I spent last weekend writing about some mixed emotions in Liberated childhood heroes and Fragmented childhood. It made me think of Holden Caulfield in A Catcher in the Rye and Sal Paradise in On the Road as regard to the difficulties both had growing up. I agree with the criticism of Holden Caulfield. He was a spoiled brat that didn’t deal with life. He simply avoided it. The author of the book, J. D. Salinger, did the same. He chose a life in isolation.
The French philosopher Albert Camus had similar things to say about society, but he didn’t hide. It was quite the opposite with him. I came to the conclusion Sal Paradise did, I tried to do what was expected of me, except that I didn’t succeed. We may dream of a different life, a bohemian life, but that doesn’t mean an easier life. There are no cultures or counter-cultures that can give us the answers we want. They cannot tell us how we should live our lives.
I have always been fascinated with the open road-theme in American culture, from Mark Twain’s slow pace down the Mississippi to Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s fast motorcycles accompanied by Steppenwolf and The Byrds in Easy Rider. They never found the America they sought, and that may be a conclusion many modern travelers come to, but the idea of freedom and leaving behind the ordinary life appeals to me in a way. That’s what 800 000 Norwegians did when they emigrated to America. They didn’t go all go at once, but when this hundred year wave started around 1820 the population in Norway was less than a million, which makes it sound quite dramatic. I’d like to think there were some dreamers, aspies and restless ADHD-people among them.
My father died in 1979 when I was 11. I think I had fantasised about leaving before that, but this increased when my mother re-married a couple of years later. Love can be very constraining, and I have no doubt that I grew up in a loving home, but it felt like a prison to me. I imagine that the best possible life to the previous generation was husband/wife, job (the same one for fourty-plus years), mortgage, children and as little excitement as possible in suburbia. I think that’s an understandable reaction, also among young people, after two world wars literally just a few years apart. It couldn’t last and these restraints called for an escape, and although On the Road is pretty appalling for someone growing up in a world with strong conventions, I found it fascinating.
It dawned on me eventually that I had to make the best out of the situation because I couldn’t expect anyone, not even my own family, to help me. The grown ups world was a strange world to me, and it was hard understanding my part in it. I guess that’s how it felt like growing up in a world that didn’t know anything about NLD and Asberger. People kept telling me that life was hard for everyone. Why should mine be easier? I was told that we were survivors in my family. We had survived what was a difficult start in childhood. I would have liked to do more than just survive.
I am being told today that I am fortunate to be different because the world loves different. This is neurodiversity in a nutshell. I wonder how much the world really loves different when they encounter it in a job interview, when they talk to someone that don’t make eye contact, when someone gets angry or sad because he/she can’t do the things that most people take for granted, when a friend or colleague don’t feel the same emotional connection, or when you feel strongly but are unable to communicate it. In short, no matter how much some people talk about how we are all within a normal variation, it’s hard to be yourself, to be autistic in a world that believes it has embraced us.
My fantasy of an open road has never really gone away, but it has changed. I’m just a couple of years from fifty and stability suits me better than pretending to be Peter Fonda on a bike, but I think I’d like a different type of independence. In these days when the economy seems unstable there’s nothing wrong with wanting to own the house you live in. I’m currently living in my seventh apartment since 2008, and the present one is hardly a permanent solution. This is getting old, or rather I am.
Incidentally, I’m attempting to write a book. If I succeed it will be almost like having the classic go west-feeling. I’m more like Peter Fonda’s father, Henry Fonda, in On Golden Pond these days.