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No Spoilers

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By Jennifer Cook O’Toole
Autism Asperger’s Digest  November/December 2014

There are some words that sound like what they mean. Trudge. Slither. Moist. And spoiler. Spoilers are rotten. They stink. And they ruin good things.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the spoiler on a car (in fact, I didn’t even know there was a thing until last week). This spoiler is when someone reveals an important fact or event in a story without letting you discover it on your own. Example? Maybe you’ve just finished the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet when your brother remarks, “Too bad they kill themselves in the end. Real downer.” Aaannd…thanks, dude. Might as well go tell someone that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, too.

Of course, spoilers can slip out accidentally. Last year, I freaked out over a character’s death on one of my favorite TV shows. Little did I know that (oops) my friend was recording the season to watch after she was done with chemo. She hadn’t seen the episode yet, but she saw my Facebook post. Ugh. Social kablooey, for sure. Lesson learned, Jenny. No plot spoilers of any kind on social media. Check.

But you see, there’s the difference. I felt sorry for “spoiling” some of my friend’s enjoyment. On the other hand, when people stand on street corners shouting the end of the final Harry Potter book an hour after it’s released, that’s not accidental, and it isn’t funny. It’s a power trip. It’s a selfish “look what I can do just because I can” move that ruins far more than the ending of a story.

“Make-believe” has always been one of the most powerful ways human beings have to communicate their deepest fears, hopes, and beliefs. That’s especially true for spectrum girls. Rich stories—the stuff of fantastic, time-traveling adventures in books, movies, and theatre—are alluring to lots of people, but in a particular, deeper way to us. Within nuanced other worlds like Harry Potter, Mortal Instruments, Dr. Who, and The Avengers, dark fairy tales, or historical sagas, we aren’t losing ourselves—we’re finding ourselves. We get to try on feelings that real life often denies us: alongside Hermione, Anne of Green Gables, Katniss, Annabeth Chase, River Song, and other “heroes of our generation,” there is a chance to be powerful, necessary, confident, unapologetically intelligent, brave…and deeply loved.

Enjoying a story means enjoying the way the story unfolds. Slowly. Subtly. Characters in movies and books don’t always do or say what we would. They don’t always make the same choices we might (or even the same decisions the writer would!). It’s the author’s prerogative to create the narrative she wants. Plot twists. Heartbreakers. Unexpected solutions. All of it. Gradually, we learn how life really isn’t all-or-nothing. That sometimes good people make bad decisions. That sometimes, so-called bad guys are just folks stuck without another choice. And along the way, we discover little pieces of who we are, too. Of our opinions. Of our values. Of our wishes.

That is what spoilers really spoil.
They don’t just cheat us out of surprises. They cheat us out of becoming more of who we’re meant to be.


However, there’s one, important exception to the “No Spoilers” rule.

Spoilers—in fiction, they ruin everything. In real life, they are everything.

Let me tell you a little story…and then you decide for yourself.

The Relay Race

Wriston Quadrangle is mostly rectangular, hence the name I suppose (although I never actually thought about that until right now, to be honest). At its center is a lush lawn, bordered by a somewhat uneven sidewalk, and edged by a series of grand, colonial-style brick buildings. Connected by arches, trimmed in white woodwork and black wrought iron, they’re a delicious tableaux. A wonderful contrast of what was and is, where the university’s eighteenth-century birth somehow meshes seamlessly with the energy of new generations.

Wriston was the heart of my university experience, my home for four years. But for this story, what you really need to know is that every year in late October, Wriston is also the home of a totally unofficial, ultra traditional event known as “The SCUT Races.” In the cold night air, teams of “sophomores-currently-under-training” gather on the green, one group from each fraternity and sorority, surrounded by crowds of cheering (much more warmly dressed) upperclassmen. Once the relay race starts, competing runners take one lap around the Quad, then pass a baton to their teammate for the next round.

During the weeks beforehand, you can look down from your window almost any night and see teams practicing. Two or three older “brothers” or “sisters” coach them, showing how to take shorter strides on the sharp turns, how to be careful of the steep downhill that can sometimes get slippery, and most importantly, how to hand off that baton without losing speed or worse— dropping it. That particular horror is still explained today (15 years later) in the “Story of Jeff.” The year he ran was the first ever that Jeff’s fraternity—made up mostly of really big but not super-fast guys—was winning. Tall and quick, Jeff was the anchor. The final lap: people were screaming and chanting, breath steaming in the night air. This was actually going to happen! A simple pass to Jeff, and they would all watch him fly around the Quad to victory.

Only something went wrong. Somehow, whether he got distracted or nervous or who knows what, Jeff dropped the baton. And yes. His team lost. (And yes, when he tried to dip me on a dance floor a year later and accidentally dropped me on my head, giving me a concussion, his buddies wrote “Dropped her like a baton” on his door.) But you can bet that no runner ever, ever, ever didn’t listen to “The Story of Jeff” and cringe…and learn.

You see, in real life, spoilers are exactly what we all need…even though our pride tends to make us ignore good advice. Think about it, though. How do the coaches know the gravelly spots to avoid? Or how to pass the baton? They’re not smarter. They’re not just oddly gifted relay race runners. No, they’re experienced. Not long before, those coaches were the competitors, nervously trying to pick up every tip before their own big night. Time moves forward. Seasons turn. And soon, this year’s SCUTs become next year’s mentors.

Someday, You Will Know

Life is a lot like those relay races. I’ve started before you, so I will notice pitfalls you can’t have seen. But someday, you will know everything I know. (Well, the important things anyway.)

Spoilers—in fiction, they ruin everything. In real life, they are everything.

Listen to those who’ve gone ahead. Learn from our successes and failures. Like the runners. One starts. The next follows. Each has her turn. Each learns from those who’ve run ahead, adds her own natural skills, then passes the baton to the next runner. There are slippery spots in life to avoid. Siblings, parents, teachers—they will try (not always successfully) to coach you. Sometimes the advice will be good. Sometimes not. Listening to someone does not mean that you accept their version of truth. It just means you have the confidence and courtesy to let them finish. The greatest minds can explore the nooks and crannies of someone else’s very different ideas, disagree entirely, and remain respectful.

Don’t rush. You can’t skip ahead. Comparison, they say, is the greatest thief of joy. Remember how much of a story’s power comes from slowly experiencing it? That’s true for your story, too. Don’t compare your Chapter 13 to my Chapter 36.

You know what you know now. You are who you are now. Don’t bend to the world’s suggestions that you be small or demure. Be vast. Contradict yourself. Grow. Change your mind.

SPOILER ALERT: You will know more. You will be more. And you already are enough. That’s one secret I’m very happy to tell.

Bio: Jennifer O’Toole, winner of the 2012 Temple Grandin Award, is an Aspie (married to an Aspie) with three Asperkids of her own! Her conversationalist presentation of useful insights has touched hearts, lightened spirits, and even led to the founding of Asperkids, LLC, a multimedia social education company. Jennifer is the author of five books, including The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules.

Copyright © Autism Asperger’s Digest. 2014. All Rights Reserved. Any distribution, print or electronic, prohibited without permission of author.

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