Aspie Thoughts on Mainsteaming.

Recently, I applied for a job.

This is a unique experience for me, as someone who’s long considered herself unemployable. It’s not that I’m incapable of working, or that I’d even be considered an undesirable hire … it’s more a matter of … how do I put this?

I’ve long felt like any possible outside career I could take up would end – in very short order – with me feeling like a square peg being forced into a round hole. I can do pretty much anything, I can learn – and master – things incredibly fast… but that ends up being a negative, for most careers. Even with my own self employment, I hit a wall and need change, new challenges, etc.

I’ve always joked that the day a career is created where I could basically get paid to problem solve all day (with lots of research involved), but where those problems were ever changing, crossing many different subject areas… that’s the day I could settle into a career.

Until that point, I would keep doing what I’m doing. I know myself well enough to have settled into a pretty decent grove – keeping things varied between costuming and writing – that I’ve managed to stave off another career regeneration well past my normal limit.

Well, I found that perfect hypothetical career opportunity, and I applied. I know there’s only a very slim chance of getting accepted… but it would be amazing. Not only would it be amazing *for* me, it’s something I could do a great job at it – it’s something that could put almost all of my Aspergian traits to really good use. They could really benefit from adding someone like me to the position.

So. Fingers crossed.

Anyway, I’ve been approaching the whole thing the way I did when I applied for MasterChef. I feel sort of bad for making the comparison, given how that whole experience was… but there are definite similarities in the whole apply -> wait a long time to hear back thing. It’s actually kind of surprising how much it’s been reminding me of the pre-MasterChef period. Though the end goal is VERY different from MasterChef, even a lot of the “training” I’m going through is similar.

I’m doing a LOT of reading and viewing. There is so much subject matter and history to get acquainted with, and it’s fascinating. Also, it’s really exciting to see all of the subject matter I could be dealing with, and interesting people I could be working with.

I’ve been studying up on the logistics involved, and formulating the plans for the life upheaval that would be involved, including a move. (This part was easy – I’m a logistics nerd, so we’re all set!)

The most perplexing area of preparation/study/etc is what I actually planned to discuss on this blog entry, now that I’ve rambled so. It’s the matter of “mainstreaming”, as someone who … well, who is pretty settled into their ways.

I’m someone who didn’t really know how to meet people and make friends until I was 24. It’s taken time, but I actually do strike up conversations with strangers now!

I’m someone who spends her work days at home, in sweat pants and t-shirts. Comfortable cotton, no irritating closures. When I go outside for errands, it’s nicer sweatpants, yoga pants, etc. Comfortable shoes (men’s sandals).

When it comes to outdoor shoes, my year looks like this:

Sandal season
Socks with sandal season
Kamik boots season
Socks with sandal season
… back to sandals season.

Those sandals are the exact same manufacturer and style across the past few years, btw.

So, in considering a job that will require professional dress… this is actually the biggest challenge to me. Over the past 13 years or so, I’ve come a long way in passing for neurotypical… but appearance is the one big area that has lagged behind.

So, here’s where I’m at:

1. Makeup

Makeup was a “Few times a year” thing, and even then, just enough to look like I tried.

At age 37, I’ve finally been convinced to invest in good makeup, and actually wear it. I think I’m getting pretty decent at it now, though I’m convinced that eyeliner (Both the invention and decent application of) is the work of the devil!

2. Hair

I cut off 6+” of my hair, and am ready to go even further. Hypothyroid disease has done me no favours in the hair department, and bleaching (for teal hair!) hasn’t helped things. I’ve listened to friends who know better, and have invested in decent hair products. It’s soft now!

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Looking more or less like and adult human being!

3. Shoes.

AUGH. I am saying goodbye to my men’s sandals, for the most part. Boo – they are so comfortable! I have invested in a few pairs of fall boots – replacing my “socks with sandals” season. They have actual heels, which is really throwing my body/senses for a loop. It’s been interesting, feeling which muscles are engaging in the whole process of walking in heels. Certain muscles feel good, as it’s a nice stretch… others aren’t as nice.

I’m training my feet for wearing heels, as my large toe joint in particular has an issue with this whole idea. A few hours every day, I wear them at my desk, walk around a bit, etc. When we go out, I wear the smallest heel, for now – I’ll graduate to taller ones little by little.

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Starter heels, and higher heels. Definitely a style upgrade from men’s sandals!

4. Handbags.

I have a strong preference for extremely utilitarian, cross-body messenger bags. For the past year or so, this has taken the shape of a Star Trek sciences uniform bag, which I adore. I’ve also been eyeing the Klingon one, which has a built in bat’leth as decoration.

.. However awesome these are, they’re not so great for the whole idea of professional look, mainstreaming. There is a lot of baggage (hah!) wrapped up in the carrying of a handbag, so this has been a weird bit of study for me. I’ve developed a bit of an obsession, though on a different track than the sort of stereotypical female handbag worship thing.

For one, I have a definite “type”, and eschew anything outside of it. As my husband was quick to point out, the ones I deem acceptable all fall pretty close to Golden Ratio proportions. It’s not something I was consciously considering, but it definitely has been holding true.

Beyond shape/ratio, I have a strong preference for actual leather, no logos. Decorative pockets are great, as long as their locations, shape, and size are pleasing.

For me, this has all culminated into the realization that I am into old Coach bags. I am not a fan of their recent stuff, or basically anything that is “current” fashion, regardless of designer. While not being into anything current is a bit of a blessing on the wallet, I’m a bit dismayed at my apparent steadfast preference for a designer name – it’s jarring, for someone with a past refusal to spend more than $30 on a purse.

On the upside, “old” means “much more reasonably priced on Ebay”… and they’re built like SADDLES. I’m pretty sure their old leather purses will last decades. A $130 purse that lasts even a decade is a more economically sound choice than spending $30, and replacing every year when worn out.

It’s been weird, researching purses with regards to looking more adult/professional/”neurotypical”. I knew that there are a lot of status-type issues wrapped up in the choice and purchase of a purse; I knew that colours and styles are seasonal, etc.

What I had never considered before were the logistics and “status” messages wrapped up in the type of purse you carry – handbag, cross-body, etc. While I understood that my Star Trek messenger bag would be deemed less than professional, I assumed it was solely because of the “Star Trek” – not necessarily the “messenger bag”. Sure enough, when observing people… you don’t see a lot of professionally attired women carrying cross-body purses. (Those that do have skinny straps that dig in, not nice, wide utilitarian ones!)

Switching to a shoulder bag has been weird, with losing some use of the arm I’m carrying it on. I’m constantly adjusting it to be on my actual shoulder, as it slides.

Handbags are even worse, carrying in the crook of the elbow. I actually had to google “how do you carry a handbag?”, as it was something I’d never paid attention to. My preferred method is to put my forearm through the straps, aim it downward, and support the bottom of the bag with my hand – it’s less strain on the elbow, and prevents it from flapping around and annoying me.

My husband says it looks like I’m carrying a football, however. He demonstrated how the professional women at his work carry theirs, with their hand aimed upwards. He then related it to a Tyrannosaurus Rex, made a generic “raptor” noise, and we both dissolved into giggles.

I find the whole thing fascinating, though sort of ridiculous. I don’t get the point of spending more money, to lose the use of one arm. If you are a professional, you are likely very busy and DOING things… why is it seen as a more professional look to hamper the use of one – usually the dominant – arm? That’s illogical.

I’m assuming that – much like pockets in women’s clothing – it has its roots in ingrained, systemic sexism. That a woman doesn’t need to be doing anything, so it doesn’t matter if her mobility is hampered. That being the case, shouldn’t messenger bags be ULTRA professional?

The same thought can be applied to shoes. Heels are “professional” (to a degree, anyway), but comfortable sandals are not. Heels cause you to take smaller strides, hamper speed, etc. They cause bodily fatigue – why is that professional? Men’s dress shoes are such that their strides aren’t significantly hampered, after all. It’s kind of a gross message, when you think about it – especially considering many workplaces actually require women to wear heels.

When you combine heels and handbags, the problem is even greater than just “your stride is hampered and your arm/hand dexterity is hampered”… you add in issues of balance and muscle strain.

Who knew there would be so much to consider when choosing *accessories* that have literally no impact on anyone else!

Anyway, I digress. Unfortunately, my glorious TARDIS wallet was similarly ruled to be less than professional, and I’ve had to buy a more adult looking wallet. While my TARDIS wasn’t actually “bigger on the inside”, it held a lot of stuff – plenty of cards, a coin area, a sections for bills, etc. It’s been hard to find something similar in “professional”.

Wallets shouldn’t be so hard to buy! While searching for a nicer wallet, I’ve found that many are tiny. A whole bunch of them don’t have space for bills, and/or don’t have a clear window for ID, etc. Many don’t hold more than 5 cards. I’m no credit card demon, but almost every store one shops at now has some kind of loyalty card involved!

Perhaps not carrying loyalty/reward/discount membership cards is also a status thing? I suppose that fits the pattern established.

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If it were any more perfect, it would have a cross-body strap. (And would then make me feel like Indiana Jones!)

5. Social

We are getting out of the habit of holing up in our “Fortress of Solitude”, and aiming to be more social. While that has led to more going out to events *with friends*, the big change has been going out more just us + strangers. We recently went to an event for Canadians living in Minneapolis, and met people! We’ve also been going out to the theater, which has been fun.

It’s kind of amusing to me that the social stuff has been far less stressful / less effort than figuring out the handbags/shoes thing!

To be fair, though, I’ve spent a lifetime observing neurotypicals. I’ve paid attention to their behaviours, social norms, etc. For the most part, I can sort of blend in on that front, now… though I wish I’d paid attention to things like “how do you carry a purse?”!

So, I’ve been focusing on honing my reactions to people online – quite the task, given the current political climate. I’ve gotten a lot better about measuring my responses, and just keeping my mouth shut in certain instances. I’m waiting for my husband to get sick of my “LOOK AT WHAT I RESTRAINED MYSELF FROM REPLYING TO!” messages!

… So, that’s about where I’m at right now.

Moving Forward

The next two areas to tackle are clothing (suits, ack!), and nails. I’m a “short nails, no polish” kinda person. I don’t see the short nails thing changing (even though I know long nails are a professional/feminine thing), but I have resolved to try nail wraps. Perhaps that would solve my problem of chipping polish almost immediately.

Overall, I’m finding it really amazing to me how much I have to actively work *against* comfort, to project an image of professionalism. Uncomfortable shoes and handbags that hamper mobility. Restrictive clothing that requires MORE care than just normal laundry. Nail length that restricts activity, polish that doesn’t hold up to working hands.

To go to work, you’re expected to maintain an image that actively hampers work. To show that you can do a job, you have to employ attire and accessories that eschew comfort and hamper your stamina and focus.

We are a truly bizarre species, aren’t we?

Author:Marie Porter

Marie is an award winning cake artist based in Minnesota's Twin Cities. Known as much for her delicious and diverse flavor menu as for her sugar artistry, Marie's work has graced magazines and blogs around the world. Having baked and designed for brides, celebrities, and even Klingons, Marie was proud to share her wealth of baking knowledge in her two cookbooks: "The Spirited Baker" and “Evil Cake Overlord”. Marie has also authored a book about her experiences surrounding the 2011 Minneapolis tornado: "Twisted: A Minneapolis Tornado Memoir"

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