"So, what is your special interest?"
If you put two or more people together who have Asperger's syndrome, the question is bound to come up. Translated, it means, "So, what one single thing have you been focusing on all your life?"
Not everyone with Asperger's syndrome will be able to relate to such a question, but when you take the repetitive nature of this unique group, along with their narrow, restricted interests, and mix that together with an intense curiosity or profound devotion to whatever strikes their fancy, a lifelong interest in one particular subject is often the result. Even more amazing, this special interest typically begins at a very early age.
Without a doubt, my focus has been on all things futuristic. Robots are a big deal for me, along with architectural designs of a futuristic nature. I could sit and stare at a drawing of a futuristic city all day long. Come to think of it, I have. Even better is having an opportunity to take a stroll through a futuristic city.
You might have noticed that our world comes up short when it comes to futuristic cities. I've had to resort to creating stories so that I can get the "feel" of having visited one. In some ways, it's a better deal because I can control the outcome. I don't want to just build a city, although that would be nice. I want to create an experience involving that city. That's why I write fiction. But there is still that longing inside of me to go to a place with flying cars zipping about in the air and domed buildings dotting the hillside and robots wandering about.
I had my first taste of the future at the age of six. Up to that age, all I knew about life was what I had experienced in the small town of Juneau, Alaska. Juneau has a charm all its own, but it is certainly not futuristic, at least not while I was growing up. It had more of a historic feel to it, with its narrow streets and rough looking buildings, somewhat in the style of the wild west. There were no freeways or skyscrapers. It was a small coastal village.
My mother was due to be remarried soon and before she merged my little sister and me with a new family, she wanted to do something special with just the three of us. And so, we headed off for California to visit Disneyland.
Disneyland is every child's dream. Fantasyland has the greatest appeal for kids, but there is also Adventureland and Frontierland with their fun rides. I'm sure I must have enjoyed all aspects of Disneyland, but those lands are not what I remember in any detail. Instead, I was struck with an overwhelming sense of awe the moment I entered Tomorrowland. That's the place I remember best. For me, Disneyland was all about the rocket and the clean, white lines of the impressive buildings and the wide walkways leading into the city of the future.
I think I must have spent most of my childhood fixated on recreating what I had experienced in Tomorrowland. From my stories, to my drawings, to the way I played, I was trying to build a city of the future.
It was nearly three decades later when my husband took me to Disney World for the first time. Disney World in Florida offers a wide variety of experiences, even more so than what you'd find at Disneyland. But all of that paled in comparison when I discovered Future World at Epcot. When I stepped in to that futuristic world, I felt like I'd found the home I'd been waiting for all my life. There was one particular attraction in Future World that captivated me more than the rest. It was called Horizons. Once you stepped into the moving tram, you were taken into an amazing world. In this place, you got to see how people might live in the future. The scenes involved city life, life in the renovated desert, an underwater city, and a space station. My favorite scene was one that showed a darling home in the city. For some reason, the futuristic living room held my attention more than anything else I saw on that ride. If I could have a house built, it would look exactly like that.
Horizons is no longer a part of Future World. With the future moving in on us from every side, it wasn't long before that attraction became outdated. It was torn down to make room for the next phase of the future. But I've never forgotten Horizons at Disney World. I often tour the ride on You Tube or study the photos online.
When I returned home after my trip, I couldn't stop thinking about that living room. From the curved white couch, you could look out the windows to the space-age city beyond. With images bursting from my mind, I sat down at my typewriter and began to write a science fiction story that took place in that fantastic living room.
From that point on, every story I wrote had its origins in those scenes. I would often take walks through the woods and think about that living room from Horizons. And then the story would start to flow. So, if you want to know how I began my novel, Warriors of the Edge, that's how. It all began with a living room.
Right after I returned from that first trip to Disney World, I searched for every futuristic drawing that I could find. I rummaged through used bookstores and went to garage sales, always on the lookout for something new. I pinned those drawings all over my bedroom walls. I even added my own drawings to them. I loved drawing pictures of rockets and futuristic buildings.
One day my mother came for a visit. She was admiring my collection of pictures. Then out of the blue she said, "There's something I need to tell you about your father."
It surprised me because she rarely talked about my father. I didn't know much about him. I was separated from him at the age of four and didn't see him again until I was married with children of my own. I'd only had a few visits with him throughout my adulthood, which didn't give me much of a chance to know what he was like.
You might have seen the movie A Beautiful Mind, starring Russell Crowe. My father reminds me a bit of John Nash, the main character in that movie. It's not an exact match, but there are some similarities. My father was obsessed with the study of economics in the way that John Nash was. Whenever I was around my father, he talked endlessly about a great economic plan he had, one that he believed would revolutionize the way commerce was done throughout the world. He never talked about anything else in front of me, just his economic plan. There was a brilliance to him, in the way he could talk circles around people with his original ideas, and yet, not much of what he said ever made any sense. We would just let him talk.
My father was committed to a mental institution when I was four, just as John Nash was. He didn't have imaginary friends, but he did have his problems. No one knew what to do with people like him back then. He was diagnosed with manic depression, or what is known as bipolar disorder today. When my mother went to visit him, the head psychiatrist told her, "Your husband has the highest I.Q. of anyone we've ever tested in this facility." They were so impressed with him that they released him fairly quickly. Obviously, there was genius there, but there was also great struggle. He had trouble holding a job. The social world was impossible for him to deal with. He ended up living a very reclusive life in the wilds of Alaska.
I would be willing to bet that if he was still alive today, he would be diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. His obsession with economics was surely his special interest. But there was more to him that I didn't know. My mother was about to reveal a great surprise to me.
"Your drawings remind me of your father," my mother said. "He used to spend hours just sitting at the kitchen table drawing pictures of rockets and spaceships and futuristic buildings like that. He was fascinated with the future and dreamed of what he could build for it."
"You're kidding?" I said, wide eyed. "Did I ever watch him do that?"
"Oh, sure," she told me. "You must have been three or four, but you would sit with him, looking on as he drew. It's like you are carrying on his dreams."
It dawned on me where my fascination for the city of the future had come from. I had always assumed it had struck me at the age of six, when I had visited Disneyland for the first time, but that had only reinforced it. I'm pretty sure my special interest began when I was but a tiny preschooler, sitting by my father's side. I've been focused on the city of the future ever since.