Autistic Future
August 7th, 2016

Home Is Where The Work Is

union station and Columbus circle on a cloudy afternoon


The oth­er night, I went out look­ing for live music to clear my head. It was a beau­ti­ful evening, not too hot, with just the threat of a storm vis­i­ble from my seat at the Dublin­er. From the win­dow near my table, I could see one of those mas­sive, white office build­ings from the age of grand, fed­er­al struc­tures sub­tly chang­ing col­or in the set­ting sun. The peo­ple who want­ed to make this place a new Rome suc­ceed­ed. Every­thing looks present and eter­nal. It isn’t, though, for me, because I leave the city with­in days. Soon, my sum­mer in D.C. will be one of those inter­est­ing chap­ters of my life fad­ing slow­ly in the rear view mirror.

I’ll miss parts of life in the Dis­trict. The car-option­al lifestyle is amaz­ing. Cycling here felt safer than it does back home because few D.C. dri­vers are hos­tile to cyclists in principle.

my vintage, English 3-speed, a tall, black bike with fenders and an old-fashioned Brooks saddle

There were more fierce­ly com­pe­tent peo­ple my own age dri­ven to make the world a bet­ter place than I think I’ll see again. The food was prob­a­bly the best I’ve ever had.

the chocolate peanut butter pie a la mode I had for my birthday . 10 out of 10 would recommend

Fresh pro­duce and good bread were actu­al­ly cheap­er than it is at home. I could go every­where, even on week­ends, after dark. No one stared, groped me, or felt the need to make com­ments on me as female or vis­i­bly queer, even out­side of the city cen­ter. There was so much culture.

the President's Own USMC Band performing on the west face of the US Capitol at sunset

I saw a won­der­ful play, heard a great DJ at Cap­i­tal Fringe, enjoyed free and inex­pen­sive muse­ums and pub­lic con­certs, and ran across the best street musi­cians I’ve seen this side of the Atlantic. I high­ly rec­om­mend the D.C. intern expe­ri­ence. If you can find a place where you can afford to live, this is a good place to spend a few months.

one of the old houses in capital hill, the neighborhood where I stayed

If you can find a place where you can afford to live, this could be a good place to make a life, but I don’t think I will.

It’s hard to say where a ris­ing 3L will go. My fore­see­able future starts to get fuzzy around nine months out and ends in about a year. For the time being, I’m aim­ing for places I love more deeply, the places that it some­times seems like no one else wants. The land­scape of my heart runs from the bot­tom of 285 to the south­ern shores of lake Michi­gan. My ances­tral home is the east half of I‑40. Where I’m from these days  is 75, 85, and 20, the South, the Rust Belt, and the divid­ing wall of moun­tains. It’s dis­tinct from what I expe­ri­enced this sum­mer. Through­out most of it, the pal­pa­ble secu­ri­ty pres­ence that blan­kets the Dis­trict is absent. A few hun­dred years of local con­trol have made things dif­fer­ent­ly grit­ty.* Pub­lic tran­sit isn’t what it is in coastal cities. Instead, the high­way glit­ters in the sum­mer sun. There is less sense of an exist­ing safe­ty net in most places. There is diver­si­ty, friend­ship, love, and real com­mu­ni­ty across racial, eth­nic, class, and reli­gious divides, but there are also groups of peo­ple who live and die side-by-side for gen­er­a­tions with­out ever real­ly know­ing each oth­er. There are pock­ets of des­per­ate pover­ty. There are knowl­edge deserts that I sus­pect may not have come about entire­ly unin­ten­tion­al­ly. There is often less ide­ol­o­gy to get in the way. Some­times, prob­lems are more sol­u­ble because peo­ple are too des­per­ate not to work togeth­er and compromise.

Right now, every­one is talk­ing about the white res­i­dents of this part of the world as peo­ple of good­will grap­ple with the real and ter­ri­fy­ing pos­si­bil­i­ty of a Pres­i­dent Trump and the hor­rors of opi­oid addic­tion. The nar­ra­tives that come out of this part of the coun­try are awful, drugs, crooked coun­ties, judges who won’t obey the law, hate groups that won’t go away, and seg­re­gat­ed schools for a dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly non-white group of chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties. Cities strug­gle with grow­ing pains and scram­ble for resources, while rur­al areas and small­er towns grap­ple with a glob­al econ­o­my that has writ­ten them off as obsolete.

The list goes on, but I see hope in Texas’ for­ward-think­ing sup­port­ed deci­sion-mak­ing statute and efforts to train enough men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als to meet demand in rur­al areas, Geor­gia’s bur­geon­ing film indus­try and qui­et rejec­tion of an anti-trans­gen­der bath­room bill, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty that North Car­oli­na will soon unseat one of the most big­ot­ed and polit­i­cal­ly incom­pe­tent gov­er­nors in Amer­i­ca. I see the oppor­tu­ni­ty, in under­de­vel­oped places, to try new ideas and care­ful­ly craft solu­tions that will be effec­tive in the long run. I see peo­ple in my field who have come out of the wood­work to men­tor me and showed will­ing­ness to devote many hours to help­ing me carve out a career when I said I might want to stick around and help make things bet­ter. I see my home. It might not be the one most peo­ple would pick giv­en the choice, but it’s the only one I’ve got. Tak­ing risks and less chart­ed cours­es is counter-intu­itive for some­one who grew up dis­abled in Amer­i­ca. We’re warned not to dream too big, to be not so much con­tent as slav­ish­ly grate­ful if we suc­ceed at struc­tured things, but home is a loy­al­ty, an oblig­a­tion, a place to serve if one is as for­tu­nate as I am. This has been a nice sum­mer, but there is work to be done in the places to which I don’t so much owe some­thing as owe every­thing. I’m head­ed west, then south, tomor­row ad hope­ful­ly for a long time.

*This usu­al­ly results in the per­son on the street hav­ing a strength­ened sense of own­er­ship of local goings-on. In a few, scary parts of the Deep South, where I’ve seen elders still unable to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the will of state leg­is­la­tures from the will of God, this has the oppo­site effect. When I encounter this, I have an intense, vis­cer­al urge to drop what­ev­er I’m doing and go find some grant mon­ey to send some­one to teach free adult cours­es in reme­di­al civics.