods when my persistence was completely vilified.  As we held hands looking into each other’s eyes…it became clear we were not the same people from five years ago.  We are better, stronger, healthier, and know we have something to offer.  The waves commanded by Poseidon tossing our fragile self-esteem through constant squalls have made their way to calmer seas…at long last.

The days after our initial meeting have only reinforced the fact that I do not deserve to be judged on the ancient demons that used to ruin my life.  The old Jesse A. Saperstein from five years earlier would have called mercilessly and text messaged relentlessly.  He would have grown irritated when a woman did not text message him back in half-a-day.  Boundaries would have been trampled with little regards to other people’s comfort zones.  And most important, I would not have been honest about the condition that drives this persistence.  For every person who tells you how inspired they have been by your actions, there may be seven more who will remind you about something weird or inappropriate that happened several years ago.  I hope all my blog readers will reach a point where they take into account the Lion’s Share of progress they have hopefully made in recent years.  You will also understand that anyone who still condemns you over the mistakes from years earlier does not belong in your life.  On that note, I will keep you updated on what happens as I earn back my career in education despite past immaturity.  A conference with the superintendent of my old school district has been arranged for the start of 2013.  We shall see what happens…

I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen next.  If we continue to be a part of each other’s lives as friends or romantic partners…I will do everything I can to help her succeed professionally and build on innate strengths.  I’ll try to compensate for all those who have made her feel inferior.  If it does not work out, I will still be very proud of myself and know that I have something profound to give anyone who offers me a chance.  But please heed my words about knowing when it is time to stop and continue learning from my mistakes.  Life is much too short to make them all yourself!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Awkward…struggled to have a conversation…extremely intelligent…very few friends…loved to play video games…prone to temper tantrums.  Murdered twenty gimlet-eyed, innocent children for no reason along with six, unarmed women.  I have everything in common with the gunman except for the last sentence, of course.  Nobody wants to admit they have even one thing in common with a mass murderer, but it is important to admit to bitter honesty.  If that last sentence of carnage were taken out of his description then I would immediately come to the conclusion that this 20-year-old man also has Asperger’s syndrome.
I knew this day was coming and just was not prepared for the magnitude of monstrosity.  All sorts of people from all walks of life commit mass murders and other atrocities.  Evil is not confined to specific religions, ethnicities, or abilities.  Eventually there would be someone who is posthumously revealed to have had Asperger’s or waves his diagnosis around the courtroom like a white flag in a vain attempt to shave off a death sentence from his lifetime behind bars.
Like the gunman, I used to live a life of solitude and the only friends I had were ones set up by forced play dates on behalf of my mother.  During “Free Time” at Hillcroft Day Camp, I often preferred to be by myself peeling bark off of dead twigs or doing other weird activities.  My adolescence and early adulthood were often quite sad.  The lack of self-control and inability to filter inappropriate comments cost me two careers in Human Service as well as Teaching.  There were moments of profound rage during this period of stasis and career impotency.  I was angry because of my own inadequacies and society was not allowing me to earn my life back despite steady progress.  The periods of hopelessness and rage continued as life seemed like it was showing little mercy.  But during this time, I always maintained my humanity and that is the whole point.  Adam Lanza may have had a very sad life and never received too many of the breaks that most people enjoy at least once in a while.  But he was also not human.  He may have been human at one point in his life, but lost any kind of respect for human life when he chose to enter that elementary school classroom.
I mourn for the victims of Newtown, CT and am also scared for my fellow peers who live with Asperger’s.  There are definitely people who show compassion and know that Adam Lanza does not represent someone on the autism spectrum.  But other people will be swayed only by their fight-or-flight response and will not want to take a chance.  For the past seven years, I have been struggling to return to the field of education after a rough start.  I cannot help fearing how this is going to affect my journey as a member of a already-misunderstood and vilified population.  The gunman will create fear after his cowardly act and death that we must confront right now.
This is a time of action and the autism community will join the rest of society in helping the people of Newtown, CT heal after these unspeakable horrors.  But they should also not be shy about advocating for themselves or letting the gunman’s legacy dictate fear for the rest of society.  Last Monday, December 17th I had the chance to make a difference by traveling to New York City to film an interview with the television show, “Inside Edition” that will hopefully air sometime in the near future.
I definitely had mixed feelings about this rare opportunity to speak out in such a grand scale.  This national, television interview came at the expense of 26 innocent lives, but it is important to make sense of tragedies by trying to make something good come out of the anguish.  Sometimes we must laugh as hard as it may be.  “Humor is the nectar that we squeeze out of our profound anguish.”  I took the train into New York City with fear of saying the wrong things, but wanted to focus on the reality that the gunman is a freakish anomaly and not a representative of anyone in the autism community.
The interviewer was a young woman named, Emily, only one year older than myself.  She made me feel at ease even as I sat in a chair with blinding lights.  The setting was more like an interrogation room in one of those crime movies and not the fake living room of the Today Show, but my words flowed with surprising ease because of her kindness.  Emily asked whether there is any link between Asperger’s syndrome and acts of violence.  I gave her my best answer.
 “Individuals with Asperger’s are capable of violence in the sense they are as human as everybody else.  Human beings are known to commit crimes of passion or may react strongly if provoked long enough.  But no human being with or without a disability is capable of what the gunman committed in Newtown, CT.  My peers have a much greater chance becoming a victim of a crime than a perpetrator, as well.”
 Emily asked more questions and I tried to very cautiously give her the best answers.  I even got a little bit personal and revealed the extremes I have had to go through to give myself a fighting chance in society.  I worked at a funeral home for a while to condition myself to stop blurting out inappropriate comments.  My rage was never a threat to the rest of society and merely motivated myself to continue pushing for better realities.  My anger was the catalyst for a bestselling book and skydiving adventure.
 Unlike Adam Lanza…my failures and disappointments eventually waned.  I still have not been able to earn my old life back, but am putting teaching on a backburner while embracing my new reality as a public figure.  Like many of my peers…I have little ability to “let go” and will keep pushing.  Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if nothing worked out for me as an adult and my failures continued.  I would have been miserable, depressed, and could have given up hope.  But no matter what…my humanity still would have remained intact.  I would never have reached the breaking point and gunned down twenty-six innocent lives.
 I am still waiting for my words to air on “Inside Edition” but my interview has been temporarily scrapped in favor of more pressing news stories.  It is the nature of the media and nothing personal.  They always go with the story that takes more of a priority.  But I thank Emily and the rest of “Inside Edition” for understanding this tragedy will affect more than the victims of Newtown and my peers deserve a voice.
 I would like to say a few final words.  We have a right to be angry and search for blame in this senseless act.  But I wish society would stop villain-izing the mother, Nancy Lanza and treat her as one of the victims.  How could she have known?  Maybe she and her child were only able to bond over this common interest and he showed no traces of violent tendencies until that fateful Friday morning?  My kooky interests such as donating blood every two months and skydiving have separated me from the rest of my family. The only way my father and I are able to bond is over our mutual love of Blackjack at casinos.  Maybe she needed that bonding or anything at all.
When a person loses both their parents…they are known as orphans.  When a person loses a spouse…they are described as widows.  There is no existing word for when someone loses a child because it is just too damn painful!  Perhaps this will change and those who have survived the death of children will be called, “newtowns.”  They should have this legacy because they are surviving this tragedy with dignity and are not displacing any anger on my unique peers.  The legacy of the heroic children will hopefully live forever as the legacy of the gunman dies soon…