Who Am I? – All About Me

One of my favorite parts about reading the blogs of my fellow autistic advocates is getting to know them as people. I love reading about their lives, their adventures, and how they overcame the same or similar struggles that I faced. I like reading and getting to throw my hands up in the air and shout “amen” because I know exactly what they’re talking about and couldn’t have put it better myself. I like learning about my fellow autistic peeps and I like making friends. So much for the stereotype of the antisocial autistic, eh?

Thing is, I don’t think that I’ve done enough on my own blog to give readers that same sense of satisfaction if they wanted to learn about me. Sure, I have an About page and I have pictures of myself up and I’ve told some stories from my life, but I don’t really share much about my daily adventures or what I’m like as an actual person.

So today I’m going to try and at least partially remedy that. This post is all about Quincy Hansen; what I’m interested in, what I like, and what I’m doing when I’m not doing autism advocacy or writing blogs and books, complete with relatively recent pictures.

At the time of writing, I’m 19 years old, though I still feel pretty much exactly the same as when I was 12, only now I’m quite a bit smarter. It scares me sometimes that I’m technically an “adult,” but I suppose that’s a pretty common feeling for people my age.

As you know, I am autistic. I’m proud of this. I like getting to go through life being autistic, an experience only 1-2 percent of people get. But this also means I’m disabled. That’s ok too. I own this fact. Do I still rely on pretty much daily care and support from my mom, even for very basic facets of living? Yeah. But am I kicking ass in life? Hell yeah! I’m going to do great things with my life. I can feel it. Heck, I’ve already done some pretty awesome things!

An old picture I took of the Denver skyline.

I currently live with my younger sister, my mom, and my grandpa while my dad lives in Minnesota. I live in a semi-rural suburb of an amazing city called Denver, in the US state of Colorado. Every day when I look to the west I see the Rocky Mountains towering over the horizon, snowcapped in the winter, glowing purple in the summer, but always unbelievably breathtaking. You never need a compass here because you can always see the mountains, and the mountain mark which direction is west. To the east is 500+ miles of American Great Plains, where countless numbers of pronghorn antelope (which are not true antelope but are actually close relatives of the giraffe) and the last remaining herds of American bison roam the prairies.

As might be apparent in my writing, living where I do has given me a serious respect for and love of nature. I love taking hikes and walks out in natural areas where I can just let my sensory systems chill out for a while, and I am most calm in these places. I was essentially primed from a young age to be a biologist. I spent a lot of time as a kid out catching lizards and snakes, picking up spiders, or walking around the open space around the neighborhood with a big net collecting insects. At recess in elementary school you could find me sitting by the rose bushes watching lady beetles devour their aphid prey.

Me with Cam the Ram, the CSU mascot.

As such, I’m currently enrolled at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado studying what I know and what I’m really good at: biology. It’s my chosen major, and one I already have a head start in. I’ve been able to take upper division biology course my first year at university because I’ve already done the intro level stuff several times over, once in 8th grade at a local community college and once in high school for AP credit. I’m a very good student if I’m given the right supports, and I simply have a natural passion for learning. I like knowing things, and one of my talents (that I absolutely ascribe to being autistic) is that I have an amazing memory and amazing recall of information. When I read something or hear something I don’t typically forget it. It’s to the point that even for “hard” subjects if I pay attention in class I need to study only very little and practice mechanical problem solving (I’m not very good at math) in order to do very well in a class with relative ease. As such I always tell people that while for me school is very hard, academics is very easy (and those two are absolutely not the same thing).

Because of this I am practically a walking encyclopedia in topics I am knowledgeable in and I am always very excited to infodump about my interests. It makes me proud to say that I can have extended in-depth conversations with experts in certain fields about their research. I enjoy having conversations with entomologists, paleontologists, and evolutionary biologists and being able to impress them with the depth of my knowledge. Perhaps sometimes I talk a little too much, seeing as once I managed to get a paleontologist who studies dinosaurs for a living to tell me to stop talking about dinosaurs so much, which is an experience I actually wear as a badge of honor, haha!

The specific areas within biology I’m interested in are rather numerous. My minor is entomology and insects have been a lifelong special interest, though ultimately it’s turning out that I think my true passion lies with evolutionary/developmental biology, population genetics, and cladistics. Even my most recent interest of paleontology is ultimately just an outgrowth of these interests. Ecology has also been a default answer I’ve given when asked what area of biology I’m most interested in, but again I think this interest might just stem out of the above three interests I had previously mentioned.

My ultimate goal after university is to eventually go on to graduate school and pursue a PhD. I know I can do it, but this is still a strange thing for me to say to myself because for a long time it seemed like everyone around me had such low expectations for what my future would look like. There was a good four or five years where I don’t think anybody expected me to graduate high school. But hear I am, well on track and as far as I’m concerned the sky’s the limit. I don’t impose future limits on myself based on what I perceive my abilities/disabilities to be, and I hate it when people do this to others. The good news is that earning a PhD involves having a very deep and involved interest in a very narrow field of study, which is something I’m naturally good at. In 8-10 years you’ll be calling me Dr. Quincy Hansen, just you wait!

My interest in biology has of course inspired many of my hobbies. I have a veritable menagerie of animals including geckos, tarantulas, insects, and other Arthropods. I currently have four leopard geckos that I keep as a breeding colony (I hatched babies last year!), two crested geckos, and a banded gecko, four tarantulas of various species, three colonies of three different species of hissing cockroaches, and a scorpion.

In the past I used to have a much larger focus on keeping Arthropods, and at its peak I think I surpassed 100 different species of insects and arachnids. I had a particular interest in keeping tarantulas, probably because there are hundreds of species currently being traded in the hobby and each of them is unique in both looks and behavior. This makes them super collectible, like living trading cards of sorts, with some hobbyists focusing on keeping tarantulas of a particular genus or from a particular part of the world. At one point even I fell into having the goal of collecting every species in the genus Brachypelma, which never came to fruition (though it’s still me favorite tarantula genus).

Eventually it became too overwhelming to care for so many animals literally every day, so I had to downsize the live animal collection. Before I enrolled at CSU I paired my collection down even more to the modest size it is now. My focus has also shifted away from keeping Arthropods to keeping geckos, which I like because of how much personality they have.

My most recent hobby that I’ve spent a lot of time on is fossil collecting. I’ve always had an interest in ancient life, but this interest exploded into a full blown intense obsession after I read The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte while on the plane traveling to London in 2019. The author described the ancient world in such a beautiful and captivating way while weaving in lots of scientific concepts I had learned about in biology and stories about his experience as a paleontologist collecting fossils in the field.

I was instantly hooked, and it turned out that just about the time I had started to go out and collect my own fossils the world entered the COVIDpocalypse, which was actually a great thing for fossil hunting because collecting fossils was just about the only thing I could do, as it takes place in the great outdoors where you’re naturally socially distanced from people. Last year I had the opportunity to take part in a dinosaur dig with real paleontologists, and I also found lots of opportunities to collect my own fossils too.

Colorado is I think just about the best place in the entire world to live if you’re interested in collecting fossils. I live within a day’s drive of literally dozens of world famous fossil localities, including the Morrison Formation, Lance Formation, Hell Creek Formation, White River Formation, Pierre Shale, Niobrara Chalk, Florissant Lagerstätte, Green River Lagerstätte, and many others. I haven’t had the opportunity to collect in all these places due to technicalities with the legality of fossil collecting and land ownership, but opportunities abound. I love fossil collecting, because it gives me the opportunity to both satiate my interest and spend time in the solitude of nature. Plus it’s the closest I’ll ever come to having a time machine – when I’m out on Cretaceous strata I feel like I’m in the Cretaceous Period, and every time I find a fossil I imagine I’m seeing that organism alive on a safari.

Me at the University of Wyoming Geological Museum in front of the skeleton of Big Al, a famous Allosaurus. The BBC made a documentary about Big Al as part of their Walking With Dinosaurs series.

Some of my favorite fossil finds from 2020 include a Thescelosaurus vertebra centrum, Edmontosaurus vertebra, and fully rooted unworn museum-quality Triceratops tooth from the Lance Formation; numerous amazing plant and insect fossils from the Florissant Lagerstätte (collected legally in quarries located outside the borders of the national monument); and a huge rooted entelodont canine tooth from the White River Formation. I like fossils for their historical value, for what they represent as parts of organisms that played a role in the history of life in earth. We’ve all heard of Triceratops, but I have a real piece of one that lived 67 million years ago. I have yet to find any fossils of particular scientific significance, but I expect and hope that one day I’ll stumble upon something big that I’ll get to donate to a museum. Maybe it’ll be named after me!

All of my fossils, in addition to some highlights from my collection of pinned insects; my small collection of crystals, rocks, and minerals, and a few other interesting natural objects, are displayed in what I have dubbed the “Hansen Museum of Natural History,” which is really just a collection of shelves with fancy lights in our basement office, but I call it “the museum” nonetheless. Most of the museum’s collection I have found myself, but some of it I have purchased because it has some particular significance to me or I think it would help fill out the collection and tell the particular story I’m trying to tell. Everything is labeled, curated, and catalogued too!

An attempted panoramic picture of my “museum,” which includes my fossil, mineral, and insect collections.

Now, when I’m not caring for animals, catching insects, or collecting fossils I have some other more typical hobbies as well. I really like music, in particular metal music. I like metal because of its complexity and high emotional content. I can nerd out over music theory while at the same time regulate my emotions, so it’s a double win. I’m a fan of Metallica, but I also tend to trend towards bands that play a lot of progressive metal like Tool, Dream Theater, Mastodon, Nightwish, and Opeth. My favorite song is “Orion” by Metallica, which is an eight minute long instrumental track. I know that sounds boring to the uninitiated, but the key is to just let yourself sink into the music, let it surround you and flood your body with emotions and sensations. My favorite non-metal band is the British alternative electronica duo Psapp (whose latest 2019 album Tourists is fantastic, by the way).

Back when I started getting into Metallica I became captivated with their 80s bass player Cliff Burton, who unfortunately died in a tour bus crash back when the band was just starting to get famous. Cliff Burton is considered to be the greatest heavy metal bassist of all time, and to this day his influence defines the way the instrument is used in the genre. The guy’s an icon to this day and it’s hard not to be a fan after listening to his playing.

So, I quickly decided that I wanted to learn how to play bass, and that’s the instrument I got for my fifteenth birthday. My dad admits that he was skeptical I’d be able to learn to play because I have clinically identified motor skill deficits that would in theory make it significantly more difficult to play an instrument, but with the help of some YouTube tutorials and hours of trying (and failing) to keep up with some Metallica tracks I actually became fairly competent fairly quickly, much to everyone’s surprise (including mine).

Me playing bass in the studio at the MoPOP Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. This isn’t my bass either, but it’s the best picture I have of me playing.

Halfway through high school the band director caught wind of the fact that I played bass, and convinced me to join the jazz band. Since I went to such a small high school the band was always lacking people who could play certain instruments, and apparently bassists were in high demand. The only problem is that since I never had any formal lessons I couldn’t actually sight read sheet music, but all of the bass music had the chord progressions written on them and since I knew the blues scale I found out I could very easily improvise a jazzy walking bass line for just about any song, filling in the important licks by figuring out those parts on my own time. With that I had the band director convinced I was an amazing bass player. And that’s the story of how I faked my way through high school jazz band.

I also enjoy reading and listening to podcasts, though the books I read are all nonfiction and the podcasts I listen to are all educational. What can I say, I like to learn. I just wish I had more time for reading.

I play video games on occasion when I get the time, some of my favorites include Minecraft, Civilization, Planet Zoo, and the The Last of Us series. I tend to enjoy games that have either a strong creative component, a deep strategy component, or a well-written story. As such I’m not the biggest fan of first-person shooter games or of RPGs, both of which are massively popular but don’t appeal to me.

These days I don’t really watch movies or TV, but in the past I have enjoyed Star Trek, Mythbusters, and nature documentaries.

And that’s just about everything I can think of at the moment, at least as far as major things go. This has already gone longer than I expected (which I feel is something I say a lot at the end of blog posts) so I’m going to wrap it up here. Hopefully this has given the interested the opportunity to get to know me a little bit better and put some personality behind these words.

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