David Finch talks to Colin about coexistence, Howard Stern, and what makes him a "very sexy nerd."
CGB: I read that when, at 31, you were diagnosed with Asperger’s, you experienced a kind of relief brought on by “self-recognition.” Since then, have you—I hate to say “learned”—but found perhaps that certain aspects of, and behaviors associated with Asperger’s are things you can not only be aware of and to work on, but continue to in some ways accept as well?
DF: I continue to enjoy my harmless idiosyncrasies, as does Kristen and everyone who knows me well. I've been focusing my efforts in the years since my diagnosis on understanding and applyingmethods for social engagement that make me feel happier and more fulfilled. Methods that help me to be the father and husband, son, friend, colleague, and person I want to be. Everything from striking up a random conversation with someone to consciously reminding myself to make an evening with Kristen all about her. There are plenty of people who believe that individuals should not have to change themselves or their behaviors, regardless of seemingly any circumstances, and that's a perfectly valid way for them to live in my opinion. I'm just not one of them. There's nothing wrong with aspiring to be the best manifestation of yourself. I saw, and continue to see, value in learning new behaviors, and I am much happier and more fulfilled now that I've made more of an effort to adapt to the neurotypical culture. All that being said, there is tremendous value in understanding your own personality and your own "neurological culture."
In making the effort to be considerate of other people’s feelings, you’ve written that you have to practice getting out of your head. I don’t mean at all to generalize or deride your experience, but couldn’t we all stand to be more active in this area, and benefit by paying attention to the people around us? Your note to self, for example, that “parties are supposed to be fun” struck me as hilarious, but also something that might behoove me to keep in mind.
YES. Regardless of a person's innate ability to tune in and be responsive to, or even respectful of another's needs and emotions, we all can benefit from a more mindful, deliberate pursuit of sensitive coexistence. How many cover stories about bullies will we see this year on newspapers, magazines, and websites? Even one is too many. But zooming out a little, I can say that nearly all of my Best Practices are universal. "Never interrupt your wife's cardio-kickboxing pretending to be Ted Koppel" might be a little situation-specific, I'll admit, but everything else in my book is universally applicable.
For several years, you looked to those for guidance who fared well in social situations, but more recently you’ve turned your attention to Howard Stern. What about the shock-jock do you find helpful or inspiring? His syntax?
I study Howard Stern because he is a brilliant communicator. I study him—and David Letterman, among others—to absorb and to ultimately apply his conversational methods. When Howard is cracking jokes or doing a schtick at the top of an interview, you know it because his delivery reveals it. It's easy (even for me) to see that, in THAT moment, he's at a remove emotionally from the people he's talking to, the way a comedian is engaged with his audience but clearly not being sincere or emotionally connected. That gives everyone in his audience license and comfort to laugh at what's being said; it lets us all be in on the joke. Then, as his conversation gets rolling, Howard may become more sincere and intimate with his listener or conversational partner. His words are chosen more deliberately, for one thing, but he also modulates his voice in a manner that complements what he's saying. In other words, he shifts his tone appropriately so there is no doubt whatsoever that he is making an important point, and not just going for a gag. I think if people aren't studying the conversational methods of Howard Stern, a man who has earned hundreds of millions of dollars to make morning-long conversations utterly captivating, then they should stop what they're doing and go tune him in. I hope Sirius sends me a free T shirt for saying so.
Speaking of provocation… You’ve called yourself not just a sexy nerd, but a “very sexy nerd” (italics mine). Let’s not leave it all to the imagination. What’s the sexiest, nerdiest, and (just for good measure) most sportsmanlike thing about you?
My command of irony.
Don't miss David Finch, author of The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband, Thursday, October 11th at 7:00 p.m. at Common Good Books!