I’ve never been asked that classic interview question, ‘What is your greatest flaw?’
It’s a shame, because I’ve had an answer ready for years: I’m wired for depth. If I’m interested in something, I have to learn everything about it. I will hunt it down remorselessly, and interrogate it until it’s spent. I want to understand every last, complex bit of it.
On the face of it, this is a humblebrag on the scale of the classic answer,‘I’m a perfectionist.’ And to be completely frank, this is my favourite part of myself: the way that I know things, and the way that my brain can suck in information, turn it through 360 degrees, and make connections between new data and all the other things I know. I’m addicted to flow, the sensation you get when your mind focuses exclusively and comfortably on one process, and you feel rewarded by the activity itself, rather than the end product. I encounter it when I’m reading, writing, and assembling new information in my head. I can’t get enough of it. I like to build imaginary labyrinths, and roam around the space inside them.
If there’s a problem at all, it’s that I need it too much. I can’t seem to defer the urge to concentrate as others can. If I’m denied the chance to sink into thoughtfulness for any period of time, then my brain just goes onto standby of its own accord, or worse, I get crabby and desperate. What’s more, I struggle to show any interest at all in things that don’t fall into my natural focus. I have specific thoughts that I need to have: about whatever book I’m currently writing, or whatever system of knowledge I’m churning over. The other stuff can do one.
There’s a theory that autistic brains are primed for detail: all that over-sensitivity to sound, smell and texture is the flip side of the things we need to know so deeply. I’m told that it’s considered offensive to call these things obsessions, and that ‘special interests’ is the preferred term. But I hate ‘special interests’; it sounds patronising, as though the depth of knowledge is somehow diminished by the fact that an autistic brain is holding it. No, I much prefer the wild, romantic term ‘obsession’, with all the blazing, irrational passion it implies.
The question is, how do you build the kind of life that allows you to glory in those obsessions, rather than endlessly – painfully – deferring them.
See you next week,